Two duds and a stud.
The Killing of Two Lovers
This is a shining example of how effective a $30,000 budget thriller can be in the right hands. Writer/Director Robert Machoian skillfully supplements big budget effects with filmmaking technique and the result is not unlike the water-to-wine miracle John Carpenter achieved back in ’78 with Halloween. Only time will tell if this indie sleeper about relationships and the intense societal and psychological pressures to be a conventional manly male will garner the same cult status as Carpenter‘s slasher epic, but somehow I doubt it. The story is simple and familiar, a middle-aged man struggling to make ends meet in rural America is going through a trial separation with his wife. The kids are angry, he’s angry, his wife is angry, there’s a new boyfriend that’s def banging the mom, etc. None of this is groundbreaking, but the super calculated choices Machoian makes gives it a certain freshness. Choices like shooting the film in 4:3 to mirror the claustrophobic feeling of the separated couple living only four or three houses down from each other, tight steady shots of tense conversations that can whip around 180 degrees to reveal what the characters are seeing without ever cutting, or the choice to focus the camera on the person receiving information rather than the person revealing it. The performances all range from good to great with Lethal Weapon problem child Clayne Crawford delivering a stunning one I never thought him capable of. The Killing of Two Lovers might possess an odd, pretentious, Cassavetes-worship type of title, but there’s really nothing disingenuous about it. Grade: B+ (In Theaters and $5.99 rental on Amazon)
Chris Rock approaches Nicolas Cage territory with his wildly miscalculated, flagrantly over-the-top and flat-out terrible performance as a cop caught under a Jigsaw copycat killer’s thumb in Spiral, a remarkably lazy and insignificant ninth entry in the lackluster series. Spiral, “from the book of Saw“, whatever the fuck that means, plays like an unfunny SNL Saw sketch where no punchline seems to be hitting and the sketch players are slowly realizing nothing is working. Jammed with “funny” meta pop-culture references like New Jack City (Rock‘s breakthrough film role) and opening with an aggressively stale monologue about Forrest Gump that feels like a bit Rock couldn’t quite get to work back in ’94 but recycled thirty years later, everything about this seems forced. Spiral attempts to be current and vital by wrapping the usual booby trap torture porn shenanigans around an ACAB story of police corruption, but it puts the viewer in an awkward spot of not caring about anyone involved and subsequently, not caring about anything in the movie at all. I will say this, this is a better paced entry than most of the Saw “movies” I’ve seen (1,2, 4, 5, half of 3) but they really squander an opportunity to do something different with the series. Based on the mostly lukewarm response I’ve seen from fans and critics alike, maybe it’s time to close this “book of Saw” once and for all. Grade: D+ (In Theaters)
Those Who Wish Me Dead
Many reviews are saying the awkwardly titled Those Who Wish Me Dead is a throwback in a way to 90s action movies. Unfortunately, it’s mostly a throwback to the bad tropes of those movies and not the key elements like well-rounded, likeable characters, engaging plot devices or quality ‘splosions. Aidan Gillen (Littlefinger) and Nicholas Hoult are two unidentified suit wearing guys who might be government or mafia or whatever. They are after these people cause the people have information about something that will happen in the future or something that has already maybe happened. They explode a Senator’s house killing his wife and children and then turn their sights onto a guy who knew the Senator and might be a government guy or a news reporter or a construction worker. But the guy has a son, so he must take flight to save the son, but the bad guys might catch up with them. They end up in an area where there are lots of fires and lightning strikes, and Angelina Jolie plays a red hot smoke jumper who is just like one of the guys. She’s the only female any of the guys in the movie know that they aren’t married to. She and the guys drink and talk tough, they’re real fucking Americans and not pussies like the people watching this movie. They voted for Trump, so what the fuck are you gonna do about it, you snowflake idiot? After verbally abusing one of their daughters’ millennial boyfriend for vaping and caring about emotions and women and other gay things, they decide to hook up Angelina Jolie to the back of their truck and parachute her out the back on an open road cause this is God’s country and every man lives by his own rules. The bad guys make it to the smoke jumpers and they get involved and what ensues is a cinematic junk food mosaic of several one-dimensional characters, a pretty decent Joe Berenthal and an admittedly excellent if terribly underused Medina Senghore, the only woman of color in the movie with a significant role who the movie honestly should have been about. She’s bad ass but the movie is overly confusing and flat-out tedious for long stretches. You never find out what the movie is about and what that guy knows that the guys are after him for. This is all the more shocking seeing as though it’s from the writer of Sicario and Hell or High Water. Do better dude, we all know you can. Grade: C- (In Theaters and HBOMax)