Underseen Movie: ‘The Rum Diary’ – A Ralph Report Video Vault Selection

WRITER’S NOTE: This review was written back in 2011, long before a certain Hollywood couple’s relationship became toxic and imploded in front of the whole world. Also, Ralph Garman recently featured this film as a Video Vault selection on “The Ralph Report,” and I applaud him for doing so.

Based on the book written by the late Hunter S. Thompson, “The Rum Diary” captures the Gonzo journalist at perhaps his earliest point in life which came to define his style of writing. Johnny Depp plays Jack Kemp, but as he did with his character of Raoul Duke in Terry Gilliam’s “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” he is essentially channeling Thompson here whom he had befriended years ago. It also marks Bruce Robinson’s first directorial effort in 19 years (the last being “Jennifer 8”), and he clearly has not lost his touch.

Kemp is a rootless journalist who has come to Puerto Rico to write for The San Juan Star. Having had his fill of New York and the Eisenhower administration, he longs to escape to a paradise that will not make him feel his age. But as beautiful as Puerto Rico is, there is an ugliness that cuts away at the façade which the other newspaper employees escape from through their use of drugs and alcohol, especially rum. Kemp also comes across American businessman Hal Sanderson (Aaron Eckhart) who wants Kemp to write a favorable report on his latest greedy scheme, and that is to turn Puerto Rico into a paradise for the wealthy. Soon Kemp will have to decide if he wants to use his words to help Sanderson or expose him for the “bastard” he truly is.

No other actor can successfully emulate the brilliant craziness of Thompson like Depp can. Unlike in “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” his Hunter-esque character of Kemp is a little more down to earth. Of course, this is only saying so much. Having been freed, albeit temporarily, from those “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies, he gives one of his best performances in a while as he takes Kemp from the highs of his chemical dependency to showing his more vulnerable side as he falls for Sanderson’s fiancée, Chenault (the ever so beautiful Amber Heard).

“The Rum Diary” also features terrific performances from a perfectly chosen supporting cast. Michael Rispoli is great fun as photojournalist Bob Salas who is the first real friend Kemp makes in Puerto Rico. Richard Jenkins never lets that wig he’s wearing upstage him as newspaper editor Edward J. Lotterman. Aaron Eckhart finds just the right balance in playing Sanderson as he charms everyone around him and yet hints subtlety at the vicious businessman hiding beneath the surface. But it is Giovanni Ribisi who almost steals the show as Moberg, a hygienically challenged religion reporter always under the influence of some sort of narcotic.

Robinson also wrote the screenplay and revels in each of the character’s bizarre eccentricities. These are some of the more unusual characters I have seen in any 2011 movie, and they are the kind which has been missing from movies in general. Things do drag a bit towards the end, and I wish he would have brought more of the same manic energy Gilliam brought to “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.” Still, he has managed to make a movie most Hollywood studios rarely, if ever, dare to greenlight these days.

“The Rum Diary” may be a story from the past, but it is a story of rich people displacing native citizens for their own wealthy benefit, something not lost on American audiences these days. The paranoia-filled philosophies of certain characters make the advancement of the Tea Party seem not as big a surprise in hindsight. But as pummeled as Kemp gets, you believe he will get the “bastards” with words, and that his words will bruise his most unforgiving enemies. We all yearn for someone to stick it to the man, and Depp gives us a character who can do just that. Seeing him back in Hunter S. Thompson’s realm is a real treat.

* * * out of * * * *

‘Fantastic Mr. Fox’ is One of Wes Anderson’s Most Inspired Works

WRITER’S NOTE: This review was written in 2009.

After watching “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” I am convinced Wes Anderson should make as many stop-motion animated movies as he possibly can. Nothing against his live action work, but this form of animation seems really suited to Anderson’s unique blend of comedy and dysfunction. While his last film, “The Darjeeling Limited,” was very good, it started to seem like he had been dealing with the same themes once too often. But with the brilliantly made “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” his material is given a freshness which, for a moment, seemed to have escaped him. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but this turned out to be one of the most enjoyable movies I saw in 2009. As a result, any frustration I had over not being able to see “Avatar” (it was a family outing, and it didn’t seem right for my 5-year-old niece) was completely forgiven.

“Fantastic Mr. Fox” is based on a children’s novel written by Roald Dahl whom Anderson considers one of his personal heroes. Dahl is the same man who wrote “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and “James and the Giant Peach” among other stories, and his work is characterized by a lack of sentimentality and a lot of dark humor. Judging from “Rushmore” and “The Royal Tenenbaums” with their strong black humor, it’s no wonder Anderson digs Dahl!

The Mr. Fox of the title is a cool and exceedingly clever animal, and we first see him with his wife sneaking into a farm to steal food. They are, however, caught in a trap which has his wife pointing out they should choose a safer form of work. Oh yeah, she also tells him she’s pregnant, and this changes the dynamics of their relationship in a heartbeat. We catch up with these two a couple of years later after they have found a home within a hole in the ground. Mr. Fox is now a newspaper columnist, and he and his wife are parents to a son, the sullen Ash, who constantly feels unappreciated in all he does. Still, Mr. Fox does not like where his family lives and promises to do better by them. Despite the warnings of his lawyer, Badger, he ends up buying a new home in the base of a tree. These new lodgings are also coincidently right near the gigantic farms owned by three ugly looking farmers: Walter Boggis, Nathan Bunce, and Franklin Bean. So, of course, this gets Mr. Fox all excited and back to his usual tricks of stealing food and drink while the rest of the family remains unaware. To quote another fox from a vastly different 2009 movie, “chaos reigns!”

The first thing people will notice about this movie is its “star studded” (what does that term mean anyway?) cast of actors. Voicing Mr. Fox is the most debonair of movie stars right now, George Clooney. With this, “The Men Who Stare at Goats” and “Up in The Air,” I can’t help but wonder when Clooney gets the time to sleep. At this moment, he’s everywhere, and his constant presence would be ever so annoying if he weren’t such a terrific actor. Clooney perfectly captures Mr. Fox’s confidence without ever becoming overly smug, and he exudes the cleverness this character has in getting back at the three farmers.

Meryl Streep, who has also had a busy year with this, “Julie & Julia” and “It’s Complicated,” voices Mrs. Fox. I actually wonder how much sleep she gets as well as Streep always seems to be learning a new accent she has not taken on yet. Streep is the perfect contrast to Clooney’s charmingly reckless nature, and she serves as the conscience Mr. Fox needs to hear out more often. Streep doesn’t do anything incredibly different with her voice like she did for Julia Childs, but its warmth is quite seductive at times.

Anderson has also employed many of his regulars for “Fantastic Mr. Fox” as well. Jason Schwartzman who was featured quite prominently in “Rushmore” and “The Darjeeling Limited” voices Mr. Fox’s son, Ash. Schwartzman perfectly captures the angst Ash feels at never fully winning his dad’s approval, and you feel Ash’s desperation as he goes to dangerous lengths to get any approval. Owen Wilson, who co-wrote “The Royal Tenenbaums” with Anderson, has a cameo voicing Ash’s athletic coach, Skip. You can tell its Wilson right away, and he gives Skip a wonderfully dry voice which gets a good number of laughs whenever he appears. Even Bill Murray, who has had a role in just about all of Anderson’s movies, voices Mr. Fox’s lawyer, Clive Badger, and he always seems to fit in perfectly in Anderson’s cinematic universe. And let us not forget Wallace Wolodarsky who voices the confidence challenged Kylie Sven Opossum who somehow gets sucked into Mr. Fox’s schemes against his better judgment.

Others to be found here are Michael Gambon, the current Dumbledore of the “Harry Potter” movies, who voices one of the farmers hellbent on eliminating the thieving Mr. Fox, Franklin Bean. Eric Chase Anderson, who is responsible for those illustrations of Anderson’s movies when they are given Criterion Collection releases, voices Mrs. Fox’s nephew Kristofferson who is perfect in every way Ash is not. But the most surprising voice here is from the actor who voices Rat, Bean’s security guard. Rat was a French character, so I assumed the actor voicing him was French. Turns out that it was actually Willem Dafoe! That’s right, the same guy who was in that other delightful 2009 movie with a fox, “Antichrist.”

With just about all of animated movies being done with computers and digital effects, it’s refreshing to see other filmmakers go a little retro with the stop-motion animation. The work here is brilliantly done, and I was surprised at how lifelike everything looked. Movies like these must require an exceeding amount of patience to make because they clearly take years to produce. It also fits right in with Anderson’s quirky sense of humor which remains intact a good ten years or so after “Rushmore.”

I also really dug the soundtrack Anderson chose for “Fantastic Mr. Fox.” Each of his movies contain a great selection of music which veers from classic British rock songs to American rock among other genres. With this film, Anderson includes songs from the Beach Boys and Burt Ives which fuel the proceedingas with an undeniable sense of innocence and adventure. It also made me an instant fan of The Bobby Fuller Four whose song “Let Her Dance” plays during one of the most joyful moments this film has. Composing the score is Alexandre Desplat who has composed music for movies like “Firewall” and “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” among others. I love how Desplat captures the infectious spirit of everything which takes place.

Is this a kid appropriate movie? I think so. It did get a PG rating which seems appropriate. Sure, there are many bottles of alcoholic apple cider and some smoked chickens which might give you the wrong impression of the goings on being displayed, but I really think this movie is harmless. Compare this to the recently released sequel to “Alvin and the Chipmunks” which has not so subtle references to classic movies like “Taxi Driver” and “Silence of the Lambs” among others. This film is not just aimed at kids, but for the whole family as well.

While many will be more likely to view this movie on DVD or Blu-ray (or VHS if it’s still available), ” Fantastic Mr. Fox” really is a fantastic piece of work which deserves a big audience. Anderson, along with co-writer Noah Baumbach (“The Squid & The Whale” and “Margot at the Wedding“), has managed to take his fascination with families that are less than perfect and put them in a context which will not scar your kids for life. It was also cool to see Clooney play a character who, unlike the one he portrayed in “The Men Who Stare at Goats,” was not afraid to dance.

Was it worth not going to see “Avatar” this day and watching this instead? I hate to say it, but yeah.

* * * * out of * * * *

The Coen Brothers’ ‘True Grit’ is a Far More Faithful Cinematic Adaptation Than What Came Before

Watching Joel and Ethan Coen’s version of “True Grit,” it suddenly occurred to me I had read the book it was based on back in my sophomore year of high school. I can’t believe I forgot that as I usually remember every book me and my fellow classmates were made, or forced, to read such as “The Diary of Anne Frank,” “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “Of Mice and Men” or “A Day No Pigs Would Die.” This book, which was written by Charles Portis, however, seemed to have escaped my memory of having read it. When I think of the book now, I am reminded of how Mattie Ross, when she saw the body of her murdered father in his coffin, simply told the undertakers, “Put a lid on it.”

Damn! Mattie seemed cold as ice; hell bent on pursuing her father’s killer no matter what and without ever shedding a single tear. But she is also a human being endowed with an undying sense of purpose, determined to find fairness in a world which often seems devoid of it. Now everyone remembers Rooster Cogburn more than any other character in “True Grit” because John “The Duke” Wayne portrayed him in the 1969 movie as it won him his only Oscar. But those who have read this novel know full well it is really about Mattie Ross, not the easiest person to get along with, but hard not to admire. It’s her story more than it ever was Cogburn’s, and the Coen brothers understand this completely in their cinematic adaptation which proves to be very faithful to its source material.

Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, and Josh Brolin may have top billing, but the weight of “True Grit” rested on the soft shoulders of then 14-year-old newcomer Hailee Steinfeld. Her astonishing performance brings Mattie Ross right off the written pages of Portis’ book and to vivid life. This was not necessarily the case when Kim Darby portrayed her opposite Wayne in 1969. Our sophomore English class watched some, but not all of, the original film, and once we saw Mattie cry in a way she never would have in the novel, we all knew one liberty too many had been taken with the source material. I guess having a character appear stronger willed than one played by The Duke must have seemed unthinkable at the time.

But seriously, Steinfeld is a revelation as Mattie, and the movie would have completely failed were she not as fantastic as she was here. Seeing her stroll into the town with her no-nonsense attitude and wise beyond her years, the actress sells the character perfectly and has us eager to follow her every step as she pursues Tom Chaney before he escapes the hand of justice. Her eyes show a willful determination which I never doubted, and any sadness she shows is somehow restrained. Steinfeld takes a character who is not altogether likable and makes her one of the most compelling characters I saw in any 2010 movie. She doesn’t so much play the character as much as she inhabits the role. Now how many other 14-year-old actors do you know who can pull this feat off?

As the story goes, Mattie tries to procure the services of Rooster Cogburn because she believes he possesses “true grit;” someone who has courage, fearlessness, and guts. As played by Jeff “The Dude” Bridges, who owned the 2010 holiday season with this and “Tron: Legacy,” Rooster is a drunken lout who never appears to be fit for his line of work, but his sense of duty does manage to keep him sane in an increasingly violent world. The relationship he has with Mattie is not one based on kindness, and he would as soon as leave her in the dust than bring her along. But something about Mattie’s dogged determination, illustrated by her riding her horse across a river while keeping her head above water, wins the whiskey loving Marshall over.

I’m not going to bother comparing The Dude and The Duke because frankly I don’t have the energy. Wayne made his mark in one film after another, and Bridges’ performance works so well because he never tries to outdo what Wayne did. Like any smart actor, he makes the character his own, and his Rooster Cogburn threatens to be every bit as inebriated as Val Kilmer was when he played Jim Morrison in Oliver Stone’s “The Doors.” From the start, I was almost afraid Bridges might turn the character into a parody of sorts, and perhaps rely too much on his “Big Lebowski” persona to get him through the day. But this never was the case as Bridges makes his Rooster Cogburn into a wonderfully complex character who, despite his grungy appearance, still knows the Indian territory like the back of his hand.

Also along for the ride is Matt Damon who portrays Texas Ranger LaBeouf. I thought he would stick out like a sore thumb here, but he makes his character a wonderfully engaging one even as he keeps coming and going throughout. Seeing LaBeouf get his ass handed to him by Mattie Ross is a major highlight, only if to see the shocked expression on his face when he realizes he truly got suckered by a 14-year-old.

Josh Brolin, who previously worked with the Coens on “No Country for Old Men,” makes Tom Chaney not just a simple one-dimensional villain as his crime was motivated more out of jealousy and fear than anything else. Even he can’t intimidate Mattie as she has the strong resolve and moral fortitude he seriously lacks, and his life has lost its sense of purpose. Brolin manages to convey all this in the limited time he has onscreen.

Another guy I was happy to see here is Barry Pepper. As “Lucky” Ned Pepper (no relation I’m sure), he gives us a nasty outlaw and a vicious guy who will not allow anyone to undo his authority any more than he appears willing to brush his teeth; man, his teeth look hideous!

The main difference between the 2010 and 1969 movies is in how the wild, wild west is portrayed. The 1969 movie was more about watching Wayne blow away the bad guys just as he had in every other movie he starred in. But the 2010 version portrays the world it inhabits much more realistically, treating violence as a brutal and very vicious thing. This one is more akin to “Unforgiven” than “Rio Bravo.” Violence is a way of life for all these characters, and it defines the way they see the world around them. We also see how it affects their souls as the specter of death hangs over their every move. There’s no attempt to sweeten up the narrative or make it the kind of western many of us grew up watching.

Still, the Coen brothers have succeeded in making one of their most accessible movies to date for the mainstream audiences with “True Grit.” They also managed to do it without compromising themselves as this film sees them getting the widest audience they ever had before. They continue to employ their regular collaborators who never fail them such as cinematographer Roger Deakins, editor Roderick Jaynes, and their longtime composer Carter Burwell who contributes another in a long line of great movie scores.

If there was any problem I had with this “True Grit,” it was in the way it ended. We see one character many years later, and the effect is disorienting. It was the same thing that happened at the start and the end of Frank Darabont’s “The Green Mile,” and it just took me out of the moment. The effect wasn’t too bad in this one, but I was hoping to see the actor who played said character get more of a proper send off.

Remaking a movie like “True Grit” seems like the last thing the Coen brothers would ever do, but I believe them when they say this was never intended to be a remake. They stayed very true to the source material and even made the language Portis scribbled down seem very much alive and sharp witted. Whether or not you value Wayne’s take on Rooster more than Bridges’, you have to give the Coens credit for staying true to a book written back in 1968.

The Academy Awards showered a number of nominations for this film including Best Actor for Bridges and Best Picture. While I was happy to see Steinfeld nominated for Best Supporting Actress, I still think it was a travesty she was not nominated for Best Actress instead. Once again, this movie rested on her shoulders, and she was cast in a role which 15,000 other actors auditioned for. Seriously, Best Actress, not Best Supporting Actress. Her male co-stars were supporting her instead of the other way around.

* * * ½ out of * * * *

‘Cloud Atlas’ Has Cult Classic Written All Over It

With a movie like “Cloud Atlas,” I go into it expecting to be overwhelmed by the visual spectacle and unable to understand all of what is going on in the story. On this level, the movie does not disappoint as you kind of need a road map to tell you who’s who and what’s what. Then again, what matters most when watching something like this for the first time (and watching it once is never enough) is you get the gist of what’s going on. The gist of this story here is that everything and everyone is connected in one way or another, and once you understand this. then the film becomes a fascinating movie going experience.

Some will say “Cloud Atlas” is too damn ambitious, and we need to stop saying it like it’s a bad thing. What’s wrong with being too ambitious in this day and age? It may cause filmmakers to take a wrong step from time to time, but it also guarantees we will get a cinematic experience unlike many others we often watch. This project brings together the Wachowski siblings who gave us “The Matrix” trilogy and Tom Tykwer who directed the brilliantly kinetic “Run Lola Run,” and “Cloud Atlas” represents some of the best work they have ever done.

The film is based on the book of the same name by David Mitchell, and it interweaves six stories which take place in different time periods: the Pacific Ocean circa 1850, Zedelgem, Belgium 1931, San Francisco, California 1975, the United Kingdom in 2012, Neo Seoul (Korea) in the 22nd century, and the last story takes place on a beautiful ocean island in a time which could be our past but might actually be our future. Guessing which time period the island story takes place in is one of the film’s great mysteries right up to the end.

The characters range from 65-year-old publisher Timothy Cavendish who flees from the associates of a jailed gangster to Sonmi-451, a genetically-engineered clone who is freed from her servitude as a fast-food restaurant server to explore a world which she discovers lives to exploit her kind. “Cloud Atlas” travels back and forth through these stories, and once everything is set up the film becomes an exploration of how the actions of individual lives impact one another in the past, present and future. One person ends up going from being a killer in one life to being a hero in another, and one act of kindness ripples across centuries to inspire a revolution.

Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Susan Sarandon, Jim Broadbent, Hugh Grant and many other actors here end up playing many different roles. They will be recognizable in some, and others will only become clear when you stay through the end credits. I can’t help but wonder how they kept track of all the different characters they played, some which are of a gender opposite their own.

Hanks’ performance in “Cloud Atlas” goes all over the map as he plays characters as varied as a tribesman trying to rebuild his life in a post-apocalyptic world to a doctor who looks to steal from a patient more than help him. I especially liked his role as Isaac Sachs, a worker at a nuclear power plant in the San Francisco story. Hanks is always so good when he underplays a role, and Isaac was the one character of his I wish was expanded on a bit more. At the same time, I think he is miscast as Scottish gangster Dermot Hoggins which has him doing a lot of bombastic acting for no really good reason. Where’s Jason Statham when you need him?

Berry’s career since her Oscar win for “Monster’s Ball” has seen a lot of peaks and valleys, but she also does strong work here as a variety of characters. Like Hanks, she is especially good in the San Francisco story as reporter Luisa Rey. She also has some strong moments as Meronym, a member of a technologically advanced civilization who may not be all she appears to be.

Jim Broadbent, as always, is a blast to watch in each role as he is so delightfully animated whether he’s playing a publisher in hiding or a composer as famous as he is vindictive. Ben Whishaw, who played Q in “Skyfall,” “Spectre” and “No Time to Die,” is heartbreaking as Robert Frobisher whose artistic ambitions are unforgivably shattered. And Hugo Weaving channels his Agent Smith energy from “The Matrix” to portray a number of nasty antagonists, one of which threatens to give Nurse Ratched from “One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest” a run for her money.

But the best performance comes from Doona Bae who portrays the engineered clone Sonmi-451. Although she is not really a human being, Bae infuses this character with such a strong humanity to where she makes you feel the emotions she soon experiences herself. Just a look into those piercing eyes of hers is enough to melt one’s heart as Sonmi-451 finds a power no mere mortal can easily obtain, and one of her last moments onscreen speaks to a truth which no one person or a government can ever simply wipe away.

For the Wachowskis, “Cloud Atlas” represents a big comeback after the boring fiasco which was “Speed Racer.” I’m also thankful it doesn’t have the same kind of ending “The Matrix Revolutions” had because that would have driven me nuts. For Tykwer, the film represents a chance for us to re-evaluate him as a filmmaker. Ever since his incredible success with “Run Lola Run,” people have taken him to task (perhaps more so than they should have) for not making a film as good as that one was. But together, these three have created a visual feast which has you glued to your seat and at attention for almost three hours (yes, it’s long, but you won’t really notice).

“Cloud Atlas” was an independently made film, and an expensive one at that with a budget of over $100 million. It’s easy to see why no major movie studio would take the whole thing on themselves; it has a dense narrative which goes all over the place, and it forces the audience to pay close attention in a way most movies never demand them to. The fact it was not a big hit at the box office is sad because you want audiences to embrace films like this more as they try to do something different from the norm.

Regardless of its flaws, “Cloud Atlas” looks to be one of those films which will have a long shelf life. It invites repeated viewings so you can take in new meaning s you didn’t see the first time around, and you will come out of it wondering how the filmmakers put the whole thing together. This one definitely has cult classic written all over it.

* * * ½ out of * * * *

‘Cry Macho’ Movie and Blu-ray Review

The following review was written by Ultimate Rabbit correspondent Tony Farinella.

Cry Macho” shows a more sensitive and vulnerable Clint Eastwood looking back on his film career and life. After all, this is the 50th anniversary of his working relationship with Warner Brothers.  He has always been a patient filmmaker known for gorgeous scenery and knowing how to get the most out of each and every scene. Roger Ebert once said Eastwood’s films are a prime example of old-fashioned Hollywood craftsmanship.  The fact Eastwood is 91 and still directing and acting in films is truly astounding and surreal. This is a quiet, peaceful and contemplative film.  As an actor, he has always known how less is more. He’s never been an overly loud or showy actor, and he knows the best way to get an emotional reaction out of the audience is through his face. 

This film is set in 1979 as Eastwood plays Mike Milo, a retired rodeo star who has turned to booze and pills due to a broken back. His ex-boss Howard Polk (Dwight Yoakam) calls in a favor with Mike after all he’s done to support him throughout the years.  He wants Mike to go from Texas to Mexico and bring back his thirteen-year-old son Rafo (Eduardo Minett).  Howard claims he can’t go there for legal reasons and because of trouble with the son’s mother.  Mike will do this job as a one-time favor for Howard, but he has his reservations about the situation.  He wonders if Howard’s son will come with him and how he’s going to pull this off.

Upon entering Mexico, he runs into Howard’s ex, Leta (Fernanda Urrejola), who claims he can take her son if he’s able to find him.  In her eyes, he’s getting into trouble all of the time and spending too much time at cock fights with his rooster named Macho. Rafo doesn’t trust anyone, especially Mike, but he’s interested in reconnecting with his father and getting away from his mother and her many male suitors.  Many of these men have beaten Rafo in the past, and he wants to get as far away from that as possible.

Along the way, Mike, Rafo and Macho have to escape from police officers as well as Leta’s goons.  They have car issues and also have trouble connecting with each other at times.  On the other hand, Mike sees a chance at redemption with Rafo in that he can make up for the mistakes of his past. He sees something special in Rafo, especially with how the kid has been forced to grow up very quickly because of his upbringing. They do get some help along the way from a widow named Marta (Natalia Traven) and her grandchildren.  There might even be a little bit of a love story between Marta and Mike as well.

First and foremost, let’s talk about the good things in “Cry Macho.” The film is beautifully paced. Eastwood is known as a director who usually shoots scenes in one-take. There is something very authentic and real about his films. There is a sense of time and place throughout the film. He’s the major star here, and he’s still got it at age 91.  At times, he does appear a little frail, but I’m going to chalk that up to the character he’s playing having broken his back.  His comedic timing, line deliveries and charisma are still on full-display.  He’s a minimalist actor, as mentioned earlier, which I’ve always appreciated.

Now, let’s focus on some of the issues.  Dwight Yoakam has acted before in films, but he reads his lines here in such a bland and flat manner.  Also, some of the lesser-known actors here are a little green when it comes to their acting chops.  In some cases, it lends itself perfectly to the film.  In other cases, it can be a little cringy and hard to watch.  When you have a seasoned pro like Eastwood, you are hoping to see him act alongside some really good actors.  It’s always good for up-and-comers to get an opportunity in a major motion picture, but even at age 91, Eastwood is miles ahead of them.  In some scenes, it was difficult to watch their inexperience, and in other scenes, it’s charming and exactly what the scene needs. Overall, this is not one of Eastwood’s greatest films, but it’s watchable, sweet and entertaining. It is good enough.

* * * out of * * * *

Blu-Ray Info: “Cry Macho” is released on a single-disc Blu-ray from Warner Brothers Home Entertainment. It has a running time of 104 minutes and is rated PG-13 for language and thematic elements. It also comes with a digital copy of the film.

Video/Audio Info: The film is presented in 1080p High Definition.  For the audio, it comes in the following formats: DTS-HD MA: English 5.1, Dolby Digital: English Descriptive Audio, French, and Spanish. Subtitles are included in English, French, and Spanish.

Special Features:

Back in the Saddle: The Making of Cry Macho and the Mustangs

Should You Buy It?

As with anything on HBO Max, I always enjoy a second viewing on Blu-ray.  I find I’m the type of viewer who likes to watch certain films multiple times to really grasp the vision of the director.  With “Cry Macho,” once again, I enjoyed it more on a second viewing.  It’s heartfelt, touching, and reflective on the part of Clint Eastwood.  He gives a great speech about being “macho” and what it really means. It feels like Eastwood has evolved as a human being, and he’s commenting on some of his past work. As far as the film itself, it was an enjoyable viewing experience.  It is nothing which is going to blow you away as a viewer or stay with you after it’s over.  The Blu-ray is pretty bare bones in terms of having only one special feature. I can’t recommend it as a purchase right away at its current price.  If you can get it in a few months for $10 or less and you are a big Eastwood fan, I’d pick it up then.  There is no need to rush out to buy it right away.

**Disclaimer** I received a Blu-ray copy of this film from Warner Brothers to review for free.  The opinions and statements in the review are mine and mine alone.

Underseen Movie: ‘Cloak & Dagger’ – Only in the 1980’s …

I first watched “Cloak & Dagger” back when I was nine or 10 years old, having recorded it on VHS when it premiered on channel 13, which was then known as KCOP in Los Angeles. From there, it became one of the many movies like “Bullitt,” Airplane” and “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home” which I would watch a least a hundred times and never get tired of. Henry Thomas, in one of his post-“E.T.” movies, stars as Davey Osborne, an 11-year-old boy who escapes from reality into the world of Cloak & Dagger, a role-playing video game which features the exploits of the spy Jack Flack. Bored with life and yearning for a real adventure, Davey and his next-door neighbor Kim (a precocious Christina Nigra) embark to downtown San Antonio where he inadvertently witnesses a murder and gets hold of a video game cartridge of the Cloak & Dagger which is later revealed to contain top secret information. Davey’s wish of a real adventure comes true, but it soon becomes a reminder of what Augustus Hill once said on the HBO drama series “Oz:”

“Be careful what you wish for brother. Be very, very careful…”

Naturally, most people don’t believe Davey when he tries to explain what happened, and this includes his father, Hal, who loves him dearly but worries about him excessively as his son’s overactive imagination seems to constantly be getting the best of him. Once again, we have a movie which continues the theme of parents not listening to their kids until it is much too late. Then again, if parents did listen to their kids, a movie like this would not exist.

We also discover Davey is still grieving the loss of his mother who had recently passed away which quickly explains his constant escapes into a fantasy world. These elements combine together to make Hal believably dubious of his son’s claims, making it all the easier for the bad guys to try and capture him, and they are not about to show him mercy just because he is not yet a teenager.

I still vividly remember the “Cloak & Dagger” television ads just as it was coming out. Back then, this movie looked a little too scary for someone of my tender age to sit through, and my brother had already scared me off from seeing “Gremlins” although this was for reasons I would not discover until years later. Once the film made its television debut where all the “good stuff” was edited out, it seemed easier to take in.

Plus, seeing Henry Thomas with a gun excited me to no end. For once, the children were going to defend themselves without the help of adults! Now please keep in mind, I was a little boy playing with water guns back when this film was released (much to chagrin of my parents), so my mindset was, shall we say, somewhat different.

For a PG-rated movie, “Cloak & Dagger” is actually pretty brutal! You have adults shooting at kids, Davey ends up shooting a bad guy to death, another character looks like they got shot in the eye, and a kid almost gets run over by a van. You would not see anything like that in a PG rated movie these days (PG-13 movies are a different story), and this includes a cold-blooded villain telling Davey just how much he is going to enjoy blowing his kneecaps off. Looking at a movie like this today, my response to it would be, “only in the 1980’s…”

But for what it’s worth, “Cloak & Dagger” doesn’t glamorize real life violence and succeeds in making a distinction between the world of make believe and the finality of death in real life in a way which can only be rendered in a PG-rated motion picture. The movie is really more of a coming-of-age story in which Davey comes to discover how these imaginary adventures he constantly engages in are nothing compared to the violence waged in real life as certain actions render a solution which is permanent in inescapably brutal ways. Davey also comes to realize this even before reaching the age of puberty, so you know his teenage years are going to more torturous than what the average adolescent is forced to endure.

Thomas’ performance as Davey Osbourne was proof his excellent performance in “E.T.” (one of the best ever given by a child actor) was no fluke. You never catch him acting, and everything he does comes from a believable and natural place. Even as the movie heads into the inescapable territory of illogic which is typically inescapable in 80’s action movies, Thomas remains the emotional center of the story and keeps us watching to the very end. It’s hard enough to ask a pre-teen to carry any feature length movie on their shoulders, but Thomas had long since proven to be a true professional in doing so.

The other big actor here is Dabney Coleman who, back in the 1980’s seemed to be in every other movie. He plays Davey’s Air Force father, Hal Osborne, as well as his imaginary hero Jack Flack whom Davey sees as a more appealing version of his dad. Coleman is great in both roles, and you really have to appreciate his performance as Hal because it could have been your typically clichéd one-note daddy character. Throughout, he rides a good balance between being the disciplinarian and the sympathetic father who remembers what his life was like as a kid. Like his son, Hal wanted to be a hero too.

However, Coleman is clearly having more fun playing superspy Jack Flack who may not be as smooth or as dashing as James Bond, but is still very clever in his own mustached way. All that’s missing is a patch over one of his eyes, but Kurt Russell already beat him to this in “Escape From New York.” Seeing the actor reacting to his performance as Hal is good for a few laughs as Flack never stops deriding the man’s lack of belief and faith in his son.

When it comes to the bad guys, they are the typical one-dimensional types you usually find in 1980’s movies, but that’s just fine here. Eloy Casados plays Alvarez as your mainly stone-faced henchman; the kind of guy who smirks more than he smiles, and not just because he’s in a foul mood. In fact, a guy like him is typically never really happy about anything. I also love how he shoots at Davey from only a few feet away and STILL COMPLETELY MISSES HIM. He would have made a great stormtrooper.

Then you have Haverman who is played by former professional football player Tim Rossovich. With his strong body and build, he’s like the Incredible Hulk as a bad guy, except he doesn’t turn green and rip off his clothes whenever he gets pissed (his jeans do look a little tight on him though). The door is locked? This guy just smashes right through it as if it were no big thing, and it got to where I was just waiting for him to say:

“HAVERMAN SMASH!!!”

But the main baddie here is Rice, and he is played by Michael Murphy in a truly chilling performance. Murphy, still a few years away from playing the spineless mayor of Gotham in “Batman Returns,” gives you the perfect kind of bad guy you love to despise with every fiber of your being as he makes you believe Rice would think nothing of killing a kid who stood in the way of his ultimate goal; delivering government secrets to spies. Man, I remember wanting to see him get his just desserts as soon as he appeared onscreen.

When it comes to scene stealers, Christina Nigra wins the prize as Davey’s non-imaginary friend, Kim. Her sassy attitude makes for some great moments, especially when she informs her mother that Davey’s father is not her type. She does get annoyed with Davey when he takes things a little too far, but even she comes to admit he is never ever boring. Nigra also holds her own in front of the airport police chief as he smokes a cigarette in very close proximity to her. You don’t even see her complaining about the smoke. Maybe the anti-smoking campaigns hadn’t reached her school yet.

There are a couple of other familiar faces to be found here including the late Robert DoQui whose subdued performance as Lt. Fleming is the polar opposite of the hard-nosed and law enforcement chief we saw him portray in the “Robocop.”. William Forsythe also shows up as Davey’s other friend Morris and, seriously, he doesn’t look like he has aged a day since 1984. Even Louie Anderson appears for less than a minute as a hygienically challenged taxi cab driver who offers to give Davey a ride to the airport but only if he gives him $15 dollars in advance.

“Cloak & Dagger” marked the second collaboration between director Richard Franklin and screenwriter Tom Holland. Their previous film together was the eagerly awaited sequel “Psycho II,” and while this film offers them a change of pace, it still proves to be pretty intense. That they managed to find a balance between the real and imaginary worlds Davey Osbourne inhabits is fairly remarkable as it could not have been the least bit simple.

So much has changed in the world since “Cloak & Dagger” first came out, and it now seems astonishing just how dark it was compared to the movies that come out today with a PG rating. It was made back when you didn’t need a plane ticket to get through security screening, and you could hang out with your loved ones at the gate before their plane took off. You could smoke on airplanes back then as well. What hasn’t changed or weakened through the passing of time are the performances of Thomas and Coleman. Both are a reason why this film managed to find such a large audience on video after it failed to do so in movie theaters.

Of course, these days I have to wonder what a “Cloak & Dagger” sequel might look like. While certain questions were easy to answer back in the 1980’s, everything these days feels far more complex. There’s no doubt Davey Osbourne would be severely traumatized by his experiences here, and perhaps he and Kevin McCallister from “Home Alone” can join forces as they both defeated their antagonists in very painful ways.

Once again, only in the 1980’s could a movie like this have been made.

* * * ½ out of * * * *

‘A Clockwork Orange’ Movie and 4K/Blu-ray Review

The following review was written by Ultimate Rabbit correspondent, Tony Farinella.

As a film lover and someone who considers themselves well-versed in the world of cinema, I’m sad to report this was my first-time watching “A Clockwork Orange.” I feel like no matter how many films you have seen, there are usually a dozen or so that have just slipped through the cracks. This is the 50th anniversary of this Stanley Kubrick classic and, as a first-time viewer, I can’t imagine the impact it had on viewers when it first came out. I know from reading up on it, it was quite controversial and misunderstood, but it ended up gaining a cult following. After watching it last night, I can’t wait to watch it again.  Kubrick is truly a genius when it comes to cinema. There is always so much happening in his films, but everything is happening for a specific purpose.

The first forty-five minutes or so of “A Clockwork Orange” are a little out there and a little frustrating from a narrative perspective. The film is set in a dystopian Britain where a group of young gang members run around terrorizing anyone who gets in their path. For example, when they run into a homeless man, they beat him up simply because they find it amusing and comical.  In another instance, they go out of their way to create chaos and havoc for a writer and his wife by attacking them in the middle of the night.  One night, this group of four young men takes it too far when one of their members, Alex (Malcolm McDowell) ends up killing a wealthy woman. His three fellow gang members leave him behind, the police catch him, and he is sentenced to fourteen years in prison.

The early part of “A Clockwork Orange” is not necessarily hard to watch as I’m used to movie violence, and it takes a lot to upset me or really get under my skin.  It’s more so that Alex and his “droogs” are unpleasant to spend time with, which I would venture to guess was Kubrick’s intent as a filmmaker. This film is based on the novel by Anthony Burgess. I think they could have trimmed out some of their antics in the film as, at times, it’s beating the audience over the head with violence and becomes repetitive and dull.  However, when Alex is sent to prison, it is when the film becomes really, really interesting and takes off.

After being well-behaved in prison for two years, Alex hears about this experiment which allows someone to be cured almost instantly of their bad thoughts and impulses. They start to think and behave without any lust or violence.  The experiment exposes them to footage of violence, rape, and other heinous acts.  When they see this footage, they start to become sick.  Because of this, if they ever have the urge to misbehave again, it is quickly stopped because of how they feel after the aversion therapy.  The prison chaplain tries to warn Alex against it by telling him the good should come from inside of him and the choices he makes.

What happens from there makes for an incredibly thrilling and intense final act. The beauty of a Kubrick film is the details all around you that are happening in a scene.  For example, when Alex returns home, the way his house is shot is gorgeous.  Kubrick is never afraid to use colors and lots of them. He knows the beauty of imagery, color and scenery, and it makes the scenes much more effective. There is also his use of music.  I don’t think I’ll ever be able to listen to “Singing in the Rain” or anything from Beethoven again without thinking of this film. There is a purpose for everything in his films from a visual and audio standpoint.

I could go on and on about “A Clockwork Orange.”  The best praise I could give the film is that I want to watch it again and again.  Kubrick was a true visionary of cinema.  This film also has a lot to say about politics, drugs (think of the milk featured here), violence, sex, karma and so much more.  After I woke up today to write this review, the film was still in my head.  His films really stay with you and mess with your head in the best possible way.  On 4K, the brightness is taken to a whole new level.  I know I’m stating the obvious here, but Kubrick’s “A Clockwork Orange” is a masterpiece. I absolutely loved this film.  It’s a great reminder of how great movies will always stand the test of time, no matter when they were released.

* * * * out of * * * *

4K/Blu-Ray Info: “A Clockwork Orange” is released on a 4K/Blu-ray combo pack from Warner Brothers Home Entertainment. It comes with the 4K, Blu-ray, and also a digital copy of the film as well. It has a running time of 137 minutes and is rated R.

Video Info: The 4K of the film comes in 2160p Ultra High Definition with a ratio of 16×9 1.66:1.  If any film ever deserved the 4K treatment, it is “A Clockwork Orange.” I plan on watching the Blu-ray of the film at some point, but the high dynamic range and the colors are on full-display with the 4K.  The film is mesmerizing to watch on 4K. This is the reason why more and more people are getting 4K TV’s and players for films like this. They were made for 4K.  There is no other way to watch it at home. The Blu-ray of the film comes in 1080p High Definition with a ratio of 16×9 1.66:1.

Audio Info: The audio for the film is presented in DTS-HD MA: English 5.1, Dolby Digital: English, French and Spanish. Subtitles are in English, French, and Spanish as well. This applies to both the 4K and Blu-ray discs.

Special Features:

Commentary by Malcolm McDowell and Nick Redman

Still Tickin’: The Return of Clockwork Orange [2000 Channel 4 Documentary]

Great Bolshy Yarblockos! Making A Clockwork Orange

Turning Like Clockwork

Malcolm McDowell Looks Back

O Lucky Malcolm!

Should You Buy It?

According to the press release, the special features are the same released on the previous Blu-ray of the film, which is a bit of a bummer.  One would have hoped they would have done an updated version of the special features, especially with it being the 50th anniversary of this film.  If you haven’t seen “A Clockwork Orange” before, you are missing out! I can vouch for that.  This one is a no-brainer to add to your collection for the film itself and the visual aspects of 4K. 

This film is going to stay with me for a long, long time, and I get to watch it again on Blu-ray and 4K.  I can even watch it on my iPad because of the digital copy which comes with this combo pack.  However, as Spike Lee says, do the right thing and watch it on 4K. There will never be another director like Kubrick.  Kudos as well to Warner Brothers for their recent upgrades of classic films like “A Clockwork Orange” and “The Shawshank Redemption.” They are on a roll lately!

**Disclaimer** I received a Blu-ray copy of this film from Warner Brothers to review for free.  The opinions and statements in the review are mine and mine alone.

‘The Shawshank Redemption’ Movie and 4K/Blu-ray Review

The following review was written by Ultimate Rabbit correspondent, Tony Farinella.

As of this writing, “The Shawshank Redemption” is the #1 rated movie on IMDB. I know it has been #1 many times in the past, and it has also been #2 right below “The Godfather.” It is based on a short novel by Stephen King called “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption.”  This film is now 27-years-old and has not aged a bit.  It is the same with any great film. The more you watch it, the more you grow to appreciate it. The term “feel good” movie might sound overdone when it comes to certain movies, but this is one which does give the viewer hope and make you happy.  Hope, after all, is a big theme present in this film.

“The Shawshank Redemption” introduces us to Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins), a banker who is serving two-life sentences in prison after being convicted of killing his wife and her lover.  He claims to be innocent, but one of the running gags in the film is everyone in prison thinks they are innocent. Andy, however, does not seem like the type of individual who would commit murder as there is something about him which does come off as snobby and rather cold to the inmates.  He does endear himself to Red, played by the great Morgan Freeman. Red is the guy who knows how to get things for people in prison.  If you need a pack of smokes, chewing gum, or anything else, Red is the guy who is going to get it for you.

Red takes an interest in Andy because he sees there is more than meets the eye with him.  Andy is smart, well-spoken and really takes in his surroundings. The two of them have great conversations about life in prison, life in general, and regrets. The film, of course, is narrated by Freeman.  His narration is not overdone, however, as it adds to the film and enhances the story.  The Shawshank prison is run by a warden who believes in the Bible and discipline, and he is played by Bob Gunton.  The warden is ruthless, but he sees the value in having Andy at the prison because he’s running the prison’s books, doing taxes for the guards and is a very good hand who works cheaply.

For Andy, it is a chance to be able to create a library for Shawshank, allow certain freedoms for the prisoners there, and a chance to pass the time.  Time is something which goes by incredibly slow when an individual is in prison.  Time also allows the friendship and bond between Red and Andy to grow over the course of the film.  Red keeps getting rejected for release and he believes hope is a dangerous thing, and he is not sure if he will be able to survive outside of prison.  For many of the inmates, all they know is prison.  By the time they get out, they wonder what use they will have in the outside world.  It provides structure for them, even if it comes with the beatings, mental anguish and boredom.

There is a lot to like about “The Shawshank Redemption,” and it starts with Robbins and Freeman. They are the engine which keeps this film moving as it runs at almost two and a half hours.  The film is never, ever boring, and there are also interesting supporting characters such as Brooks (James Whitmore), an elderly man who has spent nearly fifty years in prison and works in the library. There is also the wild and out of control Heywood, played with manic energy by William Sadler. There is Tommy, a young hot-shot who keeps getting in trouble, played by Gil Bellows.  Even though the film is set in prison, there is no shortage of interesting characters to spend time with.

“The Shawshank Redemption” is a film with a huge heart that holds up very, very well nearly thirty years later.  I would most certainly put it in my top ten favorite films of all time. It has heart, humor and a lot to say about the prison system and if it really helps those behind their walls.  It also talks about the adjustment period from prison to the real world.  There is a reason why so many end up back in prison after they are released.  It’s also a gorgeous-looking film with a great sense of time and place.  I’m very happy Warner Brothers decided to upgrade this film to 4K.  The Blu-ray, which I also watched, looks better than the original release. This is a film that really makes one think about their life and how they are living it, each and every single day.

* * * * out of * * * *

4K/Blu-Ray Info: “The Shawshank Redemption” is released on a two-disc 4K/Blu-ray Combo Pack from Warner Brothers. It also comes with the digital copy of the film. The film has a running time of 142 minutes and is rated R for language and prison violence.

Video Info: For the 4K, the transfer comes in 2160p Ultra High Definition while the Blu-Ray comes on a 1080p High-Definition transfer.  The 4K adds rich color and texture to the film.  It makes the film really pop off the screen and shine. This is a tremendous improvement over the Blu-Ray.

Audio Info: For both the 4K and Blu-ray, it has DTS-HD MA: English 5.1 and Dolby Digital: French and Spanish Audio tracks. Subtitles are in English, French and Spanish.  The audio is also very easy to understand and stands out on both the 4K and the Blu-ray.

Special Features:

Commentary by Frank Darabont

“Hope Springs Eternal: A Look Back at The Shawshank Redemption”

“Shawshank: The Redeeming Feature”

“The Shark Tank Redemption”

Stills Galleries

“Bogs Takes a Fall” Storyboards

“New Fish Arrive” Storyboards

Should You Buy It?

Even though the special features are basically the same as the original Blu-ray, this film is worth owning for the upgrade to 4K.  Almost three decades later, this film is still incredibly moving.  I could watch this film at least once a month, and I’d still enjoy it and get something out of it.  This is one of those films where you are swept up in what is happening on screen from start to finish.  There is not a dull or wasted moment on screen. It starts with the acting, as I mentioned, but major credit must also be given to Frank Darabont. He knows how to really slow things down and let them play out in a meaningful way.  Did I mention the stunning cinematography by Roger Deakins? This is a must own for any film collector out there! I cannot recommend it enough.

**Disclaimer** I received a Blu-ray copy of this film from Warner Brothers to review for free.  The opinions and statements in the review are mine and mine alone.

Matthew Lillard on His Directorial Debut ‘Fat Kid Rules the World’

Actor Matthew Lillard appeared at the Silent Movie Theater in Los Angeles on September 12, 2012 where Cinefamily presented a sneak preview of his directorial debut, “Fat Kid Rules the World.” Based on the award-winning book of the same name by K.L. Going, it has already won the Narrative Feature Spotlight Audience Award at the 2012 SXSW Film Festival, and the audience at the Silent Movie Theater sounded just as enthusiastic as those festival-goers did over what Lillard brought to the silver screen.

One audience member asked Lillard what the budget was on “Fat Kid Rules the World,” and to hear him answer the question gives you an idea of how tight everything has become in the realm of independent film.

Matthew Lillard: We are well under a million dollars. We are a $750,000 dollar movie. We raised $158,000 dollars on Kickstarter (the audience applauded this), and we shot in 23 days in Seattle, Washington.

After winning the audience award at the SXSW Film Festival, Lillard thought “Fat Kid Rules the World” had it made because people loved it, and the reviews were really great. But then came the time to try and sell it to Hollywood studios.

Matthew Lillard: When the offers came in, they were all pretty terrible. I mean, they were all VOD (Video on Demand), and it gave us very little opportunity for our low budget movie to make its money back.

Granted, making an independent film has never been easy, but the way they are made these days show how much this industry has changed so much since the 1990’s. Eventually, Lillard decided he and his backers should bypass the typical route filmmakers take to sell their movies and create a new opportunity for themselves.

Matthew Lillard: With the $158,000 dollars (from Kickstarter), we put the movie on the Vans Warped tour all summer long. We made a deal with Tugg (a website for movies) so any kid anywhere in America can set up a screening of our film in their local cinema. If a kid lives in Fairbanks, Alaska, he can go to tuggthefatkid.com and request a screening of our film in his local cinema. They will set a threshold and the theater will say they’ll do it for forty people, and if forty people pre-buy a $10 dollar ticket then they will set it up at that time at that date in your theater.

Lillard went on to say that the highest requested movie before “Fat Kid Rules the World” got 330 requests, and his has already gotten over 1,000.

And when it comes to the life of this movie, Lillard made it abundantly clear how it is in the hands of the people who end up seeing it. It’s always great to hear stories like this as there are many different avenues available to filmmakers today, and we are not always sure of what they are.

Lillard then finished the evening by explaining to the audience why he made “Fat Kid Rules the World.”

Matthew Lillard: We made this movie for kids that are lost in the world. It’s an underdog story about an obese kid who finds punk rock music. For me, I wanted to make the movie because I found acting in my life when I was thirteen and it changed my life, and I think that there are kids out there that need this fucking movie. I did a movie called “SLC Punk,” and kids needed that movie. If I walk down the street in Austin, Texas people will come out to me and say, “Dude, SLC Punk changed my life!” And my goal, as lame as it is, is to help a kid out there who needs the movie finds the movie and it speaks to him and it changes his life or he finds himself. And that’s our goal, and you can help us do that.

“Fat Kid Rules the World” is available to own and rent on DVD, Blu-ray, and Digital.

‘Those Who Wish Me Dead’ Movie and Blu-ray Review

The following review was written by Ultimate Rabbit correspondent, Tony Farinella.

I remember being blown away when I walked out of the theater after watching Taylor Sheridan’s 2017 directorial debut in “Wind River,” which he also wrote. He’s an accomplished writer having written such films as “Sicario,” “Hell or High Water,” and also a number of episodes of “Yellowstone.” While “Those Who Wish Me Dead” is not as powerful and emotional of a film as “Wind River,” it still shows he has a great eye behind the camera and knows how to get powerful performances out of his actors.  He also knows how to build suspense while also keeping a lean pace to his films.  I look forward to what he has up his sleeve next as a writer and director.

Even though he shares the screenwriting credits with Michael Koryta (based on his book of the same name) and Charles Leavitt, his touches are still all over this film. With any thriller, you need to capture the attention of the audience right away.  Sheridan does this by introducing us to Hannah, played brilliantly by Angelina Jolie.  Jolie has always been an underrated actress, but here, she gets to show off her acting chops in an impressive and understated fashion. Hannah is still traumatized by the fact that in her role as a smoke-jumper, three young lives were lost.  She feels completely responsible for it, even though there is always more to the story. Many nights, it is hard for her to fall asleep comfortably without horrible nightmares.

Hannah, however, gets a chance to redeem herself when she stumbles upon an injured and scared 12-year-old boy named Connor (Finn Little), who is all alone due to circumstances beyond his control. Together, they form an unlikely pairing where they must work together in order to stay alive, as Connor has some information which two very bad men are looking for, and they will stop at nothing to obtain from him.  Even though Hannah has the training and the skills, it’s difficult when there is a tremendous fire heading their way at the same time.  This is a film which starts off by allowing us to spend time with the characters, get to know them and care about them.  It’s one of the reasons why it is so effective.

Finn Little and Jolie work so well together. At first, Connor wants nothing to do with Hannah and pushes her away. When he realizes it’s a 12-mile trek to get any help, he quickly realizes he has no choice.  Even though there are horrible lighting storms going on and this intense chase, Sheridan takes time to allow the audience to have a laugh here and there along with some tender moments.  There is also a side story involving Hannah’s ex, played perfectly by the always reliable Jon Bernthal. He still cares about Hannah and her well-being, but he’s also involved in a committed relationship and has a child on the way with Allison (Medina Senghore).

The bad guys are played by Nicholas Hoult and Aidan Gillen. They do a great job in portraying the villains without trying too hard to where they are over-the-top characters. It is more the threat of violence and their presence. Going back to the overall film, I’ve always enjoyed a thriller which knows how to have a good running time. This film runs at 100 minutes, and there is never a dull moment.  It didn’t need to be any longer or any shorter, and it is fine exactly as it is thanks to the performances, the pacing and the action.  They all work together so well.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect with “Those Who Me Dead,” but it did remind me what a tremendous actress Jolie is and reinforced the fact that Sheridan is a director who is going to be making more thrilling action films in the future I look forward to watching.  The stakes are high and, as an audience member, we feel that urgency.  He’s also emotionally investing time in his characters, so we are happy to spend time with them.  We are also rooting for them and care about their fate.  This is one of the better films I’ve seen in 2021 so far.

* * * ½ out of * * * *

Blu-Ray Info: “Those Who Wish Me Dead” is released on a single disc Blu-ray from Warner Brothers Home Entertainment. It runs at 100 minutes and is rated R for strong violence and language throughout. It also comes with the digital copy as well.

Video Info: The film is presented in 1080p High Definition, and the picture is crystal clear, bright, and incredibly vivid.

Audio Info: The audio comes in DTS-HD MA: English 5.1, Dolby Digital: English Descriptive Audio, French and Spanish. Subtitles are in English, Spanish and French.

Special Features: Making Those Who Wish Me Dead

Should You Buy It?

“Those Who Wish Me Dead” is a great star vehicle for Angelina Jolie, and she knocks it out of the park. As a matter of fact, the cast, top to bottom, is great and there is not a weak link in it. Finn Little really holds his own in his scenes with Jolie. I don’t think the film works without their chemistry. They have a strong bond together. It’s a gorgeous film to look at, and it’s great entertainment. I highly recommend you pick this film up the next time you are out at your local retailer.  You won’t regret it.  It’s one of the more surprising movies of 2021.

**Disclaimer** I received a Blu-ray copy of this film from Warner Brothers to review for free.  The opinions and statements in the review are mine and mine alone.