Killbird


Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get you.

(2019) Thriller (Frozen Fish) Elysia Rotaru, Stephen Lobo, Aaron Douglas, Tahmoh Penikett, Reese Alexander, Jesse Inocalla, Momona Komagata, Joe Zanetti, Hans Potter, Sarah Lindsay. Directed by Joe Zanetti

The problem with paranoia isn’t so much that you could be wrong; it’s the nagging suspicion that you might be right. When caught up between opposing forces, one apparently crazy and the other perfectly rational, it never pays to automatically believe one point of view or the other.

Taylor Crane (Rotaru) is a photographer who specializes in pictures of birds. She’s out in the remote woods of Oregon when her car stalls. Literally in the middle of nowhere, she decides to see if she can hike her way out and to her surprise finds an isolated cabin. The resident, Riad Bishara (Lobo) isn’t particularly friendly but grumpily promises to give her a ride to town when he goes to pick up his mail in a couple of hours.

There are some troubling clues, however. His property has a state-of-the-art security system, for one thing. Maybe you can write that off to a person who is zealous about his privacy but then she discovers a hidden room with computers and a board with newspaper clippings as well as a journal that indicate that Riad may be planning something dark and dangerous. To cap things off, she discovers he’s keeping a man (Douglas) prisoner in his attic, a man who has patently lost his mind (or has he). Riad discovers her snooping, however, and subdues her, tying her up and questioning her as to what government agency she works for. As for her, she has to wonder what is on the flash drive that he is zealously protecting.

As they say, just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean someone isn’t out to get you. Maybe it’s that mailman (Penikett) who shows up with a package – when Riad always goes to town to pick up his mail. In any case, the movie becomes a game of cat and mouse. Is Riad a terrorist planning to topple the government or at least kill thousands of people? Is he a watchdog threatening to expose nefarious doings of the government? Is Taylor who she appears to be – a bird watcher in the wrong place at the wrong time? Or is she what he thinks she is, a highly-trained government-employed assassin?

Zanetti does a good job of keeping his viewers guessing. He establishes the dramatic tension between the two fairly early on (that aspect could have been tightened up a bit) and then lets the two actors go to work and they both are effective. Rotaru, who’s had recurring roles in Arrow and Reapers on TV, especially delivers the goods in a physically demanding role. Lobo is at times soft-spoken or in your face angry also gives a memorable performance. The two actors basically carry the movie and the tension between them is what makes (in this case) or breaks the film. The tension between them seems pretty genuine.

The “is she or isn’t she” aspect goes on a bit too long; Zanetti is like the basketball player who gives one or two fakes too many and ends up getting called for travelling. He should have faith in his audience that we don’t need to be whirled around the same dance floor longer than is necessary; trimming a few scenes which emphasize the confusion as to who Taylor and Riad are would have done the film some good. There are also a few red herrings that seem to be borrowed from other similar kinds of films.

Otherwise, this is a taut and enjoyable thriller from a fresh face in the business. The movie made its debut at L.A.’s Dances With Films festival today and will probably be making more festival appearances before making its way to a streaming service. Keep an eye out for it particularly if thrillers are your jam.

REASONS TO SEE: Establishes dramatic tension nicely and keeps the viewer guessing.
REASONS TO AVOID: Some of the film’s aspect are a bit thriller-rote.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some violence and profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is Zanetti’s first feature-length film as a director.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 6/23/19: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet: Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: P2
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
Lady Detective Shadow

District 13: Ultimatum (Banlieue 13 – Ultimatum)


Hair or no hair? Which is more badass? I can't decide!

Hair or no hair? Which is more badass? I can’t decide!

(2009) Action (Magnet) David Belle, Cyril Rafaelli, Philippe Torreton, Daniel Duval, Elodie Yung, MC Jean Gab’1, James Deano, Laouni Mouhid (La Fouine), Febrice Feltzinger, Pierre-Marie Mosconi, Johnny Amaro, Pascal D’Amato, Guy Amram. Directed by Patrick Alessandrin

Justice doesn’t come easy. It isn’t just handed to you. It must be fought for, and everything put up in risk for. Sometimes it takes time; sometimes it doesn’t come at all. But it won’t come without a fight.

The slums of Paris have become a war zone with five different gangs vying for ultimate power after the fall of a powerful gang lord. An indifferent government has essentially pulled the police out of District 13 after the events of District B13 and promises to improve things in the embattled district have fallen by the wayside with a change of administration.

Leito (Belle), an agile traceur (which is literally a practitioner of parkour) has become disillusioned with the broken promises and seeks to be a one-man agent provocateur, blowing up walls and leading cops and gangs on a merry chase in the streets of the district.

Capt. Damien Tomaso (Rafaelli) has taken down a drug lord all by his lonesome, using his martial arts skills to save an invaluable Picasso painting in the process. He goes home to his girlfriend only to wake up to an arrest warrant. Puzzled, he allows the DISS officers to take him to prison but being Tomaso he puts in a call to his friend Leito first.

Leito in the meantime has gotten hold of some damming video that shows officers of the DISS gunning down French police officers and leaving their bullet-riddled cars in District 13 for the gangs to be blamed. Walter Gassman (Duval), head of the DISS, we discover is in bed with Harriburton, an American multinational that is looking to raze District 13 and building luxury condos.

The weak-willed French president (Torreton) is inclined to give the order to evacuate the district and send in the bombs, but Leito and Tomaso have other plans. They’ll fight their way through gangs, corrupt cops and an uncaring French bureaucracy to get the President’s ear – or they’ll die trying.

Okay, that all sounds a bit preposterous – and it is – but you don’t go see an action movie because of its intricate plot do you? Well, you should – a movie with a good story well-told is always better than one without – but a lot can be forgiven due to the amazing action sequences. Producer Luc Besson, the godfather of European action films, pulls out all the stops here. The thing to remember here is that these stunts are being pulled off as you see them – no wires, no CGI. It’s pretty amazing stuff.

While neither Rafaelli or Belle are particularly great actors, they do have plenty of screen presence, enough to fill out most action star requirements. Rafaelli, a shaven head martial artist is a cross between Vin Diesel’s brooding sexuality and Jet Li’s agile grace; he is from the Clint Eastwood school of acting where lines are sparingly spoken and when they are, growled.

Belle is one of the originators of Parkour and at 35 is in marvelous shape. In District B13 his stunts dominated; Rafaelli is featured more here but when Belle is onscreen your breath is automatically held. He moves with grace and assurance, king of the jungle in an urban landscape. Both Belle and Rafaelli have enough to be action stars in the States in a just world. For now, they’re essentially objects of cult affection by discerning action junkies who don’t mind plowing through a few subtitles (although the cut released here is dubbed) to get their share of action goodness.

The plot is pretty weak and the ending aptly described by the San Francisco Chronicle‘s Amy Biancolli as a steaming pile of huh. There is some validity to the complaints about the somewhat haphazard plot points that kind of clunk up the movie but the frenetic action sequences more than make up for this. In a year where the action films have largely been lame, this gem sits in wait for discerning action fans to discover. If this sounds like you, you need to give this one a shot.

WHY RENT THIS: Amazing martial arts and parkour stunts. Belle and Rafaelli are charismatic.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Falls apart in the third reel. Political satire loses something in the translation.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s a bit of violence, some bad language and drug usage.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: David Belle didn’t practice most of the stunts so that he could give the action a sense of freshness and improvisation so most of what you see him doing he’s doing for the very first time.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: There’s a production diary as well as a music video from French hip-hop artist Alonso.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: €13.1M on a €12M production budget; the movie probably lost money at the box office.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Fast and the Furious

FINAL RATING: 6.5/10

NEXT: Prince of Egypt

5 Days of War


5 Days of War

Another New York City marathon gets underway!

(2011) War (Anchor Bay) Rupert Friend, Emmanuelle Chriqui, Heather Graham, Jonathan Schaech, Andy Garcia, Val Kilmer, Richard Coyle, Rade Serbedzija, Dean Cain, Ken Cranham, Mikko Nousiainen, Mikheil Gomiashvili, Antje Traue. Directed by Renny Harlin

 

There is nothing good or noble about war. Men have waxed poetic about war and its virtues, but the truth of war is that it is savage and horrible, appealing only to the base instincts of men in reality – the need to take by force that which isn’t given freely. There is nothing noble about war.

War correspondent Thomas Anders (Friend) knows that better than most. The girl he loved (Graham) was caught in the crossfire during one of his assignments and left him alone and bitter. Then, a colleague, a cheerfully debauched Dutchman (Kilmer) points Anders in the direction of Georgia – not the state, the Russian republic – which was on the brink of war with Russia. The Georgian president, Mikheil Saakshvili (Garcia) frets and wonders why the West isn’t helping his tiny Republic take on the Russian juggernaut but the West is mostly focusing on the Beijing Olympics. Priorities.

Anders brings along his trusty cameraman Sebastian Ganz (Coyle) and manage to get in the thick of a wedding that winds up being scattered to the four winds when shelling interrupts the ceremony. They wind up hooking up with Tattia (Chriqui) whose sister’s wedding it was. She agrees to serve as their interpreter in exchange for them helping her locate and reunite with her family.

They witness the Russian army committing some atrocities and get it on film. The Russian commander Aleksandr Demidov (Serbedzija) gets wind of this and sends his brutal mercenary commando Danlil (Nousiainen) after them. Anders and Ganz get their footage onto a flash drive and try to escape to a place of safety where they can get their footage to the authorities. The trouble is, the authorities are corrupt and the major networks disinterested. Somehow Anders is going to have to find a way to make the world listen.

Harlin has directed some pretty nifty action films in his day including Speed but has hit a dry patch of late. This isn’t going to help him get back into the game to be honest. I understand that the film was at least partially financed by Georgia and the country allowed some of their military equipment to be used in the film and quite frankly part of the film’s highlights are the very realistically staged battle sequences.

However in a very real way that’s a deal with the devil; the film is certainly from the Georgian point of view with the Russians being loathsome monsters and the Georgians martyrs. The real war – and it was a real war – wasn’t like that. Like most conflicts, there wasn’t one villain and one hero although as with most conflicts both sides saw it that way.

Anyone who’s seen films like The Year of Living Dangerously will recognize most of the clichés about war correspondents in war situations. Whether or not they’re true (and for the most part they’re based in truth but like most Hollywood clichés made extreme) they still ring hollow here; it feels like a movie we’ve seen before only not as well made. Sure it’s not completely without value but it just feels more like propaganda.

When a film quotes “The first casualty in war is the truth” and then goes on to show only an aspect of it, two things happen – first, we are reminded that truth is often a matter of perspective. What one side considers unshakable fact the other usually considers to be an outright lie. Second, the filmmakers lose their credibility amid the further hypocrisy of trotting out Georgian survivors of war atrocities to tell their stories. At no point is any Russian allowed to refute any of this.

I’m not saying that the Russians didn’t do some of the things you see here – I have no doubt that they did. I’m certainly not excusing the behavior; it’s just that I don’t believe one side was made up of saints and the others sinners. The Georgians have their own culpability to bear here and we don’t get to see it, leaving the proceedings uncomfortably one-sided. A little more honesty would have made for a better movie.

WHY RENT THIS: Realistic war action.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: One-sided to the point of ridiculousness. Overwrought and cliché.

FAMILY VALUES: Lots of war violence and bad language but there are also some scenes of war atrocities that might be a bit too intense for younger and more sensitive viewers.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Early on President Saakshvili can be seen chewing on his tie; this was based on an actual incident in which the real President Saakshvili was accidentally caught on-camera when he didn’t think that it was filming munching on his tie. The footage can still be found on the Internet if you Google it.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $17,479 on a $12M production budget; even those without math skills know this was a box office dud.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Bang Bang Club

FINAL RATING: 5/10

NEXT: Meet the Parents