Movie Reviews 2021

Benedetta (NR)

There are movies that fans will line up to see, if only because of the director. Scorsese, Spielberg, the Cohen Brothers, James Cameron and Quentin Tarantino, for a short list. Paul Verhoeven might be one of those as well. He’s had a lot of iffy projects as his career has marched on (over 30 films). But he’s had some real standouts too. Risky standouts. Whether or not you are a fan of any of them is another matter.

RoboCop might not stand up when viewed today compared to the current  CGI films, but it was solid back in its day. You can’t pull his statue down simply because he didn’t have today’s modern tech back when he made that movie in 1987. 

It would be hard to green-light a movie like Basic Instinct in 2021, but it made a hell of an impact that still resonates to this day. (It launched Sharon Stone’s career and it did have LGBTQXYZ scenes that are a major part of the Hollywood agenda today, so there’s that.)

He also did Total Recall, Starship Troopers and Hollow Man. All of the above could be considered Movies for Guys That Like Movies, as that TBS show used to say just prior to running their movie for the night. So be it. His fans will give him a chance when he goes out on a limb.

He’s way out on a limb here with Benedetta

With no way to shoehorn any black actors into this historical story, his ace card on this one is that the theme of the tale is right up the LGBTQZXY alley, so to speak. Timely! No doubt it allowed him to fund the film. The bigger issue is that it’s a religious movie which always puts everyone on eggshells. Add to that the era is 17th century Europe, when people were altogether dirty. Unlike the past 30 or so films you’ve seen set in that time period, Verhoeven doesn’t gloss over it. It’s not often we see women fart and poop onscreen in open latrines. Excess (unfortunately to a fault in this case) is one of Verhoeven’s trademarks. You want 17th century Europe? For most of us, we can’t handle 17th century Europe.

I’m not a religious scholar but the idea is supposedly based on a true “wild” story (picked out of hundreds I’m sure) where a young girl is hand-picked to be the bride of Jesus. She’s taken to a convent (nunnery) where over time she proves herself worthy and takes over the joint after a night of stigmata suffering. The wounds she suffers may be divine or self-inflicted, but they are gruesome enough. I was personally surprised to see her walk after suffering bore holes through both of her feet, but I suppose I’m more of a stickler for things like that than Verhoeven. NFL players are sidelined during the important playoffs with simple turf toe! Or maybe God really was involved so the pain of large holes in both feet isn’t “hospital” bad. We’re never privy to the truth and actress Virginie Efira (as the older Benedetta) plays it straight as if Jesus really is talking to her and in total control. The demonic tongue lashings she serves up are something in themselves. But others around her are skeptical. 

It plays both ways. She could be playing everyone around her to her own benefit as needed, including the Catholic Church. But things do fall into place, literally at times, giving Benedetta the benefit of the doubt. If you stop to list all the events that happen around her throughout the film, it is a pretty impressive list. Thus the saga that is still talked about today. 

Suddenly a girl with loose morals runs to the nunnery to escape beatings from her brutal father, as if it’s an embassy. We find Benedetta showing mercy for the woman. Once some money has changed hands (After all, this is a Catholic Church facility we’re talking about. Not a benevolent embassy.) she’s allowed entry.

In one scene the harlot reaches into a large pot of boiling water, twice, to retrieve the heavy spools of yarn that sank to the bottom. She never screams out in pain. I had to check my ticket stub to make sure I wasn’t in a dumb Marvel movie. Nope. I guess those nuns were just tough as nails back then. (Sigh).

Hidden from others, but not from us, Benedetta has had queer tendencies from the start. It’s not until this harlot comes into the convent that Benedetta is “tempted” into having frequent sex with the harlot. 

Meanwhile the Black Plague is ravaging Europe. So that event is playing in the background as well.

The problem with the movie is that Verhoeven is playing up the promise of lesbian sex to sell tickets to this 1700’s “true-ish” event. Then he leans into the dirty realism of the era. Those two subjects clash with each-other. (Think back to the open latrine scene.) There’s filthy X-rated porn movies where freshly showered actors have sex on camera. And then there’s filthy R-rated 1700’s sex where the un-showered actors are literally just like “filthy” rats licking each other. It didn’t fly with me. I felt ready for a tetanus/penicillin cocktail shot afterward. 

Where this story excels is in the ambiguity of whether this sure-of-herself Benedetta woman is a likable character because she really does have an intimate connection to her god, or whether she’s the most clever charlatan the Catholic church has ever had to deal with. She plays it so close to the vest that I’m still not sure which way I lean on the subject. Not being a religious person, I tend to think it lends more credence to the idea that “Luck” can be a superpower.

But believe it or not, it would be a much better movie without the graphic sex in a cesspool vibes. The lesbian sex is really a footnote to this wild story. It’s the first time I’ve ever thought that a PG version (perhaps even the TV edited version) of a movie would actually be better than the original R rated one!

And that’s saying something.

(In French with English subtitles)
– Wait for HBO

The Only One (NR)

In contrast to the latest West Side Story remake we have here a master class of acting in the film The Only One, a story about the girl that got away many years ago who suddenly reappears unexpectedly. For how long, no one really knows. 

So we’re a fly on the wall as we watch a handful of characters interact with each other in very interesting ways. For instance, we watch as the girl from the past carrying a backpack walks right up to a house in a French vineyard and opens the door, walking right in without even knocking or announcing herself. Obviously there was a long enough relationship previously where she feels just as a family member would feel returning home after a war. Even though in this case she’s never been to this house before. 

The backpacking actress (Caitlin Stasey) is pretty but has a plethora of tasteless tattoos all over her body, most of which are prison quality. (A quick internet search will reveal the total list of horrors she’s sporting.) The scary looking black spider on her shoulder is beyond awful and Caitlin is obviously beyond wacky. But that’s great kooky DNA for an actress. She’s absolutely terrific playing this peculiar chick who may be back to reunite with her boyfriend, or not. The believability is off the charts. 

The x-boyfriend is equally terrific as the guy that has dealt with her before. Three other characters soon appear onscreen and the ensemble puts on a slow flowing story that is captivating in a way that’s hard to describe. 

Then there’s the scenery. The main location is a French vineyard with unimaginable vistas to behold. The interiors are professionally shot with the lighting carefully crafted to light the faces realistically if not photogenically. Then the seaside shots, good grief. Good looking movie stars performing their craft in such glorious locations gets you half the way there right out of the gate. The fact that everyone here can really act just puts it way over the top.

A quick warning here: There’s very little action in this movie. It doesn’t matter. The wacky chick doesn’t shave her arm pits and shows that off more than once. It doesn’t matter. The spider tattoo is worse. It doesn’t really matter either. Great acting overcomes a lot.

The point is, when you have a group of actors who are convincing as hell, working their craft in crazy-beautiful parts of the world, with a director that knows what the hell he’s doing, and a decent script in-hand, it’s a winner of a movie. The director gives everyone enough rope to really show their stuff. It’s impressive as hell. 
– See it on the Big Screen

West Side Story (2021) (PG-13)

According to the reviews, I guess I’m going against the grain on this one. Most people know this Romeo and Juliet crafted story already so there’s no need to rehash it here. I included West Side Story in my Best Movies of All Time list. So I had to see this new version. 

Sometimes there are classic movies that were so well done originally there’s simply no need to remake them. But Spielberg felt compelled to redo West Side Story with “cast authenticity” to shame the whitewashing of the original film. How dare the Hollywood of old put non-Puerto Ricans in the gang cast and put a white Natalie Wood in the lead role of a Puerto Rican romantic lead? 

Maybe because Natalie Wood had the looks, acting chops and star quality needed to successfully sell the movie in 1961 America? How dare they use that as a measuring stick! (West Side Story was the highest-grossing film of 1961.)

We all know the Sharks were supposed to be Puerto Ricans. It was explicitly addressed throughout the original film and in the hit song America. And this new version would also be an honorary send-off for aging legend Rita Moreno who starred in the original. Fair enough. 

Except in reality this Spielberg remake does NOT include Puerto Rican cast members. They are simply of “Spanish descent.” Weak at best. I’d call that a “fail” based on the higher than thou premise of his highly publicized intentions. 

Is the Puerto Rican community placated by this weak attempt? Or is there still political correct grumbling ahead by the Puerto Rican actors guild? Hell, even queer actresses cry foul if straight actresses dare to play a lesbian onscreen. Perhaps another West Side Story remake will be demanded? 

Political correctness at its finest.  

Either way, when casting this new version, Spielberg failed to realize that Tony and Maria are the most important characters in the story. There ARE some strong actors here but unfortunately the two playing Tony and Maria are the weakest links. That’s a huge misstep. They do have matching moles on their faces (see photo above) so they have that going for them.

A wrinkle that may have led to such weak lead actors was Spielberg’s insistence that the actors sing their own parts rather than have pro singers dub their professional vocals over the leads in post-production, as was done in the 1961 original movie. Again, fair enough. But this isn’t a filmed play. It’s a high budget movie. It’s more than obvious that the actors are not singing live as the cameras roll. They dubbed their own vocals over themselves in post production to make the recordings clean. So everyone is just kidding themselves here. In the end, it’s all movie magic. So why not give us real actors acting and real singers singing! It would have given us a better product. 

Jennifer Beals couldn’t dance a lick when she was cast for the role in Flashdance. But she was the perfect actress for that starring role. She’s in every scene so she’d better be good. Marine Jahan was the body double that did ALL the dancing scenes. Which makes sense since Marine Jahan can’t act! We’re not looking for documentaries when we enter the movie theaters. We want the best movie outcome possible. Fool us if you have to. It’s OK to fool us. We’re paying you to fool us!

Actor Ansel Elgort was great in Baby Driver. A home run. But he can’t sing like a professional singer. The Maria part is played by Rachel Zegler (again, not Puerto Rican) and again, she’s not a pro singer. She’s a budding actress (her first film role). Which hurts the film precisely because this is a musical. A musical that by design moves the audience to tears based on the music, vocals and the vocal delivery.

This version leaves us wanting. 

Rita Moreno sings Somewhere in this one. Not only is it strange to have the drug store owner (her white husband died) singing that song, but Rita Moreno was 88-years-old when this movie was filmed. Just as it would be silly to ask Rita to dance like she did in the original film, it’s equally silly to ask her to sing a long solo tune for this remake. 

The lesson learned should be that if you’re going to overdub the vocals anyway, for goodness sake go ahead and use professional singers while you’re at it.

Getting back to the two leads. Baby-faced Ansel Elgort as Tony isn’t convincing in the role and is totally out of place here. Rachel Zegler as Maria is not romantic lead material. She’s side-kick worthy. People will say, “You just don’t appreciate the look of a Puerto Rican woman.” To that I’d answer, “She’s not Puerto Rican. Spielberg flinched! She’s white bread Polish/Columbian!” LOL

So we have a new version that’s weaker than the first one, both in acting and singing performances, and it still doesn’t feature a Puerto Rican cast. So I’ll ask the hard questions: What was accomplished? Why on earth are all the critics falling all over themselves to praise this movie? 

If you ever go back to watch the original film after seeing this remake, you won’t be able to keep yourself from comparing the two and thinking, “What a shame they tried to remake this great classic hit.”
– Wait for HBO

Don’t Breathe 2 (R)

The opening scene with a Rottweiler is dumb and will make no sense to anyone who knows anything about dogs. More “inconsistent with real life” scenes follow. 

For those that saw the first version of this movie, we again watch the life of blind Iraqi veteran (Navy Seal) Norman Nordstrom as he has to deal with sighted bad guys who are up to no good. This time he has a young daughter in tow, which does add a new dynamic. The first film suffered from young home invaders that apparently suffered from low IQs and deserved their bad outcome. This one suffers from other issues. 

The movie starts with an organ trafficking ring? Really? I know the place is supposed to be Detroit, but a full-fledged organ trafficking gang that makes national news? I know “trafficking” has become the loosely used buzzword of the decade, but c’mon, man. This isn’t Mainland China. 

(We’ve managed to water down the English language until words have lost their value. A pimp driving his hooker through city “traffic” to drop her off in another part of town to work a corner is NOT trafficking. The horrific “trafficking” word needs to be reserved for steel shipping containers filled with people against their will. Nor should the US government get away with adding “shotgun” to the Weapons of Mass Destruction list. These English words and phrases used to have weight. Now we throw them around as casually as the word “dinner”.)

With no police or firefighters shown throughout the film, it plays more like an Escape From New York set piece than a movie set in Detroit. A scene showing the organ transplant procedure in a Detroit dump of a building is beyond silly. Organ transplants aren’t easy, folks. You can’t just call Dr. Abduwali over to the crack house to perform it. To portray anything easy about organ transplants is more far fetched than Wonder Woman inexplicably making her plane invisible.

In another scene, our blind protagonist finds himself in the basement and performs Superman feats of strength with a heavy steel vault that enters into Marvel movie territory. Sigh.  

Later he and a dog are trapped in the attic in a raging house fire. It’s smoke inhalation that quickly kills you in house fires. The flames just roast you afterward. This fire is surprisingly smoke-free – for an awfully long time. I was thinking to myself, “This is where the movie title would come in handy!”

Then we get more silly dog scenes to top the first silly dog scene. Apparently, Hollywood writers have seen photos of them but have never actually owned dogs. Note to writers – dog behavior is very predictable.

In the final moments of the film, Norman Nordstrom reveals things about himself that simply go too far. Even for a war veteran. Women in the audience will be taken aback. Why even go there? Very strange.
– Wait for HBO

Brian Wilson: Long Promised Road (NR)

There have been a few documentaries about Brian Wilson, the musical genius member of The Beach Boys who wrote all their material. The (based on his life) Hollywoodized movie Love & Mercy starring John Cusack, Elizabeth Banks and Paul Giamatti was an excellent illustration of his turbulent life in the Beach Boys. Highly recommended.  

This latest documentary covers much of the same ideas. But what makes this one stand out is that Brian Wilson trusts Rolling Stone editor Jason Fine more than anyone else in the world. They’ve been friends since the early days when Jason was doing interviews with rock stars. He has a soft (savant whisperer?) approach with Brian that allows the two of them to just drive around for hours and eat lunch together at a public place. Something Brian simply never does otherwise – with anyone. (As a static camera waits outside, there’s a Vanna White moment at a diner that you’ll miss if you’re not tuned into the roughly recorded remote microphone dialogue as they move toward the exit.) Ahhh, life in California. 

For those that are unfamiliar, Brian has major mental issues. He really does have Son of Sam-like evil voices in his head that prescribed drugs still haven’t been able to quash. Although Brian did manage to suppress the voices with large amounts of self-medication through booze and drugs in the earlier days, continuing that routine would have probably ended his life early, as with the long list of young dead rock stars we’re all familiar with. Watching Brian’s ticks and mannerisms may remind you of Gary Busey who suffered brain trauma in a terrible motorcycle accident. 

What Brian had by way of a damaged mind at birth likely gave him an idiot savant way of seeing music. In a way that rivaled the Beatles during their simultaneous heyday. 

To watch a magazine writer (and to be fair, true friend) softly lure very detailed stories out of Brian over a long drive is truly something to see. It’s captivating stuff. 

Some funny observations about the documentary itself:

About five minutes into the movie, music producer Linda Perry is talking about Brian Wilson and says, “There’s no hiding that this guy is troubled…” Meanwhile she looks like a street bag lady and has tattoos all over her body including on her face! I had to laugh. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black!

It’s funny to see Bruce Springsteen in the documentary talking about Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys, and how their gifted songwriting affected him. But none of it seems to have rubbed-off on him. Bruce is still trying his ass off to get just ONE #1 charted song on any of his albums. (20 and counting)

Producer Jim James (who?) is sitting in a wooded park for his interview time and for whatever reason is holding and waving around a dirty beat-up crow feather nonchalantly in his hand. What the hell?

I’m not a Beach Boys guy. It wasn’t my choice of music growing up. But hits are hits and Brian Wilson always had that gifted touch. We all know these songs that were played to death on the radio in the 60’s and 70’s. They’re great songs. And the guy that came up with them is a very interesting individual. Thank goodness someone has been able to capture some deeper insight on Brian Wilson – while he’s still around. 
– Wait for Rental

The Alpinist (PG-13)

For those fortunate folks that saw the theatrical-released documentary Free Solo about Alex Honnold who who famously climbed El Capitan’s 3,000-foot rock face at Yosemite National Park using only his hands and feet with no safety rope, this is along the same lines. If you enjoyed Free Solo, you should see The Alpinist too. If Free Solo was too intense to watch, skip this one for sure. If you’ve seen neither one, dip your toes in the water and watch Free Solo first. 

But for those that can handle it . . .

Canadian Marc André Leclerc started climbing when he was really young and became famous only among world-class climbers. Marc doesn’t care about records and he shuns any attention. He was so “socially stunted” as a child he had to be homeschooled. It’s obvious when he’s being interviewed that he’s got some mental handicap issues (ADD perhaps). But from the start, one thing he could really bear down and focus on was climbing mountains without a safety rope. Like in a crazy way that nobody else thought was even possible. Marc doesn’t plan the climbing routes nor does he do trial runs over several days. He simply walks up to a mountain he’s never been to before and tackles it that day. Like a monkey, he just starts climbing, figuring it out as he goes.  

So that’s Marc’s gig. He jumped 100% into it and started living in the wilderness full time. But between his social awkwardness and deep down feelings of climbing “solo” it makes it difficult for him to interact with filmmakers, much less let them come along which in his eyes kind of goes against the whole “solo” thing. Marc is so interested in the solo aspect he doesn’t even bring a cell phone with him. There can be no emergency help on your hip, otherwise it’s not really you against the mountain. Even less so with a bunch of cameramen around ready to assist if something goes wrong.

There’s some validity in what he’s saying. It’s insane to go that route, but I get it.  

One of the things that separates this movie from Free Solo is the fact that this Marc guy climbs on both rock and frozen ice faces equally well. Many times he’s climbing on both at once alternating between the two with an ice ax in each hand. It’s like nothing you or anyone else in the world has ever seen. Mind blowing. The Olympics of mountain climbing. You can see why even climber Alex Honnold (also in the film) shakes his head at what this kid is doing before our eyes. Makes your hands sweat just to watch him ascend multiple mountain faces in freezing wintertime. I double dog dare you to watch it!

It’s absolutely terrifying and it’s nuts. And it’s available for streaming on multiple platforms.
– Wait for Rental

Dune (PG-13)

I’ll keep this one short. If you’re a Dune fan and you claim to be, you’ll go see it. If you read the whole Dune book without giving up, you’ll go see it.

Just know that from the very beginning titles, this is a Part One of a Two Part set of movies. And Part Two may never be made. That last sentence can’t be overstated.

For the rest of us…
I never read the book. Furthermore, I thought the 1984 Sting version of Dune was weak. This latest Dune film got great pre-release ratings. Lately that has been a terribly inaccurate gauge to go by. But if any movie would look good in the IMAX format, it would be Dune. Thus the theater visit. 

Overall the story is slow and the buildup to the sandworm scenes left me underwhelmed. The spaceships and dragonfly copters look OK, but at this point we’ve been beaten half to death with CGI films so I think most people are numb to it all. The music sure is loud along with a lot of booms and thuds that rumble the theater. Almost exactly the same sounds as any Marvel franchise release or Fast and Furious film. If you close your eyes they’re totally interchangeable. Swell of the orchestra, Boom. Crash. Thud. A lot of that. Except there’s not much real action in Dune. But still a lot of whomps and thuds going on.

The characters sometimes use breathers when out in the desert on this planet but mostly not. (See photo above) The whole thing seemed flimsy to me. 

The acting is fine and the cast is overtly diverse so it checks all the 2021 boxes. Supposedly the second half of the book has most of the action. Sounds like it might be better to either wait for the Part Two action packed film or wait to see if Part Two actually gets green lit by the studio. If we’re stuck with this slow moving Part One for the rest of our lives with no follow-up Part Two, would that make us suckers? 

I think so.

The movie only has a runtime of 2 hours and 35 minutes. It just feels like 3 hours and 35 minutes.
– Wait for Rental

The Protégé (R)

Maggie Q, Samuel L. Jackson, Michael Keaton and Robert Patrick all star in this latest hired assassin movie The Protégé.

There’s a lot going on in this movie and following the plot of who is who and who wants what is purposely a chore. But basically it’s a reverse Bond movie where the good assassins toy with the bad guys instead of just killing them right away.

Everybody in the movie is trying to kill everybody else and/or switching sides willy-nilly. If you like the stars listed above in the movies they’ve previously been in, just leave your brain at the door, munch on some popcorn and enjoy yourself.

Like every movie there are dumb scenes. Here again we see all the sprinkler heads in a building go off all at once, something that’s never been designed and never happens in real life. That’s not how fire sprinklers work. You don’t destroy an entire building with massive water damage because an object catches fire in one room.

Without giving anything more away, there’s a scene near the middle of the movie that is beyond absurd. Then five minutes later they jump the shark and it’s even more asinine. Hollywood movies have become ridiculous.

Brain at the door. Concentrate on that flavorful buttered popcorn!

If you’re struggling to find a movie to rent on a rainy Wednesday night (we’ve all been there) just watch the action and enjoy these solid stars who are working hard with what little script they have to work with.
– Wait for Rental

Final Set (NR)

This is the fictional story about a tennis prodigy that was all but certain, from a young age, to become a champion. But he failed miserably in the finals and became nothing but a painful footnote in tennis history. 

We now see him in the surgeon’s office, looking at X-rays of his destroyed knee after many surgeries. At 37-years-old he still dreams of a late-in-life comeback. His friends, wife and mother try to dissuade him.

This is a French film with English subtitles. With some distance from Hollywood the story is free to go in many directions and that’s the enticing thing about it. Where is it headed? How will this play out? The main character’s name is Thomas Edison, which is obviously distracting. No one in this movie makes light (ha!) of that name. The guy had over 1,000 patents. Not ONE joke? Really? 

“You played great today. And thanks again for that whole light bulb thing.”

Who could resist??

If you’ve ever watched tennis matches in the past, this will offer you more screen time watching tennis. Those that have avoided watching tennis their whole lives will want to avoid this film as well. Regardless, just know ahead of time that even tense matches between fictional tennis players can’t possibly compete with something like boxing. This is no Rocky film. And tennis scenes can get a bit repetitious at times.

They do try hard to explore the many inside facets of being a pro athlete as well as being the wife of a pro athlete. (Ana Girardot plays his wife. You may or may not like her role, but she’s a complex, believable standout in the movie). 

His mom still runs a tennis club. She’s tough as nails. They also show the ruthless side of the press core, which is realistic. 

Whether you find the inner workings of an athlete and his family interesting or entertaining is up to the individual. We all know that the best-of-the-best (or GOATS as we call them) get so focused that nothing, not even family, is important when a big event is on the horizon. 

Tom Brady leaves his home and family behind and focuses on nothing but the game for the two weeks before his many Super Bowls. Family would just be a distraction. Brady can’t have distractions. Tiger Woods would walk by his own mother without even acknowledging her on his way to the links in tournaments. Laser focus. GOAT. Tiger’s personal life eventually collapsed and he could no longer get distractions out of his mind. He was never able to hit a golfball the same after that. He became a goat of a different kind.

So the distractions Thomas Edison faces in this film stand out like landmines for those who study the sports world. Equally important, his physical issues are more than just age and a bum knee. For whatever reason the callouses on his racket hand constantly break and bleed profusely. Not only just below the fingers in the usual four round areas, but his whole palm as well. I’m no doctor, but can that really be a permanent ailment? What are the odds of having perpetually unstable callouses if you are a tennis pro?

I never understood the calluses bleeding on the hands thing. They used that same plot device in the Whiplash drummer movie as well. I drummed hard in rock bands for 30 years and I can tell you this bleeding calluses thing is mighty rare. Stewart Copeland (The Police) was the only drummer I ever saw constantly applying tape to his hands during shows. I also played a lot of tennis in the 70’ and 80’s. No one I know of had bloody calluses on those courts. Regardless of whether you’re digging ditches for a living, drumming all your life or playing tennis, every one of those activities makes you sweat profusely and those calluses naturally develop for a protective reason. If your body can’t do that then perhaps wear athletic gloves? Just a thought. Sure beats bleeding profusely all over the court and all over the shower floor at each tennis tournament. 

Both REO Speedwagon drummers (Alan Gratzer and Bryan Hitt) always wore gloves to prevent developing calluses altogether. So it does work.   

Overall I’m right on the edge with this one. I also need to add the issue of spastic camera work throughout. In the end, I just can’t recommend it to anyone unless they’re a hard core tennis nut.
– Avoid!

Old Henry (NR)

When you see his face you’ll know you’ve seen Tim Blake Nelson before. Perhaps in the Cohen Brothers film O Brother, Were Art Thou? He’s been in a ton of films and is the star of Old Henry, a story about a farmer named Henry McCarty, trying his best to raise his teenage son as a single father in the late 1800’s after his wife died ten years earlier. As with most teenagers, there is obvious friction between the two. 

One day a horse shows up at the farm with blood on the saddle instead of a rider. Henry rides out in the direction the horse came from to see if he can find the rider. He does, along with a satchel full of cash.

Sounds like a typical Hollywood script you’ve seen countless times. But this one is different. The quandary the father and son face is a lot more complicated than you think. And since this story is somewhat based on historical facts, you mustn’t investigate any part of this movie further before viewing. Don’t read any other reviews or synopsis of this film, nor watch any trailers. 

Just know that Tim Blake Nelson was the perfect actor for this role. Historians would likely agree. It’s a great western.

Once the ending is revealed you can then Google further to broaden your knowledge of Henry McCarty. I must admit I’m somewhat embarrassed that the name didn’t ring a bell when I was watching the movie. But there it is.

Available for streaming now.
– Wait for Rental

No Time To Die (PG-13)

It’s like you’re seeing double! Yep, that’s two 007’s in the same shot. 

Make of it what you want. But it’s 100% true that this is the last 007 starring Daniel Craig. Now on to the actual film content.

We start out watching James Bond living a quiet life in retirement in Jamaica, of all places in the world to live. The woman he has chosen to settle down with has a gap-toothed grill that will remind you of Michael Strahan. She’s unlike any “sexy Bond girl” you’ve ever seen in nearly 60 years. Is the ‘shaken not stirred’ James Bond we all know and love really settling down with her? What is going on here? Every race car driver in the world has found a mate hotter than her! But at least the opening Bond thrill sequence lets you know you are in fact sitting in the right theater. 

Then the famous Bond theme song starts with the long opening credits. Except this Bond Theme song (by Billie Eilish) is a total dud. It’s the only opening song of the entire Bond series that made me want to reach for the fast forward button. Can’t do that in a theater, but no one will sit through this snoozer of opening Bond credits once this film hits streaming.

With James Bond in retirement, MI6 has moved on and he’s been replaced by another agent with the same 007 moniker (see photo above). Unlike sports, they don’t retire your number even if you’re the GOAT. So the franchise is conditioning everyone for the future. YMMV. The whole gender swap role reversal didn’t work for me.

One bit of fresh air was the addition of Ana de Armas (Blade Runner 2049, Knives Out, Yesterday) who gets a long spycraft scene with James Bond in a Cuban bar. It ends with guns blazing and is one of the high points of the film, which is saying something because the movie is 2h 43m long! 

It seems like forever before the villain (played by Rami Malek (Mr. Robot, Bohemian Rhapsody)) comes onto the scene. He’s almost an afterthought and adds very little to the movie. Of course he has his own little villain island in the Pacific and has evil plans for the world, but otherwise is a less than menacing figure. Malek is like the Maharishi of villains.

If you’re hoping the cool tech that Q gives the duo 007s will make it worth the trip to the theater, think again. Very little tech going on here. 

The point is, there’s very little to offer at all. I know the critics are all applauding this final send-off of Daniel Craig as James Bond. But the unvarnished truth is that this is one of the weakest Bond films ever. You won’t want to watch it twice. And it’s so damn long you’d be better off waiting to stream it at home and take a 7th-inning stretch. It’s simply not theater-worthy.
– Wait for Rental

Coming Home in the Dark (NR)

Here’s a new thriller out of New Zealand and yet another opportunity for couples to watch and then rehearse their own strategy on how THEY would get out of this situation if something like this ever happened to them. Just like you wouldn’t just sit quietly in a hijacked plane and allow yourself to be flown into a building ever since 9/11 showed us that new wrinkle. We learn from what we see. 

This intense tale shows us a family of four out on a camping adventure in the beautiful rural areas of New Zealand. Almost immediately two menacing guys walk up on them and threaten the family with a rifle. It’s tense and the two teenage sons are on the verge of panic. 

Things go from bad to worse and it becomes hours of captivity and strategizing to simply survive the ordeal. 

I dare not say too much as the real enjoyment of the movie comes from not knowing what these bad guys are up to and how far they will really take the abduction of this family. But it’s shocking to the core and kudos to actor Daniel Gillies who plays a believable bad guy that really stays with you after the credits roll.  

What I can say (again) is this. Please think back to the hide and seek days when running from bad guys. Running straight down the middle of the road instead of hunkering down in the woods is not only silly, it’s infuriating. Secondly, if you ever get the drop on a killer (a guy who you’ve seen kill with your own eyes) don’t stop bludgeoning him until you see fluids running out of both his ears and his skull is unquestionably caved in. If you don’t have the stones to actually kill him (no pun intended) then bludgeon his knees or splinter his shins to take all the fight out of him. You’ll face an injury lawsuit (and lose) but you’ll live. Couples need to seriously chat about such things so there is no gray area if a life threatening event occurs in their lives. Get your game plan in order.

If you’ve seen the thugs kill someone, or your family member, and you’ve seen their faces, there is little to no chance they can let you live. You can use that bleak knowledge to your advantage.

If things look really dire there are often ways to change the script of life so the roll of the dice makes the outcome 50/50 VS. letting the bad guys have 100% of the power over your life or death. If you ever find yourself being transported in a car to near certain death (or rape, or torture) you have the option of reaching over and grabbing the steering wheel to forcefully yank the car off the road with all your weight in the most violent of “Fuck you,” motions. Especially if you have your seatbelt on in the passenger seat. But it works from the back seat too. Every soul for themselves.

If you time it right it’s going to be a brutal outcome. But it was already going to be a brutal outcome – for you. Time to spread the fun. Everybody in the car might die. But in this new twist of fate, you’ve just yanked the power out of the hands of a killer or two and you might just put them into a pine box.

Instead of just you – decomposing in a shallow grave as they walk away to grab some beers at a local bar.

Sometimes you need to go out like a lion and not like a lamb. And you just might survive to tell the tale. In this particular story, the above survival tips would most certainly apply. I kept waiting for it to happen. 

This “What if that was me?” movie is worth a rental. 
– Wait for Rental 

Small Engine Repair (R)

Actors John Pollono and Jon Bernthal star in this movie about an ex-con (played by Pollono) coming out of prison to continue running his small engine repair shop. You immediately get the feeling he’s going to be the Billy bad ass in this film. But alas, every single character in this thing has anger issues and they all want to bicker, argue and fight. And drink hard to make the bickering worse. 

Even his teenage daughter is a foul-mouthed, ornery chip off the old block. And the mother, worse than the rest. Everybody hates the mother (x-wife of Pollono) and she hates them back yet forces herself into their lives anyway. The title of the movie should have been, Toxic Friendships – A Case Study For Those That Want To Be Psychiatrists. 

His friends since childhood still hang with him. They’re always minutes away from a fight. We see a flashback to their adolescent days where we find out their fathers beat the hell out of these kids. It’s all they know. 

In a bar scene, it’s nothing but predatory angles, angst and leads to an ugly bar fight. For an hour and a half we watch these folks squabble often leading to fisticuffs. 

Sound like fun? It’s not. There’s not one likable character in the entire film that contains dozens of individuals. 

Then a really bad thing happens that is shocking. 

So with that new awful subject thrown into the mix, in the end, what do they accomplish? 

Nothing! They accomplish nothing!

A rare ending for a film of this sort. Nothing is resolved. Everything is just as it was before the big surprise reveal where they try to resolve things. 

A total fail all the way around. If you see the trailer and think maybe you’ll watch this, do yourself a favor. Take the time instead to clean your master bathroom. I assure you you’ll have a much better time doing that.
– Avoid!

East of the Mountains (NR)

An elderly retired surgeon who’s been diagnosed with terminal cancer takes his dog on a journey into the mountainous wilderness one last time. His wife died years earlier of cancer and he has become estranged from his only daughter. 

The trailer is cleverly edited and the cast is full of solid actors including Tom Skerrett and Mira Sorvino. It’s the director with a cryptic name (S.J. Chiro) that fooled me. She’s nothing more than a budding director who may never “get there” no matter how many mulligans she gets. With the endless push for more female directors, she’ll be given endless mulligans. Of course it got rave reviews. 

The story meanders and nothing much happens. The direction is slow with long scenes of an old man basically sitting around like an old man. Like molasses in wintertime, the story flows along at 2 mph with everyone speaking in calm tones and moving at near slow motion.

This one’s a dud. If I had taken the time to examine the director’s cryptic name I would have avoided it. As you should.
– Avoid!

Behemoth (NR)

From a film study standpoint this horror movie was supposedly filmed with a shoestring budget of $65,000. That seemed impossibly low after watching the VFX laden trailer. So I had to give it a chance.  

The story is about a whistleblower who is going up against the De Pointe chemical company who is poisoning people including his cute little daughter who is hospitalized. Yeah, it’s a purposely misspelled play on the DuPont chemical company name.

So the whistleblower and two of his close friends kidnap the head of De Pointe and take him to a fleabag hotel to extract what exactly poisoned the whistleblower’s daughter so she can be saved. But the head of De Pointe seems to be the devil himself, spawning VFX scenes aplenty.

Let’s give credit where it’s due. The special effects were pretty darn cool for $65,000. And you can write your own screenplay for free. Unfortunately, that only leaves a couple nickels to hire actors to play the parts.  

The biggest problem (of many) with this movie is the whistleblower actor Josh Eisenberg (III). (There are so many Eisenburgs in Hollywood you need the extra verbiage to know if it’s Eisenberg the 2nd, 3rd or 4th).

This Eisenberg the third can’t act. And he’s in almost every scene. On the Internet he’s listed as a writer, producer, director and an actor. Mostly “short” films in all categories. He has starred in a bunch of film “shorts” as well. After suffering through his performance in this full length film, he needs to give up acting altogether (and expunge “actor” from his résumé). He’s embarrassingly pitiful. There is no hope that he will ever be good. If they paid him a penny it was the worst money they’ve ever spent in their entire lives. 

His onscreen wife is played by Whitney Nielsen, a fledgling actress who has a full-on Demi Lovato vibe going on. She’s a poor actress (maybe she should try singing!). But next to Josh Eisenberg (III) she’s like Meryl Streep.  

I’ve added Josh Eisenberg (III) to my growing list of directors/actors to avoid in the future. If he’s in a movie he’ll just poison the well.

The Girl Who Got Away (NR)

The photos and trailer give too much away or misrepresent what the film is really about. Thus the limited thumbnail above.

Another in a list of recent movies that are nearly terrific. This one tells the tale of a female serial killer who kidnaps young girls and holds them in her dirty old home to raise them as her own. A bit of a Halloween Michael Myers beginning sets this thing off on the right course when this previously captured killer escapes from prison and might be hunting the one girl who got away from that house many years earlier.

Lots of kills along the way. And they’re well done, especially for this low budget film (it stars no one you know).

Of course girls fall down when running because it’s a horror movie, but it’s effectively creepy (like raising the hair on the back of your neck creepy) in parts that will take you by surprise. Nine out of ten of the actors are good which is a plus as well.

It’s the script that brings this film to its knees in the last act. They try to bend the story into a puzzle of a twist and maybe it works, or maybe it doesn’t. Since you won’t know what the hell happened, who did what to who or even what any of it means, it leaves you feeling empty. You’ll wonder why more people aren’t going to jail, but maybe they shouldn’t? Who the hell knows. It’s just a convoluted mess at the end. If the DVD release adds back pertinent scenes that were cut from the movie, that might explain a lot of it. Shame no one buys DVDs anymore, so we’ll never know. 

If you cue it up, it’s to be creeped out while watching a psychotic killer on the loose and a potential victim that has more than a few screws loose herself.
– Wait for Rental 

Atlantis (NR)

This Ukrainian movie depicts life on the ground in Ukraine in the near future (2025) after a new war with Russia. In this prediction, this latest war has polluted the rivers and natural water sources to the point that delivery trucks are needed to supply filtered water to the locals. Part documentary, part projection as to what could happen, it’s a window into the Ukrainian world but presented by a master of movie making. 

In a word, it’s “bleak.” But that can be said about any communist area of the world. The reason this film has won so many awards and accolades is the director’s use of his camera. You’ve likely never seen anything like it. National Geographic has to be envious of his work. I decided not to even use a thumbnail image for this review as it would not do the film justice.

The movie is mostly a series of long static shots showing a landscape or building. The way he frames each scene is incredible, almost as if you are looking at a large oil painting in a museum that suddenly has live elements appearing inside it. The director is truly a master at framing a shot. Especially in the widescreen HD format. He makes use of every inch of the screen and the actors know precisely where the middle of the frame is to hit their marks. The endless rehearsals! I can’t even imagine.

As you watch each lengthy scene of life in Ukraine, you can’t help but to look around your living room and realize just how fortunate we all are. With all the “conveniences of home.” Such a stark difference in so much of the world. You may want to pause the movie and hug your toaster. 

I cannot possibly describe the imagery you’ll witness during these shots of that part of the world. Some of the landscapes look like something out of the 60’s set of Lost in Space! But I must warn viewers in advance that there is an autopsy scene like nothing you’ve seen before. You can’t just close your eyes for a bit. It’s lengthy and detailed. Other scenes may be equally off-putting for some. 

Some folks dig well-shot films in general. It’s a real art to do it well. I can’t think of another film that does it like this one. The subject matter is dark and depressing, but there’s a hint of light at the end of the tunnel.

I found it fascinating from start to finish. If you can find it in a theater, watch it there. The bigger the screen, the better. DO NOT WATCH THE TRAILERS BEFOREHAND!

In Ukrainian with English subtitles.
– Wait for Rental 

Night Drive (NR)

This independent film has a Pulp Fiction feel right out of the gate. 

We watch as a Los Angeles Uber driver in a shiny white Porsche Cayenne SUV picks up various riders during the Christmas season. As night falls he picks up a cute young girl who offers him $200 to keep driving her late into the night to different destinations

So as you watch you’re now thinking about the 2004 Tom Cruise movie Collateral. But as time passes and things get really dicey, to say the least, you start thinking about the 1986 Melanie Griffith/Jeff Daniels movie Something Wild, where we watch to see just how far out of bounds a man will go with an attractive woman egging him on. Would such a normal guy even bury a body with her? She has all the confidence in the world while he’s always on the verge of panic and disaster. It sure keeps you guessing and interested in the story.

And then it’s back to the Pulp Fiction feel with the burning question, what incredibly important items are inside that case that she stole from her boyfriend? 

The ending is insane (in a good way) but could have been written better in my opinion. At only 1h 22m they certainly had more runway left to maneuver on. Regardless, it’s worth a rental.

Final Quick Notes:
It’s not rated but there are some gnarly scenes with a corpse that might be off-putting for the squeamish. Call this one a hard R.

The actress is an Aussie and unlike the countless other Australian actresses, she keeps her Sydney accent. I must admit I had to rewind a bit and put the subtitles on at the start. My ability to understand her speech patterns got better as the movie progressed.

There are some plot holes, but considering where this thing goes that hardly matters.
– Wait for Rental 

Pig (R)

Nicolas Cage stars as a truffle farmer who lives in a dingy shack with a pig who helps him find the best truffles in the forest for the fanciest restaurants in Portland, Oregon. The shack and the pig are all he needs in life so he’s understandably upset when thieves show up in the middle of the night to steal his prized pig. 

There are very few big-time stars that need a hit as much as Nicolas Cage. He’s right up there with Bruce Willis as actors that will take any role, anytime, anywhere regardless of how terrible the idea or script is.

This is an unusual role for Cage which is probably why it feels so much better than anything he’s done in a long time.

He sells his truffles to a local truffle dealer who says, “What?” a lot in conversations. That’s annoying. And there are quiet scenes where the director inexplicably felt it necessary to hand the camera to a drunken camera operator to film the shots, but not enough to label this a total shaky-cam movie. 

Some people can’t stand Nicolas Cage or have given up on him entirely. Can’t fault them at this point. But he made some pretty solid films in the past. This one is slow and steady so don’t expect the usual (lately) crazed Cage looking to settle a score, burning rubber in a souped-up Chevy. That’s probably his next three films. 

Regardless, for those who enjoyed some of his earlier more subtle work, this one’s probably for you.
– Wait for Rental 

Flinch (NR)

As soon as this Flinch film starts you get a moody soundtrack with a Tangerine Dream musical feel. Or, as it turns out, a Miami Vice feel as the actual musician behind the film score calls himself and his abilities, “Miami Nights 1984.” (He even has records out). It also turns out that the entire film has that same 1980’s (Michael Mann) Miami Vice TV show feel – on purpose. Either that entices you or it doesn’t. I’m personally a fan of that genre.

The basic story follows a hitman who suddenly has a woman witness a hit he just carried out. Instead of killing her, which would tie-up the loose end and make life easier, he kidnaps her and brings her home to meet his mother. It’s not what you’re thinking but that line will make you chuckle if you see the movie. 

It’s a blend of bad and even badder underworld guys with a script that is complicated, just like the Miami Vice episodes were. You might even say some scenes are over the top and uncharacteristic of normal human behavior. But these folks are not normal. The characters are strange and often we get only short patches of cryptic dialogue. A lot like the the 80’s Miami Vice show. Sheena Easton made a few appearances on that series and she’s not even an actress! My advice is to just go with it like we did in the 80’s.  

The scenes are 1980’s longer than you’re used to in 2021. The lighting is dark and strange. Purposely dark and strange.

If back then you had positive memories of watching Miami Vice episodes on TV, you should probably give this movie a chance. It’s on that same level of subdued entertainment with moments of adrenaline. If not, or if you’re too young to remember that hip (at the time) TV show, skip this one. No doubt there are 20 non-stop, “live-action cartoon” Marvel movies that you’d rather stream – again. 
– Wait for Rental 

Tailgate (NR)

Two little, three little, four little idiots . . .

In this movie from the Netherlands we follow a family of four as they rush off in their car to grandma’s house. Once on the highway the father tailgates a white van. The father flashes his headlights and honks the horn in anger. We all know where this is headed. In this movie it’s a van with a tall man who loves to don a white chemical suit so he can spray his special formula bug killer on those humans that are not polite. 

Unfortunately this family with two young daughters does everything wrong. As I’ve mentioned in countless other reviews, it’s annoying (to me) to watch hapless idiots as they are chased and hunted. Especially in a modern world where everybody has a cellphone in their pocket to summon help. 

Enough is enough. This turkey got an 86% positive rating this weekend. Maybe I’m the crazy one, but watching idiots do dumb things for an hour and a half is not my idea of entertainment.

Settlers (NR)

It should have been longer.

That’s what I was thinking as the credits rolled.

Settlers shows us the life of a family living on Mars. Mother, father and daughter. Not as depressing as it really would be if they were living on Mars (the place would be hellish for humans) but it’s movie. And life on Mars is still pretty awful in this particular movie case as well, but they make the best of it. Think Little House on the Red Planet Prairie and you’ll get the idea. 

But soon they have scary visitors at their compound and the dynamic between the characters is what carries the film along. The actors are stellar regardless of the less than stellar script.  

You’ll have 50 questions as you watch it – very few of which will be answered. How they are able to breathe and such is somewhat answered so don’t spend too much time thinking about that elephant in the room.

We have the tired issue of a kid not listening to her parents and doing dumb kid things, but that’s par for the course. The ending is unsatisfying and I can’t help but to wonder if the issues could have been fixed with an additional 15 minutes of added exposition, bringing it up to a more satisfying 2 hr runtime.

Sofia Boutella stars as the mother and she does a great job in this story. I can’t believe I’ve never seen her in anything else. Looks like she also played the mummy (no pun intended) in Tom Cruise’s The Mummy. Never saw that. She’s originally a dancer by trade. You might want to check out Michael Jackson’s Hollywood Tonight video to see her skills from the past.

It’s a better than average straight-to-video movie. But with a little more time and storyline it could have been so much better.
– Wait for Rental 

There is No Evil (NR)

I struggled to find the right thumbnail for this review. It’s that kind of movie. So I edited the theatrical movie poster image to what it should have shown. 

Have you ever been curious about life on the ground in Iran? Like North Korea, most people envision a scary place that Americans would consider too risky to visit. For good reason. Thus, out of sight, out of mind. 

But Iran is a large country with breathtaking scenery and long in tradition. A filmmaker’s dream. This movie is even more impressive since it was secretly filmed by an Iranian filmmaker that was previously jailed and forbidden by the Iranian government from making any more movies of any kind. 

There is no Evil has already won various film awards and has wide critical acclaim. Deservedly so. Once completed the film was smuggled out of Iran. That alone should entice you to see it. (It’s critical of the regime). I’m surprised the director could find such great actors in Iran willing to be seen in such a film. 

You’ll need patience to watch it for two and a half hours, but you’ll be rewarded for your time. And you’ll get a rare glimpse into multiple facets of the Iranian world.

There are four stories in all, each culminating in a thrilling and/or worrisome climax. You’re not supposed to know where each of the stories is headed so not watching any trailers or reading any commercial synopsis will greatly help your enjoyment of the film.

At the start, we spend 30 minutes watching people do mundane things like going to work, driving home, driving to pick up their wife, driving to the bank, driving to pick up their kid, grocery shopping, going to sleep. 

Life in Iran. Probably not something any Westerner has seen before. Probably not like what you’ve previously envisioned either.

The acting is stellar and very natural. The scenes, beautifully shot. Remember back in the 1980s and 1990s when movies were shot on steady tripods with a concentrated effort to frame each scene properly? This is a masterclass on that.

It’s not the 2021 (cat chasing a laser pointer dot) Hollywood template movie. You’ll likely become antsy. You may start to look at your phone or decide to give up on it. Don’t. Think of yourself sitting on the porch of a rental house in a seaside town in the off-season. Relax and people-watch for a while. You’re simply being prepared for what’s to come. 

Mundane people in life might have a job that shocks you. They may do things that shock you. You don’t see them, really, as they go about their daily lives in public. 

If you start the movie, you’ll want to finish it. You need to finish it. 

The film could have also been called, Don’t Judge a Book by its Cover. It’s not a Spider-Man movie, but in its own way, it’s still a roller-coaster of a story. 

– Now streaming on most platforms. In Persian with professional, clearly written English subtitles. (Avoid any trailers ahead of watching)
– Wait for Rental

Méander (NR)

A woman lets a stranger pick her up on the side of the road only to figure out he’s a serial killer. After being knocked unconscious she wakes up with a high-tech looking timer device on her wrist and has to navigate through a series of steel tunnels each with their own death/escape puzzles. Like something out of the Saw line of movies.

This film stars no one of importance and plays like a French independent film, though mostly in English. If you’re super claustrophobic it might be a tough go to watch what she literally goes through. (But it’s not really a plumbing pipe like the movie poster depicts.)

Immediate problems crop up for the film. The driver claims the nearest gas station where she can make a call is 6 miles ahead. A long way on foot for sure but only about a 6 minute drive. The sun is just starting to set when she gets into the truck but 6 minutes later we see him driving her in total darkness. Math is a bitch. It’s not cloud cover either because you’ll see stars.

Then there’s the acting. Just as a porn star moans simply because she’s told to do it, this French actress seems to do the same thing. Then her overacting deteriorates to the point that she pulls herself along for a mere 10 feet and then breathes like she just ran 2 miles. It’s not revealed to us if she suffers from asthma (thankfully). 

She knows there’s a noisy timer on her wrist for each section with impending death hot on her heels, over and over, and yet she still meanders through the tunnels. (Thus the title?)

If there was a “Survival Olympics” she’d come in dead last. At least there’s no dumb scene with the woman falling down while being pursued – because she’s belly crawling the entire time.

Then it turns into a TV episode of Ninja Warrior where she has to carefully cross over a pool of acid. 

But just as you’re getting bored of the whole puzzle-tunnel thing there’s a surprise at the 40 minute mark that you won’t see coming, no matter how hard you try. They did a terrific job for once of hiding that crazy nugget in all the trailers. 

Unfortunately, even with the crazy plot twist, the ending will still leave you wanting.
– Wait for Rental

Till Death (R) 

Megan Fox stars as the wife of a rich lawyer who finds herself handcuffed to his dead body in Till Death, a movie that got great reviews for the opening. Not sure how that happened. 

The first third of the film shows us their dead marriage (no pun intended) as the husband tries to make the best of it on their anniversary night out. About as much fun to watch as it would be if you were sitting at the table with the depressed couple all night. You’d quickly excuse yourself if you could. Megan Fox smiles exactly once in the entire film. Yeah, it’s that gloomy. 

Once she finds herself cuffed to his corpse the writers try their best to stretch out the ordeal of her dragging his dead body all over the house and yard until we need a new diversion to keep us interested. So the writers have the black guy she’s been cheating with show up at the remote cabin on the lake soon followed by a couple bad white guys who are there to steal diamonds from the wall safe. So it becomes a Tarantino wannabe film (minus the clever writing and skillful direction) where apparently the last person standing wins. 

Whether or not you find it satisfying or full of absurdity and plot holes is up to you.

I think the first thing people would do if they got blood and brain fragments blown onto their face would be to wipe their face. Number 1 on the list. Before anything else. Apparently Hollywood script writers wouldn’t do that. Why Megan Fox wouldn’t wipe her husband’s skull gore off her face is inexplicable. 

The post-production GCI breath vapor they added to the “frigid” air only works 1/10th of the time. Either use it or don’t, guys. Don’t just use it for three breaths and call it a day. We’re going to notice that crap.

As usual, women in films never finish the job once they get a villain down. The movie would have been half the runtime had she finished what she started, multiple times. And why does every villain outside of the Halloween franchise possess Michael Myers self-healing powers too? That can’t be right. 

Fox is so damn noisy throughout the whole movie while trying to hide that you’d think the script was written for a ten-year-old girl.

The villains can’t seem to track a person in newly fallen snow. Are they supposed to be ten-year-old boys?

In my book it’s a failed mission. But if you’re a Fox fan and you liked any of her previous (numerous) turkeys you’ll probably like this one enough for a rental.
– Wait for Rental

A Quiet Place Part II (PG-13) 

Much the same as the first film, this family from the Island of Misfit Toys makes their way through a world where monsters instantly and viciously attack when any sound is made. To the point that people whisper to each other in a way that makes you long for subtitles.  

This one starts with a flashback of the world just prior to the alien invasion. Cut to a baseball field where we see the same family as Part I with a deaf daughter and their retarded son who is inept at everything and has frequent panic attacks. He’s failing miserably at bat and we’re shown that he generally struggles in life. As he’s about to strike out, something appears in the sky. The only redeeming quality of this Part II is that we (kind of) get a backstory of how these aliens got to Earth. It’s mighty thin, but at least we get to see a short scene of the arrival. It’s also overplayed.

We’ve all seen footage of meteors racing through the atmosphere. Even a pretty recent (well-documented) one in Russia that was recorded on countless dash cams and security cameras. Modern people simply watch the objects as they burn up during entry, or more likely film it to show their friends later or post on YouTube. We do that because we’re not cave people who have never seen anything race across the sky before. 

Everyone in this movie sees the distant meteor and immediately panics (like ancient people) and sprints to their vehicles. Why and where they think they are going is anyone’s guess. Then the monsters come (too quickly based on the fiery object racing into the distance, but whatever). And that’s the best part of this film. This flashback lasts about 10 minutes total. After that, you can do something else.

The rest of the movie is the same old nonsense that should frustrate grown-up viewers. We see the mother from Part I still carrying her newborn baby (in a world where any noise, like crying, immediately gets everyone killed) with her deaf daughter and retarded son, all walking barefoot in wooded areas and along old railroad tracks that are unfit for bare feet. Misfit Toys. (We don’t yet know what handicap the baby will grow up with. I’m guessing blind as that would add to their long list of absurd issues as he bumps into things. Maybe that will be revealed in Part III).

It’s silly that anyone would walk barefoot in the worst topography for modern feet. As dumb as running from dinosaurs in high heels – in the jungle (Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom). And every one of their footsteps crunch just a little as they slowly and (sometimes) carefully walk in the wilderness. Just the same as if they wore Nikes to protect their feet. All the other survivors are wearing sneakers or boots. Because footwear is just as quiet as bare feet on any surface. We know Indians knew a thing or two about stealth. And we also know Indians wore moccasins. They wore footwear because Indians weren’t dumb. 

Yes, this family’s feet immediately bleed. And yes, they limp a lot due to the fact that they have shunned footwear of any kind as they walk for miles at a time. Misfit Toys. Unless you enjoy watching hapless idiots do one dumb thing after another, it’s here that you should be reminded to stop watching because you already saw the alien arrival scene that explains how it all happened – kind of. 

As I established in my Part I film review back in 2018 (and in real life) even normal kids are dumb and don’t behave. They won’t do what you tell them to do so the’ll put themselves and anyone around them in constant peril. Even more so if one of them can’t hear when she makes noise and the other kid is retarded. But Hollywood is under pressure to include handicapped people in all movies. The Academy will no longer consider any movie for awards if it doesn’t conform to this new inclusive mandate. So add this one to the constant stream of such movies.

They even school the movie audience on the best way to communicate with deaf people, emphasizing that we need to speak slowly and enunciate carefully to help them lip-read. I’m guessing the odds of that Hollywood lesson tidbit coming in handy would be astronomically low as I’ve never in my life been in a situation where I needed to converse with a deaf person. With the advent of smart phones, it would be even less of an obstacle as long as the deaf person also possessed thumbs and we could type out what we wanted to say to one another. I don’t even want to guess the astronomical odds of running into a deaf person without thumbs.

At one point the retarded son steps into a bear trap. You can imagine the shock, pain and lengthy horrific screams that come out of his mouth (see photo above). If you have an IQ higher than a turnip you know you have two solid choices. Run away and leave him to save your baby, deaf daughter and yourself, or immediately knock him out with a solid punch to the jaw to shut him up. Letting him scream like a wild banshie endlessly would be death for everyone around. After all, that’s the entire premise of this movie franchise and why they are supposedly walking around for the rest of their lives in bruised and bloodied bare feet! For this scene, the script keeps the monsters at bay for some inexplicable reason giving them ample time to undo his ankle and scramble to safety. Beyond silly. His screams are as long and loud as a 21-gun salute. In every other scene the monsters pounce within seconds of a noise.

Then, just hours after having his leg in a bear trap, he’s limping around on it (yeah, ok) because he refuses to listen to his mother and decides instead to leave the baby alone and wander around in an industrial complex that he’s completely unfamiliar with. This leads to predictable catastrophe because he’s a panic-stricken Misfit Toy that you would never leave alone in a world full of monsters, much less with your newborn baby, much less in a world where he and the baby would quickly be eaten while you’re away. The whole thing is simply asinine. 

The deaf daughter gets into all kinds of trouble and never listens to anyone. She has to be saved multiple times. Which makes sense since she has the massive handicap of hearing loss. But since she’s handicapped, she’s really the only person who can come up with a plan and outsmart man and alien beast alike (much like the first movie). We need to be reminded of that. Handicapped people are super special. Just shy of Marvel Comic Heroes. If it weren’t for handicapped people figuring out everything for us throughout history we would likely have all perished thousands of years ago. Or so Hollywood would have us believe in movie after movie.

As I said in my review of Part I of this franchise, in the real world, this family would be the first to be eaten. They’d be the appetizer. And you’d want to be as far from them as possible to keep from becoming the main course! 

I think it’s garbage.
– Wait for HBO  

New Order (R) 

This is the 2020 movie with this title, directed by Michel Franco – in Spanish with English subtitles.

What would it be like if the world crumbled around you. We watch lots of movies about that, and enjoy them. From the Poseidon Adventure, imagining ourselves on a cruise ship that is suddenly sinking, to Towering Inferno where we imagine what it would be like to be trapped in a burning skyscraper. We even like to see aliens and asteroids destroying earth.

So there’s no reason we wouldn’t enjoy watching a more realistic version of that. What would we do if the whole country we were living in suddenly took up arms against the classes? Here’s your chance to see how that would likely play out (as it has in some countries in our lifetime). 

The movie starts with an extravagant wedding party like something you would see in the Hamptons in the US. This would be the millionaire club Mexican version of that scene. But there are reports of unrest in the city so the security team for the party is nervous.

Suddenly the unrest shows up to the party. It’s vicious. More vicious than you imagine in your head while reading this. Hard to watch but probably more realistic than we’d like to admit.

When even the maids and kitchen help immediately join in against the rich owners it makes you question whether it would really be possible that every one of the rich people in that large group are awful people and deserve the treatment they get. Including a bullet to the head. I find it impossible to believe that every member of every rich family is an awful person. At some point I’d like to believe even the servants would want to protect a chosen few of the well-off people they know or at least warn them in advance of the coming attack.

I’m a foreigner living in Thailand and I’m 100% sure if things went bad like this movie portrays I would be quickly whisked away and hidden by a handful of local Thais who would protect me until things normalized. I find it hard to believe that Mexico would be any different.

But this story depicts a darker tone than even that. Basically the whole country of Mexico suddenly succumbs to the idea of fleecing the rich, including the military. With no police or military protection life becomes unfathomable. If you’re the targeted group and you’re not hidden away, you’re helpless to stop what’s coming for you. 

Things go downhill quickly in this story. Like the “out of nowhere” Tet Offensive in Vietnam with shades of Mainland China’s Great Leap Backward, when the “have nots” suddenly and viciously attack the “haves” in life. It’s shocking stuff and the director shows you just how suddenly things can change from normal life to total chaos. It feeds on itself. Cambodia (the Khmer Rouge under the leadership of Communist Party leader Pol Pot) also comes to mind. When politics suddenly goes off the rails, well, you have to see it to believe the tragedy that follows. This would be the modern version of that horror.

This is no date movie and it doesn’t have a feel good ending. Those don’t happen in real-life chaotic events. It’s purposely a heavy dose of reality and will stay with you for a long time after the credits roll.

If you watch movies like The Purge, you owe it to yourself to see New Order. It’s a hell of a lot more realistic and will have a much bigger impact on your life. 
– Wait for Rental

The Dry (R)

Here’s an Australian cop movie that’s the opposite of Mad Max. This is set in the scenic wide-open plains of the (fictionally-named) Kiewarra Region of Australia. It’s been 324 days since it rained so the farmers are getting desperate. But this is not a story about climate or drought. It’s about a murder-suicide in this tight-knit town. Or it might instead be the horrific slaughter of three family members, depending on who you believe. 

Actor Eric Bana (the one on the left in the photo) plays the Australian Federal cop who comes back to this hometown to attend the funeral as an adult after leaving suddenly as a kid when he was suspected of covering up a murder investigation. Now he’s suddenly pulled into this murder investigation in the same town. Figure the odds. Only in books and movies. 

Just know ahead of time that this is a mighty slow burn of a story. Police work is tedious and this reflects that reality. It’s methodical detective work without the usual Hollywood/Australian car chases and scenes full of adrenaline. Throughout the 2 hour runtime we’re also shown frequent flashbacks to help us piece together the backstory of this Aussie detective and various townsfolk. We see them as they were back when he lived there as a kid, and how they all turned out. It’s interesting enough to keep you guessing. He seems to be the only one who left this dusty place.

There are plenty of interesting twists and turns in the final 20 minutes – all the way to the end. A lot of relationships and facts to unpack. It works – if you make it to the end.

So if you feel well-rested and you’re ready for a deep dive into this slow-paced Australian town full of secrets, I think it’s worthy of a rental. 
– Wait for Rental

Riders of Justice (NR)

From Denmark (with moviemaking help from Sweden) comes the latest revenge movie, Riders of Justice. 

A tough soldier named Markus returns home to care for his daughter after his wife dies tragically. When Markus suspects foul-play (the cops don’t) he exacts revenge on those he feels are responsible. That’s all you need to know. Don’t read the official movie synopsis, and the trailer gives way too much away, so avoid it for a better viewing experience. 

The bottom line is that if you enjoy revenge movies, it delivers.

More spoiler-free film insight:
The movie starts out like a straight ahead serious Hollywood story. But it’s billed as a dark comedy. They hold off on the comedy flavor for a while and slowly mix it into the batter. Comedy is tough. If you’re a Danish comedian it would be tough to tour successfully in the US comedy clubs. For sure, US comedians struggle to get any laughs in Japan. Cultures are big part of what makes “things” funny – to that culture. 

Some of it works here. Some of it seems off. We have a group of Poindexters that pontificate about odds and coincidences. Do such guys exist? Sure. Your mileage on such a script tangent may vary. Just know that it does manage to take us down a road less traveled in the revenge theme. I just went with it.

There’s a crazy scene that screams Quentin Tarantino and at about the one hour mark it starts to become an uneven film. But it’s a formula we haven’t seen before. That’s saying something. It’s almost as if they switched directors a third of the way in. I prefer the first direction but I admit it’s an interesting overall formula. The revenge scenes are very satisfying, which is really what you’re paying to see anyway.

The police seem to be awol but it’s not presented in Baltimore, Maryland. Perhaps in Denmark the police are somewhat scarce and slow to respond to crazy goings-on. If you just go with it it works fine for a rental.

There’s also a strange scene where a train passenger throws his food and drink into a trash can while inside the train passenger car. No way. Not only is eating and drinking discouraged on public transportation, but putting a smelly trash can near passengers would simply not happen. Then there’s that whole bomb concern where the bad guy could deposit a bomb in the trash and then get off. ANYTHING left behind on a train is immediately reported and inspected. Trash cans aren’t even on train platforms since 9/11.

(In Danish with English subtitles or dubbed in English)
– Wait for Rental

Hunted (NR)

Eve has to survive a kidnapping in Hunted, the new thriller from Finland. The less you know and the fewer photos or peeks at the trailer the better. Just know that the initial kidnapping is slicker than you expect. 

Eve’s story starts out on the wrong foot when she purposely leaves her cellphone home when she heads out to a bar in the middle of the night. Most people over the last decade or so would drive all the way back home from work to retrieve a forgotten cell phone, and their boss would understand. But Eve does the unthinkable anyway.

Her night very quickly goes south and it’s a roller coaster of a ride for the viewing audience. Finland seems to have competent (if unknown) actors and filmmaking skills, and the foreign scenery eye-candy flavor is a plus (unless you’re from Finland).

There is enough brutality here that it would be a solid “R” if rated, but more of an enjoyable Friday the 13th level than the much more disturbing/shocking, I Spit on Your Grave or Deliverance films.

Unfortunately the usual horror movie problems abound here and they mount up quickly:

You can’t tape someone’s mouth shut with a piece of duct tape. Go ahead, try it on yourself. It doesn’t work. You can tape a crocodile’s mouth shut with duct tape, but not people.

For the umpteenth time, cigarettes don’t burn hot enough to light gasoline.

When you burn an overturned car in the middle of the road it draws a lot of attention. Mostly with cops and fire departments. Once you start that blaze the clock starts ticking. And it’s a short clock before help arrives.

A stun gun/taser cannot render the victim unconscious, nor are they designed to accomplish such an extreme outcome. 

Unless you’re a highly trained Navy Seal I don’t think you could survive a falling plunge into a fast-flowing cold river with your hands bound behind your back while fully clothed. You’d drown.

If you’re cold in the woods at night and a full grown deer magically allows you to lay upon it for warmth, you’d be quickly covered in a seething mass of ticks. Deer are tick-magnets, covered from head to tail with nasty, hungry ticks.

One can only assume kids in Finland play hide and seek. But Eve struggles to hide herself with a nice head start in an endless forest – at night. She’s still horribly lost in the woods in the daytime yet seems utterly oblivious to her surroundings. Perhaps they cut out the scene where she also left her glasses at home when heading out to the bar?

The paintball scene is simply too bizarre to even cover here.

The biggest takeaway of the movie is that every-single-character is totally inept. A ton of inept characters:
Kidnapped woman
Convenience store clerk
Mother and son campers
Painball stooges
Security guard 
Guard dog 
Real estate agent and prospective buyers

In the case of half of them, it obviously makes the movie longer. But when every onscreen character is a bumbling fool it paints a dim picture of Finnish society.

The ending is laughably unsatisfying but dare I say, they stuffed this movie with a lot of storyline and a pacing that keeps you engaged throughout. Lots of twists and turns. It’s just too bad they dumbed everyone down so hard in the script to get there.
– Wait for Rental   

The Unthinkable (NR)

This is a Swedish film (English subtitles) about an existential attack on their country. From what, we don’t know for over an hour. But whatever it is it’s pretty darn destructive and causes people to go crazy on the roads. 

It starts out in 2005 back when everyone had wired phones in their house and then skips ahead to the cell phone days. But that added convenience doesn’t help much because the power and tech comes crumbling down when “it” happens to Sweden.

That’s not a terrible theme, but unfortunately it’s a depressing story throughout, showing us downtrodden people who always seem to be left wanting for more in life. It would seem the Swedes lack a Hollywood storyline touch to their moviemaking. We need someone or something to root for. Instead we’re left just feeling sorry for everyone on-screen from start to finish. The cynical side of me wonders if the Unthinkable happening to them is just the kick in the ass these characters needed to get out of their dull, hum-drum lives.

By the halfway point it’s a mess of a movie as everything falls apart around them including the script that’s showing it all to us. It’s a little better than watching paint dry, but not much.
– Avoid!   

The Columnist (NR)

Now and again we all stumble on a very strange movie. This is one of those.

It’s a subtitled, professionally shot and well-acted film from the Netherlands about a woman writer named Femke Boot who becomes obsessed with the online commenters that write exceedingly hateful comments about her and her articles. To be sure, the comments are awful. A lot of that on the internet these days, especially YouTube and the various social media platforms. But she decides enough is enough. So Femke hunts down her online tormentors and becomes a serial killer.

I can see how such a pitch could be green-lit for production. Especially in today’s world with social platforms getting heat for their content oversight and with a female lead doing the killing. Unfortunately the plot isn’t very well-stitched together.

When hunting down an online bully that’s tormenting you it’s a hell of a lot easier to locate that person within the tiny constraints of the Netherlands than say locating their address in Nebraska when you live in Florida. So the movie is somewhat plausible by its setting. But just as it’s easier to find someone in that tiny nation, it’s also easier to get caught when killing a bunch of people in broad daylight in such a place. Especially when she’s so inept at the whole killer routine. 

It’s all a bit too easy. A women writer, who’s terrible at being a killer (writer-to-violent-killer is not really a transferable skill) would struggle to kill one full grown man much less a slew of them. See the domestic bliss photo above? She’s not a Russian trained Nikita killing machine from the wrong side of the tracks. She’s a pink-fingered, compulsive nail-biting typist who writes books and columns and then suddenly kills men with nary a scratch or bruise afterward.     

Furthermore, for a professional writer who has surely read a lot, they go hand in hand, she’s the least careful serial killer in history. I won’t go into details as it would ruin the movie if you see it. But you will agree – she’s the least careful serial killer in history.

OK, so maybe it’s billed as an implausible dark comedy. But at no time are the scenes played “funny.” Femke is fed up. She’s distant with her family. She’s laser-focused on the internet trolls and her unwavering need to confront and then kill them. Mostly just kill them. And then cut off their middle finger as a souvenir.

I was left shaking my head. But I’m a guy. Maybe it went over my head as I shook it. Your mileage may vary.
– Wait for HBO

Initiation (aka Init!ation) (R)

Another entry in the genre of, Masked Slasher Terrorizes College Campus. This one is better than most of the recent attempts.

It’s interesting to watch older movies that were filmed before cell phones became ubiquitous in our lives. It may be equally interesting decades from now when we look back at movies like Initiation that not only embrace it but accentuate the constant, if not incessant use of cellphones. Will these scenes make future viewers cringe at the vintage tech we were glued to – all the time? No doubt. 

Since this movie takes place on a college campus, texting is a huge part of this movie’s DNA, as it should be in today’s world. And the filmmakers do a great job of cleverly superimposing the messages on the screen for us to follow (in a way we haven’t seen before). There are times where the “dialogue” is nothing more than extended conversations back and forth by text. It works here.

The main theme is one of fraternities and sororities doing their age-old college thing with a modern take on possible drunken rape issues. One girl passes out in a locked bedroom with two frat guys. After the fact, she and her close girlfriends try to ascertain whether she was violated or not. The frat guys use the “!” punctuation mark next to a girl’s online photo to indicate the girl has been “used.” But even though that “!” is used on the movie poster title, it’s just a footnote of the overall plot going on here. (More of a * than a !) Remove the 15 seconds combined usage and any mention of the “!” texting plot device and the movie is exactly the same. 

It’s been four decades since I was in college but the script and acting seems to show these young college boys and girls acting and talking/texting in very realistic ways. Rare in these films. And as campus slasher films go, it’s more intriguing than you think with a long build of the set-up, much like the slower paced films of the late 70’s through the 80’s. Then the killings start. They’re brutal in nature. The R rating is earned, so if you’re in it for the kills, it’s a winner. But as usual with horror movies, there are issues. 

I know it’s boring and no one wants to watch it, but for those that didn’t go to college, just know we rarely see anybody actually attend class in these movies nor is any amount of homework or studying done. In reality, that’s how most of your time at college is spent. Otherwise you flunk out and can’t stay in college to enjoy the parties and fun in between.

When running from a killer after dark through a closed campus building, the girls open a door to a lab classroom filled with high-end Apple desktop computers on every desk. Not only is the classroom door not locked but the keyhole of the commercial door lock is on the inside of the room. Dumb on so many levels including emergency fire egress. So not only are the girls unable to lock the killer out, but the university would be unable to keep that fortune of computers from being constantly stolen.

As with all of these movies, four-year-olds are better at hide and seek than any women we see here running and hiding for their lives. But that’s par for the course. At least none of them fall down. 

The last 15 minutes are pretty darn intense. But once the killer’s identity is revealed you’ll realize the last five minutes of their reign of terror makes no sense whatsoever.
– Wait for Rental   

Percy vs Goliath (PG-13)

Christopher Walken stars as Percy Schmeiser, the real life farmer who went up against Monsanto Corporation after Monsanto found their genetically engineered and patented crops on Percy’s farm even though Farmer Percy neither paid for nor wanted their seeds on his land. Regardless, he’s using their technologically developed seeds and therefore, per the law, has to pay for it. 

It’s a complicated case as many know. There are two sides to the story and Monsanto did spend billions in R&D to engineer crops to withstand everything from drought to pests. But as this movie shows, even seeds that were blown onto his property literally taint his fields and this case. It’s simply too easy to accidentally get their technology onto your land. 

One of the weaknesses of the film is that it’s Monsanto Canada he’s dealing with in this lawsuit. Not the big bad US conglomerate. So it lacks that certain intense US courtroom drama. Like having the case tried in Bermuda.

The other thing that hurts this case is that, no doubt true to life, Farmer Percy is a bore. His wife is a bore. His lawyer (who walks with a cane, per the latest push for handicapped people in movies) is a bore. It’s so close to reality (other than the forced handicap part) that it plays more like a PBS docudrama than a Hollywood movie.

Maybe that’s a good thing? However, I’m not sure it’s worth your “entertainment” dollars unless this case is super interesting to you. Percy does drag it out all the way to the Supreme Court. The Canadian Supreme Court. How underwhelming.

All I can think of is… Bermuda.
– Wait for HBO (or PBS)

Nobody (R)

Don’t read the synopsis or watch the trailers for this action/comedy.

There, I said it. I hope the action comedy hint doesn’t give too much of the story away. I struggled with putting that in there.

Nobody is derivative of other action movies. Movies like, well, I can’t tell you because it will give too much away. But it’s just like those, and you’ll like it just as much as you liked the other ones. 

The good guy is a family man, like the guy living next door to you. But when robbers come into his home and wake everyone up, he’s a weakling and does nothing. His family (wife and two kids) are not impressed with his weakness. That’s not really true. His cute little daughter still likes him. But after thinking about the incident, he snaps, just like, you know, that guy, and others like him. Not in a Marvel comic way. No capes, make-up or silly hats. More like the guys in the better movies we’ve all seen throughout our lives.

And there’s a really bad guy and he has a bad ass girl that works for him and she has a couple great lines, just like that movie – the one you liked. This bad guy really shows off just how bad he is, so we’re like, this guy is really tough! Just like in that great movie years ago. No doubt he’s coming for the good guy, like the other movies.

There are scenes in the city involving other bad ass guys too, just like the other movies. But how can Mr. Nobody turn his life around so quickly, and without a cape? I don’t want to say because it will give too much away. Just enjoy the ride instead.

It stars Bob Odenkirk of “Better Call Saul” fame. It’s more believable that it’s him instead of say, Danny Devito. Christopher Lloyd plays his old father. And just when you thought Christopher Lloyd was a blast from the past, Michael Ironside (a star back in 1983 in David Cronenberg’s Scanners film, and don’t forget Total Recall) is back on the screen. Always a kick to see Ironside. 

Since it’s not a horror flick none of the kids have a medical condition, which is mighty refreshing. The only quibble I have is when watching Mr. Nobody roll out the garbage cans in the AM, just missing the garbage collectors every single time. He’s infuriated every time. His wife’s perturbed too. But it’s not 1980. We all own a smartphone that can do amazing things. Like, “Siri, remind me to take out the garbage every Sunday night at 9 PM.” 

Boom. It’s just that easy. You’ll never forget crap like that again. 

Other than that, you’ll enjoy this one in the theater. Just like you enjoyed, you know, the other good ones.

Note that there is one extra scene after a couple screens of credits. It’s worth waiting for. Then you can leave.  
– See it on the Big Screen

The Oak Room (NR)

A guy walks into a bar…

Lots of jokes start out that way. This is a Canadian story about a guy walking into a bar at closing time during a snowstorm. Multiple bars. Different guy walks in. Multiple stories. 

Kudos to the pro cinematography. 

Unfortunately the lead has a cartoony speech impediment. It’s not believable. It comes off as an act, which is off-putting. So there’s that demerit. But it probably ticks the handicapped box which Hollywood likes. 

Various stories are told in two different bars. Lengthy, tremendously engaging stories – with limp, disappointing endings. Had Quentin Tarantino written the screenplay the stories might have been similar, but would’ve had outlandishly engaging endings. Tarantino has that flair. Here, playwright Peter Genoway doesn’t share that skill.

Some of the stories are later revisited and have a payoff. And the final reveal is pretty impressive. But the previous duds sure take the wind out of the sails. Whether or not the final payoff is enough to warrant watching the film is debatable. 

If you’re bored but not sleepy and are itching to watch a new movie, it’s OK. Just don’t watch the trailer beforehand.
– Wait for Rental   

The Toll (R)

An awkward Uber driver picks up a woman at the airport and drives her a long way toward her destination down a rural road in the new movie, The Toll. They end up in a crazy world that makes no sense with their phones and car disabled. His world. The world of the Toll Man.

More psychological than downright scary, the creepy scenes in the woods will keep you guessing right up until the last five minutes. It’s also gore-free. Even so, it’s a worthy low-budget horror entry worth renting if you’re struggling to find something to watch.
– Wait for Rental   

As Long As We Both Shall Live (NR)

A guy named Malcom loses his wife (distant car accident) and struggles to move on for over a year. Prescription pills and booze only dull the pain so much. But then he meets Nya, a bubbly extravert who manages to bring some joy back into his life. 

But his dead wife starts showing up now and then and she’s disappointed that Malcom has moved on from her. So that throws some cold water on the new relationship.

This is billed as a horror movie. It’s not really a horror movie in any sense. Sure, a dead wife shows up now and again, which we can all agree would be unsettling at first. But a dead husband (Patrick Swayze) showed up in the 1990 hit Ghost and it was never billed as a horror movie. Because that’s not a horror movie, either. 

The reason his dead wife shows up makes sense by the end of the movie. You won’t immediately know why, which is a plus for this script. The rest of it is a mess. 

The casting of the three leads (husband, wife and rebound girlfriend) is terrific if you’re selecting based solely on Hollywood good looks. Acting, not so much. And like the Mozambique school system, there’s no chemistry offered here. Everyone is painfully wooden. Worse than a 70’s soap opera episode. One-take stuff. Even Paul Sovino who has been constantly employed as an actor since 1970 is surprisingly weak in this. So I’ll blame budding director Ali Askari for the poor attempt at what could have been a decent movie in the hands of a skilled veteran.

Some key (no pun intended) misfires:
If your assistant in your home removes your house key from your key ring (a key ring that normally only has two keys on it, your car key and house key) would you really not notice that you suddenly only have one key on your ring until your assistant calls you hours later to tell you that you can’t get into your house tonight because you don’t have the key? Malcom’s not a janitor. Only a child under 7 would believe this feeble trick would work. 

The bed used in the master bedroom has leather components and amateur hour microphone placement that makes the bed sound like someone is twisting an inflatable mattress in a nearby tent whenever anyone moves on it. A porn director would stop filming and have that insanely distracting bed removed from the set. That bed belongs in a horror movie. Or in a city dump. I laughed every time a scene was set in that bedroom. You will too. 

If it’s Wednesday night and you’ve totally exhausted your Netflix/Amazon Prime Wish List, there are worse movies you could sit through. But I’ll bet if you spend an extra ten minutes searching around, there are better ones to watch than this. Perhaps Ghost.
– Wait for HBO  

Adverse (R)

Mickey Rourke is a seedy money lender in the bowels of some industrial city where the inhabitants seem unable to ever pay their loans back. So he’s a busy guy. He doesn’t break legs or any of the usual warning measures, he just directs his lowlife thugs to kill the unfortunate borrowers. He does this nonsensical thing because the writer/director/star Brian A. Metcalf thinks that makes sense. Metcalf plays a lowlife thug, and he doesn’t pull that off well either. I’m not sure what Brian A. Metcalf is good at. Maybe he’s still trying to figure that out, too. 

Metcalf has had a short career with a dismal handful of complete duds. How on earth losers like this continue to get money for films is beyond me.

Lead star Thomas Ian Nicholas (co-producer) has been in dozens of terrible movies. He still can’t act. Kate Katzman is awful as well. Mickey Rourke plays himself, as in all of his movies. But that’s OK. A lot of actors are just themselves in movies. Lou Diamond Phillips is Ok in this because he’s had a lot of practice. He’s been in a handful of movies every single year since the 80’s. For real.  

No one has any good dialogue to deliver. (Thanks, Metcalf.) You’ve seen worse acting before but not since you sat though that terrible high school play when you were fourteen. 

In the end the good guy takes his favorite weapon, a tire iron no less, into a warehouse/factory full of endless rooms some of which have one chair and a tiny table for one. Why any room has such a setup is woefully unclear. Some rooms have no chair at all. But each room has one or two bad guys who simply wait in that room with nothing to do or are leaning down at that moment to do a line of coke on their tiny wooden table. The good guy walks through the building and takes out each of these actor props (nine of them) one after the other as if they are simply waiting for their turn to be bopped in the head by a crowbar with little resistance. Pitiful. Pitiful idea, pitifully written, pitifully choreographed, pitifully executed (no pun intended) and pitifully acted. 

Brian A. Metcalf has been added to my “Directors to Avoid” movie watch list which includes: 
M. Night Shyamalan
Marcia Kimpton
Robert Eggers
Ari Aster

Fool me once, shame on me. Fool me twice…
– Avoid!  

Son (NR)

A mother takes extreme measures to save her young boy when he becomes desperately ill in the new horror film Son.

It all starts when she walks into his bedroom late one night to find his bed surrounded by eight cult-looking strangers. Then the bedroom door forcefully closes and she can’t get into his room again. So she runs, screaming the whole way to the house across the street where she bangs on the door until they wake up and tells them to call the police. Why anyone in real life would do that instead of using their own much closer phone is anyone’s guess. Perhaps to allow the cult members to leave unseen? (Said the lazy Hollywood writer). 

The police arrive and find her story to be of the imaginary type.

The next day as the boy quickly declines health-wise in a graphic Exorcist film kind of way right before everyone’s eyes, the story really starts to take off and it takes some crazy turns that leave you guessing about the outcome. As the detectives try to piece this whole thing together, you’ll be doing the same. 

The kid’s not a believable actor yet which hurts the overall effort but everyone else does a fine job. It probably came down to which child actor could spit the most blood from their mouth. He obviously won. Acting-secondary. Overall it’s a better than average horror flick.
– Wait for Rental  

The Marksman (PG-13)

Liam Neeson is back with a particular set of skills, even if he doesn’t actually use that line much anymore. He doesn’t have to. Everyone in the theater knows why they bought a ticket to see this.

Neeson plays a down on his luck cattle rancher who spent all of his savings on his wife’s cancer treatments. After her death the mortgage payments stopped happening and we see the visit from the bank. Foreclosure is 90 days away. We are shown a short scene where Neeson shows off his ex-Marine sharpshooting skills. Ah, cool. That should come in handy down the road.  

The ranch sits right on the Mexican border so he sees a lot of illegals trying to cross. His usual MO is to use his portable radio to report the location so the Border Patrol can intercept those trying to cross. But one day he comes across a woman with her young son who have just slipped though a hole in the border fence with the drug cartel hot on their tail.

After some menacing chitchat between Neeson and the tattooed cartel thugs standing on their side of the fence they exchange gunfire. Neeson takes off with the two Mexicans in his truck and is asked by the dying (shot) mother to get her son to her family in Chicago.

Since this kid is not American he doesn’t suffer from the usual asthma or diabetes plot device, which is new. But once Neeson starts to flee from the cartel it quickly turns into a paint-by-numbers Hollywood road trip from Arizona to Chicago where the kid does dumb kid things and the drug cartel guys keep finding them so quickly numerous times along the way you’d think the whole movie was shot in a shopping mall. “There they are!”

As just one example. You know how many hotel/motel parking lots you’d have to investigate from front to back to locate someone driving hours ahead of you on an interstate highway with an Exit every mile or so going to both sides of the highway? Thousands of places they could stop. Including rest stops. I suspect that with Neeson paying cash and hiding the truck at night (per the script) the odds would quickly jump to one in a million that they could be located. James Rockford, Mannix, Cannon, McCloud and Barnaby Jones would all be mighty impressed with the detective skills of this Mexican drug cartel. Luck alone wouldn’t be enough.

Ah, but Neeson showed off his ex-Marine sharpshooting skills earlier. So regardless, we’re still interested. 

Like every action picture ever, it’s all too easy to flip a moving car, even a tire blowout will do it. (Not!) And surviving in such a wreck with the vehicle tumbling over and over is easy! (Not!) Luckily (for lazy Hollywood writers) physics isn’t really a thing in movies. This one’s not Marvel bad. What is? But still silly. I long for the days of Mad Max (1979), when wrecking a car at speed left the occupants as meat puppets. Just like in real life. Physics. Why must everyone walk out of such crashes today, angry and ready to fight on like Terminators?

By the end there are easily eight pages of legal charges to rack up against Neeson, and the kid is still an illegal alien hiding out in Chicago. But that’s hardly a concern here. After you kill a few guys you might as well go all Rambo, right?

In the end there’s a bit less sharpshooting than you paid to see. But if you liked most of the growing list of Liam Neeson’s Charles Bronson-style of movies, you’ll probably enjoy this one about as well. 
– Wait for Rental  

Let Him Go (R)

Kevin Costner is believable in westerns. Here he takes another crack at it as retired sheriff George Blackledge who raises his family in rural Montana in the early 1960’s with his wife Margaret (played by Diane Lane). Early on on the film, tragedy strikes and they lose their son in a horseback riding accident leaving behind his own wife and baby. 

After their son’s death, the daughter-in-law remarries a man that turns out to be abusive to both the daughter-in-law and the Blackledge’s young grandson. Margaret witnesses this and is beyond shocked. 

When the newlywed couple immediately flees the state without notice, Margaret is ready to track them down and save their grandson from certain long-term abuse. But there’s a wrinkle. The new husband is part of the notorious Weboy family of scoundrels who live in the rural Dakotas. Tracking them down will certainly lead to trouble. But that’s hardly issue for Margaret who’s ready to do whatever it takes to bring her grandson back to Montana where they can raise him themselves. George Blackledge, reluctant at first, decides to go with her and see what can be done.

As far as the movie itself, the already dead son closes his open eyes just before Costner goes to manually close them, but that’s about the only bad acting going on here. Though it’s a slow burn, the acting is off-the charts. Diane Lane has had a long line of awful movies but holy cow is she good in this. There’s a lot of screen time between Diane Lane and Kevin Costner and it’s refreshing to watch them work. They just don’t make movies like this anymore.

There’s no machine-gun delivery of zippy dialogue and “hip” banter between characters like 99% of today’s films. The dialogue is believable. It sounds like real people conversing with one another, a lot of it frank and tense in tone – but civilized. It’s the old school method of running the camera and letting the scene play out while the pros do what they’ve trained their whole lives to do.

The entire cast is simply terrific and the story plenty engaging. I do have a real pet peeve with characters failing to use the loaded gun in their hand (with horrible outcomes because of it). But Hollywood is anti-gun for civilians, so they don’t dare show us what great defensive weapons guns really are against obvious threatening villains. 

For sure, the last ten minutes is over-the-top. But it’s worth the ride anyway because this a movie written and directed the way movies used to be done in the 70’s, 80’s and early 90’s. And god is it refreshing.
– Wait for Rental  

The Reckoning (NR)

I have always enjoyed witchcraft movies. At least the idea of them since most are a letdown. So I was intrigued by this one that was directed by Neil Marshall who directed the very effective 2006 horror film The Descent. This film was also released during a worldwide movie drought of epic proportions. If they re-released Jaws or The Exorcist in movie theaters this month, I’d pay to see them again on the big screen with a crowd.   

But that didn’t happen… so instead I took a plunge on this witch flick. 

As the film starts we are informed the story takes place in “1665 England, the year of the Great Plague.” Through a series of quick flashbacks we watch as a husband gets tricked into drinking out of an afflicted man’s cup at a tavern and quickly succumbs to the Black Death. So we’ve immediately established that tomfoolery goes back at least to the 1600’s. 

In a series of quick flashbacks, the man’s wife (played by actress Charlotte Kirk who currently lives with director Neil Marshall in Los Angeles) kneads bread dough in the kitchen with her newborn daughter in a crib nearby. A chore all women did in the 1600’s. Then a snippet flashback of later that night after the tainted sip at the bar where the husband examines the growing sores on his body (it would take days for symptoms to really show up, but OK).

So her husband quickly dies and the mother and daughter are luckily left plague-free. As in too many films, this woman, who doesn’t farm but kneads a lot of dough to build muscles, is able to dig a human-sized grave beside the house, by herself, in the pouring rain that has turned everything to heavy shovelful after shovelful of saturated soil and mud. 


Soon the owner of her land comes on horseback to tell her she still needs to pay the monthly rent. He reminds her that she doesn’t know how to farm the land to earn any money. (She doesn’t tell him that she can knead dough and dig graves like a bad-ass). Since she’s obviously in a bad position and he finds her attractive he offers a rent extension period for sexual favors, then tries to take them forcefully. She hits him over the head and points a shotgun at him so he retreats.

With the combination of hurt pride combined with the fact that the mother and child were oddly unaffected by the black plague brought into their home, the landowner and town barflies suddenly decide she must be a witch. The landowner likes they way things suddenly turned out. 

She’s taken into custody and as with all witches of the time, they try to force a confession out of her through the use of medieval torture. As torture scenes go, it’s soft R stuff. Nothing like the Saw movies or even The Descent. 

We then watch an OK actress go through the slow process of refusing to confess and she starts seeing visions. The printed plot and trailers will have you believe it’s a revenge movie (a profitable genre for Hollywood) with the possibility she really is a witch. What a cool plot twist if true!

So we sit through the series of dream sequences and jump scares between the scenes of torture that are enough to keep you engaged long enough for the payoff where her tormentors are sure to get their comeuppance.  

Now to the million dollar question – is she really a witch? Was this one of those times when they got lucky and really did capture and punish the real thing?

I don’t want to ruin the movie, but here’s more on the lead actress Charlotte Kirk. Per a quick Internet query, in real life, since 2012 when she arrived in NY from her home of London, Kirk “had quickly amassed quite a collection of industry beaus.” (Which is the nice way of saying she tried to sleep her way to the top). Not the career path most parents would teach their daughters.

Her Wikipedia page is truly wicked. Then there’s the Vanity Fair Magazine article from October 2020 with quite a storyline including names – even a billionaire, the Australian casino magnate James Packer. Lots of leaked text messages show her to be a cunning blackmailer. Miss Kurk has made millions of dollars in court decisions getting multiple major movie mogul veterans fired and leaving wrecked marriages in her wake. A living homewrecker/career wrecker actress. Too many instances to be coincidental. Yet she’s made very little money by actually acting.

So if you ask the Hollywood folks, yeah, she just might be a witch after all.
– Wait for HBO


A wide mix of characters (just some of them shown above) play a team of Doctors Without Boarders that get lost in the Cambodian jungle in this low budget thriller. It’s one thing to get lost in a jungle full of land mines and crawling with gun-toting heroin dealers. But throw in some hunter/killer robots and you’ve got quite a survival story on your hands. Some locals try their best to help out.

The US military drops 4 of their new metal tech “monsters” into Cambodia, the drug trafficking haven of the Golden Triangle. It’s suppose to just be a test of how well the bots can perform in hard jungle terrain. Unfortunately, much to the disappointment of the military, some obviously non-Cambodian US citizens (doctors) accidentally become aware of the existence of these top secret metal battle bots. 

The orders from the military brass – reprogram the bots. Kill everyone nearby. 

But wait! There’s a retired US Navy Seal living among the “natives” in that jungle. So there’s that fly in the ointment element we’ve all seen a hundred times before. But he’s not the problem with the script/storyline. It’s virtually everyone else. A big cast of everyone else.  

But before we get to that, let me be clear that the filmmakers got two elements right. The robots are on a level that makes the film enjoyable from a technical aspect. Really well-done. Really cool. The second surprising thing is the fact that the kill shots are so realistic it’s downright shocking. And there are a lot of kill shots. 

In real life when you’re hit with gunfire from an automatic weapon it causes catastrophic injuries. It’s the velocity of the projectile that causes the most damage. The impacts here drop people like a sack of potatoes. There’s no silly wiggling around for show. Bam, your chest is hit with a thud, the gore exits your back and you drop lifeless to the ground where you stand. People who are sitting on the dirt are struck so hard with a round that they are instantly slammed backward flat to the ground as if struck by a passing car. I haven’t seen such realistic wartime damage since the beachhead scene in Saving Private Ryan.

If you’re entertained by such attention to detail (no judging!) these guys deserve your support with a movie rental. 

That said . . .

This thing is a treasure trove of clichéd cheap movie moments which makes it painful for long stretches of time. I won’t even delve into the three behind the scenes tech programmers from the tech company who built these machines for the military. That would be a separate page of head-shaking moments in itself. So let’s stick to the miserable fools in the jungle.  

Everyone who runs in this movie (man, woman, old, little tyke), like “Ring Around the Rosie” they all fall down. It’s like watching an MS Olympics. Whether or not they were going for the record for most falls in a movie, I think this is surely the winner.

Besides the Navy Seal, nobody (man, woman, old, little tyke) can stay quiet or keep their mouth shut. Every adult whimpers like a four-year-old. Everybody makes noise, runs, gets hurt and screams out in pain. Then runs again. With robots (that possess great hearing) right on their tail.

Instead of running and hiding in the dense miles of jungle, they hide and cower in flimsy, easy to shoot through huts, over, and over, and over again. And again they whimper like small children while inside so the robots can easily hear them and shoot through the fabric-like structures. Then the hapless idiots run out the back of the flimsy huts again. Just like before.

I can’t speak for the women, but are we to believe that of the male doctors in the Doctors Without Borders group, who have chosen to travel the world to remote areas, none have ever played paintball? Seems far-fetched. It’s obvious none of the characters has even heard of the game hide-and-seek.

We have women constantly shouting out into the jungle for their missing comrades while killer robots, who have already wiped-out half of them right in front of their eyes in gory detail, are in hot pursuit. The Navy Seal is like, “Seriously?” And the woman is like, “What??”  

We have yet another woman on film shouting upward from the jungle floor at a random roaring plane overhead as if they could somehow hear her. Sigh.

We have yet another woman not finishing the job when she has her pursuer down and temporarily incapacitated. Go on, break his ankle or knee with that iron pipe. But no. She runs away. Kind of. So he recovers and kills her with his knife. Slowly. Methodically. He bleeds her out. 

A Cambodian woman is shot through the gut with a high powered automatic weapon. The exit wound is three fingers wide and just to the right of her spine. Lots of important muscles in the stomach and lower back. The Doctors Without Borders gang administers some bandages and when she’s asked, “Can you walk?” She answers, “Yes, slowly.” 

Ha! Either the Doctors Without Borders medical team just came off the Starship Enterprise or the US military would like to get their hands on whatever she’s smoking. 

One guy loses his hearing when a robot shoots an automatic weapon right near his head. So he’s rightfully deaf for an hour of the movie. But after a landmine blows off the lower half of his body he’s still alive and suddenly can hear again to tell everybody goodbye one by one. If I was the actor playing that scene I would have to do at least one take where I told my girlfriend, “The good news is, I got my hearing back! The bad news is that the bottom half of my body has been blown off.”

Alas, it’s not a comedy. Perhaps it should have been. There are a lot more moving parts to it than I covered, so if you’re game, it’s 2h 11m of action. Having seen it, it might be more enjoyable if you make believe the movie title is Stupid People Must Die, and root for the high-tech military robots. They’re really good at their job.
– Wait for HBO

Don’t Tell a Soul (R)

Two brothers living in a bleak industrial town break into an old woman’s house and steal a tin that contains $12,000 in cash. As they flee the house they run into an area security guard who chases them into the woods. While on the chase, the security guard falls into a deep man-made hole. 

The brothers decide to keep moving and forget about the guy in the hole. After all, he can implicate them for the break-in and theft. There’s also the need for the money because their mother is suffering from lung cancer. Bills to pay. So let him rot. Or not. 

There are quite a few moving parts to the story, some of which are shockers. Which is probably the biggest reason for seeing this movie quickly, if at all. A lot of spoilers if the people around you start talking about it. It’s not perfect, but it’s a serviceable film – if that storyline above seems intriguing. 

A large part of the film hinges on the older brother being a total tyrant over his younger sibling. Painful to watch but perfectly played by both actors. The mother is simply too frail to intervene, so the abuse only gets worse. Those that are ultra-sensitive to scenes of family abuse should probably take a pass. 

Then there’s the guy in the hole who was fortunate to only break his ankle. Enough to keep him imprisoned without help, but surprisingly alive.

The younger brother with a conscience goes back and starts giving the security guy food and water to at least sustain him while the kid wrangles with his guilty conscience, which puts him directly in the line of fire with his out of control brother. The cat and mouse dialogue between all the characters is tense, well written and will keep you engaged. The younger brother is absolutely naïve, but so are a lot of kids his age. 

There are holes in the plot bigger than the one the guy falls into, but there are enough surprising twists and turns to keep you guessing the whole way. Unless your co-workers spill the beans first. 

This film went straight-to-video.
– Wait for Rental

End of 2021 Movies.

Go to 2020 Movie Reviews