ECHO BOOMERS

(SABAN FILMS/SPEAKEASY/ORGANIC MEDIA GROUP/FOTON PICTURES/DARK DREAMS ENTERTAINMENT (100 minutes; Rated R); 2020)

You set yourself a real challenge as a director by making a film about unpleasant characters doing unpleasant things, something that director/co-writer Seth Savoy was probably NOT thinking that much about when he helmed ECHO BOOMERS, a sort of “millennials gone wild and destructive” story timed to coincide with the bitter division and economic meltdown of recent years (though pre-Covid). It’s hard to sympathize all that much with a quintet of college graduates bitter over debt and fewer real opportunities, who decide to work for a greedy criminal entrepreneur named Mel (Michael Shannon), robbing mansions of the well-to-do and then utterly destroying as much of their untaken possessions as possible. We know right away things aren’t going to turn out well because the film opens with an author (Lesley Ann Warren) asking the most conscience-troubled and otherwise sort of likable member of the gang named Lance (Patrick Schwarzenegger) if he’d be willing to recount the troubled tale for a book she wants to write about the dastardly crime spree. So events unfold in flashback, as Lance is asked by his cousin Jack (Gilles Geary) to join in an “opportunity” to make some good money and have some fun. We meet the crew at a poker game, with abrasive and dour Ellis (Alex Pettyfer) and the charismatic female member Allie (Hayley Law) providing the most screen presence apart from Lance. The gang have pre-arranged addresses of their wealthy targets; they then wear evil masks, go in and bust the place up big time (an explanation from Lance about the destruction preferences of each member – one likes to destroy family photos, one prefers disintegrating the most valuable objects – is genuinely painful to experience, but at least it’s given a bit of expository background), and retrieve selected paintings and other valuables for the resourceful Mel to fence through his connections. Money comes in, everyone theoretically gets paid, and that’s that.

ECHO BOOMERS (Hayley Law, Alex Pettyfer, Patrick Schwarzenegger, Oliver Cooper, Jacob Alexander, Gilles Geary) (photo courtesy: SABAN FILMS)

Not for long, though. Mel doesn’t trust his charges overall, and newcomer Lance really has a lot to prove. The gang don’t trust each other much either, and it’s quickly established that Ellis is keeping a watchful eye on Lance for his receptivity to Allie, who is obviously sort of involved with the tougher guy. Tension grows exponentially, with Lance doing a voiceover about the various “lessons” of this trade (ie: “If they won’t let us dream, we won’t let them sleep”) and how these quickly evolve into rules. The “they” he refers to, of course, is those dang selfish rich people, and it doesn’t quite wash that they deserve all this intrusion and destruction, especially when the motivation of the young anarchists is so selfish and unfocused. As stated earlier, these jerks aren’t that likable; moments of character and conscience are present but scattered. What makes the film compelling is wondering where the slip-ups will occur that will bring this enterprise crashing down, trying to follow Lance’s mini-journey of morality as he’s the most relatable character, and wondering if Mel or Ellis will erupt in violence, something that is certainly hinted at. To the film’s credit, it does NOT take a truly predictable path compared to similar genre offerings, and it does have some things to say about greed and trust issues in a criminal endeavor that is clearly shaky to begin with. This sort of keeps you watching. The opening clips from CNN newsreels about the nature of the times set an interesting tone, but doesn’t really provide enough context for what has motivated these entitled lawbreakers. You’re glad when things are brought to a halt, and I give Savoy credit for keeping a steady hand as a director and pacing the story more than competently.

ECHO BOOMERS (Lesley Ann Warren) (photo courtesy: SABAN FILMS)

The actors all do fine, especially Schwarzenegger and Shannon, a veteran of countless productions. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Lesley Ann Warren also, who has long been one of my all-time favorite actresses and a genuinely underrated talent for decades. She’s only in a few scenes here, which is a shame, as she always brings a certain authority and believability to anything she does. But it’s still great to catch her again. It’s impossible to say if ECHO BOOMERS will find an enthusiastic audience; it doesn’t break much new ground, and other than seeing a lot of stuff get smashed up, nothing is all that shocking. But it’s worth a view as a character study of bummed-out millennials doing dirty deeds not so dirt cheap. And maybe a rule should be added to Lance’s list which stops at 10: “You play with fire too much, and eventually you’ll probably get burned.


LIMBO

(UNCORK’D ENTERTAINMENT/ALTERNATE ENDING FILMS/LIMBO ENTERTAINMENT (89 minutes; Unrated); 2020)


Whenever I’m assigned a review for a low-budget indie type film, usually something I’ve never heard of before, I have a tendency to mentally prepare myself for an experience that’ll be tedious and hard to write about, as has been the case more than a few times. It’s just that there are only so many ways to make a film genuinely entertaining and interesting; the “surprise factor” is a rarity in below-the-radar films. Imagine my pleasant reaction, then, when LIMBO turned up, on a particularly bad day for me when I was mostly making myself kill time, and lo and behold it grabbed me right away and didn’t let go. There have been other films that combined the legal profession and the underlying theme of good versus evil – THE DEVIL’S ADVOCATE comes to mind – but there is enough clever, offbeat stuff in LIMBO to make it a worthy viewing experience. A timeless theme that has occurred throughout the history of films is given some curious new life here thanks to writer/director Mark H Young’s clear interest in the whole “heaven or hell” debate. And yes, I was surprised.

LIMBO (Veronica Cartwright) (publicity still)

A bad brute of a guy, Jimmy Boyle (Lew Temple) commits a senseless murder of a mother of three (Veronica Cartwright in a brief but memorable appearance), and must face justice. It’s giving nothing away to say that he dies himself; the film is concerned with whether he’s going to go to hell, or get a “redemption” that would allow him to go to heaven. So two attorneys in a dingy underworld office must argue the case: Balthazar (Lucian Charles Collier), a young looking guy with an oddly casual accent, gets to make what surely appears to be an open-and-shut case for why this reprehensible killer should go straight to hell, even though the “witnesses” called indicate he had a horrible, abusive father and a drug-addict mother. But not so fast: the white-suited new attorney for Jimmy, an attractive gal named Cassiel (Scottie Thompson) has some pluck and energy to take a deeper look into Jimmy’s past; this includes exploring his atypical relationship with a self-aware prostitute named Angela (Lauryn Canny). Balthazar is being pressured to “close this case down” quickly by a nasty rep for Lucifer named Belial (a fiery Peter Jacobson). And it sure seems like Jimmy is irredeemable; in fact, Cassiel tries to quit the case, figuring this is just NOT going so well. But Mark H Young has some things he wants to say about humanity and justice. “I’m very confused,” Cassiel tells Balthazar at one point. “I put my trust in God. But now that I’ve seen what humans can do with my own eyes, I don’t know what I believe anymore.” And the film does take a more interesting than you’d expect view of what makes a guy bad, with a couple of interesting twists.

LIMBO (Richard Rhiele, Lucian Charles Collier) (publicity still)

There is some dark humor along the way, and a crucial bit of acting levity by Richard Riehle as Phil, a wisecracking stenographer, whom film fans will remember from his role as Tom Smykowski in the cult film OFFICE SPACE. I enjoyed the understated, sort of weary back-and-forth between Collier and Thompson, two actors I was not familiar with; there’s a grudging mutual respect for the very separate worlds of good and evil that each has to represent. We do see various demons with minimal horns sticking out of their heads, including Riehle’s character, walking in and out of various scenes, and there’s an amusing sequence in a hell bar. And by the time Lucifer himself appears near the end (James Purefoy, adding to the endless unique interpretations of a character we’ve been conditioned to ALWAYS be curious about), enough interesting stuff has unfolded in this movie to make Purefoy’s performance a genuine delight.

LIMBO (James Purefoy) (publicity still)

While Temple is mostly one-dimensional in his portrayal as Jimmy, he is certainly unsettling to watch and provides a mostly compelling story arc. Thompson and Collier are both so unconventional they make things move along rather briskly, and Jacobson and Riehle are excellent. LIMBO aims for a fresh look at the most timeless theme in the world, that being good versus evil – and there are times when the plot is really a stretch. Jimmy doesn’t give us enough depth to care that much about him, and certainly there are questions of plausibility throughout. But I truly liked the setup of this film, and the whole notion of everyone getting a “trial” to see which way they are going after they die. The script has more panache than I expected, and I would say Young is a director to watch. I was never bored watching LIMBO; in fact, I am kind of eager to see it again. That’s a surprising thing for me to say, considering my not so enthusiastic attitude when the opening credits first rolled.


REGRESSION

The much anticipated thriller from filmmaker Alejandro Amenabar makes its DVD and Blu-Ray – as well as digital and On-Demand platforms – debut on May 10, 2106. The film is set in 1990, as a Minnesota youth, Angela (Emma Watson), accuses her father of sexually abusing her as a child. Detective Bruce Kenner (Ethan Hawke) investigates the girl’s allegations and becomes embroiled in tales of repressed memories and Satanic rituals. The palette of this movie is suitably dark and, like Amenabar’s genre-hopping classic, THE OTHERS, the twists and turns here keep you guessing. The plot features elements of horror, crime drama and psychological thriller all rolled into one, as first Angela, then her father begin to remember a past that may or may not be real. Hawke is at his brooding best as Detective Kenner, while the rest of the formidable cast (including David Thewlis) are swept along in his vortex. Watson is doing her best to move past her HARRY POTTER character, as she chooses roles that are far edgier than the sweet Hermione Granger. Just watching the trailer, I’m not sure this will earn her any new fans (or convince her longtime fans that she is anyone other than Hermione). Time… and a full viewing of REGRESSION… will tell.


JOHN DOE: VIGILANTE

(ARC ENTERTAINMENT/MAIN STREET FILMS/RAPIDFIRE ENTERTAINMENT (93 minutes; Rated R); 2015)

John Doe Vigilante

When I was solicited to review this Australian import, loosely based on a series of executions (or, murders, depending on your sense of justice), I wasn’t sure what to expect. To be perfectly honest, I envisioned something akin to one of those horrible, schlocky Steven Seagal flicks. Boy… was I wrong! Steven Seagal would choke on his own tongue and break every bone in his body if he were to attempt a nuanced performance like that given by Jamie Bamber as JOHN DOE: VIGILANTE.

JOHN DOE: VIGILANTE (Jamie Bamber) (publicity still)

JOHN DOE: VIGILANTE (Jamie Bamber) (publicity still)

Here’s the story: A man identified only as John Doe (a chilling, steely-eyed performance from Bamber), an accused serial killer of 33 – all reprehensible people who needed killing (pedophiles, abusive partners, gang members, crooked police, unscrupulous businessmen, et cetera… you get the idea) – is standing trial for his crimes. The scene shifts to the courthouse steps, where protestors (for and against Doe’s actions) and a rabid media are on hand as the prosecuting attorney steps to the microphone to announce the verdict; just as he is about to utter the vigilante’s fate, a huge explosion tears through the crowd. From there, the film takes on a sort of cinema verite feel, with scenes of John Doe’s brutality (as well as the injustices that led to that brutality) interspersed with a series of worldwide news reports, incidents of other like-minded citizens, a movement they call “Speak For the Dead,” taking up the cause (and their baseball bats) and – most intriguing – a prison interview with the man called John Doe, conducted by a reporter named Ken Rutherford (a brilliantly understated turn by Lachy Hulme). One reporter, closely linked to Doe, tells the camera, “He was killing career criminals. Nobody cared until the body count started rising.”

JOHN DOE: VIGILANTE (Lachy Hulme) (publicity still)

JOHN DOE: VIGILANTE (Lachy Hulme) (publicity still)

Apart from the chaos at the courthouse and a few very violent scenes of retribution, there really isn’t a lot of action going on; JOHN DOE… is what you would call a psychological thriller. If you’re thinking that means this flick is boring, I guarantee you… it is anything but; even with everything basically laid out in front of us since that first scene, there are more than a few “gotcha” moments that will stun you and leave you wondering how you could have missed some rather obvious (in retrospect) clues; even the ending will leave you guessing. By exploring the killer’s psyche, we are forced to confront the societal and personal demons that we too often ignore or accept without question. In the end, we learn that, like the system of justice we live under, we are all somehow tainted and a little corrupt. JOHN DOE: VIGILANTE will have you thinking and, maybe, looking over your shoulder… just in case.

JOHN DOE: VIGILANTE (Jamie Bamber, Isabella Woodlock) (publicity still)

JOHN DOE: VIGILANTE (Jamie Bamber, Isabella Woodlock) (publicity still)

I’m not really sure how to characterize this film; I mean, it probably wouldn’t make a great date movie and, with the R rating and all of the scenes of violence and brutality, it really isn’t made for family viewing, either. When and with whom you decide to watch, just know that you are in for an emotional roller coaster of a ride; it is, hands down, one of the most riveting, purely psychological explorations since 1990’s MISTER FROST.


BLACK LOTUS

(K’wan; 128 pages; INFAMOUS BOOKS/AKASHIC BOOKS; 2014)

BLACK LOTUS

Halfway through the first chapter of K’wan Foye’s new novella, BLACK LOTUS, I knew that this story must be made into a movie and that the lead character, Detective James “Lone” Wolf, is destined to be a franchise hero. The edgy, no nonsense persona immediately put me in mind of a cop with a cool Odafin Tutuola (Ice T’s LAW AND ORDER: SUV character) vibe with a hair-trigger anger-management problem like Fin’s SUV colleague, Elliot Stabler. Toss in the swaggering confidence and well-earned street cred of a John Shaft and this character is a no-brainer superstar property; in fact, almost immediately, my mind’s eye put Richard Roundtree in the role of Wolf. Wolf’s backstory puts him at the top of the anti-hero heap and, of course, it doesn’t hurts that BLACK LOTUS is an absolutely riveting read.

BLACK LOTUS author K'wan (publicity photo)

BLACK LOTUS author K’wan (publicity photo)

The story opens with the brutal murder of a well-loved priest, an action that sets in motion a series of events that will force Wolf to face the demons that have haunted him since his last case as a homicide detective, the disappearance and murder of a small boy. Wolf had since moved to the narcotics division and, having just busted (and busted up) a few dealers in and undercover sting, his mentor and former captain in homicide contacts him for help in tracking down the priest’s killer. The detective reluctantly agrees, but only after the captain promises to make some of Wolf’s questionable past actions disappear from his record, specifically, the stigma that he murdered his former partner (a claim which was unsubstantiated and, of which Wolf was ultimately cleared). From that point, Wolf is thrown into a web of lies, deceit, betrayal, political intrigue and the answer to the murder of the little boy so many years before. Along the way, the Black Lotus killer leaves a trail of mayhem and retribution. The story is an edge-of-the-seat nail-biter that packs a surprising amount of action and character development into the short 128 pages. With no shortage of suspects, the twists and turns lead to an unexpected ending that, ultimately, is one of the most satisfying in recent memory.

INFAMOUS BOOKS founder Albert Johnson, AKA Prodigy (publicity photo)

INFAMOUS BOOKS founder Albert Johnson, AKA Prodigy (publicity photo)

BLACK LOTUS is the fourth title from the Infamous Books imprint, which is curated by Albert Johnson, better known as Prodigy, of the iconic hip-hop group, Mobb Depp. He brings a street level grittiness to an audience that has never before been afforded a viable voice in the literary world. And, make no mistake about it… this is literature – a uniquely American form of literature that should be read and treasured. BLACK LOTUS and other Infamous titles are available at all the usual places or direct from akashicbooks.com. Treat yourself… you won’t be disappointed.


PLASTIC

(DVD and Digital; ARC ENTERTAINMENT/GATEWAY FILMS (101 minutes/Rated R); 2014)

PLASTIC

To be quite honest, I was going to give this one a pass; on first blush, it just didn’t seem to be my particular cup of tea (either Raspberry or Cherry Vanilla… or, maybe, a simple English Breakfast Tea). To say the least, I was dead wrong. PLASTIC is a thrilling roller coaster ride of deceit, theft, violence, sex, drugs and a thumping electronic soundtrack. The film is based on (or inspired by) a true story but, then, aren’t they all?

The story revolves around four university con artists working a brilliant and seemingly flawless credit card scam. Ringleader Sam (played by Ed Speleers, who looks genetically produced from equal parts Eric Stoltz, Topher Grace and Rick Astley; he apparently, occupies an abbey located downtown) has gone to great lengths to insure the loyalty of his three co-conspirators (he hacked into their e-mails and used the information he found to either blackmail them or play on their sympathies). Fordy (Will Poulter), ostensibly, the group’s second in command, is the cool-headed realist, biding his time before he makes a move on Sam; Rafa (Sebastian De Souza) is a big dreamer stuck in a dead-end job; Yatesey (Alfie Allen, who stars in that one show about thrones) is the loose cannon, who would like nothing better than to excise Sam from his life (and, possibly, this earth). Yatesey and Rafa decide to freelance, attacking a man and stealing a briefcase in his possession. The owner of the briefcase, a gangster named Marcel (a delightfully evil Thomas Kretschmann), has gone to great extremes to protect his property, including placing tracking devices and cameras in it, which, of course, leads him (and two very large assistants) right to the boys’ lair (or dorm room, as the case may be). Marcel gives them until the end of the day to acquire a long list (about £60,000 worth) of items with their stolen card information, or else. They manage to fill Marcel’s wish list and discover that the “or else” is a shallow grave in the middle of nowhere. The lads make a deal with Marcel to obtain two million bucks in two weeks in exchange for their lives.

PLASTIC (Sebastian De Souza, Alfie Allen, Emma Rigby, Ed Speleers, Will Poulter) (publicity still)

PLASTIC (Sebastian De Souza, Alfie Allen, Emma Rigby, Ed Speleers, Will Poulter) (publicity still)

That deal sends them looking for help. The help is a girl both Sam and Yatesey had previously met at a bar. Sam remembered that Frankie (Emma Rigby, who is a dead ringer for Jill Ireland… plus, the Red Queen looks really good in a bikini) works for a credit card company as a data processor in overseas accounts. Sam’s plan is to be empathetic to lure Frankie into the scheme; her father is very ill and the family is drowning in medical bills. Once the girl is on board, she tells the guys that the best plan would be to go to America because, according to her inside information, she knows of several high-budget card holders that spend a lot of time and plenty of cash in Miami. So, using other people’s money (as they have since the beginning of the story), they head for the sunny beaches of Florida. Infighting, mistrust, jealousy and greed are at work, eroding the plan virtually from the time they land in Miami; The two low men on the totem pole, Yatesey and Rafa, plot against Sam, looking to get their fair share; initially, the plot takes the form of Yatesey using one of the fake cards at a strip club after Sam specifically tells the team to be careful how they are used. Of course, when the card is refused for “suspicious use,” the junior partners (including Fordy) run afoul of several very large bouncers.

PLASTIC (Emma Rigby) (publicity still)

PLASTIC (Emma Rigby) (publicity still)

From that point, things take a decidedly dark turn. As more and more people and ancillary businesses are drawn into the conspiracy, an international noose begins to tighten around the throats of the five thieves as police and Marcel seek justice in their own ways. From the scene in the strip club, the crosses and double-crosses begin to stack up, eventually pitting too rival criminal cartels against each other, with Sam’s team squarely caught in the middle. Hilarity, as they say, ensues. To say more would be undermining the purpose of this review, which is to get you to watch (purchase) this movie. Let’s say that the climax of PLASTIC is a thrill-a-minute, action-packed and wholly implausible ending… but, then, it based on a true story.

PLASTIC (Graham McTavish and Malese Jow) (publicity still)

PLASTIC (Graham McTavish and Malese Jow) (publicity still)

The R rating is for the violence, strong language, some nudity and drug use. Though it does drag in some parts, the payoff is definitely worth the price of admission. Bonus points are awarded, by the way, for the casting of Malese Jow (she plays Beth, the secretary and arm candy of one of the sleazier business-types that gets sucked into the scam). The role is small, but Malese has a way of commanding every scene she’s in. The DVD has a “Making of… ” special feature which is quite entertaining in its own right. The producers briefly interview a man named Saqib Mumtaz who, in 1997, was a member of the fraudulant group the film is based on; I would guess that, from the interview, the character of Rafa was based on Mister Mumtaz. Overall, a great movie, though you may wanna keep it away from the kiddies.