Review: “In The Heights” (2021) Warner Bros.

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We all go to the movies for various reasons. Some love the fear and horror, some love thrillers or animation, and then there is the sheer joy of seeing a movie that just makes you smile and want to dance and “IN THE HEIGHTS” is that movie. With it’s joyful incredible large-scaled choreographed dancing and singing, Heights is a cinematic treat for your eyes and ears as well. There has never been a more perfect time to release this film until now in the Summer! baby! Summer! On the serious side, this is an important film for all and it is what we all need as well in our lives, a bit of music, dance, joy and a story about life and a dream.

Starting us off in the way up the A train line in the Manhattan neighborhood of Washington Heights lives twenty-something Usnavi (Anthony Ramos), a dreamer whose pursuit of that dream is to go beyond the corner bodega store he owns and works at, and head back to the Dominican Republic to re-open the bar his dad once owned. The barrio portrayed here is chock full of colorful characters from all parts of life and the world. Abuela Claudia (Olga Merediz), the always-wise, all-knowing, grandmotherly figure of the barrio; Vanessa (Melissa Barrera), is a young, beautiful, vibrant and optimistic woman with a strong desire to become a fashion designer, along with nail salon owner and queen of neighborhood gossip circle Daniela (Daphne Rubin-Vega). Lastly is Usnavi’s younger cousin Sonny (Gregory Diaz IV), who has ambitions beyond his somewhat slacker style as behind it all, is a quick, highly intelligent young man. And of course there is Benny (Corey Hawkins), best friend to Usnavi, and dispatcher at the local neighborhood service run by the neighborhood’s oldest business owner, Kevin Rosario (Jimmy Smits). Benny meanwhile is thinking he might be promoted and is working towards opening his own business as well. Returning home on that one hot, sweltering July morning is Nina (Leslie Grace), who’s dropped out of Stanford despite the neighborhood’s awe of her being the only one to get away. Her father has been finagling the finances at the cab company to keep Nina at the college, though there are deeper underlying issues that soon surface.

The adaptation, as one would assume, had to alter from the stage production but that job is done by none other than Quiara Alegria Hudes, who penned the musical’s book. Three-time Emmy nominee Christopher Scott really brings the musical numbers to life through such exquisite choreography that you can get lost in. At one point realizing just the enormity of this production and how many people are involved in some of the larger dance scenes left me in awe. In the director’s chair is Jon M. Chu, and his skills shine in this enchanting tale of unity, community and following your dreams, wherever and however they might end up. The music supervisor here is none other than Steve Gizicki, an old personal friend of some 20+ years and he does a fantastic job here.

It’s the little things of ‘In The Heights’ as well. If you’ve ever had a true neighborhood Abuelas’ food then you understand how here, you can almost smell and taste her cooking straight from the film. Or the dancing ~ you feel as though you are there doing the cha cha salsa dancing with them, and trust me, it is no easy feat to dance like that, most especially the ladies part. And if you didn’t feel right at home in the nail salon, well then you my friends, are going to the wrong nail salon. While one or two musical numbers might have stretched and went a bit too long, and it’s also possible the second act feels like it drags a bit here and there in comparison to the first and third acts, these things are minor nit picking as all in all, it’s just truly a very entertaining watch. Lengthy as it is, it’s truly a 2 hour 24 minutes love story. But not just a love story in the traditional sense, but a love story about a city, a place, a time and about it’s people. The senses of it all you can taste, feel and smell – all through the music and dance.

The acting and dancing is out of this world, though I did NOT know Jimmy Smits was a singer! While everyone is shooing Leslie Grace, Melissa Barrera and Gregory Diaz IV as the new faces to follow, to put Anthony Ramos as being in that category as well is just a bit on the incorrect side, as he has been putting in the good work since Monsters and Men in 2018, and can we say A Star Is Born co-star anyone? But enough with the young stars as they have wonderful careers ahead of them and were all sensational here. But a standout here that many seem to overlook is our Abuela herself, Olga Merediz, as she is simply wonderful here in her supporting role and I truly hope she is not forgotten about during supporting nomination time, just because she didn’t sing and dance up a storm, she held this group together like a true neighborhood Abuela.

No matter the tiny criticisms, there’s something truly radiating about the film’s vibrancy and joyful enthusiasm – which is, frankly, what we all need right now. And do yourself one last favour before you leave, stay for the post-credit scene.

B+

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Review Screening: Monday, January 7, 2021 ~ Courtesy of Warner Bros.

IN THE HEIGHTS” OPENS IN THEATERS NATIONWIDE AND ON HBO MAX ON FRIDAY, JUNE 11, 2021

REVIEW: “CRUELLA” (2021) Disney Studios/Disney+

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Estella or Cruella… This new offering of the old traditional story from Disney, definitely delves into a completely different outlook on this once cute story of a villainess and her adorable Dalmatian puppies. This prequel from director Craig Gillespie, is quite possibly the “CRUELLA” we didn’t know we needed, until we actually did.

To begin with, this version is a bit darker than any previous interpretation, animated or live action, and it is fun to watch Emma Stone take a deep dive into this character and come out sparkling. The story told here starts with young Estella (Tipper Seifert-Cleveland), and her mother Catherine (Emily Beecham), on their way to start a new life in London in the 1960s. She aspires to be a fashion designer as like her mother, she is quite talented with a needle and thread. Young Estella struggles with her identity with her strictly parted down the middle, half black/half white hair, as Catherine tries to teach her how to lay low, and to fend off teasing and bullies, as she has a bit of a wild side that she doesn’t have the best self control over. Tragedy ensues and with that past defining her, we get to see how she eventually becomes Cruella De Vil.

After said traumatic events, we find Estrella alone on the streets of London, where she is befriended by a pair of young street thieves, Jasper and Horace, and ends up with them. She ensues in working a life of crime and grift with the two, who come to appreciate her street wise sensibilities and they become a family of sorts. Flash forward to the 1970s and Estella (Emma Stone), is plodding away in a store as a cleaner versus her dream job in the world of fashion. When fate accompli happens and places Estella in the path of self-centered fashion magnate, The Baroness von Hellman (Emma Thompson), takes her under her wing and uses her talent for her own benefit. The Baroness treats those around her terribly and with this vile treatment, intimidates Estella. But her friends Jasper (Joel Fry) and Horace (Paul Walter Hauser); see this as an opportunity to rob from the Baroness (per Horace: there is ALWAYS an angle) and as Estrella’s designs start to gain attention, this places them at odds with one another – that is – until Cruella shows up. Cruella soon takes the fashion world by storm with her penchant for the theatrical. Her bold designs and innovative looks, give her the power to upstage the Baroness at every turn, placing her front and center for the camera at major events, but also putting her in the crosshairs of The Baroness’ narcissistic tendencies of revenge.

Emma Thompson delivers one her best performances in recent years. She takes the extremely over-the-top character of the cartoonish Baroness and makes her strangely realistic and relatable. Almost sort of like an exaggeration of a stereotype, but still resembling actual people from the real world (I might actually know a few of these). The other Emma – Stone – gives Estella heart, to where you care about her and want the best for her, even if the Cruella side of her character doesn’t always make the best choices, Stone lets you enjoy both. Fry as Jasper and Walter-Hauser as Horace, have some of the best comedic moments in Cruella, and are truly hilarious together as the famous street wise duo of thieves who like nothing more to “Pick a pocket or two.” John McCrea as Artie is a hoot as the second-hand storekeeper and could’ve been more of a voice within the film, as his fun-loving character seems a bit underutilized. I wish that there was more to his and the other supporting cast’s roles, as it feels like Anita Darling (Kirby Howell-Baptiste), is an afterthought given the ‘darling’ nature of her childhood friendship with Estella, and then having a hand in making Cruella famous. John (Mark Strong), Roger (Kayvan Novak), and Gerald (Jamie Demetriou) play characters of henchmen/housemen variety as well, and all kind of shuffle on screen just to be shuffled right back off. One could question why some of their characters were even put forth, but in the long run, it does serve the story.

The biggest stand out that doesn’t involve the acting ensemble is of course, the stunning costume design giving us true works of art featuring cool retro, edgy storytelling from costume designer Jenny Beavan, as well as the gorgeous makeup and hair lead by Nancy Stacey. Not to be outdone, is the wonderful production design from Fiona Crombie, and perhaps my favourite of all, the soundtrack from music supervisor Susan Jacobs. There doesn’t seem to be many talking about it, but this soundtrack is packed with wonderful song choices from Blondie, The Rolling Stones, Queen and The Clash – to name a few. For me, it was a lovely highlight I wasn’t expecting and couldn’t stop myself from singing along and yes, grooving out!

Perhaps one of the few downfalls is the length of the film. At two hours and fourteen minutes – it did run a bit long, but don’t get up out of your seat just yet, as make sure to stay for the post-credit scene, as it hints at what’s to come.

B

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Review Screening: Courtesy of Disney Studios and Disney+

CRUELLA” AIRS ON DISNEY+ AND OPENS IN THEATERS NATIONWIDE ON FRIDAY, MAY 28, 2021

REVIEW: “A QUIET PLACE PART II” (2021) Paramount Pictures

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Sequels. That dreaded word to most – as they usually begin where the original inevitable cliffhanger of it’s predecessor left off. It’s usually a re-hashed, mish-mash of the original film, and rarely if ever, is it as good as the original. Well colour us thankfully out of that sequel slump as “THE QUIET PLACE PART II“, is anything BUT a slouch of it’s original.

This wonderfully woven sequel gives us the briefest of a flash of the past, probably just for old time-sakes to remember where we were, but then with the flick of scene, we are brought to a time we have never seen before. The time before ‘it’ all began that we all really wanted to know about, and answers so many questions in a very short time. Wrapping up it up cleanly on how ‘the Quiet’ came upon them, and giving us our first glimpses of the monsters that we now know, who hunt by sound, like the dropping of a pin or too loud of a breath, and just like that, they’ve got you. And right as we understand the implications, again, with another flick of the scene, we just skip from day one of the invasion to day 474 of the apocalypse, just after mom Evelyn, kills the alien in her home in the first movie that started it all, ‘A Quiet Place‘.

Continuing on, as Evelyn (Emily Blunt), Regan (Millicent Simmonds), and Marcus (Noah Jupe), are forced to venture out and continue traveling on foot with baby Abbott in tow. They enter the fortified compound of old family friend Emmett (Cillian Murphy), who is not nearly as welcoming as they hoped. The family must now face the terrors outside, while continuing their journey and struggle for existence while in complete silence. They also now know some of the vulnerabilities that the aliens are susceptible to as well, like the high-frequency audio feedback from Regan’s cochlear implant hearing aid. But by being forced to venture into the unknown, they realize that these aliens that hunt by sound, aren’t the only dangers they face lurking in the beyond. In a turn of events, Marcus and Regan discover a radio signal that plays the song “Beyond the Sea” over and over on repeat, and after some doing, finally realize the whereabouts of the location it’s emanating from. Regan figures this might be her chance to not just find, but help other survivors that might be stranded as well. But as with everything in a twisty-turning film like this one, there is always going to be that one thing in the narrative that doesn’t really turn out the way you might want or need it to, or maybe it does? And therein lies the fun, brilliance and suspense of it all.

To give away anymore of this film would be to spoil it inherently, and that’s just something to not be done. What can be said is how much a ‘A Quiet Place II‘ does an amazing job of ‘world’ building, to use an odd descriptive of how the locales are made to look deserted and destroyed, with a worn, dilapidated sense to many of them. Along with the places and the practices that must be observed to live in this world help to flesh out this apocalyptic-type setting, just add to the overall feel of the film. There are some imaginative locations and very clever tricks used by everyone in the film to essentially, ‘stay quiet’. This takes thought, oodles of imagination, and is to be appreciated as it adds so much to the sense of tension surrounding our characters. The film is also an acoustical treat for the ears, (ours – definitely not theirs), with great sound and some amazingly detailed, very quiet panic scenes where it made the silence truly all the more deafening. As well, the acting is very good with Simmonds’ taking over as the main lead character, and Blunt playing the strong, albeit, more supporting part. Krasinski, well, he is briefly here at the beginning of our story to tell us why. But it’s truly Simmonds’ who rises to the occasion of being the lead with a fantastic, captivating and compelling performance. Jupe and Hinds, put in some good support here as well, as truly everyone here has a lot to do to just survive, and some of the activities they are forced to do while staying silent are really quite amazing to witness and watch. 

Krasinski divides the action here over three separate narratives, cross-cutting between them to heighten the tension at important points. All the while, he never loses sight of the fact that A Quiet Place Part II – is a horror film, and he keeps the well-crafted scares coming at a steady pace. All in all, Krasinski does the almost impossible here by making a sequel that – dare I say it – is better than the original.

“A”

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Review Screening: Monday, May 17, 2021 ~ Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

A QUIET PLACE PART II” OPENS IN THEATERS NATIONWIDE ON FRIDAY, MAY 28, 2021

REVIEW: “THE DRY” (2021) IFC Films

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There is nothing like the surprise of finding a really good thriller watch unexpectedly and this wonderful, well-paced whodunnit from the steady hand of director Robert Connolly, “THE DRY”, fits the bill just perfectly. It also didn’t hurt that Eric Bana came back to his roots here, not just with an indie film, but with his own accent as well, something that’s always to be appreciated.

Adapted from the 2016 novel by Jane Harper, writers Harry Cripps and Robert Connolly, tap into something elemental about growing up around the Australian bush. Aaron Falk (Eric Bana), who grew up in the small town of Kiewarra, returns to his childhood home for the funeral of his boyhood friend, Luke Hadler (Martin Dingle Wall). Luke’s wife Karen (Rosanna Lockhart), and young son Billy (Jarvis Mitchell), have been killed with only the young baby being spared, and it is assumed that it’s a murder/suicide and Luke is the culprit. Luke’s parents Gerry (Bruce Spence) and Barb (Julia Blake), refuse to believe Luke could kill himself and his family like this and at the funeral, they ask Aaron, who is now a Detective in Melbourne, to do some unofficial investigating. He is hesitant and definitely not welcomed back by the townspeople. Only Luke’s old girlfriend Gretchen (Genevieve O’Reilly), is open to seeing him again. There is a reason for this. But he goes against the threats thrown at him by them and teams up with the young local policeman Sergeant O’Connell (Nick Farnell), and comes up with some unexpected twists and turns around each corner.

While the murder/suicide is the forefront story, we are actually dealing with two mysteries here, the one that is recent, and another that occurred twenty years previously. The film, told with flashbacks back to Aaron as a teenager (Joe Klocek). While teenage Luke (Sam Corlett) and teenage Gretchen (Claude Scott-Mitchell), were a couple, Luke was actually first attached with the beautiful Ellie Deacon (BeBe Bettencourt). The group swam in the river and drank together in the back woods outside of town. Aaron and Ellie’s romance begins to flourish as Luke’s jealousy grows, and through a note given to her at school, he invites her on a river date. She never shows, and is later found drowned. For reasons you will have to watch to suss out, Luke and Aaron concocted a story that they told of being together ‘out shooting rabbits’ – which was never really believed by anyone. In the present, Aaron confronts the deep-seated distrust from the entire town who believes he is responsible for Ellie’s death, as the killings reveal multiple sinister motives behind what could’ve really happened to her.

This film really captures the atmosphere of a small Australian country town and a really good Australian ensemble cast hold together the intriguing storyline. Bana underplays his character to let the story do the talking and just when you decide it’s right in-your-face-obvious who the obsessive killer is, and there is enough information to wrap things up 100% of what links two crimes, they throw in some extra ingredients to throw you off the scent. Again, Eric Bana is fantastic in the lead role and Genevieve O’Reilly excellent, but the younger Ellie played by Bettencourt, and younger Aaron, played by Klocek, do steal some of the show as well. There is a moment where Bettencourt sings acoustically, a haunting version “Under the Milky Way”, by the campfire, that even a week after seeing the film, I find myself still singing because it was so profound. With the characters all so complex and grey with hidden motives galore, psychological dysfunction and layering to mask them all, along with the stories behind them and the town, it creates a wonderful tight and gripping drama. The filming is beautiful but it’s not the environment that is predatory per se’, rather is the characters that move and circle one another that creates the tension and unease. 

The absolute only thing missing is a complete definitive ending, as we do have and odd moment of a blunder that seems a little suspect, but beyond that, the slow-burn and build up for the first 45 or so minutes, leads us into the last 45 minutes of all thrills and suspense.

It really makes you realize, all secrets eventually come to the surface.

‘B’

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Review Screening: Courtesy of ~ IFC Films

“THE DRY” IS OUT IN THEATERS AND ON DEMAND FRIDAY, MAY 21, 2021

REVIEW: “DUTY FREE” (2021)

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There is no First World country that treats it’s senior citizens as badly as the United States. Basically, if you don’t have a huge retirement plan and healthcare, you are essentially screwed, as we see a huge number of elderly amongst the homeless population, because you simply cannot live off of Social Security alone in this country. Herein lies the story told in by first time director Sian-Pierre Regis in his documentary “DUTY FREE”. Sadly, the story is about his own mother, Rebecca Danigelis, who at the age of 75, (well past the age of “retirement”) is fired from her job as a Housekeeping Supervisor at a hotel in Boston, where she has worked most of her life.

There is a lot of backstory given here as well as we follow how Rebecca came here from Liverpool, U.K., with her U.S. husband at the time. They soon divorced and she found herself in a relationship with Sian-Pierre’s father, who she then finds out, has a complete other family as well. So she is left raising two boys in a very miniscule apartment, on her own. As what is happening to her begins to unfold, Sian-Pierre gets the idea to make a documentary about not just her life, but what she would have wanted to really do in her life – hence, make a bucket list. He creates not just a Kickstarter account to fund this endeavor, but an Instagram as well, to document it all. Rebecca lists some pretty wonderful things for a woman in her 70’s to accomplish, most notably; milking a cow, sky diving, hip hop dancing, and probably the most challenging of all – reuniting with her long lost daughter and seeing her family, including a brother whom she hasn’t seen in 40+ years – back in Liverpool. This is kind of a dark path and should be seen by the viewer as each person can have their own take on how she dealt with what she did.

It is heartwarming to watch Sian-Pierre be so kind and compassionate to his mother and to watch them bond with one another, on the other hand, watching this elderly woman get eviction notices and try to get employment in a society where ageism is BEYOND prevalent, is also maddening and hard. Though at a quick run-time of 1 hour and 13 minutes, it’s misses the mark on perhaps telling us the true social impact of all this, and focuses on the niceties of the fun they have maybe a bit too much, whereas this is a huge, daunting issue, that I wish would have just been a bit more insightful on the bigger problem as a whole.

B-

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Review Screening: Courtesy of ~ 42 West PR

“DUTY FREE” IS CURRENTLY OUT IN SELECT THEATERS AND ON DEMAND

REVIEW: “The Get Together” (2021) Vertical Entertainment

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Expanding on his initial 2016 short, director Will Bakke widens the circle from what was more high school kids to college grads with “THE GET TOGETHER”. What starts off to look like a college frat party gone bad, is actually a pretty well thought out process of interconnected stories involving the main characters, and how their actions of the evening actually intertwine with each other. It makes it much different than the opening-thought-to-be frat party impression that is first presented.

Story number one features August (Courtney Parchman), who along with her roommate McCall (Luxy Banner), have not only a rodent problem, but somewhat of a ‘roommate problem’ as well. August wants to be McCall’s best and only friend, while McCall, has become part of the ‘popular’ crowd since they moved to Austen, TX, and heads out to the party of the night without August. Low and behold, as an Uber driver August lands up with Caleb (Alejandro Rose-Garcia), as her ride and guess where he is going – well to a party of course – where as happenstance occurs, he leaves his phone in the car and she goes inside to return it. August causes chaos wherever she goes, this party being no exception, with not only drink throwing issues, but literally ‘pulling the plug’ on the party, and landing party people in swimming pool.

Story two gives us the couple of the night, Damien (Jacob Artist) and Betsy (Johanna Brady), who are meant to be celebrating their upcoming engagement, except he’s to scared to pop the question. With their dinner interrupted by Lucas (Chad Werner), the crazy guy from high school whom no one really remembers, and he pushes them to attend, you guessed it, the same house party. This puts Betsy back in contact with old high school friends she stopped talking to after moving to New York City. And unintentionally her ex-boyfriend, Caleb as well. Through the incident in the pool, the engagement ring is lost, leaving Damien’s plans in ruins.

Lastly, we meet August’s ride, Caleb (Rose-Garcia), and we follow him on his tortuous route through not only losing his phone, which is the conduit to everything in this whole film even happening, but watching him go through the painful realization that his band is never going to be successful, and his ex-girlfriend was the one true love of his life. Though all of this does lead to some kind of redemption, and not just for him, but for all the attendees of the party.

A few beefs on the film would be: why does the more frumpy-type girl always have to be the one who is shown as the failure or the desperate one? it’s so stereotypical of these films, and it’s not done just once, but twice. And while it’s a very decent independent production, it’s a little almost, well there is no other way, as dare I say it, over-acted in parts. By this I mean, some over the top points of performance by a few that didn’t need to be. But that’s probably the only let down as it does give some great insight into what it means to ‘adult’ after college, and at a nice 73 minute run-time, it gets a lot done and told.

While not a perfect film, it’s charming from start to finish, and probably a party you wouldn’t want to miss.

C+

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Review Screening: Courtesy of ~ Newhouse PR/Vertical Entertainment

“THE GET TOGETHER” IS AVAILABLE ON DEMAND FRIDAY, MAY 14, 2021 (Click link here to purchase http://bit.ly/TheGetTogetherMovie )

REVIEW: “The Killing of Two Lovers” (2021) Neon

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Love stories are usually told through an emotional point of view where we transport ourselves to happy places, and the ending is usually where the romance triumphs, Usually the traumas, pain, jealousy and disappointments are part of a different world and don’t interfere with our ‘ideas’ of how romance is supposed to be. In case that’s what you’re looking for, “THE KILLING OF TWO LOVERS” from writer/director Robert Machoian, is not that movie. Instead it’s a shoutout to what the pain that a break up of a relationship where the two main people involved, still possibly love each other, but have realized that no matter how good their intentions are, or no matter how many promises have been made, they might just be better apart.

The story takes place in small town, middle America. David (Clayne Crawford), and Nikki (Sepideh Moafi), are a couple in crisis. They were high school sweethearts who married young and now have four children, a teenage daughter Jess (Avery Pizzuto) and her three much younger siblings. They are on a trial separation and David has moved literally a few hundreds yards away, to his Dad’s house. As the opening scene unfolds in front of us, we realize it’s David holding a gun pointing it directly at his wife and her new partner Derek (Chris Coy), while they sleep, seeming to imply that, and referring to the title, there may be more than just two lovers who could die here. Needless to say, the mere fact that Nikki is dating another man and he’s sleeping in the same house as his kids, is not something David deals with well. He wants things to return to ‘normal’ because he truly doesn’t understand that the issue at hand here, might just be him. Nikki wants things to change because as they’ve basically grown up together as a couple, as with all things turning adult, people change as well, and yet David’s temperament or lack of emotional temperament, does seem to get the best of him at times.

But it’s truly director Machoain and his drawing here of the average American man facing the deterioration of a something he treasures so very much, his wife and his family, and essentially his way of life. Crawford is truly splendid in this role in which he gives us an emotional rawness to his performance — of a type of internal struggle that escapes the usual theme that a film explores. Even the kids here, especially his teen daughter played by Pizzuto, just gives so much to how they feel about what is happening to their world. It is also beautifully filmed with backdrops and shots of perfection based on light and shadows, that just adds to the feelings you experience while watching. The only flaw is perhaps not fleshing out how the crisis of David and Nikki evolved before making the decision to separate temporarily, how they came to this solution, and what exactly happened to open the Pandora’s box of problems presented in the film. There seems to be a bit of an imbalance in the relationship between the two as shown on the screen, and it is perhaps due to the fact that David’s character is much better defined than that of Nikki, as not only does she have way less screen time, but we barely get to know her to see why her attitudes and decisions are made the way they are, making them seem less justified.

Taking away all that, the films is a stark look at love. Beautifully filmed, wonderfully acted, told in an style that makes us all take a good look and think. It truly deserves a watch.

“B”

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Review Screening: Courtesy of ~ Ginsberg/Libby PR

“THE KILLING OF TWO LOVERS” is out in theaters and on demand on Friday, May 14, 2021

REVIEW: “RIDERS OF JUSTICE” (2021) Magnolia Pictures

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It all starts with a stolen bicycle. Something taken from someone that usually might not have much merit to it, yet here in ‘RIDERS OF JUSTICE’, it has everything to do with what happens next in director Anders Thomas Jensen’s latest foray into a wonderful film that gives us drama, dark comedy, action and explores just how far someone can go to justify their anger and avoid facing their grief.

Markus (Mads Mikkelsen), is a soldier who is called back home due to his family’s being in a bizarre train accident. His wife Emma (Anne Birgitte Lind) tragically dies in it, but their teen daughter, Mathilde (Andrea Heick Gadeberg), survives. While grieving, she seeks answers for what happened and why. She’s coping by questioning the universe and religion as well, but Markus tells her those are nothing but dead ends. There is nothing good that will come from trying to make sense of it. It was all just a tragic accident and coincidence — end of story. But then where would be the storyline in all this – because one crazy tale is about to be told.

Markus is a soldier, and he sees himself as a man’s man so to speak, so he does what most men do to process loss: he tries to drink and smoke his pain away. He knows no other way to process his grief. That is until one day a mathematics/statistician named Otto (Nikolaj Lie Kaas), and his colleague Lennart (Lars Brygmann), show up to tell him the accident wasn’t a coincidence. Now both of these characters have just lost their job, and because of this, they have time, time to research the statistics of this train accident. And in fact, all ‘stats’ show it was a planned murder by a local gang called Riders of Justice, and they can prove it. And so it begins – Operation ‘Make the Riders pay’ for what they have perceived to have done, is underway.

The team Otto and Markus assemble almost seem like a nerdy group of Avengers, as it’s essentially both of them, along with Lennart – who must be an absolute burden to psychiatrists round the world, and yet he fashions himself one as well, and Emmenthaler (Nicolas Bro), a extremely sensitive I.T. genius. They look like they are highly intelligent and they are, but they are also physically and emotionally damaged men as well. Markus on the other hand, just doesn’t care. He’s fueled by the notion they have planted him with and will stop at nothing for revenge, he’s like a human torpedo determined to blow everything up — and by everything, I mean the guys he believes are involved in this plot. Markus is the muscle, the executioner, and the rest of the team is the brains behind the operation.

Jensen’s not interested here in making a plain, basic revenge movie. No, he wants to explore what’s beneath these men’s grief, shame, and humiliation. He pits Markus’ masculinity and the others vulnerability, using it against each other to see what happens as this group has only one common goal — destroy the gang — but seemingly not much else. Markus only knows how to solve a problem if it involves violence and guns, as ‘feelings’ and ‘words’ are useless to him. He only knows and believes that there is only one way to handle things, with action i.e., ‘actions speak louder than words’, a prevalent use of the motto for this film. He can’t find a way to connect with his daughter, who’s desperately in need of parental support and guidance, as she wants him to see a therapist. Instead he mocks the quasi-diagnosis his daughter and her boyfriend Sirius (Albert Rudbeck Lindhardt) make, even though he knows he will have to confront his feelings at some point. Markus refuses it because he realizes he couldn’t be in control of the situation, which is the only thing he has on the battlefield — and, ultimately, in life.

The rest of the characters are vastly different from Markus, but they all have their suppressed emotions to face as well and it’s kind of fascinating to see how the film lays them out in the most unexpected ways. Sometimes it almost seems far-fetched how Jensen makes the men connect, but he is once again, so good at creating unlikely bonds between the men, that it works out ridiculously well as the balance between very dark comedy, drama and action is perfectly handled. But makes no bones about it, there is a ton of shooting, killing, and bone-breaking in Riders of Justice, but ultimately, all that is a distraction. To be honest, the experience here is something like none other and is absolutely superb. It is comedy, it is war, it is death, sadness and violence – all wrapped up in one, but one in which in a portion of your mind, you are rooting for it in the weirdest way possible, and then you get slammed with a twist that in the darkest recesses of your mind, you never saw coming. Plus, the whole mathematical statistics of how they explain things is so very real, it makes you really take a moment to stop and think as well.

Honestly, Mikkelson is like a well balanced glass of wine here. One thing that is made clear after watching – not only does Mikkelson have the uncanny ability to be able to pick these projects, as well as have co-stars that just might be the most unlikely group to put together, yet are perfectly adept at enhancing his story and his performance every time. It also makes me so happy he continues to make quality films like this one, in his own language, as a translation to English, would just not be workable with a film like this one.

And it might also just be the best film of the year so far.

A

Follow me on twitter: @pegsatthemovies or Instagram: Peggyatthemovies

Review Screening: Courtesy of ~ Ginsberg/Libby PR

“RIDERS OF JUSTICE” IS OUT IN SELECT THEATERS IN LA/NYC ON FRIDAY, MAY 14, 2021 // EVERYWHERE MAY 21, 2021

REVIEW: “PINK SKIES AHEAD” (2021) MTV ENTERTAINMENT STUDIOS

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Every few years we have our teen coming of age stories. The 70’s gave us “Fast Times at Ridgemont High”, the 80’s was definitely the decade of teen films with ‘The Breakfast Club’ and every single John Hughes film, the 90’s gave us ‘Clueless‘; early 2000’s we went a little different with ‘Mean Girls’, and the most recent of the mid-2000’s gave us ‘Booksmart’ in 2019. So it’s no surprise we were in need of a new one, and writer/director Kelly Oxford delivers to us “PINK SKIES AHEAD”, just in time.

While is might be a 2021 release, ‘Pink Skies Ahead’ is set in Los Angeles in 1998, and is loosely based on events from Director Oxford’s life from when she was nineteen at the time. The film itself follows Winona (Jessica Barden), who after dropping out of college, moves back home to live with her parents in the San Fernando Valley. The blue-haired Winona is a bit of a hypochondriac, though still insists on seeing her childhood pediatrician only, one Dr, Cotton (Henry Winkler), who diagnoses her with an anxiety disorder. While she is completely skeptical of Dr. Cotton’s opinion — she hasn’t had a panic attack after all — she does reluctantly agree to see the referred therapist, Dr. Monroe (Mary J. Blige). And then Winona just simplies carries right on with her wild, partying lifestyle and even though things begin to slowly unravel around her, it still takes a lot to face her truths.

There are sub-plots about meeting and dating a nice but boring boyfriend Ben (Lewis Pullman), that doesn’t go the way we expect, a possible affair she suspects her father Richard (Michael McKean) of having, and difficulties in trying to forge a relationship with her mom Pamela (Marcia Gay Harden). Mostly all of this is due to the fact that having had her at a late age, they want to sell their home and ‘downsize’ to a Westside apartment – without Winona in the picture. She also parties hard with her two best friends, one being compulsive shoplifter Stephanie (Odeya Rush), the other is Addie (Rosa Salazar), and both believe that Winona has the potential to be a writer, but are also baffled that she can’t even pass her driver’s test to get a license. And there is so much more leading into what makes this film a bit different than most teen drama’s, the mental health battle. With scenes that involve job interviews which range from flirtatious to disastrous, we follow Winona’s journey though it all and most of it, you should watch and discover on your own, as it’s a journey worth taking.

While it has it’s flaws, the acting is tight and well done, and at a tight 90 minutes, you wonder if the film is going to hit all the marks before time runs out – luckily it does by making Winona’s step forward with the projected happy ending, versus somewhere in than the middle and it’s a good choice for the films ending as after all, the title is Pink Skies Ahead…

C+

Follow me on twitter: @pegsatthemovies or Instagram: Peggyatthemovies

Review Screening: Courtesy of ~ 42West PR

“PINK SKIES AHEAD” is debuting on MTV Saturday, May 8, 2021

Review: “WITHOUT REMORSE” (2021) Amazon Studios

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Based on the Jack Ryan universe created by spy novelist extraordinaire Tom Clancy, “WITHOUT REMORSE” focuses on one of the most popular characters in the saga: John Kelly aka the future John Clark, as he gets his own origin story here from writers Taylor Sheridan and Will Staples, directed by Stefano Sollima.

The films opens with a big action soaked scene of a hostage rescue in Aleppo, Syria, with Senior Chief John Kelly (Michael B. Jordan,) as part of a Navy Seal team, on what is clearly supposed to be a easy in and out hostage rescue. But of course it doesn’t go as planned and the recourse of what happens here, ends up changing John Kelly’s life forever. Fast forward after the attack gone wrong, John finds himself back at home in Washington D.C. happily awaiting the birth of his first child with his wife Pam (Lauren London), when they are attacked, leaving him badly wounded, while Pam and his unborn child are killed.

The attack, by a team of Russian assassins is payback and now John wants revenge, but the bureaucratic response from the higher ups at the Department of Defense and CIA agent Robert Ritter (Jamie Bell), gives it a no go. In steps Secretary of Defense Thomas Clay (Guy Pearce), who seems willing to blur the lines somewhat given what John has gone through, and we have the greenlight for John to be part of the team to go in to this time capture ex-Spetznaz agent Victor Rykov (Brett Gelman), although not without some hesitancy from his Commander and friend Karen Greer (Jodie Turner-Smith). All the while, this has been more John seeking justice for the murder of his pregnant wife, but it seems while wanting to do so, he has uncovered what is truly at hand, a covert plot that threatens to engulf the United States and Russia in an all-out war. Of course, things go once again upside down and the rest of the film turns into more of a personal payback mission for John.

The film, which also already has a second part on the way ~ courtesy of a mid-credits scene – updates and changes drastically not only the origin of the character, but the original plot of the story as well, which ends up giving us the feeling like it’s been seen a thousand times before. Not only because he is a military man who seeks revenge for the murder of his family, but also because he rekindles that been there – done that – conflict between the United States and Russia. While the hunt for the Russians keeps throwing our hero into explosive situations, ultimately revealing who the real villain is (to no one’s surprise) is part of the predictability process that is so very well….predictable. It’s the kind of tedious thriller where you spot the villain instantaneously, and realize who the backstabber is without even trying to. The one high point of it all for those who follow this character in Clancy novels, is this is also the telling of how John Kelly became John Clark and it’s moments like that that give it the much needed elevation we all wanted. Sadly, it’s brief, but boy can it be taken from here and really have something special come out of it, well we will have to just wait and see, as the action was decent and well as the acting.

On it’s good side, Jordan is a born action star and if this film is a hit, and future scripts possibly revamped, it could be a major franchise. Jodie Turner-Smith does well enough and all this flack that a woman can’t be a SEAL is just silly. It has been great seeing Guy Pearce come back to the big screen as well, he played his part perfectly, and look forward to having more of him in the future. The true error in all this is the book would have been ideal as an 8 part mini series. There is so much to explore and it could have set up a whole Clark universe with new stories being set in the 80’s, 90’s and beyond, you can’t help but think. So. Much. Potential.

C-

Follow me on twitter: @pegsatthemovies or Instagram: Peggyatthemovies

Review Screening: Courtesy of ~ Ginsberg/Libby PR

“WITHOUT REMORSE” is available on Amazon Prime Friday, April 30, 2021