Drama

Looking Glass (2018)

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A man finds himself conflicted as he searches for answers in this indie thriller from the director of 80’s hits like Tex and River’s Edge.

Since the death of their child, Ray and Maggie have looked to start over. The couple take over a small motel in a desert area. Ray is still overcoming the death of his only child while Maggie is overcoming a drug addiction. The couple tend to either bicker or find themselves quite loving towards each other. They are introduced to some of the locals, including police officer Howard, and a man who comes to the motel to “relieve some stress”.

However, one fateful night will change Ray’s life forever. When a woman is murdered in one of the motel rooms, Ray finds himself questioned by Howard. As Ray searches for answers, he begins to experience a variety of issues and occurrences that threaten not only his marriage to Maggie, but perhaps his life. Ray finds himself immersed in a web of deceit, lies, and betrayal in which only he can escape by facing the demons within both himself and within the hotel.

This is a very interesting film from director Tim Hunter that brings Nicolas Cage doing a 180 from his recent performance in Mom and Dad. Where that film gives him the chance to go insane on a whole new level, the script, written by Jerry Rapp and Matthew Wilder, enables Cage to go a more emotional and dramatic route in the central role of Ray. His chemistry with co-star Robin Tunney goes both ways in terms of both loving and hating each other and it works well. It is clear these two have some serious issues and one of the questions to be answered in the film is will they stay together or will they drift apart.

The film’s central plot involves a murder mystery and what happens when Ray searches for answers. This invokes Cage to pull off a more emotional performance as he finds himself confronted on all levels. It even gets to a point where Ray is unconsciously framed for the murder that happens within the motel. However, it is clear that it’s not true because Ray is seen with his wife when the murder happens. The film brings shades of the likes of 8MM, another film he starred in, when he finds himself seeing something he never imagined in a pivotal scene, which in turns leads to a few confrontations.

There is some pretty good support in the characters of Howard, played by Marc Blucas, and Tommy, an addict in his own right, played by Ernie Lively. Where Blucas plays a police officer who seems to question Cage on all levels but is somewhat likable, Tommy is a man with an issue and in some ways, it becomes an influence on Ray in his investigation. Another pivotal role comes in the form of Jessica, who rents the room where the murder occurs, and may or may not have a connection to the case at hand. There are some nice twists and turns that keep the viewer engaged in the investigation.

Looking Glass definitely helps brings Nicolas Cage’s more emotional side as he searches for answers and finds himself facing one obstacle after another in hopes to find out who is responsible for the murder in his motel.

WFG RATING: B

Momentum Pictures presents a Highland Film Group/Silver State Production Services/Kirk Shaw Production film in association with Prettybird. Director: Tim Hunter. Producers: Braxton Pope and David M. Wulf. Writers: Jerry Rapp and Matthew Wilder. Cinematography: Patrick Cady. Editing: Kristi Shimek.

Cast: Nicolas Cage, Robin Tunney, Marc Blucas, Ernie Lively, Jacque Gray, Bill Bolender, Barry Jay Minoff, Kassia Conway, Kimmy Hittelman.

Momentum Pictures will be releasing this film in select theaters, VOD, and Digital HD on February 16.

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The Scent of Rain and Lightning (2017)

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A young woman searches for answers but finds herself under constant threats in this adaptation of a Nancy Pickard novel.

Jody Linder has suffered for many years since the death of her parents. However, she has learned that the man who was imprisoned for the murders, Billy Croyle, has been paroled. Upset at the revelation, Jody confronts Billy’s son Collin, who was responsible for the parole when he revealed the truth that he was with his father the night of the apparent murders. Jody decides to find out what really happened to her parents the night of the murders.

As Jody begins her investigation, she finds herself going to places and meeting people who were involved in her family. She slowly begins to discover that Billy, who has gone crazy since being imprisoned and has a motive of revenge against the Linder family. When Jody finally finds herself convinced that Billy wasn’t responsible for the murders, she searches to find the truth and may find that the real murders may be closer than she ever expected.

Director Blake Robbins, along with screenwriters Casey Twenter and Jeff Robison, took Nancy Pickard’s novel and crafted an interesting tale that meshes a modern day investigation and flashbacks that slowly unveil what happened the night our lead character Jody’s parents were murdered. The film opens alone with the release of the accused murderer, Billy Croyle, played in a ultimately maniacal performance by Brad Carter.

Maika Monroe does well as the embittered Jody, who seems to have suffered quite a lot since the death of her parents. She finds herself a very angry woman, still holding onto that grudge when she confronts Collin, the son of Billy, played by Logan Miller. However, upon slowly learning that Billy may not be responsible, she decides to take up with her “rival” to find out the truth about what happened. One would expect a romance between Jody and Collin, but this is truly not the case. Instead, it is a simple case of two people learning to find out what happened.

In the flashback sequences, Justin Chatwin and Maggie Grace (who also served as a producer) play Jody’s parents, who seem to go from having a loving marriage to a tumultuous one plagued by Chatwin’s character always working on the family farm or traveling to help make money and Grace’s possible rumors of infidelity with people close to the couple. The biggest twist and shock of the film comes in the ultimately revelation of what really happened that night, which ends the film after a shocking confrontation.

The Scent of Rain and Lightning will keep viewers engaged once the story comes in full swing. A juxtaposition of flashbacks and present day, driven by the cast, really moves the story along. Add the shocking finale and you have a movie worth checking out.

WFG RATING: B+

SP Releasing present a No Coast Production present in association with Gerber Pictures and KP’s Remain. Director: Blake Robbins. Producers: Michael Davis, Blake Robbins, Jeff Robison, Casey Twenter, Kevin Waller, Jeff Johnson, Dan Koetting, and Maggie Grace. Writers: Casey Twenter and Jeff Robison; based on the novel by Nancy Pickard. Cinematography: Lyn Moncrief. Editing: Lauren Clark Carroll.

Cast: Maika Monroe, Logan Miller, Brad Carter, Will Patton, Bonnie Bedelia, Mark Webber, Aaron Poole, Maggie Grace, Justin Chatwin, Meg Crosbie, Jackson A. Dunn.

The Watermelon Man (1970)

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What happens when a racist goes through a radical change and is forced to live life as the same type of person he is totally against? Melvin Van Peebles may just have the answer in this raucous comedy that tackles a very sensitive matter that still exists today.

Jeff Gerber is a Caucasian insurance agent who loves to spend his mornings working out and running past the local bus in order to make the bus stop that takes him to his job. His wife Althea watches the recent riots in the city while Jeff doesn’t care what happens to the rioters. He makes wisecracks towards anyone who is African-American much to the chagrin of his fellow co-workers, bus patrons, and even his wife. However, on this fateful day, Jeff’s life is about to change.

That night, he wakes up to go to the bathroom and when he sees himself, he inexplicably becomes African-American. Suddenly, his life takes a turn for the worse. He gets accused of stealing, virtually gets a promotion at work because of diversity, gets an admirer in co-worker Erica, and becomes the ridicule of the community. When Jeff’s attempts to change his skin color back to white fail on a consistent level, he soon learns the hard way that his old ways of being a racist has caught up to him and he must learn to adapt or face some dire consequences.

The tagline of this 1970 film is “A funny thing happened to Jeff Gerber. This won’t happen to you so you can laugh.” Screenwriter Herman Raucher intended this to be a comedy and while it is quite a funny film for its time, it can be considered sensitive due to the topic of the film: racism. In reality, racism is truly not a laughing matter, but director Melvin Van Peebles decided to make light of the situation with this film. Eventually becoming a pioneer in the “Blaxploitation” genre, Van Peebles does pretty well in terms of directing the film.

What Van Peebles came up with can be considered ingenious. When producers first thought of the idea, they had planned to cast a Caucasian actor dressed in blackface. This has been done to death since the days of Amos and Andy and some of the early Hollywood films as well. What Van Peebles offered was to have the producers cast comic actor Godfrey Cambridge, an African-American, dress in whiteface for the first ten to fifteen minutes of the film before becoming Jeff Gerber, the African-American, by being himself. This would be one of only few lead roles for Cambridge, but he does a great job here. The comedy really comes from his attempts to become white again with at times, disastrous results and his racing against the bus in the opening of the film.

The supporting cast does quite well, especially Estelle Parsons (who later gained fame as playing Roseanne’s mother on her hit television series in the 80’s and 90’s) because we get her point of view on the matter involving her husband. It is apparent that while she knows her husband is white, the fact he becomes black begins to affect their marriage. However, it can be considered strange because she seems to watch the riots as if she supports African-Americans yet she doesn’t feel comfortable being married to one. There are some of the classic derogatory terms towards African-Americans as well as the attitudes at that time, just when equal rights have just become known.

If you are truly sensitive to racism, The Watermelon Man may not be your cup of tea. However, director Melvin Van Peebles truly gets his point across with this tale. The film would become influential on later films such as Soul Man and perhaps, Women from Mars, with what can happen when one must change and learn to somewhat adapt with the intention of learning a very hard lesson in life.

WFG RATING: B

A Columbia Pictures production. Director: Melvin Van Peebles. Producer: John B. Bennett. Writer: Herman Raucher. Cinematography: W. Wallace Kelley. Editing: Carl Kress.

Cast: Godfrey Cambridge, Estelle Parsons, Howard Caine, D’Urville Martin, Mantan Moreland, Kay Kimberly, Scott Garrett, Erin Moran.

Entanglement (2017)

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A young man searching for the meaning of his existence finds an unexpected source of happiness in this indie dramedy from director Jason James.

Ben Layten is on the brink of insanity. Having lost his wife and not getting along well with his parents, he seems to be done with himself. After a failed suicide attempt, Ben decides to create a timeline to his life. One day while at the pharmacy for his medicine, he comes across a mysterious young woman who steals some sunglasses and offers him her number. When Ben’s father has a heart attack, he learns that the day his mom was pregnant with him, they actually had adopted a baby girl but gave her back.

Learning he almost had a sister, Ben tracks her down and finds Hanna, the same woman who he met at the pharmacy. The soon forge a bond that goes beyond the brink of becoming more than “almost siblings”. This comes in conflict with Ben’s friend and neighbor Tabby, who has felt something for Ben but is afraid to tell him. As Ben and Hanna grow closer upon learning they are connected, Ben soon learns a dark truth about his new love that is sure to change his life forever.

A very interesting tale of how we are all connected as we search for the meaning of existence, this film really brings one man’s search for the meaning of not just life, but his life. The script by Jason Filiatrault really brings to mind a sense of both insanity, sorrow, and the use of an interesting timeline that veers off in different branches as many events happen in our central character’s life.

In the role of the embittered Ben is Thomas Middleditch, who kids will recognize as the voice of Harold in the very funny Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie. However, Middleditch is the driving force of the film as a man who thinks he lost it all and after failing to kill himself, decides to give himself a quest for the meaning of his life. He’s constantly finding himself challenged, especially with his divorced parents, who tell him about his “almost” sister. Ben’s parents are truly not going to win the Parents of the Year.

Jess Weixler is great as Hanna, Ben’s “almost” sister who helps Ben find the meaning of happiness. When Ben and Hanna get together, we see Ben in a world he has not faced either ever or even in a long time. While Diana Bang’s Tabby seems to be the best friend who has a crush on and is afraid to tell him, the film’s focus is more on the connection of quantum entanglement (hence the title) between Ben and Hanna. In what is even more interested to show their relationship, there are instances where the film will combine live action with animation. In one instance, Ben and Hanna are looking at animated deer in the park and in another, where they break into a pool, they find themselves swimming underwater with animated jellyfish. However, it is the film’s twist in the third act that is quite jaw-dropping and when all is revealed, it is sure to change everything, making this a great indie drama.

Entanglement is a delightful look at a miserable man, his search for the meaning of his life, and the unexpected happiness he finds that will change his life forever, all driven by great performances by Thomas Middleditch and Jess Weixler.

WFG RATING: B+

Dark Star Pictures present a Goodbye Productions Film. Director: Jason James. Producers: Jason James and Amber Ripley. Writer: Jason Filiatrault. Cinematography: James Liston. Editing: Jamie Alain, Gareth C. Scales, and Christopher Watson.

Cast: Thomas Middleditch, Jess Weixler, Diana Bang, Johannah Newmarch, Marilyn Norry, Randal Edwards, Jena Skodje, Shauna Johannesen, Nicole LaPlaca.

Dark Star Pictures will release this film in select theaters, VOD, and Digital HD on February 9, 2018.

Badsville (2018)

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A gang leader attempts to start a new life but finds major complications in this indie drama from director April Mullen.

For as long as it has been, the Badsville Kings and Aces have been in a major turf war. Always fighting each other, the two gangs have never reached a truce. For Wink, the leader of the Kings, the pressure has surmounted but right before his mother passes away, she asks Wink of one thing. That is, to leave Badsville and out of the gang life forever. Wink makes the decision to leave town and start a new life.

For Wink, the decision is sped up faster after he rescues Susie from the Aces and begins a relationship with her. When Wink announces his decision, it does not bode well with hot-headed member Benny. To make matters worse, the Aces have reignited their war with the Kings. When Benny decides to take charge and orders a rumble. Meanwhile, dissention with the Kings is eminent when Wink learns of a secret involving one of his own. Will Wink be finally able to make his promise to his mother and leave Badsville?

Gang films can be quite an interesting subgenre. There are gangster films, which have been immortalized by films such as The Public Enemy, The Godfather, and as recent as GoodFellas. There are street gang films, immortalized by the classic The Warriors. This film comes in the latter, but where these films tend to glorify the gangster, this film is more about a leader wanting to get out of the life once and for all and finds his life complicated both in positive and negative ways.

The duo of Ian McLaren and Benjamin Barrett co-wrote the film and star respectively as gang leader Wink and hot head Benny. McLaren does pretty well in the role of Wink, who longs to make a promise to his late mother by getting out of the gang life and starting life anew. Barrett’s Benny, on the other hands, thrives on being a King and despite having some loyalty to Wink, lets his nature gets the best of him. Tension rise between the two, threatening their long friendship.

Wink’s relationship with Susie, played by Tamara Duarte, plays an important role as it helps drive Wink’s promise to leave town. However, a highlight performance comes from Robert Knepper as Gavin, the current leader of rival gang the Aces. When he learns his son was humiliated by Wink, which leads to the relationship with Susie, he grabs his belt and thrashes his son. The erupting war just shows the level of tenacity Gavin unleashes towards the Kings as he wages war on a whole new level.

Badsville shows the complicated life of a gang leader just wanting to start his life over, but finds himself in a situation where he may be forced to go back on his word. Some great performances and tension make this a pretty good film.

WFG RATING: B

Epic Pictures presents a Phillm Productions film. Director: April Mullen. Producers: David J. Phillips and Douglas Sloan. Writers: Ian McLaren and Benjamin Barrett. Cinematography: Russ De Jong. Editing: Gordon Antell.

Cast: Ian McLaren, Benjamin Barrett, Tamara Duarte, Robert Knepper, Emilio Rivera, John White, Rene Rosado, Octavio Pizano, David J. Phillips, Paul James Jordan, Saxon Trainor.

The Music of Silence (2017)

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Based on the inspirational true story of Andrea Bocelli, one of music’s greatest performers, Toby Sebastian truly breaks out in the lead role.

From birth, Amos Bardi was afflicted with congenital glaucoma, resulting in a slow period of being unable to see well. However, when he was playing soccer in school, an accident when he is hit in the head confirms his blindness. However, despite his condition, Amos has found one passion since he was a child and that is music. Slowly, Amos begins to learn to sing and finds himself gaining somewhat of an audience in his locality.

However, finding that singing may not be enough, Amos begins law school but moonlights as a singer in local bars with good friend Adriano. It is there where he finds love with Eleonora. Determined to continue singing, Amos’s uncle Giovanni finds a new teacher for Amos. Under the tutelage of the Maestro, Amos learns to harness his voice through silence. Amos eventually learns to use silence to find his voice and in 1993, a chance encounter with Zucchero, a popular Italian musician, invites Amos on stage and thus begins what will be the most successful career for this popular performer.

If you know music and you know singing, then chances are you know Andrea Bocelli, one of Italy’s most famous operatic singers today. This is a wonderfully filmed look at the story of Bocelli, who for one reason or another, has his character’s name changed to Amos Bardi. It must be noted that Amos is the name of Bocelli’s first child while some other names in Bocelli’s life would be kept, notably his parents Edi and Alessandro, or Sandro for short.

Former Game of Thrones star Tony Sebastian may have found out his breakout role as Amos, who overcomes the odds to live his dream of becoming a singer. As first seen, Sebastian truly seems to have done his homework and studied Bocelli. He emulates Bocelli’s emotions perfectly, even bringing the expression of the singer really well. Jordi Molla is great as Sandro, Amos’ father who despite his wife’s concerns, has always been supportive of his son’s aspirations and even admits his own faults to him with the intention of wanting the best for his son, even if it is not always what Amos wants.

Nadir Caselli brings some good support as Eleonora, the woman who Amos falls for. She knows his dreams of being a singer and the sacrifices he must endure, even their relationship at time. However, it is clear true love may just prevail in this case. As for Antonio Banderas, his character of Maestro may not come in until well over an hour, but it makes the most impact of the film as it fits with the title of the film. This method used by Maestro would be something that would impact Bocelli’s life forever, even going as far as Bocelli creating the Theatre of Silence, in which every July, he does one show and closes the theater for the remainder of the year.

The only issues involving the film are that Bocelli’s name is not used as the main character (but using his son’s name makes it somewhat forgivable) and to appeal to an international audience, the entire film is shot in English. While it would make more sense to have the film shot in Italian as a real homage to Bocelli’s life and upbringing, it is also forgivable in this instance.

The Music of Silence is a great look at the early life and breakthrough of a music legend. Toby Sebastian may have found his breakthrough role as the character inspired by Bocelli and Antonio Banderas makes the most of his time as the man who helped change Bocelli’s life forever.

WFG RATING: B

AMBI Distribution presents a PicoMedia production in association with RAI Media. Director: Michael Radford. Producers: Motaz N. Nabulsi, Andrea Iervolino, and Monika Bacardi. Writers: Michael Radford and Anna Pavignano. Cinematography: Stefano Falivene. Editing: Roberto Missiroli.

Cast: Toby Sebastian, Jordi Molla, Antonio Banderas, Luisa Ranieri, Alessandro Sperduti, Nadir Caselli, Ennio Fantastichini, Francesco Salvi, Daniel Vivian, Anthony Souter, Francesca Prandi, Antonella Attili.

The Commuter (2018)

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One man’s terrible day will soon become the biggest fight for his survival in this thriller starring Liam Neeson, who still proves he’s got it.

Every day for the past ten years, Michael MacCauley travels by train from his home in Tarrytown, New York to the big city for his job as an insurance agent. However, after ten years on the job, Michael has been let go. This makes up very upset as his son Danny is getting ready to start college in Syracuse. After meeting with an old friend, Lt. Alex Murphy, Michael makes his train to head home so he can break the news to his wife.

A mysterious woman named Joanna arrives on the train and begins a conversation with Michael. She describes herself as a behavioral therapist who only has one question. What kind of person is the person she is talking to? She asks Michael to do one small favor. It involves someone who she feels does not belong on the train and he will receive $25,000 now and $75,000 if he can identify who the mystery person is. When Michael learns that this is not a hypothetical situation but a harrowing situation, things come ahead when he learns his wife and son may be in danger if he doesn’t comply. This will truly be the longest night of Michael’s life as this deadly game of cat-and-mouse will not only involve Michael and Joanna, but everyone on the train.

Liam Neeson is truly a force to be reckoned with, especially playing the elder action hero type. With the successful Taken trilogy, Neeson has truly made a name for himself and while many will see this as Non-Stop on a train (after all, he does re-team with that film’s director Jaume Collet-Serra), Neeson truly brings that action panache but at the same time, brings something a bit different while Vera Farmiga’s nice mannerisms is seen as just as a ruse as she is the cat in this deadly game with Neeson’s mouse relying on some “special skills” to get through the film.

If one has not figured out “special skills”, it is revealed that after his firing from the insurance company, the viewer learns that Michael, prior to this job, was actually an ex-cop. This may have people up in arms, but Michael is actually quite smart, sort of like a Sherlock Holmes-type as he is trying to deduce who is the person who doesn’t belong on the train and why. This core plot keeps the viewer involved and all the twists and turns truly help drive the film. While we get part of the answer from Patrick Wilson’s Murphy, it still keeps the viewer guessing and that’s what helps make this a good thriller.

Another is the action scenes, which are all set on the train. Neeson relies on his good boxing skills against a few opponents on the train. However, what stands out are two things. One is that Neeson proves here he’s far from being invincible, getting quite a beating at times when necessary despite his ultimate superiority. The other is a highlight action scene, a one-shot fight sequence between Neeson and someone he suspected of being the possible person only to be working inside as one of the villains who must make sure Michael does his “job”. This is great because the actor playing the opponent shows some decent martial arts stuff against Neeson’s boxing and close quarter combat. The finale brings so much together that you may just breathe a sigh of relief but then adds a little twist of its own that ends it on a high note.

The Commuter truly melds a great story that keeps the viewer engaged and guessing, Liam Neeson once again shining, and Vera Farmiga playing a very dangerous villain. Some nice fights are involved as well, but it’s the story here that truly is the heart of the film.

WFG RATING: A

Lionsgate presents a StudioCanal production in association with Ombra Films and the Picture Company. Director: Jaume Collet-Serra. Producers: Andrew Rona and Alex Heineman. Writers: Byron Willinger, Philip De Blasi, and Ryan Engle. Cinematography: Paul Cameron. Editing: Nicolas De Toth.

Cast: Liam Neeson, Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Elizabeth McGovern, Sam Neill, Jonathan Banks, Killian Scott, Shazad Latif, Andy Nyman, Clara Lago, Roland Møller, Florence Pugh, Dean-Charles Chapman, Ella-Rae Smith, Nila Aalia, Colin McFarlane.

Only God Forgives (2013)

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From famous Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn comes this tale of revenge set in the underworld of Bangkok.

Julian is the owner of a local Thai boxing gym in Bangkok. However, he is not just a gym owner. He is also a gangster who years ago, killed his father with his bare hands. This led him to Bangkok, where he is involved in a drug running operation led by his own mother, Crystal. When he learns of his older brother’s death, he finds his life has become more complicated.

While Crystal commands Julian to find and kill the ones who killed his brother, Julian cannot find himself to do so. The reason is that the killers were not only a top ranking rival criminal, but a sadistic and corrupt police officer named Chang. As Julian finds himself torn between revenge and redemption, Crystal begins to start a war with the rival gang. Finally, Julian decides the only way he can settle the score with Chang is to challenge him to a one-on-one fight.

Nicolas Winding Refn is quite the director. Gaining a major following with his Pusher trilogy, he made a major switch to Hollywood with Drive, which was a breakthrough role for former child star Ryan Gosling. The former Mouseketeer and the Danish director re-team for this film set in the criminal underworld of Bangkok. What is interesting is not only Gosling having much dialogue, but the amazing use of visuals in the film. Gosling’s Julian can be seen many times in a dark room with a visual as if he is constantly in confession in church, hence a meaning to the film’s title. Refn’s visual tactics further enhance the underworld of Bangkok’s “red-light districts”, which are shot with a red color filter.

The highlight of the film is Officer Chang, played with sadistic charm by veteran Thai actor Vithaya Pansringarm. It is clear he is not only a dirty cop, but one who takes very extreme measures for interrogation. Armed usually with a sword, he is quite handy with anything sharp. In one very disturbing scene, he interrogates one of Crystal’s men by turning him into a human torture rack that would make fans of films like Saw and Hostel root him on. After appearing in smaller roles in films like The Hangover Part II, the role of Chang is definitely Pansringarm’s breakout role. He recently made a cameo in Isaac Florentine’s upcoming Ninja: Shadow of a Tear as a corrupt general in Burma who interrogates in Chang-style against Scott Adkins’ Casey. It is as if he channeled his role here and brought it to the Florentine film.

Kristin Scott Thomas can be viewed as a villainess of the film in her role of gangster Crystal. While there is no real protagonist in the film, Thomas brings a sense of craziness in a motherly type of fashion. She constantly berates Julian for not only not doing his job to find his brother’s killer, but goes as far as constantly saying how jealous Julian is of his brother, even in front of Julian’s girlfriend Mai, played by Thai actress Yayaying Rhatha Phongnam.

Which brings us to the very few action scenes. Refn could be a filmmaker who, if he ever decides to make a full-blooded martial arts film, can make it work in terms of shooting action. An opening fight sequence between two Muay Thai boxers is shot very well with the use of long shots and overhead shots. Those expecting quite a fight between Julian and Chang will be somewhat disappointed as Julian only gets less than two shots with Chang constantly beating the bejesus out of him. As Chang shows his power, it juxtaposes with a statue of a Thai boxer. However, Refn brings a sense of realism into this fight sequence. Realism is something not too often seen in martial arts fights in films. However, Refn makes it quite watchable using the right camera angles and editing techniques, even if the fight is one-sided. That’s why should Refn ever do a full-on martial arts film, he truly proves he has done his homework.

Only God Forgives is not a martial arts film per se, but Refn’s visuals combined with the two actual fight sequences in the film and the breakout performance of Vithaya Pansringarm make this a somewhat decent film from the Danish director. One can only hope Refn will one day do a full martial arts film because he definitely has the potential to do one.

A Gaumont/Space Rocket Nation/Wild Bunch/Motel Movies presentation in association with Bold Films in co-production with Film I Väst, DR/FilmKlubben, and Nordisk Film ShortCut. Director: Nicolas Winding Refn. Producers: Lene Børglum, Sidonie Dumas, Vincent Maraval, and Hanne Palmquist. Writer: Nicolas Winding Refn. Cinematography: Larry Smith. Editing: Matthew Newman.

Cast: Ryan Gosling, Kristen Scott Thomas, Vithaya Pansringarm, Gordon Brown, Yayaying Rhatha Phongnam, Tom Burke, Sahajak Boonthanakit, Pitchawat Petchayahon, Charlie Ruedpokanon, Kowit Wattanakul, Wannisa Peungpa.

Borg McEnroe (2017)

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Tennis’ biggest rivalry is brought to the big screen with excellent performances by lead actors Sverrir Gudnason and Shia LeBeouf in the titular roles.

It is 1980 and the Wimbledon championship tournament has begun. The heavy favorite to win is Swedish player Bjorn Borg, who has already won four titles in the tournament and is looking for his fifth title. However, he has some heavy competition in American player John McEnroe, whose hot-tempered antics on the courts have made him the “bad boy” of tennis. However, McEnroe is determined to win the tournament in London.

As Borg and McEnroe begin to win their matches, the pressure begins to mount on both players. For Borg, it has always been about perfection and not letting his coach and family down. For McEnroe, being second best isn’t enough. Both raised into having to be perfect with winning being everything, the pressure on both are at an all-time high. When the duo makes it to the finals of the tournament, only one can be champion. However, both soon learn that to win will be just the tip of the iceberg.

This Swedish-Danish-Finnish co-production is quite interesting in its depiction of the famous tennis rivalry between Sweden’s Bjorn Borg and the “bad boy” that was John McEnroe. In sports films based in other countries, one figure would be more glorified and when it came to a rivalry of sorts, it is usually one figure or team that would be the focus of the film. However, Ronnie Sandahl’s screenplay offers a look from both perspectives of the titular players as while they were known rivals on the court, it is their upbringings that made them more similar that what we are to have believed.

Swedish actor Sverrir Gudnason has an uncanny resemblance to the tennis legend Borg and complements that resemblance with an emotional performance as someone who feels the pressure of being the best. While as a kid, Borg seemed to enjoy the game, it is when he becomes the student of Lennart Bergelin that it becomes about being a winner and facing the wrath of his coach when he doesn’t live up to Bergelin’s expectations. Stellan Skarsgård churns out a brilliant performance as Borg’s mentor with Tuva Novotny giving a sense of grounded nature for Borg as Mariana Simionescu.

Shia LeBeouf could not be a better fit to play John McEnroe. McEnroe, forever known for his tantrums and outbursts on the courts during his heyday, is similar to Borg with his upbringing of being perfected. This is notable in a flashback scene where as a child, he tells his mother he scored a 96 on a test and his mother doesn’t find it acceptable asking what happened to the other 4 percent. In addition, LeBeouf’s recent real-life issues would aid in his nabbing the role and this could just be the comeback the former child star is dying for as he is perfect in the role.

The tennis sequences are exciting to watch as we see both Borg and McEnroe face their opponents, with McEnroe going postal on Jimmy Connors during the semi-finals and berating the officials. That is until the brilliant finale pitting the tennis juggernauts as we see McEnroe more collected, taking his frustrations out on himself rather than anyone in his path. Borg seems collected for the most part but also faces that pressure of getting his fifth title but shows that not all is bad when he even gives words of encouragement for his rival in between sets. This would eventually lead to the real-life rivalry turned friendship between the two.

One would think Borg McEnroe would focus more on one considering the nature of the production. However, the film wisely looks at the viewpoints of feeling perfection and pressure both Borg and McEnroe that would make history in the sport of tennis. Sverrir Gudnason and Shia LeBeouf truly personify the titular duo in an emotional story that would result in one of the greatest matches in tennis history.

WFG RATING: A

SF Pictures presents a SF Studios production. Director: Janus Metz Pedersen. Producers: Jon Nohrstedt and Fredrik Wikström Nicastro. Writer: Ronnie Sandahl. Cinematography: Niels Thastum. Editing: Per K. Kirkegaard and Per Sandholt.

Cast: Sverrir Gudnason, Shia LeBeouf, Stellan Skarsgård, Tuva Novotny, Leo Borg, Marcus Mossberg, Jackson Gann, Scott Arthur, Ian Blackman, Robert Emms, David Bamber, Mats Blomgren, Julia Marko-Nord, Jane Perry.

Surviving the Wild (2018)

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A teen decides to brave the odds to grant his grandfather’s final wish in this great family film featuring Jon Voight and Jamie Kennedy.

Shaun is a 13-year old who is saddened when his grandfather Gus has died. Gus was considered Sean’s best friend due to his parents’ separation, which has since gotten very bad. However, Shaun is the only one able to see the ghost of Gus. When Shaun comes up with the idea of going to what Gus called “Mount Delilah”, Shaun’s mother Rachel and father Kristopher decide not to take him. That night, Shaun comes up with a plan to take Gus’ ashes and play his parents against each other so he can make the journey himself.

Shaun finds himself, aided by Gus, on the journey to “Mount Delilah” with Gus’ dog Riley. As Shaun begins to enjoy the long journey to reach the top of the mountain, he slowly begins to find himself facing numerous challenges. They include a bear coming up to the tent, two crazy hunters in the area, and the ill-health of Riley. When Kristopher and Rachel learn of Shaun’s ruse, the estranged couple decide to work together to find their son. Will Shaun be able to face the challenges that come ahead of him to grant his grandfather’s final wish?

This family adventure film is quite a surprising film that brings together a variety of genres. They include the teen in the wilderness film, the ghost film, and the family drama film, all brought together in a nicely paced 87-minute film. The story of a teen determined to grant his late grandfather’s final wish with the help of said grandfather’s ghost may sound a bit farfetched upon hearing it. However, seeing the film takes on a more positive meaning, especially with this film, thanks in part to Patrick Alessandrin’s direction, the beautiful cinematography by R. Michael Givens (which includes some nice aerial sites of the forests and mountains), and the true driving force of the film, the cast.

Jon Voight is great as late grandfather Gus, who not only serves as the ghost of our hero Shaun, but brings some hilarious comic relief to the film with some funny one-liners when it deems fit. He truly brings that grandfatherly-best friend nature to the role and his chemistry with newcomer Aidan Cullen couldn’t be better. As for Cullen himself, he has this natural talent as a rising star in his role of Shaun, who must overcome the odds in both the wilderness as well as his life to become his own person. Shaun a kid who loves his technology, but also appreciates the world outside of that technology, by enjoying the confines of being in the forests, caves, and the rivers, all to grant his grandfather’s final wish to scatter his ashes on top of the mountain.

Another surprising performance comes from Jamie Kennedy as Shaun’s father Chris. The one time comic fodder of the early 2000’s with films like Malibu’s Most Wanted, Kickin’ It Old School and the very horrific Son of the Mask, Kennedy truly has matured into a serious actor and brings that to the role of the embittered Kristopher, who is seen as a workaholic whose only connection with his son is technology. Vail Bloom seems like she has a constant chip on her shoulder as embittered mother Rachel, who is constantly at odds not just with Kristopher, but before that with Gus as well. The worse is that Rachel seems to vent out her issues to Shaun, refusing to pretty much let him do anything. While it may seem like Kristopher and Rachel may not be Parents of the Year, it is when they work together to find Shaun that redemption for these two in terms of their relationships with both Shaun and each other may seem imminent.

Surviving the Wild is a pretty good family film that truly takes the negatives of life and turns in truly into a positive. The story of overcoming the odds in life is truly one adventure for the family.

WFG RATING: A-

A SP Releasing Production. Director: Patrick Alessandrin. Producers: Steven Paul, Patrick Alessandrin, Mark Hefti, Vail Bloom, and Kyle Otto. Writer: Mark Hefti; story by Steven Paul. Cinematography: R. Michael Givens. Editing: Robert A. Ferretti.

Cast: Jon Voight, Jamie Kennedy, Vail Bloom, Aidan Cullen.

SP Releasing releases this film in select theaters today.