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.

All Evil Breaks Loose! “Mansion of Blood” review!

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Pretentious millionaire Mason Murphy hosts the largest and sexiest lunar eclipse party in the close knit community of River Ridge. Murphy renovates the old Mayhew estate, home to the mysterious disappearance of the wealthy Mr. Mayhew in 1926, as the party’s extravagant setting. One of the young party goers is also a practicing partaker of witchcraft and when she attempts to summon upon the spirit of her dead boyfriend to ask about whether he bought a winning lottery ticket or not just before his death, she accidentally aligns all things evil right as the eclipse takes place, trapping the oblivious guests in a nightmarish twilight zone that includes black bat demons, Civil War ghosts, lawn ornament zombies, bar tending vampires, and a slew of maniacal murderers.
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Director Mike Donahue’s “Mansion of Blood” is a horror-comedy of an ambitious narrative that was doomed during the middle of production, resulting in a shameless, mishmash heap of a film. From what I’ve read from various article sources, “Mansion of Blood” came to a screeching production halt due in part of a sexual assault claim from an actress or two. The complaint was against the film’s headlining star, Gary “Lethal Weapon” Busey. Are we really surprised here? Busey, who suffered permanent brain damage in 1988 after a motorcycle accident, has sustained from his wild and crazy, sometimes delusional, antics that raises many eyebrows through almost the last three decades. The film’s crew was so fed up with Busey that he was actually fired and massive re-cuts and re-edits caused the story’s downward slope. Aside from the Busey debacle, executive producer and one of the film’s stars Tom Tangen is rumored to have screwed over the film’s investors, leaving director Mike Donahue high and dry.
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Honestly, I strongly feel “Mansion of Blood” never came an inch off the ground. I get that the film is a horror-comedy in a slapstick sub-genre, but the story is in total shambles. Numerous characters and their individual stories are diluted to the point of being a suffering and aggravated attention deficit disorder. The severely choppy editing, the unbalanced dialogue and ambient audio tracks, and the oafish acting throughout only piles on top of an already high mountain of sadness. And even though I have a soft place in my heart for Busey and his sheer lunacy, in life and on film, his performance as the malicious party host Zachariah was, dare I say it, surprisingly stale. Only a few handful of scenes of Busey’s floating, grinning head faintly superimposed as a ghost or a spirit or as a something are uniquely guilty pleasurable. Not all has failed as the film’s other star, “Star Trek: Voyager’s” and “Innerspace’s” Robert Picardo, attempts and succeeds at a good performance as the party’s caterer who ends up almost being poisoned by his chef wife, played by Lorraine Ziff.
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Again, I’m well aware that “Mansion of Blood” is a horror-comedy, but the no budget special effects couldn’t be any more offensive to our intelligence. The “demons” were extras in black face and black leotards with a dark cape and plastered with exuberantly adhesive bat ears. The computer generated lunar eclipse was near 1950’s animated cartoonish. These effects bog down the quality of the film, turning a potential Sci-Fi channel movie spoof to a more of an obsolete, outdated, and cheesy and campy schlock that could be deemed worthy of being presented on Mystery Science Theater 3000. Instead of solidly funded practical and computer generated special effects, Donahue leans firmly on the hard bodies of young (and some slightly older such as Lorraine Ziff) actors and actresses. The naked bodies of upcoming scream queen Mindy Robinson and the industry versatile Dustin Quick are two to name just a few who pair up with the rock hard abs of Kyle Clarke and Frank Mora Jr. One would think Jennifer Tapiero, Sarah Alami, and Tegan Webster would be the group of main characters that would develop and expand throughout the duration since they’re stories begin in a diner, but their characters become junk roles that fizzle into into oblivion and tangents are created for non-setup characters.
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“Mansion of Blood’s plethora of characters is too much to handle, especially when the film tries to go in numerous directions that doesn’t give Donahue’s motion picture any direction. The story and script flounders as the legs are cut right from underneath both of them. I empathize that the Gary Busey and the rumored Tom Tangen issues might have derailed this project that categorizes this film into the scrap-to-salvage scenario similar to prior films like “Bad Meat” and “Old 37.” Tom Cat Films and MVD bring “Mansion of Blood” to retail shelves and I encourage those brave enough to venture into the film to remember this particular review because when the credits begin to roll and the popcorn is down to the last few underdeveloped kernels, you will know somewhere in the sands of time and space that I’ll be whispering in the ears of your mind, “I told you so.”

Trapped in a Tomb of Evil! Day of the Mummy review!

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Too few and far in between does a current release for a horror film about mummies comes out. Right off the top of my head, I can only recall Universal’s remake of The Mummy trilogy and Sands of Oblivion. I’m sure if I really thought more about this I could come up with one or two more films about mummies. When I was contacted to screen and review “Day of the Mummy,” a little piece of me couldn’t wait because the mummy genre is the neglected red-headed step child that the public doesn’t like and production companies just don’t know how to market Egyptian crypt keepers. Exploring “Day of the Mummy” was exciting at first but my finds remind me again why being dead, wrapped in bandages, and buried in an ancient tomb can’t catch a break in cinema land.
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Well-experienced and notorious Egyptologist Jack Wells is contracted to joins a group of archeologist in a Egyptian desert where a hidden tomb of an infamous and cursed king named Neferu is supposedly buried. Jack’s intentions are not to locate the tomb, but rather recover the Codix Stone that was buried with Neferu. When the team locates the cavernous tomb, a collapse of the cave’s structure traps them inside a tomb that doesn’t exactly hold a dead, mummified King. Their search brings them face to face with undead King seeking human parts to devour and regain strength. Now their only hope for survival lies in the hands of the treasure hunter Jack Wells.
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“Day of the Mummy” big named actor attached to the project is Danny Glover. Now, Glover isn’t the Indiana Jones type Jack Wells. His character Carl is a wealthy collector of the finer things and hires Jack, played by William McNamara, to bring back the Codex Stone for him. Glover’s role is a bit odd as he only interacts with Jack through a technology advance pair of wearing glasses that has built-in microphone, video camera, and satellite reception. I’ve known the Lethal Weapon and Predator 2 actor to be more of an interactive professional with other actors and actress around him. For Glover to play an isolated role with no one else in a scene with him takes his stardom away from the movie. He might have been better being the lead character of Jack Wells.
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Speaking of the hidden video camera glasses, the film’s perspective majority plays through the eyes Jack Wells. The effect comes off like an adventurous amusement park ride rather than a found footage film where the you explore a cave and strap into a hydraulic seat and give whipped around while a movie screen plays through the action. Part of the adventure amusement park ride feel is due to Carl’s in-screen image that pops up inquiring about the diamond every so often. The only thing missing from this ‘ride’ is the 4-D effects. Now, this perspective makes the film naturally unique, but also takes a bit of maturity out of the plot. Yeah, the film profane dialogue tries to spark life into, but the first person effect can be more effective if a more grotesque view of events comes across one’s sights.
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The sophomore film of director Johnny Tabor deserves to be recognized as a fair attempt at a genre that doesn’t spark any life into audiences. One thing that would have helped would have been to fill in the plot holes. The reason the team of archeologists venture to Neferu’s tomb was the result of a recovered video of another archeologist who found the tomb before them. The question is, how did the video get recovered in the first place once the first archeologist disappeared? How is Carl’s satellite feed still working in a sealed cave? Questions like these are annoying and baffling even if the logic is skewed just for the sake of a interesting story.
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Along with Glover and McNamara, the cast rounds out with “The Black Water Vampire’s” Andrea Monier, Brandon DeSpain, and Robin Steffen, and along with Eric Young and Michael Cortez. A fine cast with loads of talent behind them, but Tabor’s mummy film entry lives up to others in which fall short of horrifying and thrilling. The hopes of fresh air are stiffened with mummified rotting remains of the past. The perspective is unique and welcomed, but could be fine tuned sieze an opportunity to scare the pants off audiences. The wait continues for a mummy movie to resurrect the floundering, most likely currently defunct, genre. “Day of the Mummy” is an interesting and entertaining ride non-the-less. Image Entertainment’s release hits retail shelves October 20th on DVD in the UK.