Category Archives: Drama

A Vigilante (2018) Movie Blu Ray Review By D.M. Anderson

A Vigilante Review

Director: Sarah Daggar-Nickson
Writer: Sarah Daggar-Nickson
Stars: Olivia Wilde, Morgan Spector, Kyle Catlett

When we first meet Sadie (Olivia Wilde), she’s vigorously working-over a punching bag prior to dressing up, throwing on a wig and paying a visit to a small suburban home, where the Straund family lives. Andrea’s expecting her, but Sadie is actually there to see her abusive husband, Michael. Sadie informs him that he’s to sign-over the house to his wife, give her 75% of his assets and leave. He’s balks, of course, at which time she punches him in the throat. In the very next scene, Michael is seated at the dining room table, bloody and bruised, signing the necessary paperwork to comply with Sadie’s demands.

It’s the best scene in A Vigilante, setting the tone for the rest of the film. Through flashback’s we learn that Sadie is a domestic abuse survivor herself and has pledged to save others in similar relationships, sort-of making her a female Equalizer. But A Vigilante goes for a different approach. Numerous abusers indeed receive the bloody beat-downs they richly deserve, but the viewer only sees the aftermath of her retribution.

That might disappoint the yahoo crowd, but despite the film’s title, writer-director Sarah Dagger-Nickson obviously has a different agenda. The film is just-as-much about Sadie trying to come to terms with her past. She once had a family, which was torn apart by her husband (Morgan Spector), leaving her physically and emotionally devastated. Though she managed to escape, Sadie can’t actually move-on until she confronts and holds him accountable for what he’s done.

Anchored by a bravura performance by Wilde, A Vigilante isn’t the usual action-fest one expects from the genre. But even though it ventures to some dark places, Sadie’s a fascinating character and the circumstances leading her to vigilantism are believable, not-to-mention disturbing. The more we learn about her, the more we appreciate the results of her handiwork. However, one narrative misstep is when she finally faces her husband. The film does so many things right that it’s a shame Sadie’s briefly reduced to being stalked through the woods by your standard-issue psychotic spouse.

Until then, A Vigilante is a smart, realistic spin on the classic revenge thriller. Sadie is empathetic and likable enough that her actions feel more than justified. Though light on the mayhem one usually expects from the genre, there are still enough audience-rousing moments to make it enjoyably vicarious viewing.

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The Process Trilogy (2019) Movie Review By Gianni Damaia

The Process Trilogy Review,Cinema continually gives birth to ingenuity. Since Méliès crafted A Trip To The Moon in 1902 and cemented the future of film, auteurs and creators have found a way to reinvent the craft time and time again finding new definitions for perfection. For every Méliès that paves the way, there is a D.W. Griffith that finds the destination. And on and on it goes. As technology grows, so does its masters. Invention paves way to reinvention. Of course, mentioning two of the most iconic creators of film has written me into a bit of a hole when it comes to discussing The Process Trilogy, but my point is simply to allude to the obvious. The Process Trilogy is a reinvention of filmmaking. Whether or not that is a good or bad thing we will discuss in a moment, but as it stands now, the concept alone is yet another reinvention of the rules of film. And while it may not have the legacy of something like A Trip To The Moon (what film does?), it is certainly exciting to see a new idea unfold.

The conceit behind The Process Trilogy is intriguing enough to entice the average moviegoer. The idea here is essentially that the audience will answer a series of questions before screening, and the answers will predetermine slight variables within the film. Your viewing experience may differ from mine with music changes, visual alterations, and even slide title changes throughout. The concept is a unique hook that fits soundly beside the recent choose your own adventure stories that Netflix has indulged in. Of course The Process Trilogy is far more modest, and therefore the algorithm doesn’t quite adjust as drastically as one may be hoping. However, I am thrilled to report that the core narrative within The Process Trilogy is still one worth investing in.

Changes aside, The Process Trilogy follows 3 (mostly) silent vignettes that each bare thematic resemblance to one another despite having entirely separate stories. Each is roughly seven minutes, making for a fairly effortless runtime. In each film, the narrator appears in blank slides (think dialogue in an old school Chaplin film) with various levels of omniscient objectivity presiding over the characters onscreen. At times, the narrator appears as the inner thoughts. While other times, the slide cards establish meta omniscience and occasionally even existentialism. Surprisingly, this allows the slide cards to be the most interesting character within The Process Trilogy, establishing the world(s) and themes in constant rhythm with the visual stories. By the time the third act twist rears its head, the audience will find themselves thinking in a situation that otherwise would seem nothing but laughable. That’s not to say The Process Trilogy isn’t ‘funny’, of course. Whether intentional or not, this is a film made to evoke emotion through imagery. And it’s undoubtably at its best when that imagery bares a strong connection to the primary themes at work.

So lets discuss those primary themes. Of course, orders may be interchangeable depending on the algorithm in The Process Trilogy, so for this portion of the review I will have to speak solely to my experience. The first short in my sequence revolved around a man (known in the film as ‘x’) as he suffers from crippling insomnia. His counterpart (‘y’, played by the same actor) appears, seemingly representative of his demons that keep him from sleep (or perhaps from wanting to sleep). As I stated before, this is simply my experience with The Process Trilogy. My logical association to each of the storylines may not be the artistic intent of the filmmakers, but for this aspect fo the review, it doesn’t necessarily matter. My overarching point is simply that the through-line of The Process Trilogy, in my mind, is strong simply because the logical tethers between the shorts has significant meaning. In the second short, we see a female painter attempting to breakthrough her creative blocks to achieve what she knows can be impactful. And in the third vignette, we follow a couple each wearing clown makeup to symbolize the lie that pervades their inner lives: they lack happiness because they lack connection. As each fights internally for the other’s affection, we see the makeup strip away to show ethereal dreams of what the two could be if they were truly happy. But in reality they sit side by side yet still feel miles apart. It’s in this short where we get the narrator’s reveal, which I will leave unspoiled in this review. But the important takeaway from each film is the consistent urging from the narrator at the end of each short: “We’ll try again tomorrow”. The existentialism within these words bares more weight as the film persists. We’ll try to sleep again tomorrow. We’ll try to create again tomorrow. We’ll try to love again tomorrow. Yet the bleak visual aesthetic of The Process Trilogy tells us everything we need to know. We’re doomed to this life of monotonous hope. The ‘Process’ is simply our ability to cope with these internal struggles.

The biggest praise of The Process Trilogy is its ability to tether its shorts into one cohesive narrative. Within each short, there’s plenty visual tactics to appreciate. The fluctuating use of color in the Insomniac storyline allows for the aesthetic to establish the juxtaposition between X and Y. The camera embodying the POV of the painting in the artist storyline allows us to see the unique intricacies of the struggle from a perspective of detachment, making the failure all the more tragic. And as I’ve already aforementioned, the clown world allows for a symbolic metaphor that feels accessible in the abstract context of The Process Trilogy. With (what I imagine to be) a modest budget, Chew Boy Productions boasts a fine understanding of artistic ingenuity that made the surrealist films of the late 60’s so impactful.

In terms of drawbacks, there’s few worth mentioning. As I already stated, the concept behind the algorithm for which the film is based doesn’t feel like it has a lot of agency to necessarily control the outcome. As a result, The conceit behind The Process Trilogy feels more of a gimmick than a driving force behind the structure. That being said, I can (presumably) attribute this largely to the small budget behind The Process Trilogy. Who’s to say the film couldn’t change drastically depending on finances? However, the core structure of the sequences that I witnessed feel so complete and wholesome that it’s hard to imagine them having the same impact with a different assembly. Undoubtably, the filmmakers deserve the opportunity to test the limits of their obviously impressive idea.

Title cards mediate the narrative here, but that doesn’t mean they’re always necessary. The frequency at which the slides appear feels heavy handed. At times, it felt distracting for the card to overstate the inner thoughts of the characters or the abstract existentialism rather than simply letting the visuals speak for themselves. This is all (ironically) a drawn-out way of stating that The Process Trilogy is slightly overwritten. While dealing with surrealism, it feels understandable that the filmmakers wanted context to be as proportionate as possible to not allow for the film to become too abstract, but The Process Trilogy carries weight in its thematic visuals, not necessarily in its pacing. I often found myself praying for longer sequences to grow attached to the characters onscreen rather than continually getting sucked out to have the title cards tell me about what I was seeing. As is usually the case with shorts, the characters are understandably underdeveloped. Often times, they appear more as ideas than people, and as a result The Process Trilogy can feel more distant than necessary. Of course, you could attribute this to paying homage to the surrealist influences of the film, but the emotional weight of the ending hinges upon some connection to the performances. But the only connection I walked away from was to the themes themselves, leaving me to wish for a feature length version of The Process Trilogy where characters have the full potential to be characters. Often times, the direction resorts to showcase actors exhibit some idea of an emotion or basic action in an attempt to provoke the emotional response of the audience. As a result, I felt wildly detached from moments, such as a character eating aggressively, because it felt simply like eating for the sake of eating.

All that being said, The Process Trilogy is well worth your time. An important viewing experience calls for aggressive criticism, but I’m only hard on this film because I appreciate so much of what they’re trying to do here. Algorithm or no, The Process Trilogy has a poignant story to tell with a visual style that pays tribute to a classic era of filmmaking that isn’t often seen today. If this is ChewBoy Productions Trip To The Moon, I very much look forward to watching this team collaborate on their next project in the hopes that it will be bigger and even more deliberate. If I can bet money on one thing, their next work will be nothing if not unique. ‪8/10 ‬

To my understanding, the film is screening in the UK as of now. If you’re like me, and you’re in the states, keep a look out for this team and be sure to catch The Process Trilogy if they get some sort of distribution.

Dragged Across Concrete (2018) Movie Review By Justin Aylward

Dragged Across Concrete Review, Once two overzealous cops get suspended from the force, they must delve into the criminal underworld to get their proper compensation.

Director: S. Craig Zahler
Writer: S. Craig Zahler
Stars: Mel Gibson, Vince Vaughn, Tory Kittles

S. Craig Zahler is a new voice in American cinema. His oeuvre includes his debut film Bone Tomahawk, a sun-bleached, blood-thirsty horror western, and his last film Brawl in Cell Block 99, a rough, no-holds barred riot-fest spectacular. In these two films, Zahler – a former chef, and sometime novelist and musician – has shown a boldness akin to some of America’s most revered directors such as Sam Peckinpah, William Friedkin and Don Siegel. The commonality in these films is the unflinching vision Zahler has shown in bringing to life characters and scenarios that force audiences to bristle, but also to make compelling and effective motion pictures.

Gibson plays Ridgeman, a veteran cop who is equal parts steely and wooden, with a helmet of grey bristly hair. Ridgeman has been hardened by years on the beat, a onetime honest cop worn down by the changing landscape of the city. His partner is Anthony, played by Vince Vaughan. Together the duo proceed about their work with a carefree aggressiveness that no longer allows for complicity.

When they are secretly filmed manhandling a drug dealer on a bust, the media goes wild. Their superior, Lt. Calvert (Don Johnson) has to put up a good show and suspend the two officers. ‘Politics like always,’ Rigeman says. Later on, Ridgeman informs Anthony that a bank heist is scheduled by a gang of very nasty individuals and they should luck in on the proceeds. Both men can’t afford to be out of pocket for six weeks. Ridegeman and his family have had to move into an underprivileged neighbourhood. His daughter is often harassed by local black kids, and his wife (Laurie Holden) is battling multiple sclerosis with no job prospects. Anthony, meanwhile, is getting ready to propose to his girlfriend (Tattiawna Jones). ‘We have the skills and the right to acquire proper compensation,’ Ridgeman says, and Anthony reluctantly agrees, ‘I’m in until I’m not.’

Meanwhile on the other side of the divide is Henry, played by Tory Kittles. Just out of prison, Henry sees his mother has returned to prostitution and fallen back into a drug habit. His younger brother, (Miles Truitt) is wheelchair- bound and doesn’t need to be surrounded by his mom’s sex-pest clients. Henry quickly hooks up with his old buddy, Biscuit (Michael Jai White) for another rundown. They sit in and drive the getaway vehicle and provide the necessary lookout during heists.

What unfolds is a slow, tense, and abrasive story of people compelled to violence just to improve their standing in the world. In the film we see how the world turns precariously and with no heed to the people in it. Sometimes we have to become lethal too in order to survive in this indifferent environment. You don’t have to pick one side over the other, but you have to ask yourself ‘how would I handle this situation?’ There are many instances in the film where the characters are forced to make quick decisions or suffer dire consequences.

Zahler has said in the past that his films are not especially political. In today’s environment it can be difficult to produce a work of art without people examining it for its socio-political subtext. It is hard, however, to believe that Zahler did not have contemporary social issues in mind when he was writing this film. The characters are not politically correct. Ridgeman, in particular, mouths off casually, dealing in racial slurs and lackadaisical attitudes about people who don’t look like him. But some of the dialogue comes across as clunky and self-aware. I could almost imagine Zahler poking the audience with a pointy stick, desperate for a reaction. But he is a confident director and seeks to manipulate the audience in the way of old icons such as Hitchcock and David Lynch. After the halfway point, a new character is introduced, played by Jennifer Carpernter. Kelly, is a new mom but can’t bear to be torn away from her son before returning to work at the bank. Zahler handles this part of the story in such an ominous way, I could feel the tension slowly rising. What follows is a scene that left me genuinely shaking, and how many films induce such a reaction in audience members nowadays?

Into the final act, things slow down even more and we see the heist play out in real time. Ridgeman and Anthony, confined to a vehicle with sandwich wrappers for much of the film, emerge nervously with the gold in sight. More twists and turns follow, some gruesome and some fiery. The violence is explicit and explosive, but always realistic and doesn’t linger as in Zahler’s previous movies. The film is long (160 minutes) but it is full to its length and never overflows. Gibson, is a terrific actor, handling this role with a seriousness other stars may have withdrawn. Vaughan, too, is better than normal, and appears to have developed a good rapport with his director, working with him for the second time. Tory Kittles is a fresh face, playing his role with just enough thoughtfulness to warrant sympathy.

Dragged Across Concrete is a work that will discomfit many audiences. Just the inclusion of Mel Gibson is enough to disturb some viewers. The film also includes many racist remarks and the kind of commentary that won’t gain fans in the world of media and print journalism. Some characters also appear in white-face, and Zahler doesn’t mind manipulating the audience into feeling some sore emotion. But here is a very competent film that flouts conventional expressions and even has the guts (plenty of guts indeed) to rework an old genre and pull it off with unbridled and tireless exactness.

You Were Never Really Here (2017) By Justin Aylward

You Were Never Really Here Review,

Director: Lynne Ramsay
Writers: Lynne Ramsay (screenplay by), Jonathan Ames (based on the book by)
Stars: Joaquin Phoenix, Judith Roberts, Ekaterina Samsonov

There have been many films in the past which depicted mental illness with the soft-handed tetchiness that some say it requires. But few films have showed the fractured mind, the bruised psyche, the stolid and often frightening countenance of genuine mental turmoil. LynneRamsey’s new film achieves this feat with an ease that almost betrays its’ subject matter. How can a movie project such a tortured life while almost making it look incidental?

The film shows Joe, (Joaquin Phoenix) a scarred and scraggly man who lives at home with his sick mother (Judith Roberts). Joe scrubs the bathroom floor after his mother uses the shower. He switches off the television when she falls asleep in front of it (watching Psycho, no less). They polish and organise the cutlery in the kitchen while singing old songs from the radio. It all seems quite charming and sweet, but when Joe is away on business, he can’t distract himself from the ugly past that lingers in his mind.

Joe travels around the country as a hired child rescuer, liaising with his handler, McCleary (John Doman). After completing yet another rough job, Joe is hired to recover the missing daughter of a New York senator. He sets about the task habitually, purchasing a new hammer, his trusted weapon of choice and skulking about dark avenues, hunched behind the wheel of a car, knowing just where to look and how to act. In one of his greatest performances, (and there are many to choose from) Phoenix plays Joe as a man possessed by the grim existence on which his life has played out. There are perfectly cut flashbacks to a soldier strewn landscape and the desolation of war. In other scenes we see a young Joe cowering in the closet of his bedroom, hiding from his father’s rage and fists.

Phoenix has the unique qualities of the great method actors such a Brando and James Dean. Watching his films is like stepping onto a rollercoaster while blindfolded; anything can happen but you know it will be emotional and thrilling. Joe is a man who through his work has just about found a place where he can live; that place is the brink of death with a only glimmer of salvation in sight. The children he rescues seem to save him as much as he saves them. He couldn’t salvage his own innocence and he must destroy those who seek to snatch it from other innocent children. His hammer-wielding skills are not shown to be graceful but instead rabid and explosive, the sparks from the broken fuses of his personality. The young girl, Nina is played by Ekaterina Samsonov who brings a doe-eyed innocence to a grimy and demanding role. Her short blond hair covers a face half-masked by shock and terror.

You Were Never Really Here was Lynne Ramsey’s first film since 2011 when she directed We Need To Talk About Kevin, which examines the nature/nurture components of sociopathy through the relationship of a mother and her callous son. Much like that film, Ramsey shows her adept visual skills and smart interpretations of diseased and isolated minds. Some of the scenes in this film are edited to reflect Joe’s temperamental personality and distant demeanour. In one particular scene where Joe wrestles with a crooked cop in a motel room, Ramsey creates a shattered affect with the miseen-scene, and allows the audience to see the world through Joe’s eyes albeit for a few brief moments. As frightening as this sounds, you can’t ask much more from a director. I was wincing in my chair during such scenes, wanting no part in the steady destruction that Joe wrecks on those who impart their will on his quest.

There are also moments of tenderness and quietude where Joe resigns himself to the depths his soul has withered to but despite this he decides to continue on his journey. I will not reveal the details of these scenes or the films tense and nightmarish climax. What is left, however, as the credits role is an incontrovertible diktat on violence. We see how a chaotic environment does not make an animal of man but rather awakens the sleeping beast that exists within all of us. Some are forced by circumstance to unleash that animal while others bear witness to the chaos that is left behind. As tortured as Joe’s existence is, we ought to be glad he has guided his animal on the path of goodness because it might just be a more dangerous animal in another person’s hands.

Burning (2018) Blu-Ray Review By D.M. Anderson

Burning Review,

Director: Chang-dong Lee
Writers: Jungmi Oh (screenplay by) (as Jung-mi Oh), Chang-dong Lee
Starring Yoo Ah-in, Steven Yeun, Jeon Jong-seo

In addition to one of its plot developments, the film’s title could also refer to the deliberate pace at which it unfolds…as in slow burning. Sometimes there’s nothing better than a moody thriller that methodically builds tension by taking its sweet time. But for a film where we’re pretty sure how everything will unfold with over an hour left to go, Burning might be too much of a good thing.

Jong-su (Yoo Ah-in) is an introverted college graduate who aspires to write a novel, but mostly struggles to find a job. He bumps into childhood neighbor Hae-mi (Jeon Jong-seo), and after a brief sexual encounter, he agrees to feed her cat while she’s on vacation. Jong-su becomes creepily infatuated with her, as his frequent visits to her apartment demonstrate. Hae-mi later returns with new friend Ben (Steven Yeun), who’s charismatic, carefree and wealthy…everything Jong-su isn’t. But he’s also quite mysterious; neither Jong-su or Hae-mi know much about him or what he does for a living.

Despite Jong-su’s apparent misgivings, the three spend an increasing amount of time together, the most crucial moment being a pot-fueled evening at Jong-su’s childhood home, an old farmhouse he’s charged with caretaking after his father goes to jail. This is where Jong-su – and the audience – learn that neither Hae-mi or Ben are quite what they seem. When Hae-mi disappears afterwards, Jong-su becomes obsessed with finding her and suspects Ben knows more than he’s leading on.

The film made a lot of best-of lists last year and I can see why. Burning is impeccably acted by its three leads, whose characters are almost the entire focus of the film. Through numerous scenes of almost mundane conversation, we learn a lot about them, though Ben’s ambiguous background makes him the most intriguing character. Additionally, director Lee Chang-dong establishes a tone that borders on surreal and suggests – just beneath the surface – there’s something not-quite-right with these people.

However, the film is sometimes maddeningly meandering. At nearly two-and-a-half hours, Burning is way too long. Unless your film is some kind of character study – which, admittedly, could be part of Chang-dong’s agenda – 90 minutes shouldn’t go by before anything resembling an actual plot begins to present itself. Some narrative developments are obviously created to bait or mislead the viewer, which is initially understandable. But since we’re pretty certain of the film’s ultimate outcome by now, the main purpose they serve is to keep the viewer expecting a revelatory twist ending. 

I suppose that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it does render the inevitability of the climax rather underwhelming. Still, Burning is mostly worthwhile. The film is sometimes quite fascinating, mostly due to the performances and subtle tension created in key scenes. I just wish it would have gotten to the point a little sooner than it actually does.

Stan & Ollie (2019) Movie Review By Philip Henry

Stan & Ollie Review,

Director: Jon S. Baird
Writer: Jeff Pope
Stars: John C. Reilly, Steve Coogan, Shirley Henderson & Nina Arianda

I’m from the generation that grew up watching Laurel & Hardy reruns on TV. The classic shorts were shown on Saturday mornings and in the evenings on BBC2 at 6pm as an alternative to the news. Even at a very early age I saw the genius in this duo when most of my friends wouldn’t stoop to watch something that was made in black and white. I started off loving the slapstick antics, but Laurel & Hardy were one of the few acts to transition from silent movies to talkies without missing a beat, and later on I came to love the dialogue too. A favourite line that I still remember from back then is from one of the shorts where they both have nagging wives and Stanley says: “She talks to you like water off a duck’s back.” That, to me, is genius.

So it was with some trepidation that I went to see a movie where these immortal personalities would be recreated. I had seen this tried many times before and the results were always disappointing. Ronnie Barker was a huge L&H fan and there can be no doubting his comedy chops, but when he recreated a classic skit with him as Ollie and Roy Castle as Stan, it fell flat with me.

But anyone who has watched Steve Coogan in The Trip will see his meticulous attention to detail when doing a voice or impression, and he nails Stan Laurel to a tee. Not just the voice and mannerisms, but the physical look as well. It’s either a hell of a make-up job or he lost a lot of weight because he looks nothing like his most famous creation, Alan Partridge. John C. Reilly doesn’t let the side down either, with a perfect representation of Oliver ‘Babe’ Hardy. He was coming off the abysmally reviewed Holmes and Watson, released just a few weeks earlier, but what credibility he lost on that movie he more than regains here. It just proves that an actor is only as good as the material he’s got to work with.

The film begins with Stan and Ollie on the set of Way Out West. The duo are not happy that producer Hal Roach is taking the lion’s share of profits from their films when their peers like Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton have much better deals in place. Stan wants to walk out on Roach and try to set themselves up with their own studio, but Ollie, an inveterate gambler on his third divorce and who has just got engaged again, likes the stability of a regular income, no matter how lousy the money is.

The film then cuts to sixteen years later when the duo have lost their star power and are struggling to get a film made. But there is a ray of light. A British producer is trying to find finance for a Robin Hood picture starring Laurel & Hardy, so the duo agree to do a small stage tour of the UK to prove to him that the audiences are still there and that they’ve still got it. There’s smouldering resentment between them over the Roach incident. Stan did walk out on Roach, but Ollie was still under contract and continued to make movies for the tyrant producer, which Stan sees as a betrayal.

In many ways it’s the classic story of the aging boxer who thinks he has one more fight left in him. The duo know their routines inside out, and Coogan and Reilly recreate these better than I have ever seen anyone do them, but the years of physical comedy, his weight issues and his heavy drinking, have left Ollie with bad knees and a dodgy heart. So it’s a case of the spirit being willing, but the body just not being able anymore.

Shirley Henderson and Nina Arianda play Ollie and Stan’s wives; two women who really don’t like each other and don’t get along, but are forced to spend a lot of time together because of the bond between their husbands. Their arrival at the Savoy in London is a marvellous piece of ‘business’ as the duo perform a little routine for the cameras in search of any publicity they can get.

The film is best described as bittersweet. The comedy sketches are a joy for any fan to watch, and the banter between the pair when they’re ‘on’ is fantastic. The counterpoint to all this is the resentment going on behind the scenes. They were two very different people; with Stan the workaholic always wanting to rehearse or work on their next script, while Ollie just wants to eat, drink (gamble) and be merry, and sees their collaboration as a job like any other that he wants to clock in and out of when it’s done.

It’s a terrific tale of two of Hollywood’s biggest stars as their fame slips away and their best efforts to hold on to it for as long as possible. The ending may be inevitable, but the journey is filled with laughs and moments of real heart.