The EVILS of Trauma Band Together to Take Down the Bad Guys. “Riders of Justice” reviewed (Magnet Releasing / Digital Screener)



Estranged form his family due to war torn military deployment, Markus must now come home to take care of his teenage daughter after his wife dies in a violent train accident.  A statistic mathematician, Otto, aboard the same train believes the train accident was no accident at all but a hit on a high profile informant testifying in the coming days against the head of a ruthless gang known as the Riders of Justice.  Joined by his eccentric friends, a therapy-inundated hacker named Lennart and an OCD computer whiz named Emmenthaler, they present Markus a convincing theory that his wife was a casualty of a gang’s complex assassination.  Unable to resist, Markus and his newfound friends set a course to unearth and destroy those who they think are responsible for his wife’s demise. 

With my unhealthy man-crush on “Valhalla Rising” and “Hannibal” star Mads Mikkelsen aside, “Riders of Justice” initial plot teased very little interest in what seemed to be another wife or child dies kill-them-all revenge action-thriller.  “Riders of Justice” also marks the 5th time Mikkelsen and director-screenwriter Anders Thomas Jensen collaborate on a project over the course of the Jensen’s entire 20 year directing filmography.  Jensen, who co-write the film adaptation of Stephen King’s “The Dark Tower,” ping ponged the story idea of the Denmark production with fellow “The Dark Tower” writer and “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” adapted writer, Nikolaj Arcel, in a story that brings tormented trauma victims together, latching on to idea they find themselves useful for, and inadvertently find the counsel they need through a dangerous operation in hunting down coldblooded killers.  Sisse Graum Jorgensen serves as producer under the Zentropa Productions entertainment banner and Sidsel Hybchmann debuts in her first producer role after a seasoned run as an associate producer alongside Graum Jorgensen on previous projects and between Graum Jorgensen and Hybchmann, “Riders of Justice” has a strong female producer contingent supporting a nearly all-male cast in bed with their lovable misfit characters that aims to be more about acceptance than revenge. 

Did I mention I have an unquenchable need to see every movie Mad Mikkelsen has starred in?  With “Riders of Justice,” Mikkelsen sports a long, skunk-colored beard with a shaved head in a not-so-typical look for one of, if not the, biggest movie stars to come out of Denmark.  Mikkelsen takes on this look for Markus, a military deployed father who rather be running covert drills and operations with his brothers in arms rather than being a father and husband in what becomes evident an underlining issue with his character.  As Markus tries to comfort his daughter Mathilde (“Andrea Heick Gadesberg) the only way he knows how as a regimentally stoic head of the house, but for being away so long, he knows very little of his now teenage daughter.  Mikkelsen’s natural gift for austere should be award-winning as becomes a lethal enforcer, a role he does extremely well, for a group of traumatically damaged outcasts looking for a righteous cause, beginning with Denmark’s Seth Rogan doppelganger, Nikolaj Lie Kaas, as a fellow train passenger Otto, a brainy mathematician who momentarily befriends Markus’ wife by offering up his seat that ultimately leads to her death.  Otto’s guilt, surging through him a pair of different ways, leads the brilliant mathematician to reach out to Markus with the help of his equally smart, yet equally maladjusted friends Lennart (Lars Brygmann “Flies on the Wall”) and Emmenthaler (Nicholas Bro “Nymphomaniac Vol. 1”). What ensues next are inadvertent events that spin Markus into a plot to assassinate an entire gang based off the statistics of one mathematician’s conspiracy theory evidence and along for the ride are the mathematician and his misfit buddies who might just be too smart for their own good. Every single performance is dead on spectacular with every character lush with tragic communal backstories and are clubbable in their own unconventional rite within the circle of Markus’s fearless vengeance at the center as they are drawn together by their own neurosis behaviors. Gustav Lindh, Albert Rudbeck Lindhardt, and Roland Møller round out the “Riders of Justice” cast.

The one sheet doesn’t do Jensen’s film any justice with a bearded Mikkelsen standing face front taking up much of the negative space, strapped with an automatic rifle around his back and a handgun in hand with the faded images of helmeted dirt bikers riding in the background. Let me tell you this: There were no dirt bikes in the movie. Not one. Mikkelsen looks great, as always, but the poster makes “Riders of Justice” reminiscent Mark Wahlberg’s “Shooter.” “Riders of Justice” stands outside that circle of militia or gorilla tactic action by being about 50% comedy and good comedy at that from Brygmann, Bro, and Kaas who elevate “Riders of Justice” from another run of the mill actioner about revenge, a subgenre plastic bag Liam Neeson can’t seem to escape from, to a heartfelt piece about belonging and mentally recuperating through helpful outreach with a standard whoop ass fare plotline.  Though some of the investigating work pinpointing the gang comes about far-fetched, I still believe “Riders of Justice” is one of the best films released this year, touching upon several multiplex themes of mental health, the urge to reach out for help to battle your issues, father and daughter relationships, and a sense of fitting in and having a purpose as an ostracized member of society. 

“Riders of Justice” has a lot of heart as well as a lot of brutal violence balled up in one remarkably empathetic film.  Magnet Releasing will be releasing the film everywhere May 21st with a limited run May 14th in New York and Los Angeles theaters.  Serendipity plays a huge role in Jensen’s vision of life against the odds and how people can ultimately rally together, sometime unexpectedly, to overcome obstacles often daunting for individuality with a sense of humor that can trump the dark behaviors of a depressive story core.  Kasper Tuxen’s cinematography in the hard lit scenes often confines the actors in a small car or around a table that not only screams cloak and dagger positioning but also exacts a sense of fellowship as they do everything together from planning, to surveillance, to assassinations, to even impromptu counseling sessions. The bookending story fable of happenstance leading from sadness to happiness christens “Riders of Justice” that debatable label, often argued with films like “Die Hard” or “Lethal Weapon,” of whether it’s a Christmas film or an action film. Fans will not have to stay for the credits expecting to see a bonus scene as there isn’t one; instead, enjoy the 115 minutes of fractured individuals coming together to be unlikely heroes in this hilarious shoot’em up ballbuster from Denmark.

Defy EVIL to Live! “Alone” reviewed! (Magnet Releasing / Digital Screener)

Six months after the suicide of her husband, Jessica struggles to cope living in the city that holds too many fond memories of her once happy life with her husband.  Jessica packs her things and quickly drives out to the wilderness, separating herself from the city as well as her unsupportive parents.   On the road, she encounters an incessant man following her every track before violently kidnapping her and hiding her away in a bare room of an isolated cabin deep within the woods.  Her escape opposes her not only against a calculating captor hot in pursuit, but also against nature’s unforgiving elements, showing little mercy to Jessica’s dire and desperate getaway. 

From eluding the flesh hungry, running zombies of Syfy’s “Z-Nation” and Netflix’s “Black Summer,” director John Hyams has us fleeing once again for our very lives against a more realistic monster in his upcoming abduction thriller, “Alone.” Screenwriter Mattias Olsson takes a backseat from directing “Alone,” which is a remake of his written and co-directed 2011 Swedish film, “Gone,” paralleling the premise about a woman fleeing a family tragedy only to be followed and kidnapped by a man driving a SUV.  Shot in Oregon’s silvan outskirts, “Alone” is a survival thriller with emerging themes of taking back one’s life in more ways than one and no more running from an unbearable past built into a conceivable terror situation that has unfortunately been a common episode all over the globe.  “Alone” will be the second feature film produced under Mill House Motion Pictures, under the supervision of founders Jordan Foley and Jonathan Rosenthal, the latter having a small role in the film, and is also a film from a second Jordan Foley company, Paperclip Limited, who has Lisa Simpson voice actress herself, Yeardley Smith, as one of the active partners, and, lastly, in association with XYZ Films.

The up and coming young actress, Jules Willcox (“Dreamkatcher”) stars in the lead of Jessica who hasn’t have a friend in the world, alienating herself from her former life and her parents with a sudden escape to the Oregon wilderness.  The physically demanding role withstands the brunt of constant attack, whether from Marc Menchaca’s unnamed assailant character or the natural elements of the forest that include from the massive rapid rivers and torrential rains to the smallest of roots that spear her bare feet while on the run.  Willcox also brings to the role an indistinct mindset, jumbled with the lingering and complicated suicide of Jessica’s husband, paranoia, and an instinctual reaction to survive, especially through Willcox’s eyes that arch from fear to fortitude.  To really envelope Willcox in that unwarranted fear of harm and pushing her character into the unknown of the adversarial complex that is mother nature is Marc Menchaca as a conniving creep looking to do as much pleasurable damage on his bogus business trip as possible.  Menchaca also looks the part, resembling an out of place 70’s-80’s serial killer with round thin-framed glasses and a moderately bushy handlebar mustache overtop a sturdy frame.  Now while these attributes are not indicative to just serial killers, they sure as hell work well on screen to really sell the intensity that Menchaca delivers as a faux Ned Flanders type nice guy, a sheep in a wolf’s clothing so to speak, who acts a lure against his prey before venomously striking.  The small cast rounds out with Anthony Heald of the Anthony Hopkins “Hannibal” films in a small, yet uncharacteristic, good guy role as a hunter caught in the middle of Jessica’s situation.

While suicide might be the catalyst that compels Jessica to drive into the middle of nowhere, Matthias and Hymans only utilize the power theme as an instrument against Jessica’s psyche.  Jessica runs and hides from polite and comfortable society, but the recently widowed soon discovers that she can’t outrun her past as she hits a perverse wall constructed in the form of a man of sordid pleasures and sociopathic tendencies.  Her kidnapper becomes, in a way, her therapist who, at one point, pins her to the ground and scrolls through the personal photos on her tablet, forcing her to talk about her husband up to the point of his death, and consistently throughout the film that his actions were cowardly, removing the blame from her and onto him while emphasizing her tremendous guilt for not seeing the signs earlier.  “Alone” blossoms a wildly curative dynamic that encourages Jessica to then defend herself and her husband’s memory by standing up against not only the man’s relentless chase, but also her guilt.  The thick Oregon setting becomes a security blanket, sheathing her endless dismay, but the forest is actually does more harm than good for Jessica.  Only when does Jessica steps into a wide clearing of lumberjacked tree stumps does hiding from all the pain and torment become no longer an option as she makes her last stand against her attacker, unloading her fear, anger, and guilt upon the man by exposing him as an oppressive killer. While immersed in watching, “Alone” will deprive oxygen from your body that’s desperately gasping to fill your lungs with air in every harrowing chapter, but “Alone” is a breadth with a throng of digging out of despair overtones and a conduit for self-repair that’s unraveled symbolically through the afflictions of bona fide sadism.

“Alone” rises above the call of arms against predatory men in this thrilling remake from John Hyams, releasing into Theaters and VOD on September 18th from Magnet Releasing. The rated R, 98 minute feature will not have the A/V specs critique due to the digital screener, but Federico Verardi (“Z-Nation”) grasps the elegant threat of the woods by using drone shots to shoot the very tippy-top of the swaying trees that conceal the ground, as if obscuring the atrocity being committed below, and applying low-contrast to make insidious hard shadows against green lush that turn beauty dark and deceitful. *Director John Hyams has noted the rapid’s scene where Jessica temps fate to escape her pursuer was practical and performed by stuntwoman Michelle Damis and though looked a little off around the Jessica’s unsubmerged profile as she’s whisked away down the river, the effect is 100% legit. “The Pyramid” and “Becky’s” Nima Fakhrara scores a low-impact tremble for most of the feature with Jessica’s running through the woods is accompanied an equally low-impact drumming, letting the ebb and flow of resonating forest ambience engulf much of the soundtrack to solidify it as a correlative character; even the end credits is purely nature’s ambient noise. Since “Alone” is a brand new feature, there were no bonus material or bonus scenes during or after the credits. “Alone” knicks the core of vulturine power, but turns the tables toward more feminist revelation to fight and take back one’s life.

*Correction: Previously stated the rapids scene was CGI.