‘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.

Cicely Tyson on Playing Nana Mama in ‘Alex Cross’

WRITER’S NOTE: This article is about a press day which took place back in 2012. RIP Cicely.

The great Cicely Tyson has worked only so much in movies over the years as she is strongly determined to play only strong and positive images of African-American women. In Rob Cohen’s “Alex Cross,” she finds a very strong character in Regina “Nana Mama” Cross, Alex’s grandmother who helps keeps his children in line when he’s not around. At a press conference which took place at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills, Tyson explained why she took on this particular role.

Upon meeting James Patterson, author of the Alex Cross novels, he said out loud “we finally found Nana Mama.” Watching her in “Alex Cross” makes this crystal clear to those who have read Patterson’s books. While Nana is Alex’s grandmother, she’s really more of a mother to him as we learn how he lost both his parents at an early age.

When asked if she would describe Nana as feisty or cantankerous, Tyson said “she’s all of that and more.” But she also sees the character first and foremost as being a mother.

Cicely Tyson: To me it is the most important feature in her personality. Then add to that fact that if anything ever happened to her son, she would not only be grandmother but mother to his children. So, I was torn between his love for the work that he chose and the fact that any day he could not come home to me or his children. So that was extremely difficult for me.

It is the danger of Alex’s work which leaves Nana Mama is constantly on edge because there’s always the possibility he won’t come home one day. Tyson said Nana knows the facts of how not only Alex’s life is in danger, but also her own and his children’s.

Tyson had previously worked with Perry on several of his movies, and when Cohen offered her the role, she told him anything with Perry interested her greatly. When asked what it was like working with him on “Alex Cross,” she talked of how he heard him say time and time again, “I can’t believe I’m in a scene with Cicely Tyson,” and he at one point told Cohen he didn’t know how to act around her. In turn, she responded that she could believe she was doing a scene with Perry.

Cicely Tyson: We both had the same anxieties about working in this particular capacity with each other.

When it comes to choosing roles, Tyson made it clear she never takes anything offered to her at face value.

Cicely Tyson: I have always maintained one way of selecting a role that I play, and it’s through reading the script. If my skin tingles, I know it’s for me, and if my stomach churns it’s a pass. That’s my way of deciding.

When asked what made her skin tingle about playing Mama Nana in “Alex Cross,” Tyson said it was working with Perry.

Tyson said she would definitely love to reprise the role of Mama Nana if “Alex Cross” is successful enough to generate a sequel. Despite its somewhat middling opening weekend at the box office, a follow up does look to be in the works with Perry returning as Alex. Tyson herself looks to work for as long as she is able to, but did she admit there is a certain play she wants to do. Now she wouldn’t say which play, but she is intent on retiring once she does it. While she never expected this opportunity to happen, it is now a possibility she will do this play sometime next year.

From “Sounder” to “Roots” to “Alex Cross,” Cicely Tyson has given us one unforgettable performance after another. Here’s hoping she doesn’t retire just yet.

Matthew Fox On His Grueling Physical Transformation for ‘Alex Cross’

Matthew Fox in Alex Cross

WRITER’S NOTE: This article was written back in 2012.

Audiences may have a hard time recognizing Matthew Fox when they see him as serial killer Picasso in Rob Cohen’s “Alex Cross.” The actor, best known for his roles on “Party of Five” and “Lost,” underwent one of the most visceral transformations any actor has gone through in a 2012 movie as he slimmed down, donned some tattoos and trained very hard to portray one of the scariest psychopaths we have seen in a movie. After watching him in “Alex Cross,” you will be ever so eager to find out how Fox pulled off such a stunning transformation.

Fox ended up losing 40 pounds to get Picasso’s toned physique down just right, and it forced him to give up eating all the things he likes to eat. This was especially hard on Fox’s mom whom he described as Italian and a fantastic cook to boot. Her favorite thing to do is feed her son great food, and unfortunately she couldn’t do so for several months when he signed up to play Picasso. According to Fox, his mom could not stand the fact he had to lose all this weight and that it really upset her. I imagine, however, now that the movie is being released, she can feed her son everything he could ever want to eat.

Fox worked with Simon Waterson, a personal trailer whose credits include helping Daniel Craig achieve the ripped body he needed to play James Bond, working with Jake Gyllenhaal on “Prince of Persia,” and in assisting Chris Evans to become the best Captain America he could ever hope to be. Fox went about describing the training he endured under Waterson’s tutelage.

“We worked really hard on this for five months,” Fox said. “The training sessions were mostly circuit training. You’re going non-stop from exercise to exercise, never taking any breaks for about an hour and a half. I was burning a lot of calories and working on certain muscle groups. It was very strategic on his part and very gradual.”

The role of Picasso forced Fox to travel to some dark places in order to better understand this particular serial killer. As a result, it challenged the actor to adopt a mindset no sane person would ever dare explore. However, it also allowed Fox to play a character which strongly differed from the ones he previously portrayed.

“It was very liberating to some degree to be able to play a guy that has no moral compass and is sort of supremely arrogant about the notion that he doesn’t have a moral compass and is out to prove to the world that a moral compass is weakness and is false actually,” Fox said.

“It was also interesting to think about what it would be like to really truly believe that and to really hold yourself that arrogantly above the rest because you can do the things that nobody else can or thinks that they can’t,” Fox continued. “A sense of power comes along with that when a guy like that feels like he has the ultimate trump card, like he cannot be trumped and he goes into every human interaction that usually ends up with him slowly snuffing out a life. He would look at that as giving a gift so it’s a very powerful place to exist, sort of invincibility.”

The lengths Fox went to in portraying Picasso greatly impressed his “Alex Cross” co-stars, especially Tyler Perry who plays the title role.

“He is brilliant,” Perry said. “The amount of dedication and the weight loss is this much of where he went. He really went to where ever he had to go. I don’t even want to know what dark places he went to to get that character, but he was amazing.”

After watching Matthew Fox in “Alex Cross,” you will find yourself in complete agreement with what Perry said. Actors revel at the chance to reinvent themselves when playing a character, and Fox got the chance to do just that with this role. Movies are full of crazy characters who haunt our dreams, and Fox’s Picasso is just the latest.

SOURCES:

Marc Malkin, “Matthew Fox Explains Shocking Weight Loss for ‘Alex Cross,’” E! Online, September 18, 2012.

Fred Topel, “Freaking Me Out: Matthew Fox on ‘Alex Cross,’ ‘World War Z’ and ‘Lost,‘” Crave Online, October 15, 2012.

Kevin P. Sullivan, “Matthew Fox Went To ‘Dark Places’ For ‘Alex Cross,’ Tyler Perry Says,” MTV Movies Blog, June 27, 2012.

James Patterson on Alex Cross and Bringing Him to the Silver Screen

Alex Cross movie poster

WRITER’S NOTE: This article is in regards to a press day which took place in 2012.

It has been over ten years since the last Alex Cross movie, “Along Came a Spider,” made it to the big screen. But now director Rob Cohen, who directed “The Fast and The Furious,” has brought the heroic detective and psychologist back in a reboot which is simply entitled “Alex Cross.” No one appears to be happier about Cross’ return to the world of film than the man who created him, James Patterson. The writer was recently at a press junket for “Alex Cross” at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills, and he shared his thoughts on the new movie and the character he created.

James Patterson: I think it turned out great. Summit Entertainment (which is distributing it) has been fabulous to work with and they didn’t get in the way. They were helpful and supportive in every aspect. I think Rob did a terrific job especially given the budget ($24 million) which was not enormous and about a quarter of what he’s used to.

There was also the talk of Tyler Perry taking over the role of Alex Cross from Morgan Freeman who portrayed the character in both “Kiss the Girls” and “Along Came a Spider.” Many were baffled as to why Perry was cast, and they were also intrigued as to what Patterson thought about him in the role instead of Freeman.

JP: Morgan is Morgan, but Tyler is much closer to the character in the books. The character in the books is bigger, he’s physical and he’s bright and I think Tyler did a great job. I think he’s going to blow people’s minds with this. When I went to Atlanta to meet with him, he said to me “James, I wouldn’t do this if I wasn’t sure that I could pull it off. And I’m going to give myself over to Rob. I’m not going to be the director.” And I think that’s what he did, and he took off some weight and bulked up as well.

As for Freeman, Patterson said the actor was never contacted about this movie. Like everyone else, he thinks Freeman is a wonderful actor but remarked how he is now 77 years old, and having him play a detective at that age was not going to work this time as Cross is around the age of 40 in the books.

Patterson was actually involved in the production of “Alex Cross” and even wrote the first draft of the screenplay. He had a lot of input as he owns 40% of the movie, but he was also able to step back and stay out of the way which he said is “the most useful thing that you can do sometimes.” The script did change a lot from what he originally wrote, and Patterson said he was perfectly alright with that.

When asked how he created Alex Cross, Patterson said he grew up in a town which eventually became known as “the murder capital of New York State,” and it was half black and half white. His experiences in this town enforced his reaction to the way blacks were treated in the media.

JP: I felt for a long time that the way movies were portraying African Americans was kind of stupid. I wanted to create a hero who really was a hero; an African American guy who is bright and anti all the stereotypes. Here’s a guy who’s taking care of his family, and this movie gets more into family than the first two did. He’s taking care of his kids, he’s cool with their grandmother, he’s well educated and a graduate of John Hopkins University, etc. So, I just wanted to go against the stereotypes, and I think that has worked and that’s what I’m happy about.

Returning to the movie, Patterson said one of the things which makes “Alex Cross” especially good is it has moments that are “really emotional,” and you don’t always have those moments in a film like this.

JP: Film crews can sort of not really be into the movie they’re working on that much, but there were times where they were watching the monitor and they were crying. It was very very emotional stuff and I think that’s unusual in a movie like this.

In talking about Matthew Fox who plays Michael “Picasso” Sullivan, Patterson described him as terrific and that his performance is one of the best and most original things about the movie.

JP: I think Matthew wanted to show everyone that he had this tremendous range which he does, and he wanted to be a bad guy. Once he got the part, he really pushed it. He took off a lot of weight because he wanted to have a certain look, and he was the madman.

Patterson believes what makes “Alex Cross” work so well as a movie was everyone went into it with a real hunger to do it. Cohen wanted a hit, Perry wanted to do something different and to show he had different skills than people thought he had, QED International (one of companies producing the movie) wanted to do something which would be a break out hit, and Patterson himself wanted another movie made about this character.

JP: Everyone was hungry and I always think that’s great. That does tend to produce a pretty good product.”

This was certainly the case here as “Alex Cross” proved to be a riveting action thriller with great performances from the entire cast and a lot of real emotion which never feels faked. Here’s hoping it finds the audience it deserves when it is released on October 19, 2012.

Click on the links below to check out the exclusive interviews I did with two people involved with the making of “Alex Cross.” These are interviews I conducted on behalf of the website We Got This Covered.

Rob Cohen

Ed Burns

‘Gone Girl’ is a Deliciously Twisted Masterpiece

Gone Girl movie poster

David Fincher’s “Gone Girl” is a deliciously twisted masterpiece, a shocking and at times darkly comic look at marriage. I had an insanely good time watching it and I can’t wait to see it again, and that’s even if it’s just to watch the audience react so strongly to it. There’s no way you can come out of this movie and say you weren’t the least bit enthralled by the nasty journey Fincher takes us on. Just when you think “Gone Girl” couldn’t get any more twisted, it does. Based on Gillian Flynn’s best-selling novel (she also wrote the screenplay), he succeeds in getting away with a number of things in this movie just as he has with his past work.

“Gone Girl” opens on Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck), a frustrated writer who drops in one morning at the bar he owns (which is literally called “The Bar”) where he talks with his sister Margo (Carrie Coon) about the state of his marriage to Amy (Rosamund Pike). It happens to be their fifth wedding anniversary, and Nick celebrates it with a couple of glasses of bourbon which should give you an idea of how messed up things are between them. But then Nick comes home to find Amy gone and smashed furniture and glass scattered all over the floor, a sure sign something bad happened while he was gone. Suspecting Amy has been kidnapped, Nick calls the police and from there the search is on to find her before she disappears forever.

Now “Gone Girl” is a movie with an insane number of twists which makes it hard to talk about because it’s not worth spoiling any of them. But what I really loved is how it works on a number of different levels. Many movies can be boiled down to one sentence, but not this one. “Gone Girl” is a critique of a marriage that started off passionately but which has since been devoured by bitterness and resentment, and it makes you wonder why we tend to hurt the ones we love most. It takes a number of jabs at social media and people consumed with exploiting the trials and tribulations of others for the sake of ratings while the truth threatens to get lost in all the hoopla. It also serves as an indictment of a society quick to believe what they are told instead of recognizing a person is innocent until proven guilty. But at the heart of the movie is this question; how well do we know the person we choose to spend the rest of our lives with?

We see people reaching out to Nick Dunne in sympathy, but they just as quickly turn on him when evidence suggests he may have murdered his wife. From there, it becomes a constant game of media manipulation as the characters work furiously to get the upper hand on those who have deceived them and to sway public opinion in their favor. We live in a world of sound bites where information comes to us quickly and not always in an accurate manner. By the time we get to the truth, it may already be too late to view it objectively.

Over the years, many have described Ben Affleck as being this horrible actor who never had any business working in movies, but I’ve never agreed with this assessment. Yes, he has given some bad performances in “Pearl Harbor” and “Gigli,” but then again “Gigli” didn’t do anyone any favors. In “Gone Girl,” Affleck succeeds in giving one of his best and most naturalistic performances to date as he gives us a character who is not altogether likable, but who is still a complex individual caught up in a situation beyond his control. Nick is a complicated character who we are quick to make assumptions about, but what we think of him ends up saying more about us. I love how Affleck makes Nick a deeply mercurial character whose motives you can’t help but be suspicious of, and a scene where he sways the public back to his side during an on-camera interview with shows him at his conniving best.

I remember Pike from her early appearance as a Bond woman in “Die Another Day,” and she has gone on to give unforgettable performances in “An Education,” “Barney’s Version” and “The World’s End.” But when it comes to describing her work in “Gone Girl,” a flurry of adjectives cross my mind to where I have to be careful of what I say. What I can say is she is endlessly mesmerizing in a role which has her exploring every single facet of her character to where she surprises us in such an unnerving fashion. It’s a truly fearless performance you won’t soon forget after you leave the theater, and Pike doesn’t hold anything back.

“Gone Girl” also has a great supporting cast, and each actor sinks their teeth into their roles with relish. Kim Dickens is a delight as the cynical and yet slightly mischievous Detective Rhonda Boney, and she is blessed with a lot of great dialogue throughout. Patrick Fugit, almost completely unrecognizable from his “Almost Famous” days, is a snarky delight as Rhonda’s partner Detective Jim Gilpin. Neil Patrick Harris gives a charming and yet enigmatic performance as Desi Collings, Amy’s ex-boyfriend who looks like he can be trusted, but there’s a certain creepiness about him to where you wonder what’s really going on in his head.

Even Tyler Perry shows up in a very non-Medea-like role as Tanner Bolt, a somewhat devious attorney far more interested in winning the most impossible to win cases in court and playing the media like a piano to his clients’ benefit. Knowing how Perry caters mostly to the church going audience, I’ll be interested to see what they make of his time in Fincher’s dark world. I got a kick out of watching Perry here as he keeps his cool even as Nick’s case spins out of control.

You also have Missi Pyle on board as Ellen Abbott, a character clearly designed to remind you of Nancy Grace and of how annoyingly abrasive television hosts like her can be. Acting so entitled to her point of view even if the truth is not in her favor, Pyle makes her into a shameless individual who doesn’t apologize for anything even when she’s proved wrong.

But one supporting performance I really got a huge kick out of in “Gone Girl” was Carrie Coon’s as Margo. Coon is sarcasm incarnate right from the first moment she appears onscreen, and her scenes with Affleck are filled with love and devotion as well as a lot of anger at his foolish mistakes. I’m not too familiar with Coon’s work as she has appeared mostly in television and made a name for herself in various productions of the famed Steppenwolf Theatre Company, but I hope to see more of her in the future. She makes Margo a strong and fiercely independent character in a movie filled with so many morally clueless ones who get away with far too much.

The movie also marks Fincher’s third collaboration with composers Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, and the two succeed in putting together another unforgettably creepy film score. What’s fascinating about their music here is it starts off sounding nice and inviting, but soon it becomes overcome by discordant sounds which imply there is something seriously disturbing going on in this quiet suburban neighborhood. Just when you think you can pull yourself away from the nasty voyage Fincher is taking you on, Reznor and Ross’ atmospheric score sucks you right back in and refuses to let you go.

Fincher’s “Gone Girl” is definitely a movie for these crazy times we live in now, and it is likely to make many out there think twice about getting married. Heck, even eloping sounds like a bad idea after watching this. But amid this tale of deeply flawed individuals and industry types more interested in their own celebrity than anything else, it makes one wonder whether we can ever really know someone completely. We’d like to think we know everything about our significant other, but can we really? This movie seems to imply we can’t, and Fincher makes you see this is one of the most frightening truths of all.

Fincher is a guy who never plays it safe, and “Gone Girl” is the latest example of that fact. Seriously, this is the most subversive and darkly funny take on marriage since Danny DeVito’s “War of the Roses.” I have not yet read Gillian Flynn’s book, but I really want to now. A woman sitting next to me at the screening confirmed the book is a great read and that she was very satisfied with Fincher’s adaptation of it. I’m fairly certain she is not the only one who feels this way.

* * * * out of * * * *