Posts Tagged ‘movie’

One thing no one can doubt for a minute : Ryan Callaway is a busy guy. Most years see him putting or two or three films, and here in 2019 he’s releasing his hour-long “short,” The Ghost In The Darkness, as well as the full-length effort under review here, One Winter Night, more or less simultaneously. Not even fellow New Jersey microbudgeter Nigel Bach can match that pace, and he doesn’t have anywhere near Callaway’s cast sizes and production complexities, given that he’s essentially cranking out everything from within the confines of his own home, and with himself as his only “star.”

Still, work ethic is one thing, actual ability something else entirely, and just because Callaway can pull off the seemingly impossible on a consistent basis doesn’t mean he always should. I got early access to this flick (which should be available for streaming on Amazon Prime soon enough) from “the other Ryan C.” essentially, I think, because I’ve been more than willing to point out both the strengths and flaws of his prior productions, and in many respects the “plus” and “minus” columns recorded in the ledger for this one are populated by the same check marks — but those checks on the “minus” side are being scratched in with less fervor and gusto on my part as this Shyamalan-without-the-money continues to hone and improve his craft over time.

As proof of this evolution, I offer the fact that, despite this film’s typical-for-Callaway sprawling ensemble of players and lengthy runtime, the basic plot on offer is pretty simple, revolving as it does around an Orthodox Jewish mother named Leah Bloomfield (played by Callaway vet Brittini Schreiber) and her daughters Maya (Breanna Engle) and Esther (Ariella Mossey) coming into conflict with quasi-cabbalistic (at least as far as I understand it) demonic forces that are preying on a somewhat-isolated rural community for reasons that may or may not (hey, that’d be telling) be tied in with their own family history. It’s a compelling central premise, almost elegant in its “bare-bones” basics, and despite incorporating a number of other personages into the proceedings, Callaway never takes his eye off the metaphorical engine that’s propelling this equally-metaphorical bus forward — something that he’s not always been so successful at doing in times past.

Also worthy of note is Callaway’s facility in coaxing pretty decent performances out of his actors. Yeah, there’s still some unevenness to be had here, but he’s worked with most of these folks before (Shreiber, Engle, new-ish regular Genevieve Tarrant, and the ubiquitous Hiram Ortiz) and has a clearly comfortable rapport with them, as well as with newcomer Isabelle Zufferey Boulton, who plays a key supporting character named Naira. What’s worthy of special note, though, is the strong work turned in on this film by a number of youthful performers — most specifically Mossey and Cadence Ellissa — and while getting even reasonably believable work out of kids is pretty tough, in this flick we get it fairly consistently, and I’m of a mind that the director should get at least some of the credit for that.

Still, it’s not all roses and probably never could be — we’re talking about a production of limited means here, after all. There are some curiously-composed shots that seem to be aiming for something artistic but don’t quite hit the mark, some of the most crucial dialogue veers into the overly-expository, and certain sequences of events play out in somewhat disjointed fashion when more smooth transitions from A to B are pretty easily discernible. A lot of this is certainly down to limited resources — “we’ve gotta do this scene in this fashion instead of that for this reason,” etc. — but these kinds of “needs must” scenarios are, in fairness, frequently less discernible in productions financially comparable to this one.

But ya know what? There are any number of filmmakers with more at their disposal than Callaway, but who do far less with what they’ye got. One Winter Night may not be perfect, even by micro-budget standards, but it does mark yet another significant step forward for one of the most interesting and distinctive auteurs in the world of “homemade horror” today.


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So, this is kind of interesting — New Jersey microbudget auetuer Ryan Callaway used to swear up and down that he’d never touch the “found footage” sub-genre, and yet here we are, in late 2019, and apparently “never say never” is the order of the day because his latest, The Ghost In The Darkness, fits that beleaguered category to the proverbial “T.” So the question we have to ask ourselves, I suppose, is : now that he’s “gone there” — should he have?

You can decide for yourself if you’ve got Amazon Prime, since this has recently been made available for streaming there, but if you want my opinion (which I’ll take as a given seeing as how you’re visiting this site and all), I’d say that based on just over an hour of evidence (which qualifies this as a “short” by Callaway standards),  the necessary restrictions imposed upon a production by established “hand-held horror” tropes not only go some way toward obfuscating the shortcomings inherent in a flick such of this (hey, if approached properly, they always do), they also reign in some of this particular writer/director’s excesses and make for a tighter, more focused — and therefore more effective — effort. Which is maybe just my polite way of saying he should have done something like this a long time ago.

In the spirit of keeping things relatively “spoiler-free,” the general gist here is that a semi-popular YouTube “star” named Morgan (portrayed in reasonably convincing fashion by an actress who bills herself only as Jacq) has come into possession of some footage that purportedly shows a murder in woods. She does the right thing by taking this combustible material to the cops first, but when they don’t step up to the plate in timely fashion she decides to take matters into her own hands — only to find that there is much more going on here than initially expected and, in typical Callaway fashion, that “much more” is of the supernatural variety. Or sure looks like it is, at any rate.

The cast here is less sprawling than we’re used to from our guy Ryan, and every character serves a function reasonably central to advancing the plot, but it’s true that the actors, who are a mix of Callaway ensemble veterans (Georgette Vaillancourt, Hiram Ortiz, Madeline Lupi) and new faces (Kailee McGuire, Marquis Hayes, Genevieve Tarrant, the aforementioned Jacq), offer up performances of wildly varying quality, so be as prepared for that sort of thing as you’re used to seeing in this sort of thing — assuming, of course, that you’re a seasoned viewer of zero-budget horror in the first place. If not, well — you may be in for a trickier time, but that doesn’t mean you won’t find anything of value in this one.

All that being said, of course your mileage is going to vary here depending on how many allowances you’re willing to make for extremely limited resources. “Found footage” is a natural for anyone looking to slip a mask over their film’s lack of effects (practical or CGI), and Callaway has clearly done his homework in that regard, and ditto when it comes to his story pacing, cinematography, and location use. He’s been in this game long enough to know what works and what doesn’t, and going “hand-held” not only allows him to showcase his skills in a new venue, it also makes plain that the lessons he’s learned in more “traditional” film-making put him well ahead of many of his contemporaries toiling away in this always-crowded field. I won’t name any names, but — there are a number of would-be Oren Pelis who would do well to watch this thing, and to take detailed notes while doing so.

So, yeah — we’ve got ourselves more than a little bit of a winner here. As always, Callaway pushes against the limits of how tightly he can crowd up this production, but he does so with full knowledge of precisely how much he should try getting away with, and errs just on the side of caution and practicality. The end result is a film that might dearly like to have a broader, more expansive scope than it does, but plays it smart and sticks with what it has the resources to credibly pull off instead.


This review, and all others around these parts, is “brought to you” by my Patreon site, where I serve up exclusive thrice-weekly rants and ramblings on the worlds of comics, films, television, literature, and politics for as little as a dollar a month. Your support there not only keeps things going, it also ensures a steady supply of freely-available content both here and at my fourcolorapocalypse comics blog, so please do yourself — and, yeah, me — a favor by checking it out and, should you feel so inclined, subscribing.

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Described by writer/director Tony Pietra Arjuna as a “love letter to David Lynch,” 2019 Malaysian indie neo-noir thriller Shadowplay (now available to stream on Amazon and Vimeo — there’s probably a DVD and/or Blu-ray iteration to be found, as well, although I couldn’t comment on the specifics of such) certainly owes a stylistic debt to that eclectic auteur‘s work, particularly Mulholland Drive, but you’re likely to catch a fairly strong whiff of Gaspar Noe, Don Coscarelli, and even Orson Welles as the surreal, nearly free-associative narrative plays out herein, yet none of the heavy “borrowing” feels forced — nor, fortunately, does it prevent the end result from feeling reasonably fresh and original, if uneven.

Down-on-his luck P.I. protagonist Anton Shaw (played with a knowing wink and nod to classic cinematic gumshoes by Tony Eusoff) is haunted by incomplete memories of being kidnapped as a child — images of being separated from his mother weigh heavily on his mind, while the specifics of who took him and why remain sketchy at best — so when he takes on the case of missing college student Lamya Shahruddin (Juria Hartmans), it’s personal from the start. And it only becomes more personal the deeper he slides and/or sinks into the seedy criminal underbelly of Kuala Lampur.

If you grew up reading those Choose Your Own Adventure books as a kid, you’ll have a pretty solid idea of what Arjuna is going for, tonally and thematically, here — not only does Anton spend a good amount of time with his nose buried in a nameless, authorless volume that seems to offer endless possibilities but few answers, his investigation plays out in much the same manner, one potential clue or red herring following on from another with little to differentiate the two. Which is well and good, of course — nobody wants to know which is which too terribly early in the proceedings — but it does mean that the non-linear script takes some time to congeal and provide a clear idea of what’s really going on (or not). If you frustrate easily, then, this film will probably frustrate you often, as well.

Still, a number of strong supporting performances, in addition to a slick starring turn from Eusoff, will probably keep even the ADHD crowd feeling reasonably engaged with what’s happening on their screens — Susan Lankester, Megat Shrizal, and Stepehen Raman Hughes make the most of their screen time as characters who may (or, ya know, may not) have something to hide, and Radhi Khalid is fairly well riveting as The Gaunt Man, a figure that’s as mysterious as the name (okay, title) sounds. When the specifics and lack thereof falter, then, the actors charged with fleshing them out pick up the slack — and as a result, for a slow-moving film, events actually seem to move along at a pretty healthy clip.

A pulsating score provided by synthpop outfit called Stellar Dreams, and Praveen Kumar’s neon-washed cinematography, put a moody exclamation point on the film’s well-realized atmospherics, and the Kuala Lampur board of tourism could do worse than distributing this around to potential vacation-goers with a taste for the dark side. You may not always know what’s going on here — nor, for the record, should you — but you’ll be mightily impressed by the extent to which Arjuna makes the city he’s filming in an actual character in his story, and one you’d like to get to know better, at that.

But like everything and everyone else in Shadowplay, you only get to know it as well as you need to for the director’s purposes. Arjuna has a bit of a way to go when it comes to backing up his style with some more substance, but he’s shown with this that he’s just about that there and that he’s got the knowledge, skills, and intuition to arrive there fully in the not-too-distant future. In the meantime, he’s got a production he can be damn proud of under his belt with this one, and one you’d do very well to give a look.


This review, and all others around these parts, is “brought to you” by my Patreon site, where I serve up exclusive thrice-weekly rants and ramblings on the worlds of comics, films, television, literature, and politics for as little as a dollar a month. Your support there also ensures a steady supply of free content both here and at my fourcolorapocalypse comics blog, so please take a moment to give it a look.

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If you’re gonna call your movie American Scumbags, you’ve put yourself in a position where you’ve got to live up (or should that be down?) to that name. Fortunately, Denver underground filmmaker Dakota Bailey — who not only wrote and directed the 2016 production he put that title on, but stars in it under the pseudonym of Dakota Ray — seems to know of which he speaks, and has his finger firmly on the pulse of the world of sleazoids and sickos. In other words, he’s our kind of guy.

Filmed — okay, shot on cam — for the princely sum of $1,000 and recently made available for streaming on Amazon Prime (don’t ask me about its availability on Blu-ray or DVD, I honestly have no idea), this thing feels pretty grimy and follows the lives of three pretty grimy figures whose stories are interlinked in ways obvious and less so : psycho con Billy (played by Darrien Fawkes), drug lord Chester (Fred Epstein), and low-rent dealer/hit man Johnny (Bailey/Ray). None of ’em are likable, all of ’em are disreputable as shit, and the unprofessionalism of the performers is a real asset in each of their cases, as they come off as being seriously fucking real people. Just not the kind of “real people” you’d ever want to know — which is rather the point here.

That being said, if drive-in/grindhouse revivalism isn’t your bag (in which case, what are you doing reading this site?), you might not find a whole lot to latch onto in this flick. There are no “heroes” to be found, there are no empathetic moments for everyone to relate to, and there damn sure isn’t going to be anything like a “happy ending” for anybody. But so what? If you’ve ever known an “American scumbag” yourself — even at a safe remove — you’re going to recognize this film’s over-arching great strength right from the outset, that being its rock-solid authenticity.

There’s some really solid work turned in by the supporting cast here, as well — I’m going to give a special nod to Bianca Valentino for her turn as Angel (you can probably guess her occupation) — and perhaps the most impressive thing about Bailey’s entire dime-store opus is the fact that no one here appears to think they’re “slumming it,” despite the fact that the characters they play are doing nothing but. There’s a violent undercurrent to these peoples’ lives — even when there’s no overt violence taking place on the screen — and while the Tarantino comparisons are probably going to be inevitable, there’s no stylish sheen to any of this. It’s the real, raw deal — right from the streets and into your living room.

So, yeah, consider me impressed — Bailey has an intuitive understanding of how to best use his lack of resources to his advantage, his cast is way better than it probably has any right to be, his cinematography is suitably gritty, his story is a no-bullshit account of underworld life, and his editing ties the whole thing together seamlessly. This is a movie I could easily see myself checking out again and again over the years, precisely because it offers a privileged glimpse into a world I’m damn glad I have nothing to do with.

That doesn’t mean I don’t mind visiting it, though.


This review, and all others around these parts, is “brought to you” by my Patreon site, where I serve up exclusive thrice-weekly rants and ramblings on the world of comics, films, television, literature, and politics for as little as a dollar per month. At that price you’ve got nothing to lose, and your support also ensures a steady supply of free content both here and at my fourcolorapocalypse comics site, so please give it a look, won’t you?

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As a general rule, when a movie’s IMDB summary is scant on details, you know something’s up. I mean, whoever makes a film can go in there and write whatever blurb about it they want, and yet writer/director Benjamin Rider — the guy behind 2018 UK production Suburban Coffin — submitted only a cryptic, one-sentence description of the fruits of his labor (and 2,000 pounds of his money). Verbatim, it reads : “The devil, disguised as an insurance salesman, appears in the suburbs of London.”

Which, fair enough, is what this flick is about — but surely that can’t be all it’s about, can it?

Actually, uhhhmmm — yeah, it can. Clocking in at just over an hour, this is nevertheless a bit of a slow burn, and probably features a few too many characters for its own good. Alasdair Melrose turns in pretty solid work as Old Scratch himself, and of course temptation is the name of his game — but those tempted (and otherwise) aren’t exactly the most compelling characters, nor are the performers tasked with bringing them to some semblance of “life” apparently up to the task, so my message to the likes of Angie Adler, Lily Smith, and Lucas Sokolowski (who cuts an absurd figure as Diabolos), is : don’t quit your day jobs just yet. Harsh, I know, but I gotta call ’em like I see ’em.

To that end, Rider himself isn’t exactly ready for prime time at this stage of his career, either : a number of the scenes in this film are awash in weird lighting that obscures the proceedings (perhaps for the best), his eye for shot composition borders one the non-existent, and there are weird things going on with the sound that sometimes distract and/or detract from the general goings-on, which frankly need all the help they can get to remain interesting.

The news isn’t all bad, though — I guess. The emptiness of the suburban setting really does come through more by default than anything else — when all you’re doing is pointing, shooting, and hoping for the best it’s pretty hard to screw up capturing the character of a locale to at least a cursory extent — and the pacing improves a bit toward the end, but I defy you to remain actively interested all the way up to that point. It’s not an impossible task, but it is a difficult one, and given that it doesn’t pay anything, I’d have to advise that it’s really not worth the attempt on your part.

So, that’s me being the stereotypical “negative Nellie,” I suppose, but what can you do? I take no particular pleasure or pride in trashing obvious labors of love such as this, and I give Rider credit for getting his extremely modest little number all the way to Amazon Prime’s streaming service (I couldn’t tell you whether or not it’s seen a Blu-ray or DVD release), but beyond that I really can’t think of anything to fill in on the “plus” side of Suburban Coffin‘s ledger. Better luck next time to all involved, but it’s not like that “next time” is anything I’ll be looking forward to based on the evidence offered up here.


This review, and all others around these parts, is “brought to you” by my Patreon site, where I serve up exclusive thrice-weekly rants and ramblings on the worlds of comics, films, television, literature, and politics for as little as a dollar per month. At that price you’ve literally got nothing to lose, and your support also ensures a steady supply of free content both here and at my fourcolorapocalypse comics site, Do give it a look, won’t you?

Oh, and I suppose a link would come in handy. Here you go :


Coming our way from the UK in 2018 and “boasting” a production budget of 30,000 pounds, writer/director Keith R. Robinson’s Sniper Corpse (now available for streaming on Amazon Prime under the closely-related title of Corpse Sniper — I honestly couldn’t tell you if it’s seen a Blu-ray or DVD release) has precisely one chance to make it : put succinctly, it absolutely needs to punch above its weight class.

Certainly, for a flick with no money it attempts to tell a pretty ambitious story : recently-widowed Diane Keely (played with something very much akin to actual professionalism by Eleri Jones — keep your eye out for her in future), whose husband was killed in action, goes searching for his purportedly “missing” remains  — and some answers — all the way into the heart of darkness, that “darkness” being embodied by one Dr. Craybrick (Tony Eccles, who delivers a solid performance himself), who’s the mad genius behind a military program that re-animates the dead for purposes of conscripting them back into service. We’ve established that the acting is well above standard for this sort of thing, then — shout-out to Kit Smith as Braddock in this regard as well — but what about anything and everything else?

Okay, I’ll level with you : there’s some very dodgy CGI on offer here, but when Robinson and his EFX crew go the practical route, the results are actually fairly impressive, and the same is true in regards to this flick’s moody, atmospheric cinematography, as well as its front-of-the-camera production values in general. Nothing’s perfect — there’s literally no way it could be — but more or less everything that you do see exceeds what you expect to see, and for a “micro-budget” production, that’s likely the highest form of praise one can bestow upon it.

Robinson, in other words, has earned the right to take a bow here, as is true for his talented cast and crew, including both performers who bring the so-called “Dark Soldier” to life, body actor (is that an actual term?) Jordan Murphy and voice actor Howy Bratherton.

Which isn’t to say that it doesn’t suffer from some glaringly obvious flaws — again, this scenario was more or less inevitable. You can only do what you can do with what you’ve got, of course, and while Robinson and company appear to have gone all-out in terms of putting together a reasonably competent visual spectacle, the script lets the side down pretty frequently, with glaring plot holes (why are British soldiers fighting in Riga, Latvia in the first place?) and a tired anti-drug premise giving the proceedings a decidedly dated feel to them.

But, honestly, as far as gripes go, that’s about all I’ve got, and it really ain’t much — so maybe shutting up is the wise course of action at this point, which is something I’ve heard from my family and friends on too many occasions to count. If you come into this thing expecting a masterpiece of some sort, then you’re bound to walk away from it with your head shaking somewhat vigorously, but if you’re willing to give Sniper Corpse a chance to impress you — both for what it is as well as how much more it is than it could be (does that even make sense? I sure hope so) — then it’s sure to do so.


This review, and all others around these parts, is “brought to you” by my Patreon site, where I serve up exclusive thrice-weekly rants and ramblings on the worlds of comics, films, television, literature, and politics for as little as a dollar a month. At that price you’ve got nothing to lose, and your support also ensures a steady supply of free content both here and at my fourcolorapocalypse comics site. Give it a look, won’t you?

Oh, and I suppose a link would come in handy. Here you go :


Once upon a time, a rag-tag group of ambitious filmmakers headed out to rural Pennsylvania with an amateur cast, a camera, no money, and a dream. The end result, George A. Romero’s Night Of The Living Dead, achieved cinematic immortality not only for itself, but for almost all of those involved in its production.

Fast-forward to 2016 (although it wouldn’t achieve release until two years later, and via Amazon Prime streaming at that) and Nicholas Pontoski crowd-funded a $15K production budget, grabbed some friends, and hoped history might — just might — repeat itself. The end result, Within The Woods Of Undead County, is having a tough time standing out in the streaming queue shuffle. but is actually probably worth your time to check out — provided your expectations are held in check.

We’re talking about fairly standard-issue stuff here, at least in terms of Pontoski and co-screenwriter Justin Stephens’ script, in that we’ve got a quartet of disparate characters — Jocelyn (played by Gabriella Harry), Ashm (Matt Motyl), Kelly (Angela McCormick), and Matt (Cory Handelong) — who have escaped to the sticks in hopes of out-running a zombie plague, only to find there are no “safe spaces” when the shit hits the fan. They’ve gotta learn to trust each other in order to survive, characters may or may not have hidden agendas and motivations, those with skill sets that would lend themselves more ready to survivalist situations are forced to both help and, ultimately, rely on those who don’t, etc. You really do know the drill here, people.

That being said — Pontoski manages to punch above his weight class nicely in terms of practical effects, shot composition, use of natural lighting (or lack thereof), overall production values, and he even manages to coax some slightly-above-average-for-these-sorts-of-things performances out of an obviously (though not painfully) unprofessional cast. If you’re not a seasoned veteran of homemade horror you might find the whole thing to be far below your standards, but shit — if  you’re not “a seasoned veteran of homemade horror,” you’re probably not even reading this site in the first place, am I right?

I am, of course, but I would say that. In point of fact, though, this film is probably of interest only to those who are fans of seeing how filmmakers do a lot with a little, but viewed strictly from that perspective, it’s a flick that’s actually reasonably impressive, difficult as that may be to believe at first glance. It’s absolutely as “been there, done that, got the t-shirt” as it sounds, sure, but there’s a hell of a lot of heart on display here, right down to paying keen attention to the smallest of small details — barring a few fuck-ups that, frankly, detract so little from the overall production that bringing them up would make me sound like an asshole (or should that be “an even bigger asshole”?), so I’ll leave them be.

There’s even a twist or two you may not see coming, for those who appreciate such things (that would be, I’m thinking, most people), and all in all, by the time the end credits roll, you’d have to have one hard heart to say that Within The Woods Of Undead County is anything other than a well-executed, if far-less-than-revolutionary, labor of love that Pontoski and his cohorts have plenty of reason to be at least modestly proud of — assuming, ya know, “modest pride” is even a real thing.


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Damn, but it’s been awhile since we did one of these “International Weirdness” columns looking at strange cinema from other parts of the globe around these parts — and that’s no one’s fault but my own, for which I duly apologize. And I further apologize for the fact that it’s returning under less than auspicious circumstances, but what can I do? Last night, you see, I made the mistake of watching a 2011 Australian “found footage” horror flick on Amazon Prime (it’s probably also available on DVD, maybe even Blu-ray, not that you should care) titled — wait for it — Found Footage, and I’d literally be remiss in my civic duty not to warn you off from it in the strongest possible terms.

So — what’s it about? Well, it’s about a killer named Darius McKenzie (played by Matt Doran, who I understand is something of a “known quantity” on Australian television, and who also co-directed this steaming pile of kangaroo shit along with its screenwriter, Samuel Bartlett), who — kills people. Particularly women (bet you didn’t see that coming). And “films” it on his digital camcorder. And — that’s it.

No, seriously, that’s it. He’s busted by the end and this “footage” was purportedly “found” by the Australian Federal Police, so they’ve pretty much got him dead to rights. We know exactly how this flick wraps up, then — but we also know exactly what’s going to happen in it from the word “go.” And that’s its greatest sin apart from its blatant misogyny, atrocious acting, and cheesy-even-by-the-standards-of-this-sort-of-thing production values.

Honestly, I’m not at all sure why POV Horror — who have actually put out some films that I quite enjoy (although I fully admit to not being nearly as “down” on this whole subgenre as, apparently, most sensible folks are) — picked this thing up for international distribution. It literally has nothing going for it apart from some fairly realistic practical effects work and a short (64 minutes, if I’m not mistaken) run time. And when all you can say about a movie is “hey, at least it wasn’t longer,” well — that really isn’t saying much, is it?

I dearly hope that some of the actresses involved in this way-beyond-dubious project were fairly paid for their work, but somehow I doubt that. All the likes of Catherine Jeramus, Lisa Fineberg, and Alison Gallagher had to do, on a purely technical level, was show up, scream a lot, and pretend to be violently murdered, but seriously : there’s an indelible stain on one’s career that comes part and parcel with attachment to anything this undoubtedly sorry and they deserve appropriate compensation for that. Although, in fairness, perhaps the most appropriate compensation they could have asked for is simply having their names removed from it.

So, yeah, there’s just no sugar-coating it, under-selling it, or over-stating it : Found Footage really is just that bad. It’s one of those flicks where you honestly wonder why the hell anyone even bothered to make it, and none of the answers you can come up with are particularly pleasant. It won’t scare you, surprise you, or in any way even interest you. I’d call it worthless, but in truth it probably has negative value — I’ll certainly never get back the hour(-ish) of my life that I sunk into watching it, and for that I’m not so much disappointed as I am actively pissed off. I was robbed of time that would have been better spent watching my fingernails grow or the flagpole rust.


With the Oscar nominations having hit earlier the day of this writing, everybody’s talking about RomaA Star Is BornBohemian RhapsodyBlack Panther, etc. But there was a robbery committed in plain sight that seems to be going entirely unremarked-upon. I speak of the fact that writer/director Paul Schrader’s most remarkable film probably since Affliction, the criminally-underappreciated First Reformed, received precisely one nomination.

It’s in a category it could very well win, Best Original Screenplay — especially given that it won in same at the DGA Awards — but seriously : this is smart, nuanced, thought-provoking, intellectually and emotionally compelling filmmaking of the highest order, anchored by two incredibly strong central performances, pitch-perfect direction, and subtly impressive work by all and sundry behind the camera as the flick’s cinematography, musical score, editing, and production design are all in no way flashy, but essentially flawless.

So, yeah, I guess you could say I’m a little bit miffed.

For those unfamiliar with the plot particulars, Ethan Hawke exceeds any possible expectations in a stellar turn as the troubled Reverend Ernst Toller, who heads up a small upstate New York church that relies on tourism and the largesse of a neighboring “mega-church” for its survival. His house of worship is about to celebrate its 250th anniversary, and while he finds the celebrations commensurate with the “birthday” swiftly spinning out of his control, he’s also confronting his own crisis of faith engendered by the suicide of a disillusioned-with-existence parishoner named Michael (played by Philip Ettinger), a veteran who had fallen in with what’s derisively referred to as the “eco-terrorist” crowd after a stint in the military had run its course.

It wasn’t Michael who initially came to Rev. Toller for counseling, though, it was his pregnant wife, Mary (Amanda Seyfried, who, like Hawke, turns in career-defining work here), understandably conflicted with the idea of bringing new life into the world at the same that her husband seemed to be giving up on his. Mary and Toller develop a complex, multi-faceted and all-too-painfully-plausible relationship tinged with longing, desire, and a kind of mutual admiration, one shot through with with basic, elemental need for human connection with perhaps the only other person who can possibly come close to understanding their respective situations, but Toller is still struggling with the death of his son on the field of battle a good few years ago and the subsequent crumbling of his marriage, as well as his unresolved feelings for the musical director at the New Life “mega-church,” Esther (Victoria Hill). It’s a rich, thick stew of psychodrama that reveals just as much about its depth and character through the mannerisms, actions, even inaction of the principal players involved as it does by means of Schrader’s humanistic, melodrama-free dialogue.

The final ingredient, though, is certainly the most combustible and also the most tantalizing : Toller finds himself drawn toward the late Michael’s uncompromising ecological worldview, thanks in no small measure to the greedy machinations of local energy company magnate Ed Balq (Michale Gaston), who just so happens to be a major funder of New Life and a close friend of its lead pastor, Rev. Joel Jeffers (Cedric The Entertainer, credited here — appropriately, it seems to me — under his Christian name, Cedric Antonio Kyles). And guess where a whole bunch of the money for that big 250th anniversary extravaganza is coming from?

A bubbling cauldron is about to explode.

As the big day approaches, Toller finds himself going further and further off the rails, as well as deeper into the bottle, but a frightening medical diagnosis convinces him (perhaps ironically, perhaps not — it all depends on your point of view) that his path is set, his course clear, and the final act is a whirlwind of borderline-surreal storytelling and imagery that trusts viewers to make up their own minds rather than spelling things out in strict “okay, here’s what happened” terms. The ending itself has alienated some audiences and critics, it’s true, but for my money (not that I have a whole bunch), I wouldn’t have it any other way. Schrader has mapped out a trajectory for these characters and leaves it in our hands to determine exactly how they get to where they’re going. It all seems pretty damn clear to me, but I’ve read other reviews and essays on the film that posit different potential interpretations, and many make some very good points. So I’m just gonna leave it at “see it for yourself and make of it what you will,” since that seems the most honest approach to take.

And see it you definitely should. Whether on Blu-ray, DVD, or streaming on Amazon Prime, where it’s now available for members. You may not love First Reformed as unreservedly as I do, but you will be affected, and most likely impressed, by it. About the only thing I can compare it to in terms of its aesthetic sensibilities and understated-but-overwhelming emotional resonance is Ingmar Bergman’s finest work, and that’s high praise indeed coming from any quarter, I should think.

Oh, and if it doesn’t win at the Oscars for Best Original Screenplay, there damn well ought to be an investigation.

When “off the beaten path” is your norm, then what are you supposed to do when you want to go “off the beaten path” yourself? You watch something normal, I guess.

I admit that espionage “thrillers” are not high on my own personal “to-watch” list very often, but the other night, browsing through the films available on our local cable system’s streaming service, I decided to give director Billy Ray’s well-reviewed 2007 offering Breach a shot, simply because I was in the mood for something it would never occur to me to even watch, much less write about. I duly watched it — and now I’m writing about it.

Based on the investigation into, and subsequent arrest of, notorious FBI “mole” Robert Hanssen, a guy who was selling us out to the Russians long before the current president made such things fashionable, Breach is no doubt somewhat over-dramatized, but it appears not by much : Ray’s production is a classy one, with the more salacious aspects of Hanssen’s bizarre personal life dialed down, his nauseating religiosity (he;s some kind of hard-core traditionalist Catholic) dialed up, and plenty of less-than-glamorous “nuts and bolts” investigative work at the fore of the story. Mainly, though, what we’ve got here is a veritable acting clinic put on by some of the best in the business, many of whom never get nearly enough credit for consistently delivering the goods.

Chris Cooper stars as Hanssen, and he’s downright spectacular, literally inhabiting his petty, jealous, sanctimonious, thoroughly duplicitous character with gusto, verve, and disturbing veracity, and how he didn’t walk away with an Oscar for this one is a straight-up mystery to me. Maybe because wasn’t counted on to carry the whole thing himself, but was rather part of a talented ensemble? I dunno, but I do know that everyone else more than pulls their weight : Ryan Phillippe is controlled and conflicted in equal measure as newbie agent Eric O’Neill, the guy who lands the unenviable task of having to bring down Hanssen from the inside, Laura Linney is the epitome of someone who’s devoted her whole life to duty as agent Kate Burrows, O’Neill’s “handler,” and Caroline Dhavernas and Kathleen Quinlan both stand out as O’Neill and Hansen’s wives, respectively, both of whom do a bang-up job of communicating the unique stresses inherent in their unbearably tense (albeit for entirely different reasons) home lives.

It’s not just the principal stars who being home the bacon here, though, as veteran character actors like Gary Cole, Dennis Haysbert, and Bruce Davison all make the most of limited screen time and breathe extra life into thinly-written roles. High-wire tension is largely the order of the day in this one, as you’d expect (or at least hope, and in this case that hope isn’t in vain), but the extra depth these supporting players bring to the table goes a long way toward fleshing out what is, frankly, a fairly “A-to-B” story that we all know the ending of before the film even starts.

And, ya know, that bears thinking about for a minute : there’s never any doubt about how the events in Breach (which is also, I would assume, available on DVD and Blu-ray if such is your preference) are going to play out, but damn if Ray and his superb cast don’t manage to keep you on the edge of your seat every step of the way.  That might be the highest thing a flick this “boxed in” by its own necessary parameters can aspire to, and to say “mission accomplished” in this case is to sell too short the level of flat-out cinematic excellence achieved here. I was absolutely floored by how enthralling this film was, and I’m more than willing to bet that if you give it a shot, you will be, as well.