Killer Sofa (Review) It ain’t no lazy boy…

KILLER SOFA

THE SETUP

Firstly, I’d just like to say thank you to the team at High Octane Pictures for sending me an online screener of their new B-movie Horror/Comedy “Killer Sofa”, Written and Directed by Bernie Rao. Killer Sofa is a New Zealand production that follows Francesca (beautiful first-timer Piimio Mei), a young woman with a knack for entrancing men who inevitably become possessive over her. After hearing news of the death of one of her previous jealous and unstable lovers Frederico (Harley Neville), Francesca discovers a hidden past and the fact that she’s the bearer of an evil recliner chair intent on killing all those in her life. The film also stars Nathalie Morris, Jim Baltaxe, Jed Brophy, Stacey King, and Grant Kereama.

Crossing over genre lines into the farfetched inane notion of inanimate objects trying to kill people has long since been a done thing in the B-movie sub-genre. If I recall correctly, 1978’s “Attack Of The Killer Tomatoes!” was one of the earliest to do it and other low-budget examples followed, such as “Death Bed” and cult classic “The Refrigerator”. Since then, we’ve seen films about murderous snowmen, violent backpacks, runaway tires, and even crazed donuts all attempting to kill innocent people. So with that in mind, Rao’s surprisingly dour film about a killer lounge chair shouldn’t really come as any great surprise, at least to those of us well-versed in the world of schlock. Like it or not, Killer Sofa is yet another original concept in a particular niche that’s constantly attempting to up its wacky factor. Bernie has built a resume working in short film but this looks to be his first feature-length film. The film contains solid production value, and at just 80 minutes, the pacing is quite direct. Rao’s framing and camera work are both competent, and the crisp audio track and sound fx work are further upsides. The strong neon lighting of reds and blues creates a good bit of atmosphere (even if it’s purely artificial and somewhat overdone) and a couple of the key performances are serviceable. Francesca’s friendship with Maxi (Morris) appears to be the sole vehicle for any drama – the watchability aided by the two very pretty actresses. Some of the animation with the recliner adds a bit of charm as well.

With this review being based upon a screener, I’m hoping that some work will be carried out on a couple of the technical aspects before the film is officially released. The overall master seems rather low and the edit comes off as clunky through numerous transitions in scenes that don’t feel like they’ve really concluded. Without singling anyone out, some of the secondary performances are also lacking, though the actors aren’t aided by some less than stellar dialogue at times. For some unbeknownst reason, Francesca insists on constantly calling Maxi by her name anytime the two interact with each other. Why? Friends don’t talk to each other like that in real life, so why here? The way in which the two police officers carry themselves is a little odd as well. I’m not sure if it was supposed to be played for laughs or what? There’s a couple of moments involving some practical blood spray but it looks awfully cheap. Not to mention that the film ran well past the forty-minute mark without any kills or on-screen action to speak of. How can a film with this potential for batshit craziness (at least on a surface-level) be so void of fun and entertainment value? Killer Sofa is so dolefully stern and composed and with no obvious rationale as to why. So if you’re like me and you’re just looking for a dose of cheesy madness, you’ll likely be left disappointed. Why not go all out with this idea instead of opting for something that’s tonally murky? I’m not sure how Rao thought that taking a bee-line dramatic approach to a concept so outlandish was the way to go. There’s an origin to proceedings but it feels elicited from somewhere else (not an actual movie just another reality), and I simply didn’t care about the fray between Rabbi Jack (Baltaxe) and his father, which sets in motion the early discovery of visions that support more of the source.

Killer Sofa is a puzzling one. In spite of its reasonable production value, it creates the impression (at least externally) that it brandishes all the elements of a second-rate B-movie that you can have fun with when you want to turn your brain off, but alas. Unfortunately, it’s conservative beyond belief and with the exclusion of some stylish lighting, fine camera work, and a couple of pretty girls, it’s just not the romp most will be wanting and hoping for. If the concept sounds intriguing and you’d rather see something non-sensical but taken more seriously with detail and purpose you might get something from Killer Sofa that I couldn’t. On the other hand, if you’re looking for the more absurd and bloody extravaganza I’d definitely recommend something else. You can check out the trailer below and the film will be available in October.

Killer Sofa – 3.5/10

Scooter (Review) When the going gets tough, friendships are tested…

SCOOTER

THE SETUP

Firstly, I’d just like to say thank you to October Coast PR and Traveling Dog Films for allowing me early access to an online screener of the Drama/Thriller film “Scooter”, Written and Directed by Matthew Wohl. Scooter presents as found footage and revolves around popular Miami YouTubers, “The Three Amigos” as they travel 800+ miles across the country on 50cc scooters as part of a group challenge. Will, the self-proclaimed leader of the trio (played by Joshua Zimmerman) eventually clashes with Paul (Dondre Tuck) after an error in judgment at a mermaid park, and Juan (first timer Stephan Pineda) finds himself playing devil’s advocate. Things only get worse for them on the first night when they witness a violent crime. The film also stars Mitch Lemos, Rachel Comeau, and Brett P. Carson.

Scooter is a mostly POV (point of view) style chronicle of events and it’s one that comes with the same cliche disclaimers and redacted cuts we’ve come to expect from footage in the found footage sub-genre. This is Wohl’s first full-length feature and he does his best to present us with semi-interesting characters who have outgoing personalities and adventurous drive. The pacing is generally quite good, the audio consistently clear, and the camera footage made up of a nice assortment of angles. The shots are mostly steady, and the addition of some drone footage elevates what could’ve otherwise been a fairly average production value. The history within the dynamics of the Three Amigos feels natural, and each of the performances is decent irrespective of two out of the three actors having had no previous experience. There’s a cliff notes introduction to the Millenials and their social media accomplishments thus far, helping you in a quick get to you know type phase. From there, the film has a few funny moments, namely the banter and scenes of the guys racing each other on mini tricycle’s. When things go up a gear (pardon the pun) though, Scooter feels like it’s lacking in intensity.

The camera does get a little bouncy in the third act, which given what transpires, shouldn’t come as any great surprise. The trio is supposedly heading cross country but you can tell quite clearly that the whole thing takes place in Florida (though it sort of fits the timeline). I really couldn’t get into Ray Fernandez’s erroneous score which consists of what mostly sounds like bad and repetitive “hold music”. The drama kind of hinges on the bond between the three guys and unfortunately the interpersonal stuff is rather threadlike and forgettable. There’s a significant feud that develops between Paul and Will over Will’s impromptu sexual interlude with a mermaid park employee. I didn’t really think it warranted such commotion. That particular absurdity only further highlighted after the group’s unfazed reaction to actually seeing something truly concerning. The crime portion of the film could’ve been better and more suspensefully handled instead of the rushed bumbling reveal that ultimately materializes. Surely once you’ve seen something violent take place you’d get the hell out of there? Even if it was night and it meant leaving some of your belongings behind, after all, it’s a matter of life and death. On the surface, things appear as though they’re on the upturn once the Sheriff enters the fold. However, Lemos’s interpretation of the figurehead isn’t so much the strong and silent type I’d hoped would impact in a more subtle way, but rather the overtly motor-mouthed townie with a small mind and plans to rid the place of the lowest common denominator. I couldn’t figure out why he didn’t just shoot the drone down if he was worried about evidence? I was longing for some much-needed desperation from the Amigos amidst the climax, but I think some indecisive writing and raw acting stifled the likelihood of that component – that was a bit of a shame.

Scooter is a solid debut feature-length film from Matthew Wohl. With an adequate premise, serviceable technical aspects, and mindful pacing of which unfolds in a swift 72-minute runtime, it reminded me a little of another micro-budget film called “Shades” *see review* https://adamthemoviegod.com/shades-review/. Scooter is never boring and the actors do a fine job, it’s just a pity the writing lacks conviction and Matthew’s design of the antagonist wasn’t as compelling as it could’ve been. The music doesn’t do anything for the suspense of the piece and the emotional stakes don’t ever really hit the necessary beats to parallel when the going gets tough. Stilll, if you’re looking for a road trip film outside the parameters of a teen comedy or coming of age flick, I think Scooter’s certainly worth a look. Especially for those interested in independent filmmaking. You can check out the official trailer below! The film will be available in select theaters through September and October so stay tuned.

Scooter – 5.5/10

The Boat (Review) Alone at sea and out of control…

THE BOAT

THE SETUP

“The Boat” is a brand new Mystery/Thriller film produced by Latina Pictures and Hurricane Films and Co-Written and Directed by Winston Azzopardi. The Boat centers around an anonymous man (played by Co-Writer/Actor Joe Azzopardi) who while fishing, stumbles upon an abandoned sailboat and eventually becomes trapped on it. I’ve been wanting to circumnavigate these waters for a while now as the premise sounded intriguing. I’m quite fascinated with the mechanics of stories that involve minimal characters and locations. Wasn’t it Steven Spielberg who said don’t ever shoot a movie on water? Well, evidently, the Azzopardi pairing didn’t get that memo, or did and chose to sail on due north anyway… okay that’s quite enough of the nautical puns – now onto the review.

Azzopardi deep into the fog

It’s glaringly obvious from the opening tracking shot, in which our sailor leaves his domicile headed straight for a gaudy tinny and out to sea, that this film was going to boast the highest of production values. Polish DP, Marek Traskowski employs a number of really gorgeous shots on location in the waters of Malta, and when the film transitions into its controlled portion, Daniel Lapira’s tight edit ensures that it does so coherently. Footage on and around the boat looks superb. It puts you in the moment, but does so in a way that’s visually pleasing and doesn’t induce a headache. Through acute sound design and a moody score by Lachlan Anderson, Winston captures perfectly the endlessness of the ocean and the fear of isolation that one can imagine would come from being lost in the middle of it. Doing so by deploying severe changes in weather and atmosphere over the course of the ninety minutes. The man finds himself drifting into a heavy mist, then shortly thereafter taking in a beautiful blue sky ahead of what ultimately becomes a dire survival situation when a big storm hits.

The Boat can accurately be described as a slow-burn, but in actual fact, the pacing is much more fluent than perhaps that label would ordinarily suggest. Although you’re stuck with only one character and virtually no dialogue, things are never boring. The unnamed fisherman first hops aboard the sailboat to see if anyone’s actually on it and quickly discovers remnants of people. Before long, he realizes that his boat is gone and he’s stuck. From there, things just continue to get worse as he attempts to call for help, gets locked in the bathroom, and finds himself on a collision course with a shipping container. Azzopardi gives it his all in what’s clearly an emotionally and physically demanding role. Irrespective of some of his decision making, the character means well when he stumbles across the vessel and what he gets in return is nothing short of taxing. If you’ve ever been trapped before then you’ll certainly be able to relate to at least one particular helpless scenario Azzopardi winds up in. Not that you’d know it, but there’s also plenty of visual fx work that went into The Boat and it all looks very impressive. Weather changes are introduced seamlessly and the storm is impressive.

Some of the character’s decision making had me shaking my head more than a few times though, and that somewhat dented his credibility. A poor choice was made in not fastening his tinny to the larger sailboat, and after a previous lengthy battle with a door lock, he later lets a second door close behind him (clearly something you wouldn’t do again). He leaves a small window hatch open and pays the price when the storm hits, though I’m not sure why he didn’t just turn the snibs and shut it in order to stop the water flowing in? Fortunately, our sailor also shows some nous at times. Prior to nightfall and with arms outstretched through a hatch, he attempts to salvage some rope and a few bits and pieces to use. I was disappointed in his design for the rope, as I initially thought he was going to utilize the mast and strong wind and tie the rope to the bathroom door or its lock with the hopes of pulling it off the hinge, but alas. However, his resourcefulness does become more evident when he builds a makeshift raft encase of the need to abandon ship. On the other hand, he has a map and compass (I think?) yet can’t seem to get his bearings (I know I said no more puns but I couldn’t resist). The final ten or fifteen minutes of The Boat headed in the direction I figured it would, and it’s fittingly eerie, but with absent detailing of origins or methodology, you’re not left with a whole lot to extract. The duo of writers has clearly derived the machinations of this story around other-worldly mysteries from something like The Bermuda Triangle.

I had high expectations for The Boat and overall I think it’s risky filmmaking at its finest. Props must go to father and son and all those involved with the making of this film. It draws on the likes of Stephen King’s “Christine”, by way of a survival film like “All Is Lost” or the contained thriller “Dead Calm”. A nice mix of all three and melded by top-notch cinematography, effective sound design, and a great score. Joe’s one-man show is an achievement in an of itself and the fisherman’s plight kept me on the edge of my seat for the duration. There are a few weak patches of writing and active plot devices that are clearly introduced just to propel the narrative forward, that and the lack of a basic “why” regarding all of it probably hurts the end result to some extent. Still, if you’re a fan of these thrillers on the open sea I suggest you give The Boat a viewing because it’s one of the best there’s been for quite a while. The film is currently available on Amazon (the US only) and available on DVD from the 1st of October. You can check out the official trailer below!

The Boat – 7/10

My Fair Zombie (Review) You can’t teach an old zombie human tricks…

MY FAIR ZOMBIE

THE SETUP

2013’s “My Fair Zombie”, Written and Directed by Brett Kelly (Jurassic Shark and Murder In High Heels), comes to us courtesy of Camp Motion Pictures. It’s an independent Horror/Comedy/Musical set in an alternate early 1900’s England in the midst of a zombie outbreak. In a twist on the flower girl turn lady verdict of the infamous My Fair Lady, here, it’s the professor attempting to teach a zombie social etiquette with the hopes of turning her into a proper English lady. Professor of phonetics Henry Higgins (played by Lawrence Evenchick), wagers a bet with a colleague Colonel Pickering (Barry Caiger) that within a short period of time he’ll be able to teach Eliza Dolittle, a recently turned zombie (played by Sacha Gabriel), the in’s and out’s of lady protocol – humor and gore ensue. The film also stars Jennifer Vallance, Jason Redmond, Gabrielle MacKenzie, and Penelope Goranson.

Canadian-based Brett Kelly Entertainment has become synonymous with their DIY approach to independent filmmaking. Kelly has been working in the industry in one fashion or another for almost twenty years, writing and directing all types of films. From creature feature b-movie’s like “Raiders Of The Lost Shark” and “Attack Of The Giant Leeches”, to western’s such as “The Last Outlaw” and “Jesse James: Lawman”, he’s even ventured into exploitation and comedy over the journey. In addition, My Fair Zombie now serves to add “musical” to his repertoire, and whilst I haven’t exactly been a fan of all that I’ve seen from Kelly, I can still respect the ongoing grind in getting these projects off the ground. I think this period piece boasts the highest production value of any of Kelly’s other work (or at least what I’ve seen of it). Jeremy Kennedy’s camera work is simple in structure but consistently good, utilizing tripod still shots for the bulk of the character interaction. Moreover, audio levels are as clear as they’ve ever been, and Stephen John Tippet’s musical numbers are surprisingly colorful with hooky lyrical content to boot.

The minimalistic set design (on a budget) and authentic costumes both help sell the state of play, and the performances, by and large, are reliable and entertaining. In her first on-screen appearance, Sacha Gabriel exhibits an assurance of her surroundings and appears to know when and where Eliza’s theatrics are called for. However, it’s really the copious amounts of quickfire delivery between Evenchick and Caiger’s well-to-do gentlemen that make My Fair Zombie a pretty fun watch. The former has been a long-serving go-to for Kelly, having collaborated with him on a number of projects. I was most impressed by Lawrence’s ability to stay in character with his British accent, and the older Barry Caiger nails the colonel’s diction faultlessly. I’d wager that both of these actors have spent time in the theatre. As far as action goes, there isn’t a lot to be found here. There’s only really one extended moment involving some practical blood spray with Mrs. Pearce (Vallance), the caretaker. There’s a handful of gunshots that occur in the beginning and there’s a couple of frames showing a brain that looks suspiciously like red jello (haha).

My Fair Zombie is light on character and simple by design, and therefore even an 80-minute run-time feels like it’s been padded out a bit. The film lacks attention to detail in unusual places not necessarily gauged by budget constraints e.g the makeup fx and some of the set dressings. The zombie makeup is far too soft and the application looks to barely consist of contact lenses, eye shadow, and some foundation. Those who know their zombie content may be disappointed with the absence of cornerstones like prominent veins, discoloration, and the blood. There’s also no attempt made to age Eliza as she inevitably decomposes (or one would think). Forgotten specifics aren’t always a good look, such as no tea in the teacups when actors are supposed to be drinking. Some of the discourse feels a touch repetitive and the editing techniques are lacking a bit of dare that would have better suited this musical. Accents do waver from some of the secondary players at times, but that’s probably to be expected when the cast isn’t English. Unfortunately, the horror flavor is scarce because it ultimately takes a backseat to the comedy, which doesn’t hit home all that hard either.

I had no idea what to expect from My Fair Zombie, and if I’m honest, musicals as a whole have never really been my thing. Much to my surprise, I enjoyed this one and I think it’s probably Kelly’s most polished film. The cinematography is solid, the audio is sharp, and both the sets and costumes appear to be period accurate. Where the film is its strongest is in the three lead performances. I found the pairing of Higgins and Pickering quite entertaining with both actors possess good timing, and Gabriel turns in a fun physical performance. I think the below-par makeup fx and the forgotten particulars concerning several facets do hurt the film, so to some of the inconsistent acting from secondary characters. The pacing and edit are both guilty of being a bit casual and neither the horror or the comedy rise to any great heights. Still, if you’re a big fan of musicals or have a better knowledge of My Fair Lady than I, you’ll likely get even more out of the film. My Fair Zombie is now available to purchase online and you can check out the official trailer below!

My Fair Zombie – 6/10

The Woman In The Window (Review) Be careful what you wish for…

THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW

THE SETUP

1944’s The Woman In The Window is one of the many Crime/Film Noir pictures made by Austrian-born filmmaker, Fritz Lang (Metropolis). Notorious for conceiving protagonists whom by and large were anti-heroes, Lang’s career saw some lofty heights with his groundbreaking work in more than one genre, like the aforementioned “Metropolis”, a dystopian Sci-Fi piece, along with other thrillers such as “M” and “Ministry Of Fear”. The Woman In The Window opens with the introduction of teaching professor Richard Wanley (played by the infamous Edward G. Robinson), whom after a few drinks with some friends, winds up crossing paths with a beautiful young woman named Alice Reed (Joan Bennett). Whilst contemplating straying from the nuptials made to his wife, Richard finds himself mixed up in murder and blackmail after a stranger arrives at Alice’s apartment. The film also stars Raymond Massey (East Of Eden), Edmund Breon (Dressed To Kill), Dan Duryea (Criss Cross), and Arthur Loft (Scarlet Street).

The Woman In The Window was penned by Nunnally Johnson, who wrote in excess of 60 screenplays over the course of a career that spanned as many years. The setup here is quite a simple one and it isn’t anything overly original, but it’s still effective. A conservative middle-aged man with the opportunity to perhaps pursue a younger mysterious woman inevitably results in complications. Temptation rearing its ugly head, as the allure of the beautiful Alice starts to become too much for Richard. The pacing here is much better than in some of the genres counterparts and the dialogue is firmer too. The key action set piece occurs before the end of the first act, and what follows, is the investigative portion of the film in which Richard’s friends, Frank Lalor (Massey) who’s a district attorney, and Michael Barkstane (Breon), a prominent doctor, discuss the evidence and particulars of the case in the midst of Richard’s presence. From there, the professor scatters in an attempt to cover all his bases. The dynamics of the trio’s interactions are where Johnson cleverly drip feeds the audience the information they need.

The audio track is pretty clean and Arthur’s Lange’s score is nice and jazzy. The film is quite well shot, the Blu ray transfer a clear upgrade on any previous hard copies that have been distributed over the years. Sure, there’s a few glitches in the edit, some warping, and a few lining issues here and there but the film is 75 years old so that’s to be expected. The Woman In The Window marks my introduction to Robinson, who was by all accounts a well respected and likable sort of fella. He delivers an honest and believable performance caught up in the wrong place at the wrong time, though some of the character’s dense on-going commentary about the crime seemed out of left field. Massey’s enthusiasm shines through via his characters case building methods, and Breon’s Barkstane appears to be the quirky one of the group who is usually good for an anecdote but seems to care little about the crime. Bennett manages to hold her own in what is a male-dominated world (par for the times I suppose), and her scenes with Duryea are some of the best in the film. Speaking of Dan Duryea, he brings an essence of Willem Dafoe like crazy to his blackmailing role of Heidt (I’m aware Duryea was making movies long before Dafoe was even a thought, but still). I don’t know if it’s in the diction or just the voice itself, but he had a hint of Vance (The Loveless) or Bobby Peru (Wild At Heart) about him.

I half expected this one to have aged substantially, especially after having similar sentiments about the earliest works from the master of horror, Alfred Hitchcock (anything pre 43′ hasn’t been great) but I was wrong in this case. There can be no denying that some of the specifics certainly lack credibility, most notably Wanley being invited to accompany Frank out to the crime scene let alone actually giving input as to how he thinks events unfolded (little do the men know that he knows perfectly well). An attorney simply wouldn’t have that sort of pull, only a police inspector (who coincidentally is on location as well and doesn’t seem to find it odd that Richard is there). I’d like to have seen some continuity consistency in relation to the murder. A sharp object is used yet there are no marks or incisions to the man’s back, nor are there any remnants of blood. The runtime is perhaps just a touch long and I was surprised that Heidt didn’t make himself known to Richard at any point, choosing to target Alice instead. Someone so greedy would’ve surely wanted the best of both worlds? The ending certainly wasn’t one that I saw coming, though I’m still not completely sure how I feel about it.

The Woman In The Window is a strong and memorable slice of 40’s film/noir. The technical elements are solid, the writing is natural, and the characterizations are pretty well-rounded. Robinson and Massey share some great moments together and the pieces of the puzzle come together in an entertaining fashion. The best performance here is Dan Duryea’s though, he makes the bargaining scenes most engaging. Lang definitely took some creative license with a few of the plot devices and the attention to detail is often a far cry from accurate (though that’s somewhat due to the times). There’s a part of me that feels as though the ending is a bit of a cop-out, but the other part sees the smarts of the cautionary tale approach. If you like this particular old style of crime/mystery, I can definitely recommend adding this one to your watchlist. You can check out the new updated trailer below!

My rating for “The Woman In The Window” is 6/10

Volition (Review) A life lead with one eye on the future…

VOLITION

THE SETUP

Firstly, I’d just like to say thank you to Paly Productions and Co-Writer/Director, Tony Dean Smith for allowing me early access to an online screener of his latest feature film “Volition”. Volition is a Sci-Fi/Thriller of mind-bending proportions. It revolves around James (played by Adrian Glynn McMorran), a somewhat disengaged man with clairvoyant abilities who whilst being leveraged by a dangerous man (played by John Cassini), attempts to change his impending tragic fate when he becomes entwined with Angela (Magda Apanowicz), in a time-traveling scenario. The film also stars Bill Marchant (TV’s Strange Empire), Frank Cassini (Timecop), and Aleks Paunovic (TV’s Van Helsing).

Volition certainly isn’t the first film to deal with premonitions or the notions of time travel. “Final Destination” being, of course, one of the early examples, along with the likes of “Timecrimes”, “Source Code” and in recent time “Looper” and “Predestination” (among others). It’s rare that you see this sort of finesse at an independent level though, especially from those with a little less experience. With a chunk of credits to his name in the short-medium, DP Byron Kopman has conceived some high-class cinematography with Volition. Everything is superbly framed and so much of the active camera work gives off good energy. There’s a wonderful macro shot of James’s eyes at the beginning, followed by obligatory feet tracking through the apartment. In fact, all of the gentle tracking shots look great. The film was shot in British Columbia and its picturesque mountain backdrop is on display in scenes where James and Angela hit the road at the end of the first act. The film has crisp audio and an unusual but inviting score by Matthew Rogers (Scarecrow 2013).

Each of the performances is poised nicely with natural dynamics throughout, and McMorran (who I remember seeing in The Revenant) reminds me of an Edward Norton type, holding the course with good dramatic acting and distinctive narration. Apanowicz was one of the shining lights in “The Green Inferno” and she brings a certain warmth to an otherwise shady world in which the men of the piece co-exist in. Experience comes in the form of the Cassini brothers, who have been working in the business for as long as I’ve been alive. Their respective characters Ray and Sal aren’t exactly complex, fortunately, the screentime that involves them is well-spent simply because they’re good actors. Volition is pretty well-paced for the most part, and the themes of identity and grief are identifiable ones.

I’m not even going to attempt to dissect the machinations of the specific timelines, I’ll leave that for the viewer to decipher. What I will say though, is that Volition might be just a little too puzzling for its own good and you’ll more than likely be left with a few questions by the time the credits start rolling. We’re led to believe that James often uses his gift to make money, yet for some reason, he can’t afford to pay his utilities? If such is the case, he lives in a pretty nice apartment for a guy with no money. For a guy who knew how it all worked for him, I was surprised in his complete lack of system. Choosing to write transactions of note on the wall with a marker for anyone to see instead of opting for some sort of coded device (like a cell) that only he could access. That said, Terry (Paunovic) and Sal (to a degree) don’t once think to look at the wall or search the apartment for any information as to James’s dealings. I found the second layer of multiplicity somewhat confusing (or maybe just the point at which it was introduced). I’m not too sure how James knew he’d already lived it all if he hadn’t yet come into possession of the syringe with the formula. How does the substance actually work? How much of the supply is there and how can he travel with it?

Volition is a thinking person’s Mystery/Thriller that boasts extremely high production values and really good performances. It feels like a mix of “Counter Clockwise” and “Paradox”, and the pertinent themes keep the film grounded in as much of a reality as the story parameters allow. I love the cinematography, the soundtrack is interesting, and James makes for a hardy protagonist. I think it’ll require a second viewing to better assemble the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle. I’d hoped for some slightly better-fleshing out of the principals of the travel and some smarter decision making from both James and his counterparts wouldn’t have gone astray. Whilst I wasn’t able to take it all in the first time around, I was thoroughly entertained and I think you will be too. The film is currently on the festival circuit so stay tuned for updates. You can check out the trailer below!

My rating for “Volition” is 6.5/10

Dragged Across Concrete (Review) Desperate times call for desperate measures…

DRAGGED ACROSS CONCRETE

THE SETUP

Dragged Across Concrete is the latest Crime/Drama from talented Writer/Director, S. Craig Zahler (Bone Tomahawk and Brawl In Cell Block 99). It revolves around the long-time partnership of two tainted cops. Brett Ridgeman (played by Mel Gibson) and Anthony Lurasetti (Vince Vaughn), a man twenty years his junior, are suspended without pay after their overzealous treatment of a drug dealer during a bust. The men seek out what they feel they’re owed but do so through the means of an illegal exercise that sees them cross paths with an ex-con who’s attempting to provide for his family, and a dangerous criminal planning a job of his own. The film also stars Tory Kittles (TV’s True Detective), Laurie Holden (TV’s The Walking Dead), Thomas Kretschmann (Valkyrie), Michael Jai White (The Dark Knight), and Jennifer Carpenter (Brawl In Cell Block 99).

Zahler is one of those little known guys that’s flying under the radar right now, but for those of us who like our Tarantino inspired dialogue thick and heavy and our crime as gritty as it comes, we certainly noticed him when he crashed onto the scene back in 2015 with the brutal Western/Horror picture “Bone Tomahawk”. If word of mouth didn’t make it to you in the wake of that film, maybe you heard about “Brawl In Cell Block 99” – a white knuckle bare-bones crime film that saw Vaughn’s (who starred) lead character, Bradley Thomas applying his own special brand of disciplinary action to what can only be described as one powder keg after another. I thought both films were brilliant in their own right, and with them, S (for Steven) established a bona fide knack for complex and interesting characters who spend their respective arcs occupying the grey area of the moral compass. There’s this Peckinpah (The Wild Bunch) Esq duality to Zahler’s anti-heroes, and make no mistake, that’s exactly what they’ve proven to be in each of his ventures – segueing me nicely into Dragged Across Concrete.

In addition to its already gritty content, Dragged Across Concrete sees Zahler take the same guerilla-style approach to the technical elements. Color grading is fittingly washed out, much in the same fashion as it was in the previous Brawl In Cell Block 99 and the returning Benji Bakshi employs a lot of similar shot types within the cinematography. Long takes are common, wide shots become the focal point of the scene, and everything feels personal. Some of the song choices were different and I was surprised to see them work because they had every right to have clashed with the intended tone. The film is slightly north of 150 minutes, Zahler’s longest yet, but it didn’t feel as drawn out as some would have you believe. I suppose in a roundabout way this is just a heist movie and not all that different from the likes of “Armored” or “Contraband”, but I’m still a bit bemused as to all the negativity surrounding the pacing and overall runtime. Perhaps it’s that the three acts aren’t as clearly defined as they could’ve been. In act one, we’re introduced to Henry Johns (Kittles), a young black man who’s just been released from prison and is now working a new angle with his friend Biscuit (Michael Jai White). Act two builds on the partnership of Ridgeman and Lurasetti as they monitor the movements of a mystery man operating out of an apartment building. The third act is where everything comes to a head and the fates of these men are ultimately decided.

Dragged Across Concrete marks a reunion of sorts for the much-maligned Gibson (arguably one of the most talented actors and filmmakers working today) and long-time comedic actor Vince Vaughn (who starred in Gibson’s masterful Hacksaw Ridge). This time they’re working together in a new capacity where each complements the other well. Ridgeman appears to get off on the good cop/bad cop shtick and there’s an underlining connotation of malcontent that manifests itself in the form of some blatantly obvious bigotry. As for Vince’s Lurasetti, he’s not opposed to crossing the line but it’s perhaps less about the shits and giggles for him and more about the potential gain. The two share that kind of shorthand that comes with a longtime partnership in a high-pressure job, weighing up situations with percentages of probability. The pair’s somewhat light-hearted banter certainly entertains throughout, even if some of it feels a touch morbid. The drama is there amidst the mystery of the job but it’s not as prevalent as I would’ve liked. The performances are good all around and it’s great to see Mel back in the driver’s seat. Dragged Across Concrete isn’t quite as violent as the title probably suggests, that said, it wouldn’t be a Zahler film without a handful of those swift and disturbing moments. One such moment comes about during an interaction in a bank. Zahler applies such a careful rhythm to the timing and delivery of his dialogue and action that even seemingly long-winded scenes never get boring.

Despite my strong engagement levels with the film, I do think it’s guilty of retaining a little too much padding for what is by and large just a heist film. That and some of the sequencing feels a bit scrambled in the same way it did in Derek Cianfrance’s “The Place Beyond The Pines” in terms of knowing when to introduce your drawcard – which in this case is Gibson and Vaughn, as well as how many of those moments in between point A and point B you choose to show. Vaughn’s motivations could’ve been fleshed out further and some of the early actions of secondary players like the men in black (for lack of a better term) don’t appear to have much context in the scheme of how they fit into the Vogelmann (Kretschmann) sub-plot. Jennifer Carpenter brings some heartfelt stuff to the table with her limited screen time, though Zahler’s boldness to set something up for her only to quash it, had me taken aback (not sure if that was in a good way or not). Continuity felt off in a few places as well, namely in revisiting Henry at the end of the first act. His brother was showing him video games, which was followed by an introduction to Ridgeman and Lurasetti supposedly three weeks later, only then to come back to the brothers sitting playing a video game all over again (and wearing the same clothes). I’m not sure if Anthony fully grasped the dangers of a fuel leak and gunfire, furthermore, there’s a pivotal plot device at the climax of the heist that completely lacked credibility and felt lazy. Said character has had previous experience with diffusing volatile situations and yet chooses to trust another without voicing logical concerns, and as luck would have it, the end result proves a fatal one.

Dragged Across Concrete is another pretty solid entry into the Crime genre. It feels like “Rampart” meets “Harsh Times” only straighter and better executed. The camera work is good, the music interesting, and the dialogue is more often than not inviting due to able performances. Zahler knows how to get the best out of his people, even if he does linger in restraint for too long sometimes. With some shortcomings regarding the fat of the piece, sub-plots that don’t always quantify, and a couple of crucial credibility issues, I can’t help but feel like Dragged Across Concrete is probably his weakest film. However, he still goes for broke and often makes daring and creative choices that I can usually get behind. I’m looking forward to seeing the new Western he has in the works, along with whatever else he does in the future. If you’re a fan of dueling story threads, questionable characters, and possess some patience, then I think you’ll get on board with Dragged Across Concrete. You can check out the official trailer below and the film is now available for streaming and purchasing online!

My rating for “Dragged Across Concrete” is 6/10