Category Archives: Entertainment

No Escape (2015): White Knuckle Viewing (Review)

Lake Bell and Owen Wilson in No Escape

Family man Jack Dwyer, whose own company went bust, is taking his wife and two children to Southeast Asia for a new start. He works for the Cardiff as an engineer  for the water company. He is looking forward to a new exciting life. Unfortunately the excitement levels peak when a bloody coup takes place endangering every foreigner in the country.  No Escape follows his attempt to save himself and  his family.

Co-written and directed by John Erick Dowdle (Dowdle’s brother Drew Dowdle was a the other scribe on the film.)  No Escape is a  “wrong place, wrong time”  film. Literally the day the Dwyer’s plane  lands, the country turns into a battleground where foreigner’s are being savagely murdered on sight.

Owen Wilson plays Dwyer, his first dramatic role in years, and the splendid Lake Bell plays his wife Annie. The children, Lucy and Beeze are played superbly by Sterling Jerins and Claire Geare respectively.  Hammond, the “British CIA” type is a grizzled Pierce Brosnan

Brosnan manages to convey  a sense of realism to his character.  A man paid to bring down the peaceful society who feels guilty for endangering Dwyer and his family.

No Escape is nail-bitingly tense. The chaotic wholesale murder of every foreign person found by a mob of armed and crazed citizens is, at times, terrifying.  The rioting populace either shoot or hack to death everyone they encounter.  Dwyer realizes that to survive he needs to keep  10 steps ahead of the mob.

The country is obviously meant to be Cambodia, as it is right next to Vietnam;  the country the family head for to claim asylum, although it is never called by name.  The scenario, of world powers messing about with small countries so they can take control is not too far fetched at all.

Some of the scenes are a bit over the top or feel a bit “off.” There is a scene with the oldest daughter and the leader of the mob that strains credibility.  The helicopter scene also feels a bit contrived.

However, this is an edge of the seat thriller from start to finish.  By the end of the film the viewer will feel wrung out and exhausted from all the tension and suspense involved.  Dowdle, whose last effort was the horror movie  As Above, So Below proves to be a dab hand at action thrillers.

The film looks brilliant and certainly feels authentic, it was shot in Thailand, which adds to the toe curling sense of tension that pervades every scene. This is a white knuckle ride for the viewer with no let up at all.

No Escape earns a 4.5 stars for the acting, the storyline and the high level of almost excruciating tension throughout. All the actors  killed it and made this a film that was almost too tense to watch.

This “R”  rated  fim is streaming on Hulu at the moment.  Do not be surprised if you grit your teeth and clench your fists throughout this high tension film.

Rodeo Girl (2016): Nice Idea Poor Execution (Review)

Sophie Bolen, Derek Brandon in Rodeo Girl

There is a lot that grates about Rodeo Girl. A mother sends her 14 year old daughter off to stay with a father she has not been around for 13 years. On top of this, the man has not had contact with the girl over that time.

Add to this unrealistic scenario supporting actors who cannot act and a predictable storyline and it makes for one disappointing film.  The main protagonists, i.e. Kevin Sorbo and Sophie Bolen do well in their respective roles but everyone else lets the side down.

Badly.

Directed by Joel Paul Reisig from a screenplay co-written by Tricia Hopper and Aletha Rodgers, Rodeo Girl is about Pricilla Williams (Bolen), a young teen who attends boarding schools and shows her hunter/jumper horse off in New England events. 

Pricilla’s mother (Janet Caine)  sends her to be with her biological father so she and her new husband can enjoy a trip to Europe.  The girl’s horse Lucky Lassie,  or “Lassie” as she calls the mare, will accompany her to the wilds of Michigan.

Once there she is rude to Duke (Sorbo), her father, his ranch hand Sage (Derek Brandon) and his girlfriend Laura Mae (Sherryl Despres). Pricilla becomes interested in barrel racing and asks Sage to train her. 

The rest of the film is about Pricilla learning the sport, trying to fit in and Duke trying to be a father to a girl he has not seen since she was one year old.

Rodeo Girl is so slow it can best be described as plodding. The story idea is sound but lacks any excitement or proper execution.  As Pricilla rides “Lassie” she never goes above a canter, or lope, neither of which will win a barrel race.

It seems that this may have been down to safety. Even when she “races” Sage, the horse is not allowed to gallop. That the young teen could come in third place with that slow ambling lope around the barrels could only mean that three riders were competing.

This,  perhaps more than anything else, severely damages the credibility of the film’s premise.  Anyone who has watched barrel racing at rodeos anywhere knows that these young ladies ride those horses “hell for leather” around those barrels. It is exciting and the opportunity for injury is very real.

Another thing letting this film down badly is the script and the abysmal acting by all but Sorbo and Bolen. The delivery of the dialogue is so wooden that  in places, it is almost painful to hear. Clunky and sounding like it has been read off of a cue card, it takes the viewer right out of the film.

Sorbo (a personal favorite from his Hercules: The Legendary Journeys  days) has been making more “inspirational” films of late. “God’s Not Dead” being the best known. The actor’s close brush with death has caused him to do more family friendly films.

Rodeo Girl is family friendly. The harshest word in the film is “darn.” There are no great gouts of blood flying across the screen. No gratuitous sex or over the top violence. Even the fight towards the end of the film is oddly bloodless.

This is a good thing.

However, making a family friendly film, one that a filmgoer can cheerfully take the youngest family members to along with their overly religious grandma, should not be full of bad acting. Neither should it suffer from a poor script and unrealistic scenarios.

On top of all these the film suffered from laughable mistakes.  In one scene, meant to tug at heart strings,  Pricilla runs after the horse and loses her brown cowgirl hat. Sorbo’s character reaches down and picks it up and it is now a black hat.

The most obvious problems come from that slow canter that is meant to win a race against the ranch hand and come in third and second place at the rodeo.  To give some credit where it is due, at the “Nationals” Pricilla and Lassie do really pelt around those barrels. It is, however, too little too late.

Rodeo Girl is a 2.5 star film. It earns one full star for Sorbo. For a film about a girl and a horse the pacing is pedestrian at best. It is streaming on Netflix at the moment. Worth a watch if the viewer knows nothing at all about rodeos or barrell racing.

Sky (2015): Norman Reedus and Diane Kruger Melodrama (Review)

Diane Kruger and Norman Reedus in Sky

Directed and co-written by Fabienne Berthaud (helming her third feature length film) Sky is a melodrama that staggers its way from Palm Springs to Las Vegas.  Starring Diane Kruger and Norman Reedus  as two ships whose paths cross in the town of Vegas, it follows a journey of self discovery and reluctant love. 

The film starts with Kruger as one half of a French couple who are in the American Southwest to tour and patch up their marriage. Unfortunately, Romy (Kruger) and Richard (Gilles Lellouche) come unstuck at a Palm Springs motel. He gets drunk and tries to rape his wife. Her reaction it to hit him in the head with a lamp several times. 

Romy flees the room and the husband she thinks is dead.

The first of the film meanders all over the place. She purchases a junker car for a $1000 and makes her escape.  Finally she turns herself into Detective Ruther (played by Joshua Jackson) who tells the French citizen that her husband is not dead. 

She visits Richard only to tell him that she is leaving.  Romy gets a lift to Las Vegas from Duane (played by Lou Diamond Phillips in a “blink and you’ll miss him” cameo) where she finally meets Diego (Reedus).

The two start an unlikely romance that deepens eventually into an uneasy relationship. Diego has a secret that he is reluctant to share and Romy, despite her claims to the contrary, falls head over heels in love with the veteran.  His coughing is alarming but like a true “old fashioned kind of guy” he explains nothing till later.

Lena Dunham has a small role as Diego’s sister-in-law, Billie.  Dunham does a brilliant job as the dumpster diving wife of Joe (Trevor Peterson). She is oddly likable even though Billie is clearly not the sharpest knife in the drawer.  

Overall, Berthaud gives us a film that wanders. It  loses itself at times but, to be fair, the director does get things back on track. This is clearly melodrama bordering on tragedy.

For a third of the film, Kruger’s character bounces from one place to the next and  meets  a variety of different people. (One of whom ends up dead shortly after talking to Romy in a diner.) The French woman seems to have plenty of money and the luck of the devil.

She is trusting, open and quite naive.  In reality, Romy would have wound up being a statistic.  She meets Diego in a casino and he thinks she is a hooker. Later she gets kicked out of the place she was staying and she contacts the man in the cowboy hat, Diego. This begins the next two-thirds of the film.

Kruger shines in the movie.  We fall in love with her character even as Reedus’s ranger falls for her.

In Sky Norman Reedus comes across as a modern day Robert Mitchum. He is laconic, deep voiced and a man’s man. The Walking Dead star proves that he does not need zombies or a crossbow to play a convincing character.

Sky is a solid 3 star film. The performances are top-notch but the plot rambles. The film is streaming on Netflix at the moment. It is definitely worth a look and Reedus fans will enjoy his performance, but may not like the ending.

I Love Dick: Amazon Chick Lit in a Weekly Flick? (Review)

Kevin Bacon and Friend in I Love Dick

Out of the three potential pilots on offer from Amazon “Originals” I Love Dick is the oddest. Adapted from the 1997 Chris Kraus “feminist” book of the same name, it is a compelling bit of “Chick Lit” turned into a small screen flick. (That will become a weekly series if approved.) At least one female reviewer waxed lyrical about the show’s poking fun at the artistic community.

Suffice to say that is only partly correct. Jill Soloway has focussed on the educated artistic community.  The academic elite who masquerade their learned intelligence under a facade of high ideals and world travel. 

“You know,” says Sylvere to a young woman dangling her bare feet in a fishpond, “in Japan there are koi ponds where the fish nibble the calluses right off your feet.”  This line speaks volumes about the show and the characters in it.

While the academic author attempts to impress the young lady with his knowledge as a world traveller, he slips,  ever so slightly, into vulgarity.

He need not have bothered.

This ginger-haired female knows of what he speaks. They have the same in Bali, she tells him. “Have you ever been,” she asks.  Sylvere has not. (Not that one needs to, in Norwich, Norfolk in England there is a small mall that has these callus nibbling fish in a store. Presumably there are other places which also offer skin eating fish…)

I Love Dick is a title that just hints at vulgarity.  (One presumes that if Kraus were English the title would have been “I Love Willy” and the male object of her fascination would have been named the same.) It opens up possibilities before the first frame  of the show is even seen.

Casting Hahn as Chris aids in this  sexual connotation. The woman exudes sex from every pore. With her tousled look, sleepy eyes and bruised lips, Hahn seemingly advertises  rampant libido.

The plot, in a nutshell, has a female filmmaker; Chris and her academic author husband; Sylvere plucked from their urban setting. He has been accepted as a “fellow” in Marfa, Texas, a retreat for artistic types.   They go to the artistic community in the small  Texas tow and it is a rural setting they are ill equipped to handle.

Chris’ short film, that was due to be shown at the Venice film festival (Italy not California.) it is withdrawn because of copyright issues with a song in the film. They attend a party and Chris locks eyes with Dick.

She is lost.

Apart from the  “fish out of water” theme the pilot seems to deal with instant infatuation, obsession and those charismatic people who effortlessly capture our attention.

Chris is attracted to Dick instantly.  She decides to stay in Marfa after the author not so subtly denigrates Chris as a filmmaker. After Dick’s initial interest, he now seems less than interested in Sylvere’s wife.

She does not notice.

I Love Dick is fascinating to watch. The imagery, the music and the bubbling sexual interest Chris has for Dick makes this show oddly compelling. It has to be said that the premise of the series, these “letters” to Dick, is less interesting than the trappings.

The music is almost hypnotizing and it fleshes out each scene to brilliant effect.

The pilot is free to watch on Amazon right now. It is competing against Jean-Claude Van Johnson and The Tick. Head over and watch all three and see what you think.  Can I Love Dick work as a weekly series?

Amazon really wants to know and so do we. Tell us how you rate I Love Dick.

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7 Great Independent Films to Watch on Netflix

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In the age of summer blockbusters and award season drama, the independent film has a unique hold on its audience. Sequestered to their smaller budgets and sometimes lesser known thespians, indie films are the place that actors get discovered, new film techniques emerge and great stories are told.

These seven films currently streaming on US Netflix are great examples of acting chops, mesmerizing scenery and unparalleled storytelling. From gritty war stories to racially charged comedies, these picks are sure to make you appreciate the indie genre a little bit more.

Amu

After graduating from UCLA, Indian-American 21-year-old Kaju travels to her native India—a place she left at the age of 3—to discover her culture and traditions as a happy, naive tourist. Not content to just stick to the Taj Mahal, Kaju delves into busy markets, streetside cafes and slums to uncover the “real” India. Yet she discovers more than she set out to. Unravelling family secrets and a haunted past, Kaju meets friends and family who reveal that everything she thought she knew was a lie. Including concealed genocide, military coups and social unrest, Amu is one woman’s tale to discover her past that is fraught with danger.

Beasts of No Nation

Starring Bond hopeful Idris Elba, Beasts of No Nation may be one of the best movies currently streaming on Netflix. Based in Africa and shot in Ghana, this war story revolves around one boy whose life is ripped apart at the seams as a rebel army takes over the government and his family is murdered. Taken under the wing of a war commandant, the boy develops into a full-fledged militia soldier and becomes even more embroiled in the war that killed his family and broke apart his country. Filmed, written and directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga and introducing Abraham Attah, this war story is one that resonates with plenty of violence and brutality, but also truth.

Asthma

In the vein of Kerouac and Thompson, Asthma arrives as this generation’s personal journey road trip. It is a refreshing take on the hipster revolution that’s obsessed with a rose-colored version of the past. Early on in the film, Gus (Benedict Samuel) makes it known that his artistic leanings and penchant for 1970’s New York labels him at best an authentic poser. Yet as the movie progresses, his pain becomes real. He meets up with Ruby (Krysten Ritter) as they make their way out on the road. A traditional journey story, this one has great cinematic moments and clever film direction, making it a must-see.

The One I Love

When a couple played by Mark Duplass and Elisabeth Moss gets marooned at a weekend house during the summer by their therapist, their crumbling marriage becomes the centerpiece for strange happenings at the countryside estate. When Ethan (Duplass) and Sophie (Moss) realize that they are interacting with doppelgangers, things start to get out of hand. Between seductions, fights and impersonations, Ethan and Sophie fight with themselves, each other and their doppelganger counterparts until the reality around them crumbles. As Charlie McDowell’s directorial debut, The One I Love premiered at Sundance 2014 to rave reviews, earning an 80 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Ellis

This short starring Robert De Niro is one that delves into the heart of American cinematography by going back to its roots. Set and filmed inside an abandoned, derelict Ellis Island hospital, the story of how immigrants shaped the United States as it is today is at the forefront of this film. By framing the narrative around one immigrant, the early stories of Ellis Island are revealed to the audience. The film accomplishes exposing the very real nature of people who fled oppression, culture and hunger to arrive at the shores of Ellis Island in only 16 minutes. Ellis is visceral, haunting and real, making it absolutely worth a watch.

Dear White People

The catchy title should be enough to tell you that this cleverly sarcastic comedy is one worth watching. Yet if that’s not enough to go running to your remote, try its protagonist and heroine on for size. When Sam (Tessa Thompson), a biracial college student, shocks the student body with the racially charged transgressions she witnesses, the traditionally white collegiate student body is outraged and blindsided by her accusations on broadcast radio.

Pulling in as many laughs as it exposes real world truths, Dear White People was labeled a comedy “for the Obama generation,” and aimed to educate them about race and labels. Riotously funny and biting, it’s worth a watch just for the killer burns.

Advantageous

This 2015 science fiction film starts out in an age not so distant from our own. It follows Gwen (Jacqueline Kim), a model for the Center for Advanced Health and Living which provides citizens with cosmetic procedures. When she is unceremoniously fired from her job, Gwen’s preoccupation with keeping her daughter healthy leads Gwen to make the radical decision to have her conscious transferred into a new body to ensure her daughter’s safety. After the transformation procedure, many things do not go as planned. The reality of the new situation becomes clear to the doctors and Gwen’s daughter.

Perfect for lovers of mind-bending sci-fi thrillers such as Shutter Island and Transcendence, Advantageous also received a high rating from Rotten Tomatoes (at 80 percent freshness) and was released exclusively on Netflix.

While most independent films may never be as big as their heavily budgeted counterparts, their inclusion in the film cannon is essential for sparking new talent and entrancing audiences with story alone. From mistaken identities to history, these seven films are sure to give you some concrete things to think about. Can you say that about Thor?

Have a suggestion for more indie films to watch next? Leave a comment below and share your suggestions with your fellow readers.

Orange Is the New Black: People Persons – Suzanne and Lolly (Review) Spoilers

Uzo Aduba as Suzanne "Crazy Eyes" Warren

The torturous punishment of Flores, and more recently Piper, ends with the discovery of the body in the garden.  All of Litchfield is placed in lockdown.  Orange Is the New Black “People Persons” takes us that step closer to a meltdown at the minimum security facility. This episode also looks at  Suzanne’s backstory and there is a heart wrenching end to Healy and Lolly’s sessions.

“People Persons” was a tissue box bonanza as everything starts falling  apart at Litchfield. Finding the body has begun  a domino tumbling exercise that will end in tears for more than one inmate in the prison.

When the body is found Caputo leaves Piscatella in charge and most of the Corrections Officers go off the rails. Only Donuts and Bayley question what is going on. As the alarm sounds for lockdown, Healy asks what is going on.

He finds out that a guard’s chopped up body was discovered in the gardening area.  Sam realizes that Lolly was actually telling the truth.

Warren speaks with Maureen (Emily Althaus) and Taystee suggests that she give Kukudio some room.  “She gave you blue labes,” Taystee says and she indicates she thinks Maureen is crazy. 

Suzanne’s Flashback:

Suzanne  Warren is a “greeter” or welcome lady, for a store. She is popular with the staff and the customers, especially the children. She really likes Dylan and his family. After she greets the group, Suzanne learns she has won “Employee of the Month.”

She rushes home to relay the good news and discovers that she will be alone for the weekend. Suzanne does not like being by herself. Her sister tells her that there is food in the fridge and that they are only a phone call away.

In the park Warren bumps into Dylan playing with his new truck.  She invites him to have ice cream and she brings him home to play video games.  Dylan gets scared and calls 9-1-1. Suzanne tells him off for calling the number for a non-emergency.  The boy tries to get out of the front door but cannot.

Dylan  then climbs out the window to the fire escape. Suzanne tries to pull him back in and he topples over the edge of the railing to his death.

The Staff:

The Corrections Officers are upset that the dead man has not been identified.  They believe him to be a fellow officer which he was not. He was a hitman hired to kill Alex.  This annoyance starts the ball rolling as they decide to ignore everything Caputo tells them.

Piscatella takes the lead and starts questioning inmates, even though Caputo said not to. Donuts questions the captain and gets sent out to stand guard over the body parts. Luschek makes fun of Donuts and gets sent to protect Judy King. Everyone else watches the inmates during the lockdown or rounds-up inmates for questioning.

The Comedy:

Donuts while watching the body parts keeps hearing noises in the tiny cornfield. Bayley brings him a book; Stephen King’s It, and twice the new officer scares Donuts when he visits.

Luschek ends up in a molly-taking  sex session with Judy King and Yoga Jones (Constance Schulman). The morning after sees both Jones and Luschek disturbed by what they have done while Judy carries on as if nothing happened. 

Sam Healy: 

Healy realizes he misdiagnosed Lolly and it has destroyed him.  Sam leaves Litchfield, he passes Luschek on the way to work. He tells the other officer he needs something from his car.  Healy heads down to have ice cream and later heads to a lake.

He calls Katya and leaves a message saying she does not have to call him back. He then walks into the water; he is committing suicide. Just as the water reaches shoulder height, his cell phone on the bank rings.

He wades back to the shore and finds it is work.

Suzanne in the Present:

Maureen approaches Suzanne who takes Taystee’s advice and gives the other woman some space. Humphrey tries to instigate a fight between one of the supremacists and Suzanne.  She refuses.

Kukudio volunteers to fight the “retard” and all the officers urge the two to fight. Maureen is the aggressor but never lands a punch. Suzanne flips out and beats the other woman bloody. Humphrey declares he has won $20.

Red:

Piscatella zeroes in on Red for questioning. As she and the captain engage in a battle of wits, her bunk, living area and work place are all searched. The dead guard’s keys are found behind the oven.

When the keys are brought into the interrogation room, it seems that Red will give up Lolly.

Lolly:

Despite appearances, it is not Red who snitches on Lolly, but Sam. The staff cannot find her and Piscatella starts to sound the alarm. Healy knows where she is though. He takes the officers down to Lolly’s time machine.

She is there, clutching a potato and trying to travel through time. Healy takes Lolly to the psychiatric wing. At the gate, she is escorted by two guards as Sam watches through the bars.

Lolly begins to panic and calls out to Healy. He remains silent,  tears in his eyes as they take her down the hallway. Finally, with Lolly’s cries echoing down the hall, Sam turns and leaves.

Thoughts:

This episode of Orange Is the New Black did so much. It was a poke in the eye for private prisons for a start. The scene with Caputo and Linda, where it is revealed that she has never visited  a prison yet works at purchasing for the system is infuriating.

The staff are not trained properly and therefore begin bullying in earnest when they are put in charge of the inmates while Caputo is gone.

Suzanne’s backstory was heartbreaking. She clearly was not ready to be left on her own so Dylan’s death was really down to her sister.  When Dylan falls over the railing it is shocking to the extreme.

Sam’s suicide attempt is also horrible and it serves as a precursor to what happens to Lolly.

This episode was hard to get through without going through an entire box of tissues. it was full of heartache. Sam, Suzanne and Lolly all brought tears to our eyes in “People Persons.”

Orange Is the New Black falls right smack in dramedy territory. This episode, except for Donuts and Luschek, was all tragedy.  There are two episodes left in this season, if you have not watched the entire thing already, start watching the series now.

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Still Life (2012): Crisis of Passion (Review)

Still Life Poster

Shot, for the most part, in black and white, Still Life follows Martin (Timothy Bonavita) whose search for perfection causes a crisis of passion. His love of photography is being jeopardized by his self perceived problems and each criticism only adds to his frustration. 

Chris Esper, who wrote, produced and directed the film, gives us a flawed protagonist. Martin is torn between pride and uncertainty about his craft.  At the start of the film he is photographing a solitary flower. He presents it in class for a critique but when Professor Lynch (David Graziano) suggests a different angle was needed Martin is exasperated.  

It is a criticism that will crop up often and each time Martin reacts badly. One woman tells Martin he is talented but he needs to take criticism in the spirit it is given. Later the photographer revisits  his first memory of taking pictures.

Esper chose black and white for his 12 minute drama. The medium beloved by most serious photographic artists. It works well. The starkness and lighting of the film help to convey Martin’s true feelings and his shaken confidence.

Interestingly, the director chooses colour for the memory sequence. Once again there is a reason. The young Martin  is taking pictures with either a  Polaroid or Kodak instant camera (where the photo ejects from the bottom and develops outside the device).  The childhood memory is suffused with an orange tint.

Anyone who took  pictures with either of those cameras will remember that often the finished photograph’s had an orange hue.  This was a lovely touch.

The film shows just how easily passion can be deflated with a crisis of faith.  Martin manages to rethink his personal issues and his childhood passion is rekindled with that memory.

Still Life also shows that art is subjective. One man’s prize may be another’s misstep. “You could have changed the angle” translates to “I would not have used that angle.” In some ways Martin’s annoyance at having this criticism voiced repeatedly is justified.

However like any true artist the photographer refuses to give up.

Bonavita manages to show clear delight when his character is praised for his work. He switches easily into a pouty sulk each time differing opinions are voiced. This works well as it shows his wavering confidence and frustration.

It does eventually serve to rejuvenate his attitude and he continues to practice his craft.

Still Life is a excellent offering that presents the side of artistic passion that is not all glowing praise and taking bows. It is also about  ignoring the “negative” side of criticism and carrying on regardless.

The Convict (2014): Painful Bleakness (Review)

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The Convict, written and directed by Mark Battle (Here Lies JoeThe Janitor),  is a bleak yet focussed bit of character study. Utilizing a minimum of dialogue the film follows David Eller (Dean Tempe)  the convict of the title.

The film begins with Cameron smashing a bedroom window to bits with a shovel.  He is dressed in an orange jumpsuit and has the remains of handcuffs on his wrists.  Eller has been injured, he has blood on the front of his prison uniform.  He grabs new clothes and digs  a bullet out of his abdomen.

For one heart stopping moment a young boy comes into the bathroom where David  treats his wound. Afterward he steals a car and heads out to be with his wife. Along the way this determined convict meets a store clerk, a  driver who gives him a lift and his mother-in-law.

The Convict is a bleak film. David is focussed on being with his ill wife. The vehicle runs out of petrol and David is forced to hitch a ride. Buddy (Travis Mitchell) gives Eller a lift and then pulls a gun on him. The men struggle and David survives. 

Eller is a character who has filled all the required  boxes to get parole. Unfortunately at his hearing the chair (Michael Anthony Coppola) is not sympathetic.  He tells David that he hears no remorse. He then bluntly says  that  the convict needs to do his time.  Eller mentions that his wife is very ill and that he really wants to be with her.

Clearly  David is so intent on seeing his sickly  wife that he escapes after his parole is denied. The film is shot with a bleak lack of color. All the tones are pale and muted, similar to the  appearance of the convict as he fights off the cold and going into shock.

The inference is that David committed a horrific crime. Eller’s taking every class available plus the chair’s reaction to his bid for parole leads one to believe that whatever David did, it was heinous.

Battle uses the bleakness of the winter setting and the lack of colour to allow us to focus on Eller’s struggle  to be with his wife.  The lack of dialogue shows that David has never been a socially adept creature. This also shows why the convict took many of his classes, one of which was Anger Management.

When David does speak,  his sentences are succinct and very clear.  For instance at the doorway where he encounters Mary (Suzanne Bryan). She goes to close the door and lifting his gun, Eller says simply, “I’m coming in.” 

Battle’s message is clear, David Eller is a desperate man who will kill to get to his wife. He is so focussed on his target that conversation is not essential.  The Convict also seems to say that regardless of our attempts at redemption and change, those in charge will always expect more.

Dean Tempe, who played a much different character in “Here Lies Joe,”  convinces as David Eller.  His performance is full of a truth that few actors can achieve in a full length film. Travis Mitchell also gives  noteworthy turn as “Buddy.”

Mark Battle has given us another splendid offering. The man is a veritable filmmaking machine, a’la Robert Rodriguez , where he does everything bar the makeup and the music.

The Convict is a 5 star effort. It’s bleakly focussed protagonist is a man we root for, regardless of his past, and that, in itself, is a triumph.

THE CONVICT Teaser Trailer from Sweven Films on Vimeo.

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Crossing Point (2016): Capable Action Thriller (Review)

Film poster for Crossing Point

Crossing Point is a capable  action thriller that stars newcomer Shawn Lock as Michael;  a gringo tourist in Tijuana whose girlfriend is kidnapped. He is forced to run cocaine across the border to San Ysidro or she will die. He has 12 hours to make the drop. The drugs cannot be damaged, stolen, lost or confiscated. If any of these things happen both Michael and Olivia will be executed.

Lock, who co-wrote the screenplay with Paul Dominic, acquits himself very well in his first starring role.  (In his first role full stop.) He wisely keeps his character from running off at the mouth.  In the “action” scenes he moves well and we believe in  his quiet desperation.

Director Daniel Zirilli (who also provided additional dialogue for the script) sets a cracking pace for Crossing Point. At no time does the film drag. While it is not a high octane thriller the film does move on and as a result seems much quicker than its 92 minute run time.

The new star is backed up with a supporting cast with bona fides that contain more than  a few pedigree performers. Prolific actors Jacob Vargas and Tom Sizemore add a lot to the proceedings although Vargas is a main role and Sizemore is a cameo for all intents and purposes.

Luke Goss (one half of the  former Brit band Bros with twin brother Matt) plays a DEA agent who steps in at the very end of the film. Luke has been very busy since the band broke up. He has 51 credits under his belt and hides that Peckham accent very well.

The two stand out performances in Crossing Point  belong to newcomer Lock and Jacob Vargas. Vargas gives his Tijuana cop a legitimacy that feels almost effortless. Paulina Gaitan is spot on as Lucille, the petty thief turned ally and  María Gabriela de Faría is quite impressive as Olivia. 

Sizemore proves, yet again, that no part is too small. He makes the most of his  cameo as the coyote provider to Michael.

The film is a “race against the clock” thriller that is not full to the brim with action scenes. It has suspense and touch of romance and enough threatening situations to make most  viewers feel a bit nervous.

Cinematography for the film is beyond perfection.  The scenery is captured brilliantly and the each shot framed just as it should be. Philip Roy does a splendid job as does Michael Courtney who edits the film with a deft touch. (Rather interestingly Courtney worked as editor on the “reality” series “Shooting Sizemore”  which  starred…drumroll please…Tom Sizemore.)

There is one point in the film where credulity is stretched to breaking point. Vargas’ Tijuana cop blithely crosses the boarder and works hand-in-glove with Goss’ DEA agent. It seems pretty certain that a lot of rules and protocols would have been broken in real life had this occurred.

Regardless of  the film ignoring border laws and international crime fighting  agreements,  Crossing Point entertains. This is not, however,  high art here, do not expect Shakespeare or Ibsen, but the story flows nicely and the lead character is one we can root for.

This is a solid 4 out of 5 stars for having a  sustainable plot and a main character that was, for the most part, believable. The movie is streaming on Netflix at the moment and if action thrillers are your cup of tea, check it out.

Please Punish Me (2015): Guilty (Review)

David Sackal as Scottie Lee

Please Punish Me is short film best classified as a “dramedy.” Part drama and part comedy it follows Scottie Lee (David Sackal) and his deep dissatisfaction with his job. Not that things are going badly. Scottie has just gotten a huge promotion; make a partner, doing work he detests.

Made from a screenplay written by Rich Camp, based on a story by Tom Paolino, the film looks at the guilt successful people may feel when their jobs are overly rewarding. Directed by Chris Esper, Please Punish Me is a “day in the life of” film.  

There is not time spent on backstory, except for a defining moment at the start of the 14 minute film. Scottie is on his way to work. He pops a banknote into a homeless woman’s coffee cup. The note floats in  the liquid and Lee apologizes. Immediately after a cop rousts the young woman and makes Scottie take his money back.

This scene sets up Scottie Lee for us. He is, overall, a nice chap who wants to be kind to others. At his job, the man is wildly successful and has just been made the youngest partner this firm has ever had. Lee is uncomfortable and sits sketching while waiting to give his “thank you” speech.

A co worker, who sneaks into the supply cupboard to smoke weed, suggests an S&M parlor where they can “help you get right.” The establishment’s name is “Punish Me Palace.” Scottie decides to give it a try.

Once there he meets a novice dominatrix who gives him much more than he bargained  for.

The film shows the  older board members as semi articulate cretins. Puffing big cigars and sounding more like animals than the hierarchy of a company.  Lee clearly hates working here but his success makes it difficult for him to leave.

Scottie wants to be a cartoonist but feels that his lack of practice holds him back. Michelle (Joanna Donofrio), the new dominatrix, talks to Lee and  their encounter proves to be life changing.

The message here is simple; enjoy what you do or work at what you hate for better money. Please Punish Me is presented as comic book/graphic novel; with saturated lighting and framed shots that evoke set pieces. (It also makes one think of the 1970s in terms of textures.)

The actors do well.  Sackal in particular manages to bring a lot to his role. At times he seems to channel his inner Don Adams in an effective comic move that makes his character quite likable.

There are some sound issues. In a few places the score overrides the actors and in others they dialogue is too loud. In both cases the end result is jarring and it interrupts the story.

Please Punish Me is an entertaining film.  The main protagonist is a character we can get behind and empathize with.  His sense of not deserving his success is understandable.  We also feel close to single mother Michelle.

The characters in the S&M parlor are funny.  Their use of stock German accents tickles the funny bone as does the madam’s annoyance at being turned away. Kudos to Mark Carter and Lorrie Bacon for their comedic performances. 

Overall this is a 4 star film. It entertains, despite the odd sound issue, and  the ending has a
“Pretty Woman” feel to it.  A film that has good pacing and an interesting premise that is well worth a look.