2001: A Space Odyssey (Review) Humanities rise and the dangers of technological advancement…

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2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY

 

THE SETUP

This is a review of the 1968 Adventure/Sci-Fi epic “2001: A Space Odyssey”, Written and Directed by Stanley Kubrick (The Shining). 2001: A Space Odyssey has been described as a space opera of sorts, divided into three separate acts, each depicting various stages of our evolution. In the beginning, we’re shown how man came to learn about the use of tools and weaponry. The appearance of multiple Black Monoliths (machines built by an unknown species) acts as the catalyst in advancement that eventually sees humanity reach as far as the stars and beyond. Then, onboard spacecraft “Discovery One”, Dr. Dave Bowman (played by Keir Dullea) and Dr. Frank Poole (Gary Lockwood) are en-route to Jupiter on a mission, the details of which are classified. During their journey, they’re confronted with the potential dangers of their onboard supercomputer, the seemingly faultless HAL 9000 (voiced by Douglas Rain). Its ever-expanding intelligence could ultimately threaten the next step in the evolutionary chain. The film also stars William Sylvester, Daniel Richter, and Leonard Rossiter.

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THE GOOD

It’s hard to believe that in his 70 years of life, Kubrick only managed thirteen films (it sounds like a lot but it’s not). The approach was clearly quality over quantity, and that shows in the way he moved freely across all genres, making a name for himself in each of them. It began (more or less) with “The Killing”, his very own Crime/Film Noir picture that came at the height of the genre, yet still had its own style and structure that set it apart from the rest. “Paths Of Glory” and “Spartacus” saw Stanley step into the world of war, and “Lolita” added that touch of Romance and Eroticism to proceedings. His most well-known films like “A Clockwork Orange”, and the now-infamous “The Shining” received the level of attention they did because of his groundbreaking work with 2001. To date, I’ve seen seven of his films, and whilst I think this science fiction saga has been somewhat over-hyped, I still highly respect the work and the techniques used to make it. Kubrick clearly paved the way for the likes of Christopher Nolan and his less than stellar “Interstellar” (whom the filmmaker even referenced as inspiration), as well as “Europa Report” or something like Alfonso Cuaron’s “Gravity”, a masterclass survival thrill ride. The cautionary tale element of humanity’s technological developments proved to be well ahead of its time, especially given our now somewhat unhealthy reliance on it here in the 21st century.

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With over twenty years of prior experience, DP Geoffrey Unsworth (Superman) used his ingenuity to conceive the absolutely stunning visuals on display in 2001, the likes of which had never been seen before. There are a series of grand establishing shots (probably too many) that not only set the atmosphere but allow Kubrick to bask in his own eminence. Understandably so, considering he was the first to take on something of this magnitude. Unsworth utilizes the full scope of the camera’s capabilities, placing it at various angles and in interesting positions throughout the second act in order to demonstrate the aesthetics of zero gravity. It helps to put you in the shoes of the crew members, while simultaneously presenting the viewer with something innovative. The bulk of the cinematography showcasing space is grand in nature and highlighted what could be achieved using miniatures and the right backdrops. Some of the lighting is quite expert too. Namely the use of reds and whites. I personally feel as though the full-blown classical music has a sense of heavy-handedness about it, but the various composers are good and the crew did a wonderful job of the arrangement. I think that the high-quality sound design actually eclipses the self-satisfying ways of the musical compositions. The tradeoff between subtle sounds heard onboard the craft and then the cutaways to Frank out in the haunting void (and the same with Dave) makes the experience a completely immersive one.

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2001’s Set Decoration by Robert Cartright is a huge part of the reason that the film was successful and why it’s managed to hold up so well today. The facility set introduced at the end of the first act is nicely detailed, so to the craft that Dr. Floyd and his counterparts travel in. Remember that this was 1968, so attention to detail hadn’t really become a thing of note yet. The design and detail in all the features of Discovery One is certainly something to behold, simply unparalleled for that era. The wardrobe department created realistic suits and helmets and zero gravity is mostly nullified due to the fact that characters are often seen wearing a kind of soft velcro shoe. Due to its seemingly non-existent character development, not a lot of range is actually required of the actors. That said, both Dullea and Lockwood’s performances are serviceable and Douglas Rain happens to possess the perfect tone for the supercomputer’s voice. It’s equal parts controlled and eerie. The middle act is by far and away the strongest. It’s the closest the film ever gets to a semi-conventional narrative that’s both rewarding through its entertainment value as well as its cautionary warning. Kubrick’s writing surrounding the HAL 9000 and its determinations is genius, eventually leading to some thoroughly unnerving and suspenseful moments of unpredictability.

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THE BAD

Whilst I really respect Kubrick and what he was able to do with 2001: A Space Odyssey, the film still comes up somewhat short in regard to its “masterpiece” branding. It’s unnecessarily long and lethargic in its pacing, and therefore I don’t think that it really warrants such high esteem, at least not in its current state. There’s quite a sense of overindulgence on Kubrick’s part (and it wouldn’t be the first time), but I guess the hope was to give audiences a larger than life cinematic experience, unlike anything they’d seen before. Said to have set the tone and depict the notion of the unknown, 2001 opens with a black screen and some eerie synth for the first five minutes. I understand the reasoning behind it but half that length would have sufficed. The same can be said of the bizarre warp speed sequence in the third act. I’m not sure I understood the context, so I’m going to assume the most logical explanation was Bowman entering a black hole of sorts. It’s an extremely long-winded scene loaded with landscape establishing shots where Kubrick goes well and truly overboard with colored lens filters, and for what purpose? I really don’t know. In the first scenes with Dr. Floyd, we’re introduced to a number of other scientists and researchers who end up having no bearing on the events. No important information is conveyed between them and they’re never revisited. It’s yet another example of five or six minutes screen time that probably should have been cut. The infamous “hominids” sequence is undoubtedly important to the evolution framework of 2001, but once again, it’s just a bit too long.

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Continuity-wise, the film is pretty solid. Though if I’m being finicky I’d say that the counter to depicting zero gravity ( e.g the velcro shoes) isn’t actually established on board the Discovery One. Much of the final act can only be described as highly conceptual and I have no qualms in saying that I didn’t fully comprehend all of it. Stylistic Filmmakers like David Lynch (Eraserhead) and David Cronenberg (Naked Lunch) were clearly inspired by the likes of Stanley Kubrick and 2001. The black monolith still remains somewhat of a mystery, although I suppose that’s the point. The hominids touch the pillar in the beginning and I guess that ultimately acts as a catalyst in their understanding of tools and weaponry and how to use those elements. Does the monolith on earth somehow project to the other one eventually found on the moon? If so, does that mean you have to make contact with it? How do the researchers even know where to go to find it? Or were they heading to the moon on another mission and then randomly discovered it? Little is understood about any of it. What is it that the monolith does to the structure of the space-time continuum that results in Dave being able to see multiple versions of himself? Everything comes to a culmination in a kind of rebirth scene, but it’s all rather abstract. I suppose the takeaway from 2001: A Space Odyssey is that it’s by and large a story about humanity, about the life cycle of a human and told among the widely unknown nature of the universe. Christopher Nolan’s “Interstellar” tried to accomplish the same kind of thing but failed miserably with regard to exploring the human condition.

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I’ve been meaning to watch Stanley Kubrick’s infamous “2001: A Space Odyssey” for several years now and just never got around to it. With stars Keir Dullea and Gary Lockwood set to visit Australia next month for a convention, I thought now was as good a time as any. There are some interesting layers to 2001 and Kubrick’s thoughts on life, the universe, and technology, particularly in his foreshadowing of the potential dangers of its advancement. Unsworth’s cinematography is unique and super sharp, the lighting is fantastic and the sound design is often unexpectedly eerie. The set decoration and wardrobe still hold up today and the performances are more than serviceable. Despite not being seen, Douglas Rain’s performance as the HAL 9000 remains the most memorable, and that whole middle segment is where the film is its strongest. Unfortunately, as it stands, 2001 is a good twenty-five minutes too long and the overall sluggish pacing makes it seem even longer than 140 minutes. There are four or five examples of scenes that could have been cut down and they wouldn’t have lost anything. Having questions about something so cerebral isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but coupled with the vibe of Kubrick’s excessive self-congratulatory nature, it’s all a little much. If the bulk of 2001 further explored the link between man and machine it would have not only maintained a more defined narrative, but it would have been more interesting and relevant. With that said, one can’t deny Kubrick’s level of ambition with this film and how truly impressive it is that something that’s now 50 years old, still holds up today. It’s not quite the masterpiece some say, but it certainly helped shape the world of modern science fiction filmmaking and for that I highly respect it.

My rating for “2001: A Space Odyssey” is 6/10

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Any Bullet Will Do (Review) You reap what you sow…

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ANY BULLET WILL DO

 

THE SETUP

This is a review of the Region 1 (U.S) DVD of “Any Bullet Will Do”, the third feature-length film from Papa Octopus Productions. I thoroughly enjoyed their two previous releases which consist of the dramatic thriller, “Big Legend” see review- https://adamthemoviegod.com/big-legend-review-something-lie-beyond-the-woods/ and a slow-burn western called “A Reckoning” see review- https://adamthemoviegod.com/a-reckoning-review-revenge-comes-in-all-different-forms/. Any Bullet Will Do is an Action/Western film Written and Directed by Justin Lee. Primarily set in Montana during 1876, Former Union soldier turned headhunter Hollis Ransom (played by Kevin Makely), enlists the help of a fur trapper, as he sets out through unfamiliar territory in Big Sky country looking to find and kill his brother Everett (Todd A. Robinson). The film also stars Bruce Davison (Insidious: The Last Key), Jenny Curtis (Friends Don’t Let Friends), Meg Foster (Lords Of Salem), and Mark Ryan (TV’S Black Sails).

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THE GOOD

Driven. That’s the word that comes to mind when I think of young filmmaker Justin Lee. Here’s a guy with not only a clear knowledge of filmmaking but an understanding of resourcefulness when it comes to independent film. The amount of praise I’ve been singing for Lee in recent times probably makes it seem as though I have an affiliation to, or a biased view of the man, such is not the case. I, myself, are an aspiring filmmaker, and it gives me hope to see someone in a similar position making a successful go of it. Any Bullet Will Do is the second western from Papa Octopus Productions, but unlike the reluctant nature of its predecessor, this time around the pacing is better handled. Lee combines nicely with DP, Will Turner to get a rather fulsome presentation, perhaps his best yet. Shot on location, the Montana forest looks nothing short of breathtaking, both in its spring setting and the winter. Turner’s framing is fantastic and the shot choices are simple but constructive. The use of a drone in several establishing shots certainly raises the production value, as to do the dynamic wide shots during the trekking transition portions of the film. A majority of it takes place during the day but Turner and his team still do a great job of keeping the amount of light consistent from shot to shot. The audio track is crisp and clear, and the use of low-fi treble and bass help complement Makely’s opening piece of narration as the Union prepares to do battle with the Confederates. Justin’s regular composer Jared Forman is quickly becoming one of my favorites. Any Bullet Will Do has three distinct musical styles and is clearly some of his best work thus far. The first theme builds around rock/blues acoustic guitar, the second changes to electric guitar but melodic in nature, even ballad-like. The last is where things become drum-centric, left for the films more suspenseful moments. I don’t normally mention the wardrobe department on independent films, but when it comes to the Western genre it remains an essential detail of the film’s fabric (oooh that’s a bad pun). Christina Bushner deserves all the accolades for the detailed clothing, hats, belts, and holsters (among other things). I was able to buy into the setting immediately and all because of the costume and set design, so kudos.

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Some familiar faces return to take part in Lee’s third film, most notably Makely and Robinson. Everyone involved turns in really solid performances though. Experienced heads in Davison and Foster lead from the front and are particularly good. Davison playing “Carrington”, a greedy town mayor/sheriff of sorts. He chews the scenery as good as anyone during his interactions with Makely. Meg makes an appearance as “Ma Whitman”, the woman who runs the prostitutes in town and again she’s as natural as we’ve come to expect. The addition of Jenny Curtis as “Rose Gage” is a nice one too. She brings a bit of fiery female spirit to the proceedings and I dug her characters look. Makely and Robinson worked together on Justin’s two previous films. They’ve definitely grown, and over time developed an organic shorthand with each other. Todd has a little less screen time than he did in Big Legend but he’s good regardless, and I think this is Kevin’s best performance. Not to mention, he more than looks the part of the disheveled and emotionally wrecked lone soldier. Lee’s honed his writing abilities in quite a short period of time and Any Bullet Will Do is solid proof of that. Through some good dialogue, he touches on Hollis’s family division early on, as well as making an interesting choice for the soldier’s guide (leading you one way and ultimately going another). The inclusion of several stronger and more interesting scenes ultimately pays dividends this time around. The opening battle, albeit brief, is ambitious and well-executed. Then there’s Carrington’s eventful interrogation of a townsperson (Bruce’s best scene) and a lively sequence in a saloon. All the western tropes that we love are on display here. You’ll even find the witty and humorous conversation that occurs between two drifters, Lonnie and Karl (played by Sean Cook and Randy Ryan) to be far more entertaining than expected. The action is carefully arranged and somewhat limited (mainly due to the budget), but some practical blood spray and effects work from Jerry Buxbaum bring that vital element of realism to this harsh environment.

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THE BAD

If I’m being nitpicky, I’d say that Makely and Curtis try their damndest to stretch their faculties beyond their current limits in order to try to harness the full spectrum of emotions. Crying freely isn’t an easy thing to do for most people, and made even more difficult in the land of make-believe. I found some of Jenny’s punchy delivery to be a touch too modern for the period as well. Lee gives us a few momentary peeks into the window of Hollis’s past, which is more than we got in the aforementioned “A Reckoning”. That said, I think one pure flashback to the event in question would’ve gone a long way to gaining further insight as to how these brothers drifted apart and what the catalyst ultimately was for that happening (other than the obvious). The film doesn’t have any obvious plot holes, other than the fact that it’s not overly realistic to shoot a man once and just leave him for dead, especially not in that revenge-fueled world. I understand the need for said sequence because it sets up the vengeance aspect, but still. I’m a little disappointed that this is a bare-bones release because those of us interested in film would’ve loved some features looking at how something like this was made on such limited funds, never mind though.

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Justin Lee’s, Any Bullet Will Do is a super impressive independent venture into the hardened world of the Western. It’s like a mix of “Seraphim Falls” and the “True Grit” remake and is easily Lee’s most impressive film to date (with the end result likened more to the latter film). I love the DVD artwork, the landscape is stunning, the cinematography smooth, and the audio is as sharp as ever. Forman’s score is wonderful and Bushner’s costume and set design are methodical in the attention to detail. The returning players here are great to watch and the newcomers make for lively inclusions, most notably Brea Bee who sings really well in her one scene. The standard of acting is high from all involved, but both Davison and Makely deliver almost career-best performances. The characters are all enjoyable, the downtime is shortened, and most of the scenes are more dynamic than in Lee’s previous western. Whilst the action is still reduced, the story is never boring. I can critique a couple of the finer points in a few of the performances and look at what could have been added that wasn’t, but at the end of the day, it’s nothing that puts a dampener on affairs. People seriously need to start talking about this film and they’re not. For some unknown reason, Lee seems to be copping a bit of a beatdown from critics of late. I think it screams of jealousy or unrealistic expectations because none of their feedback appears to carry any real weight. I say it time and time again, if you’re going to review these types of films it’s important to grasp the process behind it and all that it entails. Anywho, in typical hard-working fashion, Lee just continues to go about his business unaffected. If you’re a fan of western pictures and are open to watching independent films, you’ll be hard pressed to find anything in the genre as good as Any Bullet Will Do. The film is now available to purchase and you can check out the official trailer below!

My rating for “Any Bullet Will Do” is 8/10

The Zero Boys (Blu Ray Review) When war games go wrong…

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THE ZERO BOYS

 

THE SETUP

UK distribution company “Arrow Video” have been in the game since 1991. They’ve been responsible for some of the best film restorations in recent times and I never miss an opportunity to pick up more new content from them. Arrow takes the old negatives, tidies them up, color corrects them, and jam packs the releases with new features and interviews etc. The 1986 backwoods style Horror/Thriller, “The Zero Boys” was given the same treatment and it was recommended to me by a friend. The Zero Boys is a genre mash-up about war games that go wrong. The zero team is headed up by the ultra-competitive, Steve (played by Daniel Hirsch) and consists of his two buddies, Rip (Jared Moses) and Larry (Tom Shell) who spend their days playing elaborate survival games in the wilderness. After celebrating a fresh victory, of which the prize being young psych student Jamie (played by Kelli Maroney), Steve, the boys, and their respective girlfriends all head off for some downtime but unknowingly find themselves in an authentic kill or be killed situation. Zero Boys is Co-Written and Directed by Nico Mastorakis (Island Of Death), and also stars Nicole Rio (Sorority House Massacre), Crystal Carson (TV’S Dallas), Joe Estevez (Samurai Cop 2) and Gary Jochimsen.

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THE GOOD

This 4K transfer of Zero Boys is incredibly sharp, though having never seen the film in 35mm or the heyday of VHS, I can’t make a full comparison. That said, if I was betting man, I’d say that this print is as good as the 1986 cut will ever look. Almost all the imagery looks clean, and the sets being laced with rain and fog certainly adds an element of charm to the proceedings. DP, Steven Shaw (who had previously worked as an AC on Spielberg’s E.T) carries out some really fine Steadicam operating and utilizes some effective high angle shot choices. The clean and loud audio and fresh master both do the film a huge service. I’m sure that chunks of the dialogue were re-done using ADR (additional dialogue recording), but in this case, it doesn’t make the result any less rewarding. The brandishing and chopping sounds of the killer’s machete are one of the standout features of the sound. Both Stanley Myers, and much-lauded composer Hans Zimmer (Black Hawk Down and The Dark Night) are credited for the surprisingly impressive score on display in The Zero Boys. Zimmer has since become one of the most sought-after people in Hollywood but ZB is one of a handful of the places where he honed his craft. The opening theme is interesting, balancing high-frequency synth with a military march tempo to match the setting of the film. The style of synth becomes more energetic as the film progresses. Myers was responsible for all the suspenseful themes involving the bass, cello, and violin. The best theme comes in a scene that sees Trish (Carson) enter the bathroom to clean herself up only to encounter one of the killers. It’s very Hitchcockian in nature and delivers on the suspense front. I got a kick out of Nico’s nods to both iconic characters “Rambo” and “Jason” (from the Friday The 13th franchise), those were a bit of fun. Some of the cheesy disses spouted between characters provide a number of amusing moments too.

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The introduction to The Zero Boys is one of the most entertaining ten-minute sequences in 80’s horror. The trio and their arch-enemy Casey (played by John Michaels), play up the significance of their on-going rivalry something fierce. The 80’s were undoubtedly a simpler time, at least they must have been for Steve and his pals. The proof is in the pudding, in the sense that the appeal of approaching college life and an opportunity for greener pastures would surely outweigh the trivial bragging rights of besting your peers in juvenile war games, wouldn’t it? Well, no, apparently it doesn’t (haha). This innocent game appears to be the most relevant thing in their lives, and I suppose that’s both a happy notion and a sad one. If I measure the characters and quality of the performances here against those in John Carpenter’s infamous slasher film “Halloween” (which came just 8 years earlier), it’s not even a question as to which is better. I believe the budget’s for both films were similar and those who know me know that I’ve been quite vocal about both characterization and acting in the latter film. The arcs were purely one dimensional and the performances lacked the required emotional reactions. Whereas each of the characters in The Zero Boys is first and foremost likable, and though the stereotypes are present, they’re never overstated. Even with Steve’s hot-headed persona, he’s smarter than he lets on (despite voluntarily emptying his magazine at nothing), and Rip’s humor is pure, never mean-spirited. With Larry, the pretty boy looks make him seem like he doesn’t quite fit, so it’s an interesting inclusion to the team. As for the women, they all sport those big hairdo’s. Jamie has a tough exterior and doesn’t pretend to be something she’s not. Sue and Trish are both quieter types who offset their respective boyfriends. None of them are overly annoying or stupid, and consequently, the performances they turn in are pretty good. The threat of violence is ever-present but there’s not a lot of it on-screen. However, one eventful kill does take place during the third act and it includes some practical blood effects.

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THE BAD

The only weakness in this brand new transfer of The Zero Boys is the lack of grain management in some of the night exteriors. Ninety percent of the film looks vibrant and illustrates complete clarity, but there are a few scenes guilty of inconsistent resolution efficiency. As I said, the performances are much better than one would expect from a genre film from this time. A handful of lines do feel a little scripted as the film intensifies, resulting in some rather weak delivery. The Zero Boys isn’t without a few obvious continuity issues and some lapses in credibility regarding the writing. Steve and Larry reference a girl from a videotape they watch in the barn, yet none of the other girls ask any questions about it. The same thing can be said about the girls discovering a body in a trunk and expressing virtually no reaction to it. I suppose Trish does spontaneously vomit, but the other girls give nothing. I expected at least some screaming or calling out to the boys for help. In the aforementioned barn scene, Steve and Larry proceed to shoot the shit out of the timber door because there’s a lock on it (one that mysteriously wasn’t there the frame before). Do you know what an Uzi would do to wood? It would completely shred it. Needless to say, the boys enter the barn with the door completely intact and the lock gone. What’s more, they recklessly empty countless magazines all over the barn despite not knowing how many killers are really out there. I’m sure you’d look to conserve ammo and not waste it. The highlight of the film action-wise (involving a pitfall), doesn’t end up holding much integrity. I’m almost sure I saw the entire group walk over the area the hole was in during the prior shot of Sue falling in (it’s also in plain sight might I add haha). Not only is it not covered, but it’s also shown to be so shallow that you could climb out of it on your own. The one thing hindering the re-watchability factor of The Zero Boys is its lack of action and blood and gore.

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The Zero Boys is another solid Blu Ray release from Arrow Video. The film is more of a backcountry thriller than it is a horror or slasher flick. It’s in the vein of “Hunter’s Blood” (coincidentally released the same year) or the underrated “The Backwoods”. There’s even a touch of something like “Blood Games” about it, just replace the softball team with a bunch of paintballers instead. I couldn’t have been more impressed with the overall transfer. The cinematography is nice, the sound is crisp, and the Zimmer/Myers score is fantastic and helps drive the suspense. Most of the comedy is upbeat, the film references are fun, and the opening scene dives straight into the setup. Excusing a few flatly delivered lines, the performances are all pretty even and the characters are surprisingly appealing. The night exteriors could’ve used a little more work during the restoration process. I suppose some of the continuity stuff could be deemed artificial given the type of film this is, but characters reactions and actions during crucial moments don’t always add up. The aspect that lets the film down is that it’s almost void of action. Mastorakis stated in a feature interview that it wasn’t intended to be that type of high body count film, fair enough I suppose. Though when you set up the story with 6 or 7 characters and call it a horror film I’m expecting multiple deaths, and I didn’t get that. Still, there’s a bunch of things to really like about The Zero Boys and 1986 was a damn fine year, the year of my birth in fact. I can definitely recommend this one to fans who like these types of Horror/Thrillers. You can check out the official Arrow trailer below!

My rating for “The Zero Boys” is 6/10

E-Demon (Review) When evil goes viral…

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E-DEMON

 

THE SETUP

Firstly, I’d just like to say thank you to Kate at October Coast PR, along with Dark Cuts Distribution for allowing me early access to an online screener of a new Horror/Thriller called “E-Demon”, Written and Directed by Jeremy Wechter. E-Demon is set within the wonderful world of the interweb, where a group of old friends are enjoying a video chat when things suddenly take a turn for the worse after one of them foolishly releases a demon that’s looking to spread virally. The film stars Julia Kelly, John Anthony Wylliams, Christopher Daftsios, Ryan Redebaugh, Jessica Renee Russell and Vincent Cooper.

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THE GOOD

It would be safe to say I approached E-Demon with a fair amount of trepidation. For no reason other than the fact that it’s a small independent release presented to us through the familiar medium of the lens of a web camera (or series of web cameras to be more precise). We’ve come to equate a lot of these types of films with amateur technical execution and sub-par acting so you can imagine my surprise as E-Demon rolled on and neither of those expected shortcomings eventuated. This is Wechter’s debut feature-length film after making a dozen or so shorts since 2005. The film’s foundations are deep-seated inside the parameters of the possession component of the genre. Everything is divulged through either the video chat or the eye of each persons headset and web camera. It’s a risky method for storytelling and can easily translate as gimmicky depending on its use. In this case, the live feed works and those end credits in the form of dos information was unique. E-Demon has good quality audio all around, excluding perhaps one half of a phone call that occurs toward the climax. In the beginning, there are several news reports that make reference to “The Quad Murders”, which gives you a little insight as to what’s in store. Following the initial disclaimer delivered by a mysterious hooded figure, we’re introduced (in a roundabout way) to the group of four friends. Kendra (Kelly) is an aspiring author who shares an apartment with her two friends, Taylor, and Fawn (played by Max Rhyser and Lindsay Goranson respectively), AJ (Daftsios), is a confident and charming practical joker with a new girl always on the go. Dwayne (Wylliams) is happily married with two girls, and then there’s the struggling Mar (Redebaugh), who’s just moved back in with his siblings and gamma (grandma).

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Once you start to get a look at the different personality types, you can see the potential for drama to unfold amongst them when the situation inevitably escalates. Making matters worse is the parties penchant for elaborate pranks and one-upmanship. Coming in the form of an impromptu game of “Freak Out”, where the goal is self-explanatory- scare the other into thinking the action you act out is real. What I like about this addition is it creates a sense of uneasiness from the get-go, and ultimately you can see things going the way of the boy who cried wolf. There’s some effectively creepy imagery over the course of the film, most notably with AJ’s character, and Wechter does divulge the demons origin story (although stock standard in nature) to save questions being raised in the wake of all that happens. The most clever phase of the writing is incredibly subtle, so much so that I’m not even sure it was intentional. As we come to learn that the demon has the ability to change hosts without warning (well sort of), it appears to ingeniously pit friends against each other through false concern and accusation. At several points throughout the film, Kendra, AJ, and Dwayne all use messenger to type to each other. I noticed that when AJ chats to Kendra about Dwayne and vice versa, his arms and hands don’t appear to be moving… (now that’s creepy). It could just be that the image isn’t entirely clear (due to the format) but I’m going to give Jeremy the benefit of the doubt because I thoroughly enjoy finer details like that. The performances are pretty solid from all involved, particularly the three leads who have varying degrees of experience.

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THE BAD

The frames with distorted representation aren’t something I’m really a fan of. I suppose it does create a sense of dread in a couple of the scenes, but fortunately, it’s kept to a minimum. As I mentioned earlier, I didn’t catch Wallace’s dialogue in the initial conversation with Bastian (Cooper), that particular audio was quite muffled. There are a couple of minor continuity issues throughout E-Demon. In one scene, a member of the group gets involved in some commotion that involves someone being fatally wounded. A stabbing is implied but when the body is removed there’s no blood on the rug (I guess it must have been an expensive one). On another occasion, Dwayne flees the kitchen and races to the basement in order to avoid possession. We see the shaky cam from his headset point of view but when he sits down in the second location he’s looking through a webcam again. I guess we’re led to believe he has a second computer in the basement? Feasible enough I guess, but one that just so happens to have a camera as well? There are a couple of other specifics that don’t make a whole lot of sense. For one, no one seems to question why Mar’s camera is upside down for an extended period of time (even if his sister did take it), and when paramedics arrive at Kendra’s place they go on the assertive immediately, even though there’s nothing to suggest that “camera control process” (for lack of a better term) has taken place. The last five or so minutes lost me somewhat too, the people running off in different directions came across as unintentionally funny (think The Sims). Was the resistance network member AJ? That was my take on it anyway.

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Much to my surprise, Jeremy Wechter’s Horror/Thriller E-Demon is a really solid first outing from some pretty inventive folks. It feels like a combination of “Unfriended” in terms of its style, yet thematically much more akin to something like Mike Boss’s relatively undiscovered “Anonymous 616”. https://adamthemoviegod.com/anonymous-616-review-it-knows-everything-about-you/ It’s a prime example of smart independent filmmaking on a budget. We’ve seen this type of presentation before but the real-time approach is well done and the audio sounds good. The characters have their individual trademarks, they interact the same as well-established friends do, and each of the performances further highlights that. The game they play serves as the catalyst for the ever-growing tension between them, that and a couple of Wechter’s creative choices are innovative and add another previously unseen layer. There are a couple of marginal technical hiccups and some continuity errors, but that’s par for the course. A few of the details don’t quite add up and I don’t think the climax is as strong as the rest of the film. The pacing is quite good but a couple of scenes could’ve been trimmed slightly. All in all, E-Demon is one of the surprises at the lower end scale of Horror for 2018. If you like these types of films conceived with a survelliance style of footage, I can definitely recommend this one. Check out the official trailer below and the film will be available in US theatres and on VOD from September 14th!

My rating for “E-Demon” is 6/10

Trouble Is My Business (Review) And the business is good…

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TROUBLE IS MY BUSINESS

 

THE SETUP

Firstly, I’d like to say thank you to Lumen Actus Productions and both Co-Writer/Director, Tom Konkle, and Co-Writer Brittney Powell for sending me an online screener of their latest film “Trouble Is My Business”. Trouble Is My Business is a Film-Noir/Crime film set in Los Angeles in the late 1940’s. Former cop turned private investigator, Roland Drake (played by Konkle himself) has fallen on hard times after backlash from the public, ultimately causing him to be evicted from his office. From there, Drake unknowingly becomes entangled in a web of deceit and betrayal when he takes on a missing persons case involving a woman who he’d previously had relations with. Jennifer Montemar (played by Powell), a wealthy socialite and sister of the woman in question, inquires about his services but all is not as it seems in this world of double-crosses and femme fatales. The film also stars Vernon Wells, David Beeler, Ben Pace, Jordana Capra, Mark Teich, and Steve Tom.

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THE GOOD

I logged on the other day to find a request from Co-Writer and Actress, Brittney Powell inviting me to watch and review Trouble Is My Business. Shortly thereafter, Tom spoke to me about it as well and I informed him that I had funnily enough just recently purchased a hard copy (which comes complete with both color and black and white versions of the film). I’m a bit of a sucker for film noir and crime films of the era’s gone by. I went on a kick there a while back and purchased a good one hundred or so of the best older crime films (most of which I haven’t even watched yet). It’s clear that Konkle and Powell are both film noir fans too, and perhaps this is their independent venture aiming to serve as a love letter to the genre. The script has all the essentials of the genre, private investigators, corrupt cops, femme fatales and a rare diamond thrown in just for good measure. DP duo, Jesse Arnold and PJ Gaynard achieve quite a simple but clean look with their photography style. Everything is nicely framed and the establishing shots (often conceived with CG) feel diverse and as though they fit well. I’m interested in going back to watch the color version at some point but I was advised to watch the black and white edition (which I’d usually do anyway). Sections of the nearly all CG backgrounds look rather impressive, most notably the driving sequences with Drake and his old partner, Lew (played by Beeler). In addition, the audio track is nice and clear as well.

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Thomas Chase and Hayden Clement’s original score is another solid aspect of Konkle’s film. There’s a moody orchestral score in the beginning and plenty of effective french horn and clarinet (or at least what sounds like those two instruments) used in between pauses and moments of dramatic emphasis. The costume and wardrobe design isn’t bad considering the limited funds that would’ve been allocated for it. Tom has a good voice for narration and there’s some enjoyable stuff on display over the course of the film. Though who he’s actually narrating the events to, I don’t know? Most of the performances are serviceable and hit the appropriate beats that best fit the film noir bill. Tom carries a good portion of it and Powell complements him nicely. Both Beeler and Pace, who plays John, Jennifer’s beau (of sorts), provide a clean smart-alec sense of humor to the proceedings. Jordana Capra presents with a natural and well-rehearsed mannerly front as Evelyn Montemar, head of the rich family at the center of the case. Rivers the butler (Teich) is lively, but the characters motivations make very little sense (unless I missed something). A special mention goes to Steve Tom in his small role, and for pulling off a thick and believable Russian accent, no easy thing to do. There are a few moments of decent gunplay and action in Trouble Is My Business but it’s not the prime focus.

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THE BAD

There’s the odd bad shadow here and there but the film’s technical aspects can’t be faulted, and that’s an impressive feat in an of itself, especially on this kind of budget. The two biggest issues with Trouble Is My Business are its lengthy runtime and the overall slower pacing of it. Now, that wouldn’t be so much of a problem if the film had more on-screen action or even extra active content, but it doesn’t. There aren’t a whole lot of altercations that occur during the near 110 minutes and that’s a problem. Some of the dialogue feels a little stiff, especially when it comes to Wells character, Detective Barry Tate. Vernon is an Aussie born actor that’s made a solid living for himself in the US, and he’s a guy I usually like watching. Unfortunately, I can’t say that about his performance in Konkle’s latest film (for which he was given top billing). I couldn’t tell what his intended accent was, whatever it may have been though ended up feeling inconsistent and at times noncommittal. Even Well’s off-screen delivery was lacking, and in turn, the appropriate demanding nature of the character doesn’t really translate. A couple of scenes didn’t quite work tonally speaking. The obvious one coming early on between Drake and Jennifer, who have just met, and have to deal with an office intruder in a rather odd altercation. I’m not sure if it was supposed to be funny or if the intended emotional hint just didn’t fit. I thought Drake’s reaction to the situation was rather unrealistic too. There are other examples of characters lacking the appropriate reactions, such as Jennifer pointing a gun at Drake, who gives absolutely no response, yet he doesn’t know her at that point so you’d think he might have some questions. Credibility has to be called into question when the pair overpower three Russian guards, and what the hell was going on with Rivers? Why was he acting crazy? Did I miss something there?

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I was looking forward to checking out Trouble Is My Business and I ended up getting to it much sooner than I probably would’ve had Tom and Brittney not inquired about a review. The film is an earnest throwback to the likes of film noir gems like “The Big Sleep” and “The Maltese Falcon”, with perhaps a modern-day touch of something like “Give ’em Hell Malone”. The camera work is great, the audio is sharp and the atmospheric music completes the desired foundation of a genre film like this. Some of the CG is high quality and the costumes are nicely detailed too. The performances are mostly consistent and the script is satisfactorily written. What’s missing though is that important layer of action to help keep viewers intrigued. I’m aware that mightn’t have been the initial intention, but it needed to be. Two hours (or thereabouts) on little money is a long time to try to keep people entertained. Wells performance falls on the disappointing side, some characters actions and reactions don’t always appear to make a lot of sense, and the sluggish pacing makes it a bit of a battle along the way. That said, down the track, I’m still interested in watching the color version and seeing if I gain anything new from it. Whilst I can’t recommend it to everyone, I do think hardcore fans of the film noir style should give this sincere endeavor a look, and keep doing your part to support independent film. You can check out the official trailer below and the film is now available for purchase!

My rating for “Trouble Is My Business” is 5/10

Bad Samaritan (Review) What could possibly go wrong…

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THE SETUP

Electric Entertainment presents “Bad Samaritan”, a new Horror/Thriller that’s just hit VOD (video on demand). It’s the latest film from actor turned director, Dean Devlin (Geostorm) and is written by Brandon Boyce (Apt Pupil). Bad Samaritan centers around Sean Falco (played by Irish actor, Robert Sheehan), a young man living in Portland who’s been floating through life hoping that his passion for freelance photography takes him somewhere. Whilst Sean moonlights as a valet at a restaurant, his girlfriend Riley (Jacqueline Byers) is studying to get her degree. With parents constantly on him about growing up and taking responsibility, Sean ends up resorting to petty crime to support his leisurely lifestyle. Along with longtime friend Derek (Carlito Olivero), the pair gets in over their heads when they decide to target Cale (played by David Tennant), a wealthy man whom Sean discovers has been keeping a dark secret inside his home. The film also stars Kerry Condon (TV’S Better Call Saul), Rob Nagle (Dawsons Creek), Lorraine Bahr and Tracey Heggins.

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THE GOOD

Bad Samaritan is the latest entry in a slew of recent home invasion-style thrillers. This particular sub-genre has found itself somewhat rejuvenated of late, and that’s a good thing for fans of the PG-13 style content. Devlin’s film boasts some of our very own homegrown talent in the form of Australian DP, David Connell (TV’S Leverage). His cinematography is a big part of what drives the high production value of the film. All the framing is consistent and the shot types are smart and simple. There are a number of particularly effective POV (point of view) shots, as Sean carefully explores Cale’s rather lavish house looking for things of easy access. One of the central locations is the home itself, and it’s a great one. It has the look of a new age apartment, complete with a wood look finish, an open plan staircase, lots of glass paneling, and large entertaining areas. Connell’s able to light and shoot each of those internal scenes perfectly, knowing where to darken the frame and how much to keep front and center. Some of the crew were credited for additional audio work, but as far as I could tell, the track sounded clean and natural. Composer, Joseph LoDuca (The Evil Dead Franchise) has almost 40 years worth of experience, and it shows with the class of score he developed here. After working with Sam Raimi back in 81′ (on his first picture none the less), LoDuca continued on in horror for several years before eventually getting a gig on “Hercules”, and thus began a lifetime of composing for the Action/Adventure genre. This particular score triumphs with deep and brooding violin and cello that plays throughout the more intense moments.

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Boyce’s screenplay does call to mind other similar thrillers, but it doesn’t make the film any less enjoyable. He’s able to bring about a certain amount of suspense through purely just placing you in Sean’s shoes. Ultimately Sean’s a nice guy, relatable and respectful. Well, as much as one can be while they’re doing some pretty questionable things. We’ve all done it hard at some stage throughout our lives, or let someone we care about down, and that’s what keeps you connected to this grounded and flawed character. The strongest scenes are those in which Sean and Cale almost cross wires but they don’t. The acting is reliable right across the board too. Tennant and Sheehan both leading from the front. Unlike some, I didn’t go into the film with pre-conceived notions of David (having not watched his infamous role on Dr. Who), in fact, I’m not entirely sure that I’d ever seen a film that he was in prior. The multitude of mannerisms Tennant seems to be able to throw out are reminiscent of someone like Pat Healy (Cheap Thrills and Carnage Park). Olivero’s lighthearted take on Derek makes for the logical ying to Sheehan’s yang, and Byers serves as the innocence throughout the whole thing. Kerry Condon’s role is mostly one that requires an emotional display and she does it quite well. Bad Samaritan doesn’t have a whole lot of action, at least not until the final act, but the evolution of the story is still entertaining.

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THE BAD

Without spoiling anything, I’d say Bad Samaritan puts a nice spin on its home invasion facet, but if you’re a seasoned watcher then there’s a chance that you might have still seen it all before. The film feels like a descendant of something like “Disturbia” or Fede Alvarez’s white-knuckler, “Don’t Breathe”, only not quite as extravagant. It’s not exactly original, so if you’re one of those movie-goers who’s bothered by that element, your overall enjoyment of it might be limited. The very opening scene feels like something out of a western and it makes for an odd introduction. It has absolutely no context until the latter part of the film, and what’s even worse is that it misdirects you into thinking its somehow relevant to Sean, seeing as shortly thereafter he awakens from a sleep rather unsettled. It’s a small thing but Derek’s constant use of the word “dog” or “dawg” (as it’s known) while referring to Sean, started getting on my nerves after a while. There are a few of those obvious plot holes that usually come complimentary with this type of film. The one that always irks me is when a particular character (in this case Sean) discovers something huge going on but fails to tell a key player about it when given the opportunity to do so. Hell, not even a key player, I’d settle for just anyone, tell anyone! Sean should tell Derek exactly what he’s uncovered, but he doesn’t. Boyce saves face somewhat with that piece of writing though because Sean is able to divulge the information in the next scene (but that’s not always going to be the case in films). We’re not told in as many words, but it’s safe to assume that Cale is some kind of high tech designer, and even safer to wager that he ain’t short of a dollar. Even knowing that though, I still question the credibility of the lengths he goes to regarding his home and Sean. The biggest question of them all though is why would Cale enter the address of his isolated cabin into a GPS? Wouldn’t he already know where it was? And wouldn’t you question the risks if someone gets wind of that location? For a guy who’s clearly smart and doesn’t leave traces, Cales actions weren’t and traces were left.

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Despite its lack of originality, Bad Samaritan makes for highly entertaining home invasion viewing. Boyce’s script is mostly solid and Devlin’s directing is formidable. The cinematography is high class and suspenseful, the audio work is crisp, and the low-toned score is rather atmospheric. The characters are sufficiently watchable and the acting is strong all around, with both leads delivering authentic American accents. It was my introduction to Scottish born, David Tennant and I’d love to see him taking on some more darker roles like this moving forward. Being Irish, Robert Sheehan also brings something fresh to the production, and the remainder of the cast is good too. The runtime is perhaps a fraction long and the opening scene wasn’t necessary. Not all of the dialogue phrasings worked and the film is guilty of having characters carrying out actions that weren’t all that believable. Plot holes vary from nitpicky status to fairly sizeable, but nothing that can take away a couple of hours of time well spent. I can definitely recommend Bad Samaritan to fans of Suspense/Thrillers. It’s currently playing on VOD and you can purchase the film on DVD and Blu Ray. Check out the official trailer below!

My rating for “Bad Samaritan” is 6.5/10

A Reckoning (Review) Revenge comes in all different forms…

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A RECKONING

 

THE SETUP

Papa Octopus Productions and Vega Baby present the release of “A Reckoning”, a Drama/Western film Written and Directed by Justin Lee (Big Legend) see review https://adamthemoviegod.com/big-legend-review-something-lie-beyond-the-woods/. A Reckoning is set in the 1800’s and picks up with Mary O’Malley (played by June Dietrich), the wife of a farmer whom she comes to learn was just brutally murdered. Seeking revenge, Mary leaves her life behind and vows at all costs to hunt down the man responsible. The film also stars Kevin Makely and Todd A. Robinson (Big Legend), as well as, Lance Henriksen (Aliens) and Meg Foster (They Live). Immediately after A Reckoning’s credits started rolling I began looking at some of the reviews for it online. Much to my surprise I only found a couple. The first was quite receptive and constructive in his feedback, the second not so much. Opting instead, to personally attack Lee and a number of those involved with the film (despite initially saying he doesn’t go on the personal attack). I have to ask what purpose does that serve? Honestly. Why would anyone want to deter others from doing something they’re clearly passionate about? It makes no sense to me why we tear each other down. This particular critic panned A Reckoning as if it were an amateur hour production, slapped together by a bunch of students going through the motions in order to get extra credit on an assignment. Not only were the comments disrespectful, they have zero merits. Now I’m well aware that we all see different things in a film, but some things are just fact. The sky is black at night, right? A Rubix cube is the shape of a cube, yeah? (cue 27 more examples). Needless to say, this particular reviewer lost all credibility in one fell swoop. That being said, I’m not saying Justin’s latest film is perfect because it’s not. Let’s get into it.

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THE GOOD

What we have here is a good old fashion American western. A Reckoning was conceived on a modest budget (to say the least) by a filmmaker who’s clearly a fan of the longstanding genre. Lee is a proud and dedicated independent filmmaker who’s hard work speaks for itself (having made three films with limited cast and crew and in quick succession). The film comes across as more of a love letter to the genre rather than an action spectacle set in that very familiar world. Justin Janowitz, who served as the DP on Justin’s aforementioned film Big Legend, returns here. He frames everything nicely and utilizes what is a simple but beautiful landscape, in order to get the most bang for buck in regards to the cinematic look and feel. The sets are plain, as they would’ve been in that era, and the costumes are fittingly hardened leather and wool with colors made up of mostly earthy tones. Lee’s clear willingness to get to numerous locations, if for no other reason than to shoot coverage for establishing shots in order to build this lost world, is something to be praised. A lot of filmmakers wouldn’t bother going to those sorts of lengths. The overcast beach scenes are reminiscent of those in the post-apocalyptic survival film “The Road”. The films audio track is loud and clear, and composer, Jared Forman is no stranger to those recognizable western tones (having worked on TV’s Hell On Wheels). Lee’s introduction of Mary comes layered with subtle blues, via acoustic guitar, and later, transitions into some much darker notes with a choir singing underneath them. Sweeping violins and cello enter the fold when the drama of the piece heightens.

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Plenty of film fans have been calling for stronger female protagonists and more focus on that part of the storytelling process for a while now. Westerns, in particular, have primarily been a male-dominated culture (minus the odd film here and there). It’s a nice change of pace to see Dietrich at the core of this narrative, and even Meg Foster impresses as Ms. Maple, a townie who sympathizes with Mary at the beginning of the film. Both her and Henriksen, playing a town elder of sorts, give the film another level of depth as they showcase their expertise through a couple of lengthy yarns. In fact, this is the best I’ve seen Lance in years. He takes command with every moment he’s on screen. June is solid as the strong-minded Mary, though, with just the basics of an arc, one might have hoped she’d display a wider range of expressions. I’m a little disappointed that Robinson (who was so damn good in Big Legend) doesn’t have a lot to do here. I feel like if given the chance, this guy could chew scenery with the best of them. Kevin Makely shows up for the third act, and despite the questions that come with his character “Marrow”, he turns in a lively display to close the film. To the untrained eye, A Reckoning could perhaps appear to be a case of style over substance. I’d argue that Lee knows the confines of making a film like this on such a small budget, and that’s primarily why it’s not an action-heavy film. With that said, the fight choreography is still decent and there are a couple of on-screen kills. Better than that, Mary carries the same reservations that one in a similar inexperienced position would. Lee doesn’t once make her out to be Black Widow or Wonder Woman, she’s grounded, and the learning curve that comes with that is made obvious through some of her failures.

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THE BAD

You’ll probably be left with a few questions at the end of A Reckoning, and certain details perhaps aren’t as fleshed out as adequately as they could have been. The main issue here is the same one that I have with a lot of westerns, it’s a slow-burn. I like a good slower paced method of storytelling if everything gets explored during that timeframe. Unfortunately, due to the lack of action (mostly a budgetary constraint), a lot of what we’re left with for this 80-minute runtime are long-winded transitions and copious amounts of interaction with secondary characters who never really fully figure into the equation. There’s a ten-minute scene involving a local trader that Mary happens upon. It does serve as a means for her supplies but they talk for what seems like forever, and she eventually stays the night. The sequence probably could have been cut in half and it wouldn’t have lost anything. Marrow (so in turn Kevin) goes on what can only be described as an environmentally defensive rant in the latter stages of the film and seeing as though it’s our first look at the character, there’s no real significance to any of it. Short of mentioning a trail that most travelers seem to take, Mary never reveals how she knows where to find the mystery man, or who he even is. I guess she figures it’ll be obvious when the time comes (which turns out to be true), but still, can anyone say coincidence? The film may have benefited from introducing a flashback scene involving Marrow and the late husband, giving the audience at least a piece of the puzzle in relation to what went down. In addition, it serves to break up the monotony of Mary’s constant travels. Speaking of her journey, after she takes care of a certain bit of business (those who’ve seen it will know the scene I’m referring to) I expected she’d want to get her horse back? Especially when it’s going to potentially save you a day or two on foot. I thought that element of her story was a touch thin.

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I’m really surprised that Justin Lee’s, A Reckoning isn’t getting more love from critics and western fans alike. Other than perhaps “Jane Got A Gun”, and to a lesser extent “Brimstone” (which was epic), both of which featured heavy hitting casts and were made on much bigger budgets, there’s been little in the way of female orientated protagonists within the genre. It’s important to understand the Director’s intent and the restrictions that almost always come with DIY, independent filmmaking. If you don’t, perhaps you’re not the best person equipt to be critiquing it. A Reckoning has plenty working in its favor. The cinematography is high-class, the set design looks neat and the costumes were given the appropriate sense of detail. The music is some of the best I’ve heard in a while and each of the performances is solid. In spite of what could be considered a reserved visage, Dietrich holds it all together, and Lance Henriksen and Meg Foster deliver some of their best work in recent memory. The slow burn nature is bound to put some viewers off, and I’ll be honest by saying it does get a little strenuous at times. I think had we got more of a look at Makely’s character and that lead up to his conclusion with Mary’s husband, it might have evened things out somewhat. Not all of the decision-making seems logical, nor do we gain any solid proof behind Mary’s knowledge of Marrow’s whereabouts or identity. I’m not going to fault Lee for the film’s lack of action because I have a good grasp of the limitations on a film like this. A Reckoning is clearly Justin’s avenue for showing an appreciation and love of the genre and I can’t see how that could possibly be a bad thing. If you’re a fan of simplistic storytelling in the parameters of a western, this one is well worth your time. You can purchase the film on DVD and it’s also available through various streaming platforms now. Check out the trailer below!

My rating for “A Reckoning” is 6.5/10