EVIL’s Always Listening in “A New World Order” reviewed! (Reel 2 Reel Films / DVD)



A.I. terminates their dependency from its creators and war has ravaged mankind as armed to the teeth, towering tripod machines and maneuverable mechanical air vessels are locked onto a search and destroy mode, targeting all human life.  To avoid and evade detection, survivors must keep quiet as the machines hunt by sound and use the limited technology available to protect themselves.  That’s how one military combat soldier has been surviving after deserting his overran and decimated post before bumping into enraged civilian resistance fighter who’s determined to strike back with a fatal blow in a heavy causality and seemingly unwinnable war against the merciless machines.  When the civilian determines a way to stop the machines with a salvaged nuclear device, the deserter must decide whether to keep meagerly living in the shadows or sacrifice everything for humanity.

“The Terminator” meets “A Quiet Place” meets “War of the Worlds” in this German produced independent science-fiction battlefront thriller, “A New World Order,” as the Berlin born Daniel Raboldt ‘s first feature length directorial.  Raboldt pens an action heavy story with only two lines of dialogue alongside fellow short film partner, Thomas Franzen, following their developments of satirical and puppeteer-propped comedies of the web series “Tubeheads” and their short film “Furple Reign,” with Raboldt having been in the writer-director chair for both and Franzen as part of the crew on both projects with a role in the art department and constructing cinematographically shots as DoP.  Alternatively known more worldwide by the original title, “A Living Dog,” as I assume in the idiomatic expression of a dog’s life of sorrow and hunger, the Finland shot “A New World Order” is a production of Raboldt and Franzen’s Nocturnus Film that was funded by a Kickstarter campaign which raised over €12,085 by patrons from its €10,000 goal.

With just over €12,000, pocket change like that can’t afford you megastars Tom Cruise or Emily Blunt, but can buy superb unknowns with heart in their lead roles.  Such as the case with Stefan Ebel and Siri Nase as Tomazs and Lilja, two unlike survivors of machine dominated cataclysm with distinct positions on where they stand in their war-torn world.  There’s no short change in performances that warrant Ebel and Nase to feign the presence of large and looming cybernetic tripods that vaporize humans to dust upon sound.  “A New World Order” seems gimmicky with the absence of dialogue, but I think it’s more tricky to act against a computer generated special effect, much like Emily Blunt and John Krasinski’s inventive terror playing against actors or stuntmen in motion capturing suits.  Raboldt and his team more than likely did not have access to or have funds for motion capturing suits.  Instead, the actors engaged imagination, creativity, and relied on their experience and training, such stage crafting from Theater der Keller in Cologne where Siri Nase performed from 2007 to 2011.  Ebel makes his on screen debut by diving into the complexed Tomasz, a deserter just trying to survive over top anything else, and Tomasz comes across pitched perfectly desperate and paranoid while being borderline selfish with a sheathed good nature heart lying in wait.  Aside from bit roles of human refugees and characters in flashbacks, the two leads embody the entire cast list.  

“A New World Order” derives and parallels from a variety of iconic Sci-Fi cinematic inspirations, but at the core, Raboldt courses a theme of repelling human behavioral reactions toward a major calamitic event and threat through the current wartime arterial capillaries, unclogging the blockage between Tomasz’s tail between his leg survival approach and Lilja’s reckless desperation to destroy the machines on her own to form a unity of calculated patience to not only stab revenge into the soulless machines, but also maybe, just maybe, live through obliteration.  Yet, Raboldt misses the mark slightly by having too late the characters circle back and fix what’s broken with themselves, leaving mere morsels to mend before one character’s arc ends before it can even fully begin.  There’s also the no dialogue gimmick/aspect/touch, whatever is your opinion to label it, that fails to naturally flourish because unlike “A Quiet Place” where “A New World Order” only indulges the more character-driven drama, the fiery back and forth dogfight delivers empty promises due to budget constraints, resembling more along the lines of Gareth Edwards’ “Monsters” in its distant tone with a delimited appearance, but with a film that has nearly no dialogue, the action should be guaranteed in your face, heart-racing, and on the edge of your seat to compensate. “A New World Order” whittles down the hero concept, peeling off the rotten layers that make us weak and defenseless alone, to unearth the perfect kill switch on the machines to save Earth for humanity.

Don’t speak if you want to live in “A New World Order” now on DVD home video from Reel 2 Reel Films (R2R) in the UK. The Region 2, PAL encoded, DVD5 presents the film in an anamorphic widescreen 2:40:1 aspect ratio under a 15 rating for strong violence and bloody images. The violence is more the lasers vaporizing people to smoke in Thomas Franzen’s landscape assemblage of Finland foliage that becomes the base layer to Raboldt and his visual effects crew CGI monstrosities and rotoscoping composites that make “A New World Order” feel like a science fiction graphic novel. Blacks are starkly deep, but there’s no awestriking visual pops to really juxtapose with in a bleak color reduction to reflect bleak war. Details are not spectacular in this 720p format, but do the job in reality rather than in a rotoscope flashback. The English Language Dolby Digital stereo AC3, surround sound 5.1 mix, can kick hard when lulls in the character stories are because the kill bots has made audible contact and “A New World Order” is a LFE machine, pun intended, as the nuts and bolts hunters blare in vast quantities their resonating automaton bellow. Since this is a DVD5 with a feature running at 94 minutes, there is no room for special features to speak to, leaving just the antistatic menu and a white snapper case. “A New World Order” is a big concept on a little budget, but for director Daniel Raboldt, a new world spawns a man versus machine campaign from inspirational passions and ideas into understanding which innate reaction is an internal struggle to embrace with all that you have or to die by with little you have left.

Time Travel to Stop EVIL via Astral Projection: Part II! “Mandao Returns” reviewed! (Indie Rights / Digital Screener)

With his powerful ability to astral project, along with the help of a motley entourage of friends and family, Jay Mandao saved multiple lives, some who are close to him, from his blood thirsty ex-girlfriend on Halloween night.  Two months later, days before Christmas, and now living in the scheming medium Cousin Andy’s townhome after his unrelated cousin Jackson set fire to his apartment, Mandao and Jackson float through life, sleeping in Cousin Andy’s living room and barely off the royalties of Mandoa’s father breakfast cereal line.   Dreams of his father, Raymond Mandoa, urging him to stop astral projecting as dark entities will discover him are reluctantly ignored when Cousin Andy connives a get-rich-quick opportunity to contact the recently deceased Aura Garcia, a well-known B-movie actress having died a few nights ago after a drug overdose, but as soon as the spiritual and time planes are disturbed, sinister plans of murder, from the living and the dead, deck the halls with a blood red Christmas.  

Mandao is back!  Or rather returns in a new scouring the astral plane misadventure entitled “Mandao Returns.”  When we last reviewed the Scott Dunn 2019 comedy-horror sleeper hit, “Mandao of the Dead,” an open ending left us salivating with a possible sequel under, what we know now to be a working title, “Mandao of the Damned” that promised exploring the nonphysical and paranormal realm’s mysteries and secrets that threatened Jay Mandao’s whole grain boxed-in existence, at least according to Mandao’s father, Raymond with a foreboding sign of inexplicable things to come.  The Kickstarter.com, crowdfunded modern cult favorite raised more than $26,000, doubling the first film’s budget, from approx. 250+ generous likeminded supporters within two weeks time that brought back four core characters essential to “Mandao of the Dead’s” grim, but lighthearted success to battle half-cocked the supernatural forces of evil.  Instead of a blood drinking cultist, a by-midnight death ceremony concretes stardom and greatness, but not if Jay Mandao has something to say about it.  “Mandao Returns” is a production of Scott Dunn’s Dunnit Films and distributed by Indie Rights.

Returning, obviously as stated in the title, to ensure the safety and well-being of those who incessantly annoy yet deep down care for him on a daily level is the hapless Jay Mandao, the titular hero played by writer, director, and story creator, Scott Dunn, along with Dunn’s wife, Gina Gomez Dunn, who steps back into a co-producer role for the sequel as well as stepping back into the shrewdly wild shoes of Fer, a close but no cigar Mandao love interest continuing to become mixed up in Mandao’s spiritual shenanigans while being a private driver for the Uber-equivalent Bum Rides.  Though blood is thicker than water, Mandao’s cousin-by-marriage Jackson oozes with dense innocence as Sean McBride reprises the daft role to another perfect tune of witless naivety.  Together, Mandao and Jackson arouse a likeable dynamic duo that becomes the keystone to both films’ success because without McBride’s timely childlike disposition, Mandao would just be a snippy and angsty loner and without Dunn’s subtly serious tone, Jackson would overrun the comedy-horror with one-sided gullibility.  With any sequel aiming to top its predecessor, the buddy comedy needed to be bigger and by adding the fourth returning character, Cousin Andy, as an important ingredient to the mix, Sean Liang adds a grounding hoodwinking conspirator that thrusts Mandao and Jackson into action on the astral plane field when the no-good antagonist, Aura Garcia, played by newcomer Jenny Lorenzo, becomes scorned in the spiritual world and takes heinous vengeance that not only involves Mandao, Cousin Andy, Jackson, and Fer, but also Garcia’s talent manager, Ted (Jim O’Doherty), in a sacrificial ritual gone terribly wrong. 

“Mandao Returns” is a smartly written script from creator Scott Dunn whose able to mold fallibly fascinating characters into unlikely heroes juxtaposed against a monumental occurrence much greater than themselves with the vast possibilities in the spacetime continuum.  Of course, the cinema flair to decorate the otherworldly dimensions with accessible ease and gloomy aesthetics faces speculation of existential questions of mindpower and life after death and the challenges the mechanics of the theory of metaphysics, but all that abstract mumbo-jumbo is pushed aside in order to make the “Mandao” films entertaining and for a good reason because when the script has colorful characters and a working narrative, “Mandao Returns” allows audiences to turn off rationality for approx. 71 minutes to enjoy a modestly produced Sci-fi comedy-thriller with a cast accurately in sync with each other’s methods.  The one thing I will say about “Mandao Returns” that I found to be a sore spot, despite still immensely enjoying, is that the story echoes eerily to “Mandao of the Dead.”  With a slight tweak to Mandao’s astral projection powers and trading in a different breed of villain, from point A to point B, from dynamics to outcome, everything seemed nearly identical to “Mandao of the Dead’s” narrative, delivering nothing distinctively new to the table to elevate the character’s fate and circumstances into unique, un-before-seen horizons.  Dunn comes close to challenging and upgrading the prior narrative by hinting something lurking within the spirit world was on the verge of closing in on Jay Mandao if he continues blindly using astral projection by the forewarning words of his father, Raymond Mandao, but slips out of that digressional stream to pit Mandao versus greenhorn cult acolytes looking for glam and glory by way of the gory and that, done in the Dunnit Films’ essence, is okay too.

As a quirky, out-of-body sci-fi thriller experience, “Mandao Returns” succeeds in succeeding as the sequel that brings the thrills and the laughter of far-fetched heroes ready to tear into the fabric of time to stop evil once again. The film comes to you from distributor Indie Rights and is available now streaming only on Amazon Prime so get your pandemic pants on aka comfy, stretchy pants, grab some movie style popcorn, and recline back to watch “Mandao Returns.” Experience the vibrant and wraithy-visioned glow cinematography of A.J. Young, returning from “Mandao of the Dead” as well as Dunn’s first film “Schlep” and another camping trip horror film, “Camp 139.” Young stays true to the films atmospherics with hard lighting a variety of hues and creating a story through the presence of shadows, working movie magic creating an opulent visual experience when really only working with about 25 grand. There were no bonus features nor extended credit scenes with this digital screener. One day, I’d like to see Scott Dunn and his Dunnit Films team work with a good chunk of budget cash and push the limits beyond the simplicities of the “Mandao” films, but until then, “Mandao Returns’ is disseminated with a whimsical awareness and fervent macabre that’s intent to please.

Watch “Mandao Returns” on Prime Video. Click the Poster!