Review by Dan Skip Allen
Movies about assassins aren't anything new these days. There are a lot of films with variations on the assassin tropes. The lonely man or woman lives off of the grid until he or she is brought back into which fictional or nonfictional agency he or she may work for. Trigger Point follows a lot of these tropes but is entertaining nonetheless.
Barry Pepper plays an assassin who lives off of the grid in a sleepy town until a man comes looking for him. He gets brought back into a world of guns for hire and espionage. He doesn't know who to trust — if anybody. This film treads very familiar ground in this genre, but it still does a good job of being an enjoyable film to watch.
Barry Pepper, like a lot of other actors who have portrayed lone gunmen such as this, is a very proud and private man. He has a similar routine every day: wake up, go to a little diner and get some tea and talk up the waitress, and then go across the street to a little book shop and get a book from the shopkeeper (who may or may not be his handler). A lot of James Bond-type stuff just in America instead of jolly old England.
Assassins have a lot of baggage from their pasts that still haunt them each day. The one in this film is no different. This allows the viewer to get back the story on the lead character while not interrupting the flow of the film and the story within. The memories he is trying to unpack might help him figure out what is going on in the present day. And this works for the overall plot of the film in the end.
Besides Pepper, there are some good performances from the waitress in the diner (Nazneen Contractor), an old contact in his agency (Colm Feore), his daughter (Eve Harlow), and the book store owner (Jane Eastwood). They all add a semblance of reality to this fictional tale of assassins, special ops teams, and secret agencies. Every film needs a good supporting cast of characters to help it glow better.
The Ontario location is a beautiful one as well. The cinematographer, Brett Van Dyke, captures all the vistas in this area of the country perfectly. From farms houses in the middle of fields to little downtown streets. Even a shot or two of the ocean, adding a nice small town comfort to a film that has extraordinary events taking place in and around it.
Brad Turner, the director, does a solid job bringing this tried and true world of assassins and hitmen to life. He sets it in a nice sleepy town off of the coast of the United States which gives it a realistic feeling. Solid work from Pepper and the company makes for an entertaining film. Even though this genre has been done to death this film can still be an enjoyable entry.
Trigger Point hits theaters and VOD on April 16.
Review by Dan Skip Allen
In the last four or five years, the horror genre has had a resurgence of creative minds writing and directing new and innovative horror-related projects, films, and television shows. Jordan Peele led the charge, but studios such as Warner Bros., Sony, and A24 have done a solid job of releasing some great horror films. There have also been a few foreign horror films that have been quite good as well. Unfortunately, Honeydew falls short of those lofty expectations
The film starts with a couple taking a trip. They stop to camp in a patch of woods off the side of the road. A man tells them they have to leave because they're on his land. They get ready to leave, but then get stranded after their car breaks down. They start walking and end up at a house with an old lady and her so-called son. The two of them have more to their story than meets the eye.
This film has some interesting elements to it that make it different than most other horror films. It has some sound editing tricks to add to the suspense and scares of the film. The problem is they don't work very well. They just get in the way of the story. The film also has music playing over all the sounds they have added to the film. All of this makes the film weird and strange and gives off odd vibes. These editing and musical decisions aren't effective in making the film better, instead doing more damage to the flow and feel of the film.
Kids getting lost in the woods or going to strange houses aren't anything new in this genre either. They've been done to death. So trying new things makes sense, but not if they don't work. Writer-director Devereux Milburn takes some chances with the script and directorial decisions. The plot is a lot like a few other films we've seen in recent memory though so it doesn't make this film very original.
The cast isn't that spectacular either in Honeydew. If the filmmaker were to have gotten some bigger names it may have drawn a crowd to this film. Instead, this cast of unknowns just brings the fact that this film isn't any good more to the forefront. It's just another thing that helps make this film fail in the end.
I always give the filmmakers the benefit of the doubt when it comes to their creative decisions on a given film, especially when it comes to horror movies. They can be weird and strange at times. This film fails on all the different things Devereux tries to do to make it original and different. The sound editing, music, and cast are all wrong for this film. It's a shame because it had some potential.
Honeydew hits VOD on April 13.
Review by Dan Skip Allen
Melissa McCarthy has been working with her husband Ben Falcone for years now. They have made several movies together in the past including Tammy, The Boss, and Life of the Party. He has also acted with his wife a few other times, usually getting the short end of the stick, getting beat up or made fun of. There is no difference in Thunder Force either. Even though he directed this one he still gets tazered in the face and knocked out by his boss. That's the tone of the film.
Melissa McCarthy and Octavia Spencer play childhood friends Lydia and Emily. One is a sports and rock-n-roll fan who loves Chicago. She also does everything spontaneously at a drop of a hat and doesn't think before she does things. The other thinks about everything she does. She's very analytical in all of her decisions and gets annoyed at the other for not thinking about what she does more and how it affects people. Even though they're friends, they seem like opposites of one another.
Thunder Force is full of pop culture references from sports and television in the '80s. That's what decade these ladies grew up in. McCarthy's character is a bit of a tough girl while Spencer's is a bit of a smart girl. They both become friends and teach each other about their differences such as music and educational stuff like spelling. They both have a lot to learn at this age.
If you have a movie about superheroes you need supervillains. Bobby Cannavale plays the main supervillain. He is known as The King, a man who's running for mayor of Chicago. His henchmen, Laser and The Crab, are played by Pom Klementieff (Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2) and Jason Bateman (Ozark), respectively. These are your mustache-twirling bad guys. They are very funny but effective in their performances opposite McCarthy and Spencer.
Most of McCarthy's films haven't been that good in her career. She's had the occasional gem such as St. Vincent or Can You Ever Forgive Me?, for the latter of which she was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress. That being said, she's had more films in her career that are duds. Thunder Force has some funny moments in it and it relies on a lot of superhero moments to save the film. It's the story that is the reason that this film succeeds the most. It has a lot of heart to it that I enjoyed.
With a movie that has the title Thunder Force, it makes sense that they have a catchy song to go along with it. And this film has a great rock song in the credits. Stay all the way through to listen to the great lyrics by Corey Taylor (Slipknot), Lizzy Hale (Halestorm), Scott Ian (Anthrax), Dave Lombardo (Slayer), and Tina Guo an electric cellist. They join the composer Fil Eisler on this awesome rock song that gets you into the mood for this film.
At first glance, Thunder Force might just be another campy vehicle written and directed by her husband Ben Falcone for McCarthy to eat up the scenery and have a lot of fun running around in superhero costumes with Spencer. It's not though! It has a story about oddballs becoming friends and how their differences can help them in a difficult world around them full of miscreants. This was a fun film. Families all around the world should watch this film and take it for what it is worth. Netflix has done well getting into business with McCarthy and company.
Thunder Force is now streaming on Netflix.
Review by Dan Skip Allen
Every once in a while, there comes a film that breaks the mold of its genre. A film that blazes its path despite the preconceived notions of what it should be. It's a rare thing these days to find a film like this. Giants Being Lonely is such a film. At first glance, it might seem like it's just a film about baseball, but it's about a lot more than that.
Even though the main theme this film focuses on is baseball, the characters that are portrayed in it are the best part about it. This isn't your everyday sports film. It has subject matter not fit for most people. That's a good thing because it makes for a realistic portrayal of these people's lives. Not since Raging Bull have I seen a film about sports and the people surrounding said sport this graphic and raw.
The film stars unknown actors as players of a small-town baseball team, their friends, parents, coaches, and a baseball scout. They all do things that seem normal to the average eye but are far from normal in a movie. These things are real to society though. They all get involved in questionable behavior. That's the difference between this film and others like it: how the director chooses to portray the everyday small-town life they all live in.
The pressures of being an athlete in a small town in America can be massive to a teenager. Trying to live up to the expectations of your parents, teachers, and friends isn't easy, especially when you're a star like the two lead boys played by Jack and Ben Irving. Having been around athletes my whole life, I can say this is the best example of how the pressures can get to a kid. For various reasons, not everybody succeeds in their given sport.
From the perspective of adults, it's a similar experience. A wife can get lost in the shadow of a husband that focuses all his time on the team he's coaching. She can get lonely. That's not good for the relationship. These issues cause problems. The opposite happens for a father or mother that coaches a child and or a team. He or she is trying to drive that child to succeed that he or she doesn't see the tragic effect they have on them.
Having come from an abusive household myself, the parents portrayed in this film are very grounded in a way that is rarely seen in movies these days. Sure the occasional La'Vona Golden from I, Tonya or Mary from Precious comes to mind. The most obvious person in a film that is similar to the father in this film is Charles Billingsley portrayed by Tim McGraw in Friday Night Lights. He is as overbearing as it gets for a parent in sports films.
This film has a feeling of films such as The Rider or Nomadland from Chloe Zhao. It's grounded in reality while also having a scripted storyline. Grear Patterson wrote and directed this film. He imbued it with a rare ability that hardly is seen in films these days. This style of the film is so breathtaking to see. With so many films that are cookie-cutter copies of one another, it's great to see something real and raw.
The closest example that I can think of that resembles Giants Being Lonely is Euphoria on HBO. They both have a realistic and raw feeling to them that makes them so rare these days. The visceral nature of both is what makes them so good. Yes, graphic violence has been seen in horror movies for years, but not much in domestic films about everyday life. This film is the rare occasion where a rough domestic life is brought to light so perfectly.
Giants Being Lonely hits VOD on April 6.
Review by Dan Skip Allen
In the past, a lot of films about exorcists and demons have come out. They are usually put into the horror genre. That's the right place for these types of films. Sometimes films about demon possession are hard to categorize. The Unholy is one of those films.
Jeffery Dean Morgan (The Walking Dead, Supernatural) plays a struggling journalist who has reverted to doing stories as a blogger/podcaster. He finds himself in Banfield, Massachusetts, a sleepy down with a supernatural backstory after a brief encounter with a deaf girl changes his whole lease on life. She discovers she can heal the sick and that's just the beginning of this far-fetched story.
This film uses a lot of religious iconography to try to get this story to make sense. The back story was interesting, but it didn't add anything new to the story we haven't seen before. Some demonic possession and a little bit of worship make the film stretch to its ninety-minute run time. That's stretching this premise to its limits. There isn't much more you could do with this tired concept.
This film just doubles down on so many tropes in horror movies of the past. It's just sad the writer James Herbert, a well-renowned horror writer, couldn't have come up with a more original story. The director of the film, Evan Spiliotopoulios, adapted the book from Herbert. It's his first directorial outing. He doesn't do any new things that could make this film stand out from any of the films similar to this in the past. Scares from seeing things in the water or blood coming from the eyes of statues are old tricks filmmakers use time and again.
One strength that the film had was its cinematography by Craig Wrobleski, a cinematographer who's been doing good work lately in The Umbrella Academy, In the Tall Grass, and Fargo. His style has a grit to it that sets his films in a realistic place and time. Jeffery Dean Morgan, Katie Aselton, and Cricket Brown all do the best they can with this material filled with horror tropes. William Sadler and Cary Elwes are eating up the scenery as two priests with different motivations.
The ads to The Unholy brag of it being out on the holiest weekend of the year. That was a good plan on their part. It's just too bad the film didn't live up to the expectations of its advertising campaign. The Unholy is another film in this genre that is just a tired rehash of so many things that have come before. Maybe somebody will adapt one of Herbert's books and give it a kick in the backside this film didn't have.
The Unholy hits theaters on April 2.
Review by Dan Skip Allen
Don't let the title deceive you, Every Breath You Take is not a film about Sting or The Police, but a psychological thriller. This film has an atmosphere of a great thriller and the title represents the feeling of the film.
In the film, Casey Affleck plays a psychologist who believes he has made a breakthrough with a patient until she commits suicide. This tragic event affects his family and his professional life. When the patient's brother (Sam Claflin) comes into the picture it could have irrevocably changed his relationship with his wife (Michelle Monaghan) and his daughter (India Eisley) for the worse.
The film is made from a screenplay by David Murray and directed by Vaughn Stein, a director who isn't that well known. He has been an assistant director for some bigger films. His directorial career includes Terminal starring Margot Robbie and Inheritance starring Lily Collins and Simon Pegg. Every Breath You Take is the best thing he's directed thus far in his career.
Murray, Stein, and company lead the viewer down a path that is slow and methodical. When it picks up speed it doesn't stop. The tension that they build is palpable. They build the story and characters up very effectively. The various scenes that come in the second half of the film are those we dread because they are given credibility by what has come before in the film. They build the suspense perfectly. The twists and turns aren't seen coming at any distance.
With the moody storyline also comes a moody setting. The film is set in the cold climate of Portland which is a stand-in for Vancouver, British Columbia. This setting adds to the darker nature of the film. Cinematographer Michael Merriman uses the cold and dank surroundings to his advantage. This atmosphere is a beautiful setting for a film such as this. It's a rare talent for the cinematography to match the overall feel of the film. This does for sure.
Sam Claflin has been known as a heartthrob in his career. He has played love interests in a few films including the Hunger Games series and Me Before You. Casting him in Every Breath You Take is an act of pure genius from both himself and the filmmakers. He goes the distance to make his character charming and likable while also being conniving and vindictive at the same time. This is a brilliant turn for him in his career.
Every Breath You Take brings the viewer down a path slowly and mathematically. Once it gets to its destination it's very rewarding and satisfying. The cast is all superb, but the standout is Sam Claflin. He gives the performance of his career as this grieving brother with a dark side. He hides a lot of his character's secrets in his performance which is masterful. The script by Murray also allowed for such a great turn by Claflin and company. This is the best thriller of 2021 so far.
Every Breath You Take hits VOD on April 2.
Review by Dan Skip Allen
World War II is full of tragic, fascinating, and incredible true stories. Some stories are too good to believe. A lot of movies have been made about all of these stories in recent months and years. The Good Traitor tells an unheard-of story about this tragic war.
On April 9th, 1940 the lives of the Danish people were changed forever when their country was invaded and occupied by Nazi Germany. While that was going on in Europe, Henrick Kauffman (Ulrich Thomsen) — the Ambassador to Denmark in The United States — tried to broker deals to defeat the Germans and save his country while also dealing with drama on the homefront.
This story was a fascinating one because I had never heard of it before. It's great to see films about these stories that are so pivotal in the overall scheme of things during World War II but have never been brought to film before. The film looked like it took place in the 1940s. Danish director Christina Rosendahl uses some neat camera tricks and older filmmaking styles to make the film feel older and grainier. Her style stands out even though it's a period piece set in the 1940s. Watching all the things she does with the camera was almost as great as watching this fascinating story unfold before my eyes.
Along with Thomsen, the cast is full of character actors that play a vital role in making this film come to life. The cast includes Burn Gorman as Berle, an American government official, Denise Gough as Charlotte, Kauffman's wife, Zoe Tapper as Zilla, Charlotte's sister, Mikkel Folsgaard as Povil Bang-Jenson a Danish embassy employee, and Esben Delgaard Anderson as another Danish embassy employee with an agenda of his own. Every actor performs their roles adequately to give the film a very important feel to it. They were all very good in their respective roles.
As if taking over Denmark by the Germans and trying to rally the allies to help his country weren't enough, Kauffman also had some other problems on his hands. A couple of subplots involving some espionage and some personal issues between the two sisters were a bonus to this script by Christina Rosendahl, Dunja Fry Jensen, and Kristian Bang Foss. These subplots were perfectly mixed in to break up the main story. That story could have become monotonous without the other two subplots.
Everything made the 155 minute run time perfect. The film didn't seem to drag. The subplots helped with that without muddling the main story. There was also some archival footage and the film was half and half subtitles and English for those who aren't fans of reading a movie. The subtitled portion didn't take up that much time of the film. The archival footage was effective in showing some of the real events to the viewer to make people realize how realistic this story and film are. Rosendahl did a great job with these aspects of the film.
Overall this film had very good acting by all involved, a serviceable script and story, and some very interesting camera tricks to make the film look a little different yet period-centric to the time. It is always good to see films about stories that were not known before. That's the magic of film: the discovery of new voices and new ideas are always welcomed because so many things have been rehashed in the past.
The Good Traitor hits VOD on March 26.
Review by Dan Skip Allen
The Snyder Cut is considered the most ambitious fan campaign in movie history. Not since fans petitioned CBS to do a third season of Star Trek in the '60s has there been a fan campaign this big. Sure fans have gotten things changed after seeing a trailer (see Sonic The Hedgehog last year) but not anything to this level. Well, the fans got what they wanted and Zack Snyder got a chance to make amends for not being able to do this film himself from the start.
The bones were there for Snyder to come back and build his Frankenstein's monster. He just needed a push and the fans were that push that got Warner Bros. to rectify this situation. A film critic by the name of Sean O'Connell wrote a book about all the reasons this needed to happen and the fans and WB took it from there. Snyder got all the footage and went to work.
The original Justice League film (with re-shoots directed by Joss Whedon) had great cinematography, but this version really accentuated how gorgeous this film is. DC and WB went with a darker look for their films and that helped with cinematography. It gave their film a more gritty feeling to them. A more grounded and lived it feel to them. Fabian Wagner, supervised by Snyder did a great job with this film, making it fit in with the previous films in this series, Man of Steel and Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. All the films since have had the same aesthetic to them.
One of the things that were wrong with the previous iteration of this film was the fact that the characters weren't as fleshed out as in previous films. The introduction of Victor Stone (Ray Fisher) wasn't handled very well at all. This version does his character and that of his father justice, no pun intended. Along with some added context to Barry Allen/The Flash (Ezra Miller) and Arthur Curry/Aquaman (Jason Momoa), this version helps understand the motivations of why all these characters came together to fight for a common good.
The four-hour cut of the film was cut into six parts. That allows for people to take breaks if needed or even stop the film and come back later to finish watching it. HBO Max was the perfect place to premiere this much longer (and better) version of this film. Longer is sometimes better if it's done right and in this case, it was. Some of the greatest films of all time are very long epics. So being longer, in this case, could only help the film and my viewing experience.
While these new characters had their moments to shine this film was essentially a film about redemption for Bruce Wayne/Batman (Ben Affleck) and Clark Kent/Superman (Henry Cavill). They had to have their moments to shine and they both do. Wayne needs to show he's worthy of being a leader and trusted by the rest of the group and Kent just needed to come back and discover what he had lost and how that affects him moving forward. He didn't let this new lease on life go to waste. Thanks to Lois Lane (Amy Adams).
The film also improved on the music and score by Danny Elfman. Thomas Holkenborg was brought in to bolster the score in places and to help give the film the feel it needed in that department. The music was placed in strategic places in this cut to make certain sense feel more necessary and vital to the overall film. This was a great addition to the film.
The visual effects needed a little work as well. Steppenwolf was pretty cool looking in the previous version of the film, but Snyder's version really cleaned him up a lot. He almost looked and sounded like an entirely different character, in a good way. The fight scenes were great as well. Cleaning up the CGI was a must for this cut of the film. Snyder must have known that going in and he delivered on that. The film looked much better on this cut, that's for sure.
The pieces were all in place to make Zack Snyder's Justice League an epic film that it should have been from the start. The cinematography, the music, visual effects, and fleshing out of the story were all key parts of this film. Zack Snyder knew what the fans wanted and he gave it to them. I needed this version as well to wash the stench of the Whedon version out of my mouth. This version is an achievement of filmmaking that stands with other great epics and superhero films alone.
Zack Snyder's Justice League is now streaming on HBO Max.
Review by Dan Skip Allen
Foreign films are sometimes some of the best films in a given year or decade or even of all time, but there are a lot of bad foreign films as well. The Fever is one of them. It's as if it was without any real direction of where the film wants to go with its story and main character. That is a problem for the producers and filmmakers. That tells me this film shouldn't have been made at all.
The film focuses on a man who is a security guard at a loading area surrounding a body of water in Brazil. The man has a daughter who lives with him who is a medical worker who seems to have a normal life until the lead character comes down with a fever.
The film focuses on the lead character and his life from work to his travel back home every day: his hospital visits and some family that come over to visit him and his daughter. It is a pretty boring film. There really isn't anything interesting going on. Browsing films can be interesting sometimes such as Patterson. This one just doesn't have any redeeming qualities. Whereas films like that have a great leading performance to center it, the lead actor in The Fever gives a very dull turn.
There is an overlying story of something going on in the woods around the main character's home, but it isn't fleshed out enough for the viewer to really care about it. It may as well not have been in the film at all. This subplot did have some interesting stuff, but it never went anywhere. That's a shame. That could have saved this film.
The same goes for the illness of the main character. It has a few scenes dedicated to it, but never really goes anywhere. These subplots needed to be more of the overall story instead of an afterthought. The actual title of the film is The Fever and it's hardly brought up in the film. This film has a lot of parts that just don't come together in the end.
Overall the main character in The Fever is very boring and the film is an odd mash-up of different scenes that don't come together in the end. Foreign films can sometimes be hard to translate to American audiences. This was definitely one of those. I just didn't understand where the filmmakers were going with this concept. It's a shame because I hate to see all of these resources used on this film go to waste.
The Fever hits virtual cinemas on March 19. A list of participating locations can be found here.
Review by Dan Skip Allen
A good sports film has to have a hook to get the viewer invested in the characters, story, and concept of the film. Boogie does two of the three. The main character is interesting and his backstory is fascinating. The problem is the film doesn't have a hook that brings it all together in the end.
The title character of "Boogie", Alfred (Taylor Takahashi), is a Chinese-born American citizen. His parents were Chinese nationals who immigrated to America. Young Boogie is a teenager now and he's a basketball player in Queens with dreams of getting a scholarship at a top ten school to play basketball, then go to the NBA, which is easier said than done, of course.
Boogie's parents are not hard on him in different ways. When it comes to sports, parents can give their kids tough love because they want them to be the best they can be. As far as his parents go, they have their lineage to throw in his face. The Chinese heritage he is from means a lot to his parents. Quite a few scenes are set at the dinner table where their customs are on display. The food also looks amazing in the film.
Along with his parents, Boogie has his teammates, opposing players, and burgeoning love interest, Eleanor (Taylour Paige). Even though she has a bad history with ballplayers, she is still wooed by Boogie. He takes her out to experience his culture via restaurants. Their relationship is a genuine one. The opposition of the rival school has a player named Monk (Pop Smoke) who has a reputation of being the best in the five boroughs. This is just a challenge for Boogie to prove he's better.
The drama in the film unfolds in a very familiar way. The main character has his ups and downs. The plot does have some twists and turns, though. Mike Moe (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood) plays a character named Melvin who interjects himself into the family dynamic. Sports films frequently have these types of characters.
Director Eddie Huang, who also has a small role in the film, is obviously versed in this culture, especially the food aspect of the film. He is a writer, restaurateur, and television personality. His restaurant is in the East Village of New York. This culture clearly means a lot to him. He uses a framing sequence to get some of the subtexts of the film across. It just didn't work for me. It just came across as contrived and unnecessary.
Having been involved in high school basketball for many many years, I can say teenagers like the newest most cutting-edge music that represents them and their feelings and their way of thinking. That being said, the overlaying soundtrack in Boogie represents an inner-city lifestyle. This is put in to make the film seem tougher. These characters live a tough life in the inner city and they listen to tough music. This is a falsity. That music didn't have to be over the film to represent the neighborhood to show these characters have grown up tough.
The basketball in movies can be a bit cartoonish at times. That said, Huang did his homework on the basketball scenes in the film. It was very authentic from the running of the plays to the ball screens and picking and rolling. This looked like actually basketball games were being played from my perspective.
Boogie has a lot going for it: the actual basketball, the interpersonal relationships between the parents, his girlfriend, and the antagonist, and solid direction from a novice filmmaker. The biggest problem I had was the framing sequence didn't work for me. It was supposed to pull at the heartstrings and give credibility to the parents, Boogie, and the overall plight he is in. It just didn't work for me. This film had a lot of potential that was somewhat wasted. It's hard to get all the pieces right in a good sports film.
Boogie hit theaters on March 5.