THE BLACK BOOK (Nigeria 2023) ***
Directed by Edith Effiong
THE BLACK BOOK is an action thriller from Nigeria. It is for that fact that it is most interesting as an action thriller. Nigeria, a very colourful African state is south of Niger with the southern border next to the sea. The film depicts the seldom-seen neighbourhood and the lifestyle of Nigerians, how they speak (often in Pidgen English) and how they act, dress and behave.
In THE BLACK BOOK, old scores bubble to the surface when a gang of corrupt policemen kills a man’s only son, and he begins a search for justice. The son is framed for kidnapping, and the man is a bereaved deacon who takes justice into his own hands and fights this corrupt police gang to absolve him. The gang gets more of what they have bargained for as this man, Paulo (or Paul for short) Edima (Richard Mofe-Damijo) is an expert fighter with lots of experiments including work in 4 coup d’etats.
“I have fought all my life against corruption,” says the widow who had her husband and baby just killed by the corrupt oil manipulators, as she speaks to Paulo ex-military and the journalist, “And I have lost everything! It has to mean something…. Make it mean something!” These are indeed moving words and create the emotion and conviction often lacking in action thriller films. Paulo and the journalist also go against incredible odds - Paulo gets beaten up; the journalist’s editor is also part of the corrupt gang and not only does the editor inform but destroys the evidence.
The film’s action takes place mainly in the second half with the first half used for the setting of the action. The film plays like TAKEN or IN SEARCH OF DISAPPEARANCE in which a father exacts a violent, necessary and satisfactory revenge,
Action films from Africa like the recent UMBRELLA MEN with its sequel UMBRELLA MEN 2: ESCAPE FROM ROBBEN ISLAND and DEATH OPF A WHISTLEBLOWER all three screened at the Toronto International Film Festival are making a dent in the film industry. THE BLACK BOOK, a Netflix original movie opening for streaming on Friday 22nd September adds to the honoured list.
DUMB MONEY (USA 2023) ***½
Directed by Craig Gillespie
The term meme stocks has both astounded and fascinated Wall Street. Hedge fund managers have been slaughtered, money-wise by companies like GameStop, Robin Hood, AMC and Nike having their stock price rising to phenomenal levels. But many have got burnt in the process, while on the get-rich-quick mentality. A gamble? Everything in the stock market is a gamble and delving into meme stocks without any prior knowledge as well as gambling is a formula for disaster. The film DUMB MONEY refers to the money invested by so-called ‘dumb’ buyers - those unfamiliar with the stock market and how it works. The film traces, to a degree of accuracy the rise of the meme stock GameStock.
DUMB MONEY is a timely drama comedy written by Lauren Schuker Blum and Rebecca Angelo based on the 2021 book The Antisocial Network by Ben Mezrich and chronicles the GameStop short squeeze of January 2021.
To enjoy this movie, either one has to have some knowledge of the stock market or at least learn fast from the film. Director Gillespie tries his utmost best to educate his audience of not only on how the stock market system works but as on short and long calls. To his credit, he can only do so much as this is a very complex and complicated subject. So in short, all the hedge fund managers assume Game Stop is failing and thus sell short. But one trader, in his absence believes this is a good and undervalued stock and invests all his money into it. With his many followers on his blog, many follow suit. The buy and hold causes the stock price to rise. All make money and they all decide to hold and not sell. If they keep doing this, the hedge funds will need to pay the losses once the time limit is up.
Keith Gill (Paul Dano) and Gabe Plotkin (Seth Rogen) find themselves on opposite ends during a tug-of-war, in Craig Gillespie’s take on the outrageous battle of wits between amateur investors and hedge fund billionaires that became the infamous GameStop Wall Street scandal.
DUMB MONEY captures the rabid creativity of the internet and the power of the community many found there in 2021. What started as a silly gamble quickly turned into a national battle of wits between the haves and the have-nots, with nurses and college students. The film is necessarily manic, and what better actors to portray crazed personalities than SNL’s Pete Davidson, Paul Dana (last seen as Spielberg’s dad in THE FABELMANS), and of course, Seth Rogen. One crazy scene has the brother played by Davidson and Dana running naked on the track in the middle of the night. The music soundtrack contains lots of street music that adds to the film’s manic pace.
Everyone loves a David and Goliath story. And the big guys like Wall Street fund managers do not play fair. Director Gillespie has directed several such films including I, TONYA and LARS AND THE REAL GIRL
The film has its world premiere at TIFF and opens in theatres (limited release) on the 15th of September before going on wide release.
EXPEND4BLES (USA 2023) **
Directed by Scott Waugh
THE EXPEND4BLES (also known as The Expendables 4) is a 2023 American action film directed by Scott Waugh from a screenplay by Kurt Wimmer, Tad Daggerhart, and Max Adams, based on a story by Spenser Cohen, Wimmer, and Daggerhart. It is the sequel to The Expendables 3 (2014) and the fourth installment in The Expendables film series. The film is supposed to be last for Stallone, with him passing the reins on to Statham, who reportedly saw this film through post-production. That said, this film is pretty bad, much worst than the 3rd of the franchise. The first two are the best of the four.
Again, the one good thing about this movie is the all-star cast, playing a wide role of action personalities, with a few new stars in new roles. These include:
THE EXPENDABLES are made up of the following members:
Jason Statham as Lee Christmas: The team's knife expert and second in command.
Sylvester Stallone as Barney Ross: The leader of the Expendables.
Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson as Easy Day, a new member of the Expendables.
Dolph Lundgren as Gunner Jensen: A volatile member of the team, undone by years of combat stress.
Tony Jaa as Decha
Randy Couture as Toll Road: The team's demolitions expert.Jacob Scipio as Galan
Levy Tran as Lash
Andy García as a cameo at the film’s beginning as Marsh, a CIA agent giving orders in one and the only scene.
Bombshell Megan Fox plays Gina, a CIA agent and Christmas's girlfriend.
The role of one of the main villains of the piece is given to Indonesian action actor (THE RAID and THE RAID2), Iko Uwais as Suarto Rahmat, a terrorist who possesses superior martial arts fighting skills.
Despite the superior staged action scenes, like the blowing up of countless military vehicles including tanks and a big aircraft carrier, the entire film is quite a boring exercise. It is a pity as the entire production cost a whopping $100 million. The dialogue is extremely lame with Stallone and Statham often exchanging unfunny one-liners, most of them under their breaths. The re-cycled plot (how many films have one already seen in which the villain is stealing autistic arms to sell causing another global catastrophe) does not help either.
Never before has an action film with so many well-choreographed action fights and well-executed special effects and pyrotechnics being so boring.
IT LIVES INSIDE (USA 2023) ***
Directed by Bishal Dutta
An Indian-American teenager struggling with her cultural identity has a falling out with her former best friend and, in the process, unwittingly releases a demonic entity that grows stronger by feeding on her loneliness.
The setting of the story of IT LIVES INSIDE is the life of the Indian-American teen Samantha (Megan Suri) who is just trying to live her life at her primarily white school. She also faces problems regarding her roots at home with her mother often speaking Hindi (not Hindu as one of her classmates thinks). There are no subtitles to the often lengthy Hindi dialogue, but one is not really missing much as one can tell what is going on. The question of assimilation and the toll it takes is a foundational one for the film, which is a welcome variation of the horror theme since the demons are thought to come from the Hindi culture. This includes familial drama as Sam often clashes with her mother Poorna (Neeru Bajwa) just as darker forces begin to loom large.
The demon in the story is the pishacha. Pishachas are flesh-eating demons in Dharmic religions, appearing in Hindu and Buddhist mythologies. A pishacha is a malevolent being that has often been referred to as the very manifestation of evil.
There is also some drama taking place at school with one of Sam’s former best friend
Tamira (Mohana Krishnan) who is becoming really weird. Good suspense horror films always include some surprise or some element of anticipation. Some audience anticipation is created at the beginning of the film in the classroom scene, where Tamara, all disheveled enters the lesson half an hour late. “The second time! I suppose you don’t have a note for me again.” asks the teacher, Joyce. After class, she asks Sam what is wrong with Tamara, since the teacher knows the two were very good friends in the past. “We have to look after our own,” advises the teacher. The three of them are Hindus. The fact brings in a nice twist to the film as the horror is attributed to demons in Hindu culture, though this is a fine but brave line for the film to take, as it veers towards racism and stereotyping.
Most of the horror comes near the end when the demon is released from a jar. Incredible it seems, this demon can be contained in a jar, but one isn't asking any credibility questions in horror films anymore. Sam’s teacher, Joyce and Sam’s attractive boyfriend or late befriend are the targets.
Nothing really special in this horror film though IT LIVES INSIDE is decent enough. There are decent scary effects - demon sounds on the soundtrack, things that go bump in the dark and lights coming on and off as if the demon has control of the lighting of the school. The Indian family setting makes a welcome difference. IT LIVES INSIDE is a little slow for a horror movie but it beats the other 20th Century Fox horror flick, NO ONE WILL SAVE YOU which is really slow and goes nowhere.
THE LATENT IMAGE (UK 2022) ***
Directed by Alexander McGregor Birrell
THE LATENT IMAGE centres around thriller writer Ben (Joshua Tonks), who, while struggling for inspiration, retreats to an isolated rural cabin to start work on his latest novel. One night, he wakes to find a wounded man in the cabin claiming to be a hunter (Jay Clift) whose car had broken down nearby. Intrigued by the intruder, Ben decides to secretly use him as inspiration for the antagonist in his new book. But, as the man helps Ben enact increasingly dangerous scenarios for the story’s captive protagonist, Ben's ambition may not only destroy the peaceful world he's created but take his life in the process.
The new British slow-burn horror film is called LATENT IMAGE. The meaning? A latent image is an invisible image produced by the exposure to light of a photosensitive material such as photographic film. When photographic film is developed, the area that was exposed darkens and forms a visible image. In the early days of photography, the nature of the invisible change in the silver halide crystals of the film's emulsion coating was unknown, so the image was said to be "latent" until the film was treated with a photographic developer. One scene with a photo taken illustrates the meaning.
The film is filled thus, with lots of hallucinations and dream-like sequences. For example, the writer has his throat bodily slit in one s eye before it is revealed that the sequence is a dream sequence. Another has the writer imagining that he is kissing his fiancé before again, it is realized that is another imaginary sequence. Hallucinations and dream sequences are a few too many in the film, serving more as a distraction. Also, with so many, the audience can predict when a segment is unreal.
The film could also be called LATENT HEAT for the following reasons. The writer has the ‘hots’ for the muscular’ intruder. The intruder has a solid muscled body and goes around walking in his underwear.
When the stranger says lines like these, one knows that trouble will be brewing. “I need to stay a few days longer. I want to fix my car myself.” Or: ‘Why are you following me?” or when Ben says: “Sorry, I'm looking for more material for my book.
The film contains many elements that are ripe opportunities for a horror mystery. One is the curiosity surrounding the broken-down car and what is in its trunk. In one scene, the writer discovers several identity cards and a rifle in the trunk. The setting of an isolated cabin in the woods in the dead of night is another example. The performances of its two leads are also commendable for the sexual chemistry working well. The main actor is British and the secondary Canadian who both have extensive theatrical experience.
THE LATENT IMAGE is also a gay horror flick that comes complete with total frontal nudity and lots of hot erotic kissing scenes. Beware or be delighted!
THE LATENT IMAGE, though there are a few gory scenes, works more like a mystery than a horror flick - and a slow one at that. The film is not too bad - a slow burn and one has to be patient to be entertained. The story also contains a few surprises along the way.
THE LATENT IMAGE world premiered at London's Soho Horror Film Festival and went on to screen at Outshine LGBTQ+ Film Festival and Queer Screams Festival. It is now available on VOD for streaming.
MY SAILOR, MY LOVE (Ireland/Finland 2022) ****
Directed by Klaus Härö
A senior romance film is something to avoid, judging from recent Hollywood failures, too many to list down, the culprits also being past stars like Jane Fonda and Diane Keaton. MY SAILOR MY LOVE proves that a senior romance can still give a big kick, if done right and blended in with human values like human dignity, decency and the need to do what is right while eating humble pie.
MY SAILOR, MY LOVE begins with a middle-aged woman Grace (Catherine Walker) attending a support group meeting for attendees with low self-worth. Grace is attending to her husband's wishes though she feels the group is not beneficial to herself. A retired sea captain, Heard (James Cosmo) and his daughter, Grace must reassess their strained relationship after he begins a new romance with a widowed housekeeper, Annie (Brid Brennan) in Klaus Härö’s honest and affecting personal drama. What looks like a simple premise turns out to be a complex and riveting film that will tear at one’s heartstrings even after leaving the cinema. A few solid perfect scenes like the one where Grace storms out of her support group meeting yelling that this is all useless. MY SAILOR, MY LOVE might just be the best movie about seniors to come out in a decade.
MY SAILOR, MY LOVE premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival last year (2022) and opens in select theatres on Friday, September 22nd on digital on October 24.
NO ONE WILL SAVE YOU (USA 2023) **
Directed by Brian Duffield
NO ONE WILL SAVE YOU is a minimalist horror sci-fi horror movie for the fact that the victim or stalked is a lonely and solitary young woman living on her own in a remote residence in the country. Being alone and away from everyone. When the victim is pursued, the title of the film NO ONE WILL SAVE YOU comes into effect. It is a lean $22.8 million movie, most of the costs going into the special effects of the alien and action sequences. But the question of this lean plotted stored movie is whether the idea will be able to hold interest.
NO ONE WILL SAVE YOU introduces Brynn Adams (Kaitlyn Dever), a creative and talented young woman who has been alienated from her community. Lonely but ever hopeful, Brynn finds solace within the walls of the home where she grew up—until she’s awakened one night by strange noises from decidedly unearthly intruders. What follows is a face-off between Brynn and a host of extraterrestrial beings who threaten her future while forcing her to deal with her past.
The lien that appears looks like a meaner version of Spielberg’s CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF HE THIRD KIND or ET. There is no reason for them to terrorize Brynn. Why do they have the power to turn the electricity on and off in Brynn’s residence? There are lots of unanswered questions. It looks as if the filmmakers are making it up as the film goes along. The worst thug is that things get so ridiculous and silly that no one cares anymore. For example, the is a scene where Brynne boars a bus which are full of zombie-like human beings. What this has to do with the aliens is never explained.
The actress Kaitlyn Dever at least is a pleasure to watch. She is a rising star astounding audiences after her debut in BOOKSMART and also in the Julia Roberts/ George Clooney vehicle, playing their daughter in TICKET TO PARADISE. One only wishes this film would have given Dever another better opportunity.
One can see the opportunity of small-budgeted hours films making it big at the box office as witnessed by the SAW and INSIDIOUS franchises. 20th Century Fox (acquired by Disney)hopes to achieve the same. Unfortunately, many of these cheap horror flicks made with no aim or effort are just a waste of time.
Dever does lots of running around (she must have gotten quite fit after this movie) - either from an assortment of different-sized aliens or from the light beams that can supposedly beam her up to the spaceship.
It should be noted that nothing concrete happens nor are any of the incidents explained during the first half of the film. What is mostly seen is Brynn trying to hide from the alien attack inner residence. It takes a lot too patience to keep watching the events, even more so if one is streaming the film at home. A few clues are hinted at, for example, the reason for Brynn’s seclusion and why residents dislike her so.
Dever is the best thing about this movie.
THE SAINT OF SECOND CHANCES (USA 2023) ***
Directed by Jeff Malmberg and Morgan Neville
The subject of this new Netflix documentary is a strange one - baseball hustlers. What kind of con is involved with baseball hustling? THE SAINT OF SECOND CHANCES aims to be the true story of a family of baseball hustlers.
Mike Veeck grew up in the shadow of his hustler father, Hall of Fame baseball owner Bill Veeck. The Veeck name became both legendary and notorious in professional baseball as they introduced the fun at ballparks giveaways, theme nights, fireworks, and more. But it all came to a screeching halt when Mike blew up his father's career. The doc shows the reason, with archive footage of the chaos. Exiled from the game he loved, the younger Veeck spent the next few decades clawing his way up from rock bottom, determined to redeem himself. After receiving distressing news, what started as a journey to reclaim the family legacy, became an opportunity to appreciate that family more fully.
This is a documentary set in Florida in the 1980s with Mike Veeck playing both himself and the father of the family. The archive footage shows what the real Mike and Bill look like. The film is narrated by actor Jeff Daniels. Mike Veeck grew up in the shadow of his hustler father, Hall of Fame baseball owner Bill Veeck. Bill was the owner of the Chicago White Sox. But he was always broke and the team rarely won. Mike often went around wearing a T-shirt with the words: “Owner’s Son”. Mike would always be running around doing what his father had asked him to do.
One thing this doc teaches is the importance of ideas. As a kid, Mike was given the task of saving the wooden idea box in the event of a fire in the old mansion. Not the paintings but the idea box! Later on, Mike was in charge of promotions. And that job required lots of new ideas. Mike lauded having disco dances in the midst of baseball games as the 70s were the height of the disco craze. The archive footage showing white-suited John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John lookalikes is simply hilarious.
The film is called THE SAINT OF SECOND CHANCES too, for the reason that Mike Veeck gave two people a second chance, one a black player who had lost the fun of playing baseball and another batter who had no legs. Mike Veeck had heart and the film too, at this point. The doc also gets sentimental with a segment involving Mike’s daughter, Rebecca who suffers from a degenerative disease that causes her health to lose mobility and sight. Rebeccas was so much alive and loved by her father Mike before the disease set in.
For a documentary on the marginal subject of baseball hustling and on marginal-role. the doc achieves the goal of being marginally intriguing. Not the best doc of the year, but still, there is enough entertainment here to go around.
THE SAINT OF SECOND CHANCES is now available for streaming On Netflix from Tuesday of this week.