Those Who Wish Me Dead


Angelina Jolie is hotter than ever.

(2021) Action (New Line) Angelina Jolie, Finn Little, Jon Bernthal, Aidan Gillen, Nicholas Hoult, Jake Weber, Medina Senghore, Tyler Perry, Boots Southerland, Tory Kittles, James Jordan, Lora Martinez-Cunningham, Howard Ferguson Jr., Ryan Jason Cook, Laura Niemi, Dylan Kenin, Faith Lynch, Alexander Wagerman, Mason Howell, Calvin Olson, Sofia Embid. Directed by Taylor Sheridan

 
I have to admit that I’m not a big fan of kids in peril movies. Too often Hollywood films that put children in the path of evil adults portray the kids unrealistically, either as much smarter than the adults that are after them, much braver than the adults around them, or much cooler than anyone in a similar situation would be. While kids do come in all shapes and sizes – and personality types, including heroic – Hollywood tends to idealize them in one way or another which can make an entire film ring false.

Forensic investigator Owen (Weber) discovers that the district attorney he works for has been killed in a freak gas explosion. He doesn’t believe it for a moment – after all, Owen discovered some disturbing information about some very powerful people. Realizing that the death was no accident, he gathers up his son Connor (Little) and makes a run for Montana, where his brother-in-law, Deputy Sheriff Ethan (Bernthal) might be able to help.

But there are a pair of vicious hired hitmen on their trail, Jack (Gillen) and Patrick (Hoult) and when they ambush and kill Owen, Connor gets away into the Montana woods. There he meets up with Hannah (Jolie), a smokejumper who is currently working in a fire tower after a mistake on her part led to the deaths of her crew, including several children they were in the process of rescuing. She has been covering up her pain with a surfeit of drinking and one-of-the-boys behaviors that have led to her being sent somewhere where she can get her head together. A fire tower is certainly a place where there isn’t much to distract you.

Unless it’s the sudden appearance of a young, terrified boy on the run from ruthless assassins who have set a raging out-of-control forest fire to literally smoke the boy out and keep the local law enforcement busy while they complete their nefarious task. Can Hannah’s survival skills help her protect Connor from the men who wish him dead?

In all honesty, I have to admit that while these types of pictures tend to not thrill me much, Little actually does a pretty fair job of playing the kid realistically; numb and terrified. However, he is overshadowed by the main stars – Jolie, in a return to the front of the camera (she has spent the last few years concentrating on her directorial efforts) reminds us that her star quality has never left. She continues to be absolute money in the bank when it comes to these sorts of physically demanding action roles. Few other actresses handle physically demanding roles as ably as she does.

And lest we forget Bernthal, the one-time Walking Dead baddie who has been on the cusp of being a big star for awhile. This role won’t push him over the edge in either direction, but he continues to be impressive. I’m hopeful that Marvel makes a new Punisher movie at some point with this guy; he deserves the kind of career push that kind of movie would give him.

The action sequences here tend to be pretty big and well-choreographed. That’s not the problem. The problem here is that the plot is just oh-so-predictable and while the characters are given some backstory, they feel kind of shoehorned into cookie cutter cliches of psychologically wounded leads 101. The roles never really feel authentic and the story never takes an unexpected turn. I’m not saying that moviemakers have to reinvent the wheel with every film – that’s simply not a realistic expectation – but this one is a bit too by-the-numbers for me to give it anything but a mild thumbs up.

The movie was one of those released simultaneously in theaters and on HBO Max; it is still out in some theaters but is no longer available on the streaming service at the present. It will be made available on most VOD services starting July 2nd and will be on HBO (and by extension, HBO Max) sometime later this year.

REASONS TO SEE: Jolie retains her star power and Bernthal continues to get better with every role.
REASONS TO AVOID: An utterly pedestrian plot.
FAMILY VALUES: There is plenty of sometimes brutal violence and profanity throughout.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Nicolas Cage was at one time considered for a role as one of the hitmen.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Fandango Now (effective July 2)
CRITICAL MASS: As of 6/18/21: Rotten Tomatoes: 63% positive reviews; Metacritic: 59/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Professional
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
Walking While Black: L.O.V.E. is the Answer

The Dead of Night


Colby Crain takes a beer break.

(2021) Horror (Shout!) Jake Etheridge, Colby Crain, Leah Bezozo, Kyle Overstreet, Matthew Lawrence, Lance Henriksen, Charlotte McKee, Darius Homayoun, Merritt C. Glover, Boots Southerland, Jack Lutz, Jesse Kinser, Ellen Gerstein, Mark Speno, Chris Ranney, Tim Stafford, Maria Robison, Brian Patrick Buckley, Harrison Wirstrom, Rudy Benta, Sid Goodloe, Connie Hanley. Directed by Robert Dean

 

Some people prefer the hustle and bustle of a big city. Others prefer a more rural existence. There is something about living in the country – isolated, quiet, peaceful. You quickly learn to fend for yourself in a situation like that because if trouble comes, there’s nobody to come save you.

In a small New Mexico town a couple of drifters, both wearing wolf skins and masks, murder a pick-up truck driver and steal his truck. They move on into town where an annual rodeo is taking place. One of the stars, Colt Skeen (Homayoun) – a local boy – hooks up with Maddie (MeKee), the daughter of unpopular local developer (Speno) who has just announced that he is running for mayor, to a dreadfully stony silence. They repair in Colt’s rundown RV to an empty field (there are a lot of them around town) for a tryst, only to be interrupted by the wolfskin killers.

The killing of the young people take place near the ranch of Tommy (Etheridge), who has some things on his mind. His sister June (Crain) is leaving town the next day to fly out to Germany to be with her fiancée who is stationed on a base there. Young sheriff’s deputy Luke (Lawrence), who has a thing for June, suspects that Tommy has something to do with the killings which makes things even harder for the brother and sister who are already on thin ice with each other – Tommy wants her to stay and help run the family ranch, while June is happy to be anywhere but there.

But June is determined, so her friends Amber (Bezozo) and Ryan (Overstreet) throw a farewell party at her house for her. In the meantime, Tommy witnesses the wolfskin killers murdering an old man. He is detected but escapes, bringing the killers to his ranch – where they’ll terrorize the siblings and their guests. Blood will spill before a twist nobody will see coming gives the movie a punch in the gut.

Up until that twist, this is fairly standard stuff; mysterious masked strangers killing seemingly without rhyme or reason, murdering people at random simply because their paths cross. That has been a popular theme in horror movies, particularly of late. In these anxiety-ridden times, I think we’re all suspicious of just about everyone else. And we’re not too sure about ourselves.

There’s some real nice empty spaces cinematography courtesy of Troy Scoughton Jr., and while there is a country and western feel to the proceedings that give it a kind of Texas Chainsaw Massacre overlay, which is nice and welcome in these times. The performances by the young cast are solid and Dean gives a lot more thought to character development than the average horror director, who tend to line up the body count more than anything else. You may notice genre veteran Lance Henriksen in the cast, but don’t be fooled – he’s only in the film for a very brief cup of coffee, and really has not much of an impact overall, which is a shame because he is the sort of actor who normally adds a great deal to any film he’s in. They could have used him in a larger role.

And there is a body count here, but curiously, not a whole lot of gore. The murders often take place off-screen and the gore is kept to a minimum. That might not sit well with hardcore horror fans, but there are compensations – namely, the character development I mentioned earlier. I wish that there had been a little more thought given to the plot, though, which is fairly derivative throughout until the climax. All in all, not a bad effort but a tame one when it comes to gore and horrific images.

REASONS TO SEE: Manages to build the suspense nicely.
REASONS TO AVOID: A few too many standard slasher tropes.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some profanity, plenty of violence, and some sexual references.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The film was shot in New Mexico and is based on a childhood fear of writer/director Dean, who grew up in an isolated rural environment.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, DirecTV, Fandango Now, Google Play, Microsoft, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/25/21: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet; Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Strangers
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
Six Minutes to Midnight

Piranha 3DD


Piranha 3DD

It’s The Hoff’s world; we’re just living in it.

(2012) Horror (Dimension) Danielle Panabaker, Matt Bush, Chris Zylka, David Koechner, Meagan Tandy, David Hasselhoff, Ving Rhames, Christopher Lloyd, Clu Gallagher, Gary Busey, Adrian Martinez, Jean-Luc Bilodeau, Paul James Jordan, Katrina Bowden, Hector Jimenez, Paul Scheer. Directed by John Gulager

 

A proven formula for box office success has been blood, boobs and 3D. It worked well for Piranha 3D. Would it work as well for the sequel?

It is a year after the events of the first film and Lake Victoria is a ghost town, abandoned and largely a cautionary tale, a subject for solemn-sounding news features (although I have to admit that the documentary images of Lake Victoria make the town look abandoned for thirty years rather than the one year referenced in the narration). The prehistoric piranha with a taste for human flesh are still out there but where? I think we can guess.

A nearby water park has come under new management. Marine biology student Maddy (Panabaker) is a 49% owner in the park after the death of her mom, but the 51% is owned by Chet (Koechner), a sleazy promoter who’s out to turn the family waterpark into a kind of permanent Girls Gone Wild attraction called The Big Wet appealing strictly to the hormonal and the perverted and making sure everybody knows it with a series of tawdry adds with plenty of nudge-wink double entendres. Maddy is understandably perturbed about this turn of events but can do nothing to stop it.

She’s too busy canoodling with Deputy Kyle (Zylka), an arrogant preppy sort who seems to be way off from the type of guys you’d think a down-to-earth scientific type like Maddy would be into but I suppose the message here is never underestimate what a pair of dreamy eyes, a handsome face and a banging bod will do to make a woman’s knees weak and her heart melt. In the meantime nebbish Barry (Bush) pines for Maddy (he has since high school) and works as a mascot for the water park although he can’t swim and is terrified of the water – as it turns out for good reason.

I was pleasantly surprised by this one. There is a kind of underlying lightheartedness that makes me think that the filmmakers didn’t take themselves too seriously with this one – in a good way. Gulager has some underground horror film cred with the Feast trilogy and he proves himself worthy of a larger budget and a major studio release.

I liked that the movie had kind of an 80s vibe to it, although not overtly set in that era. There’s a certain amount of playfulness that was very endemic to the era, not to mention a lack of inhibitions when it came to actresses taking off their tops. There was also a lack of inhibition when it came to gore back then and Gulager doesn’t flinch when it comes to that either.

The movie doesn’t look as murky as the first one did; the producers saw to it that the movie was filmed in 3D rather than converting in post-production which usually yields a much clearer and cleaner image. However, it remains largely a gimmicky effect and to my eye didn’t really enhance the movie much, although admittedly I didn’t see it in a theater (more on that in a minute).

There are a handful of veteran actors with varying degrees of name value in the cast to go along with the largely unknown but plucky young cast. Of the latter, Panabaker has got a few good credits to her name, including a turn in John Carpenters The Ward in which she was one of the film’s acting highlights. Here she’s solid but unspectacular in the smart girl heroine role. For the cameos, Hasselhoff makes the best use, playing himself and referencing his public intoxication arrest from a few years ago to skewer his “Baywatch” image and prove that he might not be a bad sport after all. Rhames and Lloyd reprise their roles from the first film and gleefully overact, while Busey shows up to be fish food in the first reel in what might be a signature of the movie; killing off a well-known actor in the first reel (Richard Dreyfus did the honors in the first film).

The fish, a mixture of CGI and practical effects, are never really convincing. The CGI looks like CGI and the practical effects look like rubber fish being bludgeoned with rocks and filled with air bladders and blood bags. Still, the cheesy factor of the effects may also be a deliberate nod to the era, so you can take it in the spirit given.

Dimension (the genre division of Weinstein) took the interesting step of releasing this on Video On-Demand on the same day the movie got a limited release in theaters, a strategy that has worked well for major indies Magnolia and IFC. I don’t know how the movie is faring in VOD rentals but the box office numbers are weak. Whether this is the wave of the future for releases that aren’t expected to be box office bonanzas remains to be seen.

I’ve read reviewers who have said that this works much better on the big screen than on the home screen and I can see where that might be the case. This is definite exploitation fun that probably appeals most to the young male crowd and those who want to hang out with them. It’s not everybody’s cup of tea but in all honesty for what it is, it really isn’t that bad at all.

REASONS TO GO: Retains a sense of fun. Hoff, Rhames and Lloyd are good sports.

REASONS TO STAY: The dumb factor is pretty high. Gore and CGI are unconvincing and 3D more gimmicky than anything else

FAMILY VALUES: Where to begin? Lots of swearing, a pretty fair amount of gore, plenty of bare breasts, some sexuality and some male nudity. And drug use. And teen drinking. And…

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie was originally set to be filmed in Baton Rouge, Louisiana during January and February 2011 but this proved to be impractical due to the cold weather and clothing restrictions for the actors; production was moved to Wilmington, North Carolina but resulted in a delay from the original November 2011release date to June of this year.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/14/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 14% positive reviews. Metacritic: 24/100. The reviews are nearly universally bad.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Shark Night

TOPLESS WOMEN LOVERS: The water park has an adult pool where women may swim topless. Yes, there are a whole lot of boobs. No, none of the main actresses show theirs.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

NEXT: Speed Racer