Review by Dan Skip Allen
The title of this film might be a bit misleading. At first glance, you'd think it's a film about a musician or composer, but it's not. It's a film about a hitman who narrates his own story. I guess he's so good at what he does he's considered a virtuoso.
Anson Mount (Hell on Wheels) plays a hitman who narrates his own story. He doesn't talk much except when he's narrating the film. He's a reserved man who keeps to himself in his excluded house in the middle of the woods with his dog. That is until he gets a job to do from his handler, (Anthony Hopkins). Then he goes to work.
The cast is filled out with some famous character actors besides the lead actor. Abbie Cornish (Sucker Punch) plays a waitress, David Morse (Disturbia) plays a local deputy sheriff, Eddie Marsan (Sherlock Holmes) plays a mysterious loner, and Richard Brake (Mandy) plays the handsome man at a poker game. All of these characters are at a diner in a small town adjacent to a motel. All of these men and women keep the viewer guessing about their characters' motivations throughout the film
This film has a subtle and quiet tone to it like the lead character played by Mount. It lets the viewer see what's going on but only narrated by Mount himself. It's a mysterious film, keeping everyone in the dark until the very end when everything the director and writer want to come to light unfolds before your eyes. Keeping everyone in the dark doesn't benefit the story though — it muddled it a bit.
The main character uses a phrase of collateral damage a few times. He feels this is his undoing at times. He likes things to be clean and concise. When collateral damage happens, it changes the variable he's working with. This may come back to haunt him in the end. Leave no loose ends is his motto and collateral damage isn't that.
The film is mostly shot at night in a small town at a little motel. It has good lighting and camera work, all things considered. The score seems like it's out of any other mystery/thriller film, not to be overdone but effective in creating a spooky atmosphere. The film has some good editing as well, cutting back and forth between all of these characters within the film.
Mount has been a leading man for a little while now. He played a mysterious loner before in Hell on Wheels, the Western show on AMC and Black Bolt on the defunct ABC show about Marvel's Inhumans. He currently stars as Christopher Pike on Star Trek: Strange New Worlds. He made a career from playing these cold loners on television and now movies. It seems to be his thing. He's perfect at playing these types of characters. They fit him as an actor.
Lionsgate has made money on these types of films before, with the John Wick franchise banking for them and still going. The difference between this film and those is the characters are more interesting and the films were shot a lot better overall. The mystery aspect of this film was interesting though. I would have liked to see the characters fleshed out more in this film.
Overall The Virtuoso was an engaging film but lacked the extra punch of a John Wick, or John Rambo, or even John McClain for that matter. Anson Mount might be good as a loner on television, but he can't carry a full-length film without this very good cast of character actor and now two-time Oscar winner Anthony Hopkins. I would have liked to see this world fleshed out more, but alas, I don't think that'll happen.
The Virtuoso hits theaters and VOD on April 30.
Review by Sean Boelman
The four-and-a-half-hour documentary In Search of Darkness promised to be the comprehensive guide to ‘80s horror, but even it wasn’t without its holes. The (somehow slightly longer) follow-up In Search of Darkness: Part II serves as a wonderful companion piece, filling a lot of its predecessor’s blind spots.
In the film, director David A. Weiner and his cast of interviewees discuss an additional crop of ‘80s horror movies and topics related to their production. However, whereas the first film was largely focused on the anecdotes behind your favorite flicks in the genre, this one seems more interested in bringing some forgotten gems into the spotlight.
As is the case with any documentary as long as this, it can be a tiresome ordeal for those who aren’t hardcore fans. However, much like the last movie, it is organized in a way that is very energetic, with segments for films organized into sections by year, in addition to a few asides for deep dives into more specific topics.
Some of these detours actually end up being more interesting than the overall survey of cinematic history. There are some portions of the movie which explore genuine screen legends like Robert Englund and Geretta Geretta, and the latter in particular discusses how the social context of the 1980s influenced her acting career.
The film also addresses some of the subtextual elements that defined this group of horror movies. While there are other documentaries that explore these ideas — like the gay subtext of A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge — in more detail, this sequel doesn’t get caught up as easily in fanboyishness.
The most impressive thing about this documentary is the absolute wealth of interviewees that Weiner was able to assemble to talk about this iconic era in horror. From actors in the films to some of the greatest horror directors ever, there are plenty of recognizable faces participating in the project.
Of course, the documentary also contains plenty of footage from the movies in question. What makes this sequel stand out, though, is that the films featured are often more obscure, and as such, will leave viewers intrigued and excited to seek out some of these cult classics from the glimpses they see.
In Search of Darkness: Part II is another documentary that is obviously made for fans, but it is also an improvement over its predecessor in many regards. The type of audience that will love this is exactly the type that will seek it out, and will hopefully discover some new favorites in the process.
In Search of Darkness: Part II streams on Shudder beginning April 29.
Review by Dan Skip Allen
One of the things I love about film is you get to see stories brought to the screen that, without movies, would never see the light of day, such as Percy vs Goliath. These slice-of-life stories are what makes movies great.
Percy Schmeiser (Christopher Walken) is a third-generation farmer. He gets sued by a big company because he inadvertently used their seed to grow his crop. With the help of a lawyer, Jackson Weaver (Zack Braff), he brings his case to the Supreme Court. He also has help from environmentalist Rebecca Salcau (Chistina Ricci), who is trying to help with Percy's defense fund.
This story is a little confusing because of all the farming jargon, seed mumbo jumbo, and all the laws involving this. At the core of this film, though, is a little guy who's fighting a big guy as the title suggests. Percy vs Goliath is an apt title of the film. These types of stories can be inspiring and informative. They represent the everyday average person, in this case, farmers in Saskatchewan, Canada.
With big court cases comes intimidation and threats. These big corporations use these tactics to divide communities and make those they deem at fault look bad. This is why these stories matter so much. The little guys are always defeated by the big corporations. Fighting back is all Percy and his family can do. The sympathetic angle is always a good one to go with within these films. Pulling on the heartstrings of the viewers is a way to make your film more effective. It helps get the message across of the story.
David versus Goliath stories represent us all as citizens. The cast gets this story across very well, especially Christopher Walken. He has a sympathetic angle to his performance. He also had his moments where he shows why he's one of the greatest actors of his generation. He chose wisely in picking the role of Percy Schmeiser, a farmer from Canada. He gets the message across of his plight very vividly.
This film has some twists and turns in it which makes it very unpredictable. It isn't a straightforward David vs Goliath story, a courtroom drama, or a slice-of-life story. It's all of them in one. The film changes pace and goes to India and this might be some of the best parts of the film. Watching Percy's journey of discovery is so important for the overall message of the film. That is you can't let these big companies impose their will on so many little people in so many of these countries.
Clark Johnson is primarily known as an actor in his career. He's been an actor for decades in shows such as Evil on CBS, Bosch on Amazon, and Homeland on Showtime. He also has a strong directorial career including episodes of such shows as City on a Hill and Your Honor on Showtime, Snowfall on FX, and The Purge on the USA network. He has worked for shows on Netflix and Starz as well. This is a big step for him to direct a full-length feature film. He does an admirable job.
At the end of the day, the title says it all in this film. Percy vs Goliath is the crux of what this film is all about. It has a great message that everybody can get behind. It has a very good cast anchored by Walken, an Oscar winner for his role in The Deer Hunter. The message of never giving up has been in films for decades and should continue to be in films for decades to come. It a very inspiring way to tell stories on big and little screens alike.
Percy vs Goliath hits theaters and VOD on April 30.
Review by Sean Boelman
With her documentary How to Kill a Cloud, filmmaker Tuija Halttunen sets out to explore the intersection between politics and environmental activism. An intricate, if not too intimate portrait of a brilliant woman trying to change the world, this documentary isn’t so much a call to action as it is a pulling back of the curtain.
The film follows a Finnish scientist who sets out with ambitious plans to create rain in the desert of the United Arab Emirates, soon discovering that her goals may be even more difficult to obtain than she imagined. This is a fascinating story dealing with a real-life issue with which a majority of viewers likely aren’t familiar.
Halttunen’s subject is definitely very compelling as a trailblazing scientist showing a great deal of ambition in trying to solve a seemingly insurmountable challenge. Even if one isn’t familiar with the scientific processes occurring on screen, it is easy to be struck with awe by the sheer drive she and her team have.
Additionally, there is something very inspiring about this story of a female scientist breaking such new ground. Perhaps more impressive, though, is that Halttunen makes it clear that the work this scientist is doing is exceptional, and deserves to be judged on its merits independently of the gender of the person doing it.
However, even though the movie does emphasize the difference one person can make, it also explores the fundamental failures of the system. Possibly out of greed or ignorance, one of the richest countries in the world has an entirely compromised environment, and are just now trying to do something about it now that it’s almost too late.
That said, one thing that Halttunen struggles with is creating a sense of urgency in her film. Although she seems to be trying to emphasize the tedium of bureaucracy and the hoops that the subject must jump through in her mission, it doesn’t serve the ecological timeliness of the movie particularly well.
Much like the scientist’s work, the film is split between the boardroom and the field, and the latter portions look absolutely wonderful. Great cinematography by Ville Hakonen captures clouds in a way that is almost mesmeric. It’s a gorgeous documentary, although that is almost a given with any movie about ecological issues these days.
How to Kill a Cloud is an interesting and beautiful documentary. Although it doesn’t quite hammer home its themes as hard as one would hope, it still brings attention to an issue that hasn’t gotten much attention on a global scale.
How to Kill a Cloud is screening as part of CPH:DOX, which runs April 21 through May 2.
Review by Camden Ferrell
Eat Wheaties! is a new comedy film that had its premiere at the 2020 Calgary International Film Festival. Based on the 2005 novel, The Locklear Letters, this movie marks the directorial debut of Scott Abramovich. While there is a quirky charm surrounding the movie, it ultimately underwhelms and feels repetitive in its story and performances.
Sid Straw is an eccentric guy in living an unremarkable life. He finds himself named co-chair of his college reunion, and he subsequently stalks and obsesses over Elizabeth Banks online, who he claims was his college friend. His life spirals out of control as he tries to prove to the people in his life that he knows a celebrity. It’s a really unique premise that has a lot of potential for comedy and absurdity.
The script, by Abramovich, runs with this premise and he doubles down on the silliness of all of it. It’s commendable, but the premise quickly turns into a gimmick that becomes too much of a crutch throughout the film. There are a handful of funny exchanges, but a lot of the scenes can come off as too cheesy for some tastes. It’s a script as unconventional as its premise, and it feels very niche.
The film features a well-known and talented cast who are unfortunately misused throughout. Tony Hale leads the film as Sid, and he is a naturally funny and zany actor, and this shows in his performance. It’s charming at first, but it slowly becomes repetitive as the movie progresses, and the character doesn’t allow for too much range. The supporting cast, consisting of actors like David Walton, Paul Walter Hauser, and Elisha Cuthbert, has a few nice moments, but they are mostly forgettable.
Stylistically, the film comes off as a little cheap. The cinematography and lighting feel uninspired, and the music and other elements don’t do much to contribute to the ambiance of the film. As a whole, the movie has a few things working in its favor. There are a handful of funny moments, a great premise, and a niche brand of quirkiness. However, it is weighed down by a repetitive treatment of the story and performances that do not stand out as these actors’ bests.
Eat Wheaties! could very well reach cult status in the coming years due to its absurdity. Unfortunately, the movie doesn’t live up to the potential of its outrageously funny narrative. It shows some comedic promise for Abramovich as a director, but it also feels quite forgettable at times.
Eat Wheaties! is in theaters and on VOD April 30.
Review by Camden Ferrell
Four Good Days had its premiere at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. It is directed by Emmy nominee Rodrigo García, and it is written by García and Pulitzer Prize-winner Eli Saslow. Even though it features a great performance from Glenn Close, the movie is often bland and boilerplate in its treatment of drug addiction.
Molly is a long-time heroin addict who returns to her mother, Deb, when she decides she wants to be sober. She schedules an appointment to receive an opioid antagonist, an injection that would prevent her from getting high. However, this requires her to be clean for the next four days, so Molly is left with her mother trying to course correct her life. It’s a somewhat standard for an addiction movie, but it does have potential for some poignant examination of addiction and family.
García and Saslow’s script is uneven more than anything. Its dialogue isn’t always the most engaging, and it meanders more often than it should. There are a handful of good exchanges between Deb and Molly, but it doesn’t fully explore the depth and trauma that addiction inflicts on family.
The acting in this movie is the best part of the film. Mila Kunis delivers a decent but flawed portrayal of addiction as Molly. However, the highlight of the film is Glenn Close, who delivers a great performance as Deb. She plays the concerned and troubled mother very well, and she helps elevate her scenes even when the script is somewhat lackluster.
The movie feels like its just a rehashing of tropes in addiction movies, and it doesn’t feel like it has anything new to say. It’s a serious and relevant issue that doesn’t get the proper treatment. There was a lot of potential for Close and Kunis to have a heart to heart about her history of addiction and abuse, but instead this conversation is disappointingly limited.
In addition to the flaws in its writing, the cinematography and score leave a lot to be desired. It isn’t bad by any means, but it feels bland and doesn’t give the film any distinct personality. As a whole, the film lacks a lot of necessary components to make it memorable. It’s passable in many regards, but it creates an underwhelming experience that won’t impress most viewers.
There are a select few scenes that are executed well and are quite tense at times, but the movie fails to extend this energy to other scenes throughout. A lot of the film is carried by Close’s performance, and it helps compensate for a movie that seems to squander the potential of its relevant story.
Four Good Days is a drug addiction movie that may be too melodramatic for its own good, but it is an adequate film in many regards. Close delivers a great performance despite a lackluster and boilerplate treatment of the subject. It’s not a bad film, but it’s a film that had a lot of untapped potential.
Four Good Days is in theaters April 30.
Review by Sean Boelman
The Mortal Kombat series defined a whole genre of video games, and the newest film adaptation hopes to revitalize a notoriously bad genre of movies. While it doesn’t quite end up reaching that lofty goal, it’s an entertaining movie with plenty of great moments that are sure to please the core audience of fans.
The film follows an MMA fighter who is recruited to be one of Earth’s champions to fight against warriors from other realms for control of the universe. It’s a very minimalistic story, but those who are coming to a Mortal Kombat movie for the story likely aren’t those who should be seeing one in the first place.
Fans will undoubtedly delight in getting to see some of their favorite fighters brought to life, and the movie does a great job of making them look cool as hell in the process. Of course, it would have been over-stuffed had they used the entire roster, so some of the most iconic playable characters are left out for future installments.
The writers of the film made the interesting choice of using an original character as the protagonist, and it results in mixed success. The character’s arc is really conventional, and his abilities are less than impressive. Ultimately, this decision feels like one rooted in the opportunity to sell tie-in DLC for the game.
There is a lot of action throughout, but a majority of the battles that fans will be wanting come in the last thirty minutes. The first hour is a lot of exposition and training, with the occasional fight thrown in for good measure. Thankfully, a quick wit keeps this portion of the movie trucking along even if it isn’t as adrenaline-fueled as expected.
Being that this is the first R-rated live-action Mortal Kombat film, audiences will be expecting tons of gore, and it delivers. The fatalities are definitely awesome, and while some fans may miss some of the most iconic moments from the game being recreated, it will satisfy their craving for violent carnage.
Much of the movie is Earth-bound and it would have been nice to see there be more world-building of the other realms. Still, the sets are very creative and serve as an excellent background for the fights. The fight choreography isn’t super original from a martial arts sense, but the integration of special effects to replicate moves from the series is great.
Mortal Kombat is the type of movie for which you buy a bucket of popcorn and sit back and enjoy it for all of its mindlessly bloody fun. The filmmakers seem to have captured lighting in a bottle here, and maybe they can do it again to create a series of great video game movies.
Mortal Kombat is now in theaters and on HBO Max.
Reviewed by Adam Donato
Most people who grew up with a television set know what Sesame Street is. Marilyn Agrelo directed a documentary to showcase the origin of this iconic children’s franchise. The documentary is based on the book by Michael Davis and features many of the original filmmakers that made the show happen giving interviews about their experiences. The story details the revolutionary movement in children’s television, a show for kids with the intent to educate.
It’s really sweet seeing all these people come together to do something good. The most interesting part of the documentary was finding out how much more good that the show was responsible for. Sesame Street was more than just teaching the alphabet and numbers. The show was basically a topic of political discussion as it had its finger on the pulse of the civil rights movement. The entertainment industry may just be that, for entertainment, but its got a large impact on how people perceive the world. For the youth of America, Sesame Street was instrumental for early childhood development.
The cast mainly focuses on some of the more essential creators of the show, along with Jim Henson, some of the stars of the show, and members of the crew. One of the more poignant parts of the documentary is when they address the passing of one of the important members of the show. Obviously, this was hard for the cast, but the brilliant decision was to give it to the kids straight. In one episode, they had Big Bird, a character who was very childlike in nature, react to the passing in an extremely authentic way. This is one of the more heart-wrenching moments as the documentary emphasizes the family vibe that the team had onset.
All the archive footage is magical, obviously. The biggest advantage of the documentary is the puppets themselves. They’re so colorful and fun to watch. There’s no doubt why this show was so popular. The interview footage is cut between short clips from the show, which is always humorous. It’s also interesting to see below the bottom of the screen. To see the puppeteers playing the characters on the show is cool. There’s so much thought that was put into the show that nobody really thinks about until they see this documentary and their eyes are opened to how important this show really was.
Just like the show, Street Gang can be enjoyed by audiences of all ages. Even the kids will enjoy seeing the puppets on the screen. This documentary will really hit home for the older audience who definitely grew up with these characters. A lot of nostalgia to unpack. Check it out if for a wholesome good time.
Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street is now in theaters and hits VOD on May 7.
Review by Sean Boelman
What filmmakers don’t realize is that it isn’t enough to simply make a thriller that is thrilling — the audience has to be given a reason to care about the story. Jonathan W. Stokes’s film Wildcat is undeniably exciting throughout its entire runtime, but it’s also very shallow and has little meaning.
The movie follows a journalist who is kidnapped after her convoy is ambushed and brutally interrogated by terrorists looking for information that she may or may not know. It’s basically a survival film under the guise of a military thriller. This is the type of conflict that one would expect to lead into something greater, but it never does.
For better or worse, the movie is a lot shorter than most similar flicks at just over ninety minutes including credits. Stokes maintains the tension throughout the entire runtime, but even though viewers will have their heart pounding, it won’t necessarily be out of suspense. Rather, it will be due to the stress of watching constant intimidation and torture.
Without a doubt, the biggest issue with this film is that it doesn’t seem to have anything to say. Thankfully, it isn’t as jingoistic as a majority of movies about terrorism in the Middle East are, but that doesn’t make it any more empathetic. Maybe this was meant to be an inspiring story of perseverance, but it revels in the characters’ misery too much to make that point.
The character development in the film is also entirely shallow. The villain is not supposed to know whether or not the protagonist is telling the truth, but keeping the audience equally in the blind prevents us from forming that connection to her. And while there are a few other supporting characters on both sides, they are all forgettable.
That said, there is some good acting in the movie. Georgina Campbell’s performance is very convincing, even if the majority of her responsibilities is to scream in pain. Ibrahim Renno’s performance is also one-note, but in the opposite way, completely menacing in an exaggerated but effective way.
For the most part, the film is well-made, taking advantage of the confined setting to create a ton of suspense. Admittedly, the production design is quite minimalistic, but it does its job. The highlight of the movie, if one can even call it that, are the torture sequences which are miserably horrifying in their portrayal.
Wildcat is a mindless action movie despite its premise suggesting that it won’t be something so straightforward. There are some good things going on here, but it ultimately feels like a prolonged beginning for a more prolific project.
Wildcat hits theaters on April 23 and VOD on April 27.
Review by Sean Boelman
It isn’t often that a horror film makes its way into the main narrative competition at a non-genre festival, but Jill Gevargizian earned a spot in the central lineup of the 2021 Florida Film Festival for her movie The Stylist. A killer concept and strong performances go a long way, but frustratingly slow pacing keeps it from being the campy cult classic it could be.
The film tells the story of a serial killer hair stylist who becomes obsessed with one of her clients and becomes increasingly entwined in her life. It’s a blend of slasher horror and stalker thriller tropes, and while it makes sense why these things should go together, the exaggerated nature of the former genre does not lend itself to the serious eeriness of the latter.
Gevargizian gets her movie off to a running start with an opening sequence that is genuinely fun and inspired. Unfortunately, the rest of the film fails to live up to this precedent that it sets early. It’s not a particularly gruesome movie, with only a few moments that are especially violent, and the character dynamics don’t instill a sufficient amount of suspense.
One of the issues with the film is that it doesn’t have that much of a message. The ending that this is building to is painfully obvious, and while it still gets a chuckle, it isn’t the payoff that it seems to think it is. There are some themes introduced about trauma and obsession, but Gevargizian rarely goes beyond the surface.
That said, there is some interesting character work done in the movie. The film doesn’t want the audience to entirely sympathize with the killer, but she definitely also isn’t a traditional villain. She exists in this grey area where there is something about her that we sympathize with but we aren’t rooting for her.
Najarra Townsend’s leading performance is excellent, bringing both the charm and the craziness to make the role work. She definitely does a lot of the legwork in carrying the movie. The supporting cast is led by Brea Grant, who is quickly becoming the queen of indie horror, who provides an excellent foil for Townsend.
The other thing that works really well in the film is Gevargizian’s style. Even if the movie can’t really decide on a tone for the script, it is at least very consistent in a visual sense. There is some fantastic imagery sprinkled throughout the film, and while hardcore genre fans will wish that there was more done with it, more causal thrill seekers will be entertained.
The Stylist is yet another horror movie with a great concept but less than stellar execution. Still, it’s interesting enough that it should make viewers excited to see what filmmaker Jill Gevargizian does next.
The Stylist is now streaming online as a part of the 2021 Florida Film Festival, which runs April 8-22 in Orlando, FL.