The Old EVIL Scorpion and the Frog Tale in “Drive” reviewed! (Second Sight / Screener)



“Anything Happens in that Five Minues and I’m Yours.”  Drive Limited Edition Boxset at Amazon.com!

A solitary mechanic and movie stunt driver offers his services as a getaway driver for illicit odd jobs.  He falls for his single parenting neighbor and as the two begin their romantic affair, her ex-con lover returns from prison to reintegrate back into her and their son’s life.   When ex-con trouble brews an inescapable situation involving ruthless gangsters calling in their favor for prison protection, the stunt driver involves himself with his moonlighting work but when things go terribly wrong and he becomes a target, everyone he knows and cares for are threatened by the mobsters.  War is waged in the fast lane between the mysterious stunt driver and Los Angeles most feared gangsters for the sake of an innocent mother and her child caught in the middle.

Around 2010-2011, when I first heard of Nicolas Winding Refn’s “Drive” starring “The Notebook” and “Lars and the Real Girl’s” Ryan Gosling, I thought to myself, why would I watch this quirky comedy-romance actor drive around in a run-of-the-mill stunt car action film?  Immediately, I wrote off the film penned by “The Four Feathers’” screenwriter Hossein Amini, whose now penning the stories and teleplays of a little Disney+ streaming series you may have heard of called “Obi-Wan Kenobi.”  I now admit it, as painful to my pride as it is, that I was so ignorantly wrong about Refn’s “Drive” that has turned out to be a cult hit present day and a really good and exceptional crime-drama that’s subtle on the dialogue, high on the graphic violence, and all-around superb performances.  The script is the filmic adaptation based off American author James Sallis’s novel of the same title, keeping the neo-noir intact under of guise of muscle car predilection, and is a produced by Gigi Pritzker and Chris Ranta of Oddlot Entertainment (“Buried Alive”), Jonathan Oakes and Gary Michael Walters of Bold Films (“The Neon Demon”), Marc Platt of Marc Platt Productions (“Wanted”), and Motel Movies (“Blue Valentine”). 

To be upfront, Ryan Gosling has never been a go-to movie star for me, personally, so there might have been some psychogenic bias blocker keeping me away from the film over the last decade.  However, over the years, my pallet has grown in diversity and in tastes, chiefly because of influences in my life, and so curiosity got the better of me in wanting to explore the story of and the craft of Ryan Gosling’s character in “Drive.”  The way Gosling portrays the lead, known only as either the Driver or Kid, heavily relies on expression with minimal dialogue and lets all his emotions be poured through his eyes and body language as well as his actions in an anti-charismatic sense that, in a good way, leaves the character unassuming but still confident.  Watching Gosling’s methodical flow through the role and while having a little knowledge of the neurodivergence, it’s not difficult to see that the principal character comes off as a person somewhere on the autism spectrum and doing some post-credits research, I’m not the only one who had the same thought.  Unsociable, quiet, lack of facial expression, and obsessed with routine, especially when moonlighting as a criminal getaway driver with a set of very specific conditions, are just some examples of his behavior that point in the autism direction.  When the driver meets beautiful single parent neighbor Irene (Carey Mulligan, “Shame”), that is when we start seeing him deviate from his isolation, from his routine, and become more complex with what was previously a non-existent life, but of course as life blossoms into something new and safe, gangster obstacles rear their ugly head and the criminal in him is forced out for a head on collision.  “Ex Machina’s” Oscar Issacs is the first hurdle as the recently release ex-con dragged back into unscrupulous dealings with unsavory organized crime that climb the latter to “Hellboy’s” Ron Perlman and “Taxi Driver’s” Albert Brooks, business partners who oversee the West Coast turf. Perlman is a natural tough guy, as we’ve seen in countless works stretching over numerous decades and I would have never pictured “The In-Laws” and “Finding Nemo” Albert Brooks to be the minatory type but he does in fact have a dark-twinkle in his eye and can extract the false sense of security out of people before he jabs a fork in their eye and slits their throat…wrist….guts….yeah, his character loves to knife others. The all-star cast rounds out with Bryan Cranston (“Godzilla”) as the Driver’s mob-connected boss-friend-agent and Christina Hendricks (“The Neon Demon”) in a lowkey accomplice role that makes a gruesome, unforgettable impact.

Speaking of “The Neon Demon,” a more recent Nicholas Winding Refn film, you’ll begin to absorb the Denmark-born filmmaker’s stylistic motifs between the two films involving lingering shots, graphic violence, and the integration of electro-pop tracks into an eclectic soundtrack. Many of the scenes convey an emotion through dialogue-less scenes and the soundtrack to contrast actions speak louder than words. However, there is one radical theory of mine that I believe has a firm foundation is that everything from point A to point Z in the story is all in the Driver’s fantasy world. I know “Drive” is a movie and the need to suspend belief is important but only to an extent and depending on the quality derived from the filmmaker. Refn’s a good filmmaker, we know this, but everything the Driver experiences pitches upon pure imagination when the truth is stretched to be in his favor for the length of the feature. First example – the Driver slams into the side of another car head on, but the headlights, front bumper, and ventilation grille are all clearly intact. Second example – a tense-elevator scene involving the Driver, Irene, and a mobster assigned to take the Driver out takes an improbable turn when the Driver turns to Irene, both bathed in the sudden appearance of a spotlight, and they kiss passionately for quite a while. The moment become the perfect opportunity for the goon to blow away his target. Instead, he lets them kiss and then a close-quarter fight ensues shortly after. Third example but not last – the Driver is nearly an unstoppable force with no background to who he really is or why he is in Los Angeles, but he fights like a hardened criminal and knows how to play the organized crime game, never really have bad hand in his deck of cards, and even is given an ambiguous “Shane” ending. So, I ask again, is the beautiful girl, the ripe for the picking off gangsters, and the prodigious skillset all in his head?

I’ve clearly misjudged Nicolas Winding Refn’s “Drive” to be pretty-boy, stock-story, waste of time. Though I’m still not convinced about Ryan Gosling’s acting, like a Supreme Court Judge nowadays, I’m overturning my naive judgement and calling “Drive” a true modern day cult film hiding in plain sight, receiving new life from Second Sight films with an UK limited edition 4K UHF/Blu-ray release as well as a standard 4K and Blu-ray release. Unfortunately, this review covers only a BD-R screener so commenting on the true quality of the image and audio will not be recorded, but release specs include a new 4K master produced by the original post-production company with Refn’s approval, the UHD is presented in Dolby Vision HDR graded by the film’s original colorist, audio options include a Dolby Atmos and a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 with optional English subtitles, and the 4K UHD are region free while the Blu-rays are region locked encoded on region B. Standard bonus features include a new exclusive commentary by director Nicolas Winding Ren and The Guardian critic Peter Bradshaw, a feature length conversation with Refn, editor Mat Newman, and composer Cliff Martinez reminiscing about their sudden post-theatrical career success with “Drive” when the film saw more success on video, Gutting a Getaway – a new interview with Mat Newman, and 3 Point Turns – a new video essay by Leigh Singer. The limited-edition contents include a premium box set with new Driver Scorpion artwork by AllCity, a 240-page hardback book with new essays by various authors, an exclusive interview with “Drive” author James Sallis hosted by Matthew Thrift, original storyboards, stills, behind-the-scenes photos, the original Sallis novel with new AllCity artwork as well, and 7 collectible art cards. What a massive, massive haul for the film that didn’t do great in theaters due to poor financial support by investors who saw the film as a failure. The film has a runtime of 100 minutes and is UK certified 18. Don’t be like me and neglect a chance to see “Drive,” a great piston-pumping and violently beautiful crime-drama paralleled love story that deserves our time, our attention, and everything including the kitchen sink Second Sight Films pumped into the tremendous limited-edition boxset that dropped this week for release!

“Anything Happens in that Five Minues and I’m Yours.”  Drive Limited Edition Boxset at Amazon.com!

A Snapshot Celebration, Averting the EVILs of Typecasting, for the Iconic Actress “Sylvia Kristel: The 1970s Collection” reviewed! (Cult Epics / Blu-ray)

The “Sylvia Kristel:  1970s Collection” Available on Blu-ray and DVD at Amazon.com!  Currently on Sale!

Sylvia Kristel.  A name that is synonymous to eroticism.  Kristel paved the way in mainstreaming seductive romances of softcore exploits, helping to elevate the provocative genre out of the depths of sleaze and into a more exotic trashy novel for the big screen.   In her titular role in the “Emmanuelle” franchise coursed an arousing path of sexual freedom, uninhibition, and became the sumptuous and worldly window in private fantasies. Playing the role for nearly two decades didn’t stop Kristel from other high profile and lucrative projects with an array of filmmakers as well as her roles pre-“Emmanuelle” that molded the Netherlands actress into a sexual icon rather than object of male fantasies. Cult Epics acquires four films – “Playing with Fire,” “Pastorale 1943,” “Mysteries,” and “Julia” – that even though didn’t have Kristel set as a principal lead still showcased her range within the constraints of a minor, but certainly not insignificant, performance.

“Playing With Fire”

In a madcap Paris where sex trafficking is something of a sport, a wealthy French banker learns his daughter has been kidnap and threatened to be tricked out or burned alive if the kidnappers’ ransom isn’t paid.  Quickly learning that another woman has been mistaken for his daughter, a wave of relief bestows him to be cautious about future attempts on his daughter’s safety.  The banker hires a private detective to protect his loveliest of assets, offering to escort her to a local safehouse with the promise of sanctuary, but the P.I. is operating incognito being really one of the leaders of a surreal and lavish brothel who now has the banker’s beautiful daughter in his possession.  Or is it her who possesses him? 

Unlike any other exploitation-comedy you’ve likely ever seen, the 1975 released “Playing with Fire,” aka “Le jeu avec le feu,” is a wacky deep-dive of surrealistic sex trafficking from French writer-director Alain Robbe-Grillet whose obsession with prostitution rings and other filmic eroticism pursuits extends back within a decade later with “L’Immortelle,” aka “The Immortal One,” and “Successive Slidings of Pleasure.”  A French production of Arcadie Productions, Madeleine Films, and Cinecompany, “Playing with Fire” masters the avant-garde art of making light of a grim topic that results in a pull of emotions.  Robbe-Grillet draws out the shocking aspects of sex slavery while also encouraging a smirk or a chuckle at the whimsical characters and shooting techniques weaved throughout a burlesque narrative.  Robbe-Grillet also plays with the theme of dualities with a number of the principal characters having two or more versions of themselves:  Philippe Noriet plays not only the banker father Georges de Saxe but also a voiceless sleaze erotically interacting with the banker’s daughter in a very Freudian concept between father-daughter relations.  His daughter, Carolina (Anicée Alvina), disguises herself as the thin-mustached private detective to thwart future any attempt at an abduction and there’s also the identity mishap with the similar looking woman mistakenly kidnapped by the ringleader.  Leading us into Jean-Louis Trintignant as the ringleader Franz constantly in a revolving door switch-a-roo façade into the private detective.  The presence of duality doesn’t stop being a present throughout, continuing with the banker’s butler who is also a whorehouse patron without affirmation that they’re the one and same person.  Before their illegal banishment in the mid-20th century, Brothels were widely dispersed throughout Paris, but not until the Nazi occupation absorbed the houses of ill-repute that seared a bad taste of deviant humiliation and sordid disgust into the mouths’ of the French populace and Robbe-Grillet taps into that once time of unrest by splicing in a pair of isolating scenes of goose-stepping Nazi soldiers with one of the moments garmenting Anicée Alvina in uniform and marching in the ranks, suggesting a more sinister subplot afoot in the storyline.  Kristel plays one of the women snatched by Trintignant’s efficiently devious Franz with virtual a voiceless performance in what’s only a symbol of strength and beauty that sets perversion ablaze as she’s taken through the motions of essentially onboarding her into slavery whoredom. “Playing With Fire” can be at times difficult to keep up with the Alice in Wonderland-like surrealism and the character dualism but persists unwaveringly with a multi-faceted narration of deceit, eroticism, and comedy full of perversions and random outbursts akin to satirical skits that make this film unpredictable yet enjoyable to behold.

Pastorale 1943

During the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands, a quaint Dutch farming village lives day-to-day alongside soldiers and German sympathizers known as National Socialists (NSB) to the Nazis, traitors to their fellow Dutch countrymen.  When the Nazis learn of and round up all the dissidents and Jewish heritage people living in hiding on an adjacent, ferryboat island, a small band of unorganized resistant fighters determine the local pharmacist, a NSB member, to be the Nazi collaborator responsible for the treacherous leaking of information because his son impregnates an island village girl, teetering toward the fascist movement when mocked by her peers for her involvement with the pharmacist’s son.  Inexperienced in the execution of traitors, the bungling resistance fighters learn just how difficult planning a murder can be when their scheme falls apart in a small village where everybody knows everybody.

On this second of four Sylvia Kristel features is the Spieghel Filmproductiemaatschaappij of “Pastorale 1943” which makes more prominent the Nazi regime, is set with a backdrop of a Nazi occupied Netherland town and has a cameo role of young and dashing Rutger Hauer (“Blind Fury,” “The Hitcher”).  Netherland writer-director Wim Verstappen, whose had a few titles released previously from Cult Epics, such as “Obsessions” and “Blue Movie,” develops a script out of the World War II drama novel from author Simon Vestdijk with black comedic undertones and a tinge of corrosive sexuality and released the film in 1978.  Pastorale, or Pastoral, refers to the typically calm and idyllic country life which the complete opposite in 1943 Netherlands with all of Europe and East Asia engulfed in war; however, this story takes place in its own corner of the world with a mini, damn near microscopic, war waged between the Nazis occupation along with domestic NSB collaborators and the inhabitants resisting against the encroaching fascism that has plagued revenue crops and instilled an authoritarian culture, such as mandating the teaching of the German language to students in Dutch schools. Kristel’s involvement with Verstappen’s “Pastorale 1943” is about as much as her involvement in “Playing With Fire” with a minor role that’s still a keystone piece to the narrative. She plays Miep Algera, a local schoolteacher disparaged by her neighbors and colleagues for having romantic relations with a Nazi officer, but has she really fallen for the officer or is she secretly conducting counterintelligence for the resistance? “Pastorale 1943’s” two-part story plays heavily embroiling and embroidering characters in the first half to the point of instituting a cornerstone character but when the narrative pivots, to the darker side of implied Nazi exterminations and the fumbling through the execution of a rightfully innocent man, Verstappen homes in on Frederik de Groot as the artist Johan Schults whose Germanic surname causes him much strife amongst his Dutch brethren but to prove himself, Schults takes charge, along with an equally green execution squad of resistance politicians, to murder the NSB collaborator, a local pharmacist Poerstamper (Bernard Droog). The Academy Award submitted “Pastorale 1943” can be light and funny then turn quickly on a dime into wartime darkness and director Wim Verstappen’s vision pops with epic World War II fascism atrocities, confined to one part of the world and without the explicit voyeurism of genocide.

“Mysteries”

After the strange suicidal death of a man named Karlson, Johan Nagel arrives to the coastal town where the death occurred.  Immediately, Nagel stands out from the supercilious eccentric residents with his mustard yellow suit and fur coat, dispensing small cigars and money to everyone and every service as if they were infinite, and exhibits his own brand of strange behavior, especially with amorous feelings between two women and an unlikely friendship with a dwarf who has accepted his neighbors’ belittling jabs for humorous pleasure.  As his behavior declines, Nagel’s presence unravels the coiled, seemingly impenetrable, barriers around his friends, his enemies, and his romantic pursuits that reshape their properties for the better at the dangers of his own sanity and life.

Finally, we’re at a point in the Sylvia Kristel collection where the titular star is in a lead role with this demolition of concrete idiosyncratic personalities melodrama entitled “Mysteries” from Dutch filmmaker Paul de Lussanet, based off a novel “Mysterier” by Knut Hamsun, with Sigma Film Productions as the production company.  Kristel plays the steely Dany Kielland who becomes the infatuation of Nagel in an oppositional performance beautifully deranged and conducted by Rutger Hauer.  The hot-and-cold and on the brink of frustration relationship between Kielland and Nagel is as resolved as an unfinished breakfast left to waste and void of complete nutrition as both characters digest morsels of desire only to explode in a frenzy of loathsome disgust in an unsavory, brittle dynamic only Hauer and Kristel could produce on screen.  The other love interest involved, yet hardly feels as such until the last half hour, is an aged and more humble Martha Gude portrayed by “Last Night in Soho” British actress Rita Tushingham complete with a poor-looking frosty-colored wig.  Kielland and Gude represent the two-side of society – rich and poor respectively – stuck mastering a stanch stance of an indeterminate state that Nagel barrels into and knocks down the status quo, like a bowling ball to ten pins, for the better of the coastal town.  None of what Nagel does seemingly makes any sense and that’s very true to Hamsun’s novel in the unconventional, and probably unintentional, methods of Nagel’s erratic influence.  “Time Bandit’s” David Rappaport debuts in his first feature film as Grogard, an achondroplasia character bulled by most of the town’s residents due to his disorder.  Grogard anecdotally tells the story as “Mysteries” narrator, as if reading straight from Hamsun’s novel, the recollection of Nagel’s dichotomic behavior and, at the same time, Nagel also being a mentor, protector, and a friend that pained Grogard to watch his friend whither to death in fit of emotional exhaustion.  “Mysteries” borders arthouse cinema, adaptive faithfulness, and pristine melodramatic performance that sound good in theory but not always translate well to the screen, leaving more of a perplexing impression on the whole purpose of rendering Knut Hamsun’s novel into film in the first place.

“Julia”

Every year, Patrick departs his boarding school for a short holiday with his father and relatives at his grandmother’s idyllic lakeside house.  While riding the train en route to his grandmother’s, he encounters an older, yet beautiful, blonde woman inside the passenger carriage car and before he can firm up courage to act upon his sexual brimming hormones, the blonde is swept up by an older gentleman right from under his nose.  Come to find out, the blonde woman is actually his father’s girlfriend in a completely open relationship when it boils down to sex.  Anxious about his own insecure sexual appetite, Patrick finds himself surrounded by the perversions of his family and friends, leaving the young man hesitant and nearly impotent in bedding the woman he actually cares about, a longtime friend Julia who lives next door to his grandmother.

On the heels of “Emmanuelle,” Sylvia Kristel follows up with another licentious freedom film in Sigi Rothemund’s “Julia.” Also known as “Summer Girl” or “Die Nichte der O,” the German production from the Lisa-Film company is the earliest film on the 1970s collection with a release in 1974 and is the only other screenplay on the collection next to “Playing with Fire” that is not adapted from literature. Instead, “Julia” is a wild romp ride of young sexual exploration and the anxieties that accompany it from an outlandish and witty script by Wolfgang Bauer. “Julia” might not be based off a book, but the story is certainly an unapologetically open book about the insignificance of virginity, polyamorous affairs, lesbianism, voyeurism, and the sexual rite of passage into adulthood with the young and naive principal Patrick, or Pauli as credited, played by the late Ekkehardt Belle who passed away in January of this year. Opposite Belle, Sylvia Kristel obviously dons the titular role of Julia. Inexplicably voluptuously different from the other three films on the collection, Kristel radiates a sexual aurora perhaps infected by proxy of its release soon after “Emmanuelle” as Kristel obvious branches out to more sensible dramatic roles rather than the decor of a German sex comedy such as “Julia” that galvanized by its free-for-all eccentric caricatures including an operatic, overweight, and perverse uncle Uncle Alex (Peter Berling, “When Women Were Called Virgins”), a highly aggressive lesbian in Aunt Myriam (Gisela Hahn, “Devil Hunter”), the house maid Silvana who Myrian seduces with whipped cream and has piano-top sex (Christine Glasner), and his polyamorous father Ralph (Jean-Claude Bouillion, “The Sextorvert”) and girlfriend Yvonne (Teri Tordai, “She Lost Her…You Know What”). Comparatively flimsy next to “Emmanuelle” as a sexual journey and coming of age film but “Julia” is a hot-to-trot sex comedy with funny bits as well as sultry naught bits too.

Beautifully curated for the first time ever release in the United States of all four films is Cult Epics’ “Sylvia Kristel: 1970s Collection” on Blu-ray and DVD. The 4-disc, uncut Blu-ray, which was provided for coverage, is region free, limited to 2500 copies, and perfectly packaging to extol praise upon the robust early career of Sylvia Kristel. Presented in European widescreen 1:66:1 (with the exception of “Playing with Fire” which is displayed in an anamorphic 2:35:1), each film is newly scanned in 2K from the original 35mm elements as well as been restored. Transfers for the most part are exquisitely pristine, each harboring their own mise-en-scene mélange, but some are better than others with “Mysteries” sitting at the bottom rung of showing slightly a few more scratches and one-or-two single frame damages that flame up through the reel briefly. “Julia” also has minor scratches, but that’s really the extent of the issues with the image quality on this restored visual released with a rich color palette and textures redefined for a better palpability. Compression issues are virtually non-existent and there are no tinkering enhancements or cropping used to skirt transfer limitations. I am in awe of the audio output of the 1920kps bitrate, transmitting the highest audio quality possible for each release through either DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 or a LCPM 2.0. Dialogue clarity comes through cleanly with French in “Playing with Fire,” Dutch and German in “Pastorale 1943,” and German in “Julia.” “Mysteries” sounds a bit muddle sometimes due to the consistently background popping interference, but the Dutch language still pulls through strongly and discernibly. Each film comes with optional English subtitles. Special features are aplenty with audio commentaries by Tim Lucas, Jeremy Richey, and Peter W. Verstraten, new and vintage interviews and promotional footage with cast and crew on ‘Playing with Fire,” “Pastorale 1943,” and “Mysteries,” a poster and still gallery on each release, and original theatrical trailers. Outside the disc contents, the collection’s rugged cardboard boxset housing unit consists of a 4-disc snapper case with vintage-still collage cover art, a 40-page illustrated booklet with color pictures and an essay on all four films written by Jeremy Richey, and a cover art poster by Gilles Vranckx. Total runtime is 429 minutes, enough to get your Syliva Kristel fill and then want more…much more. The “Sylvia Kristel: 1970s Collection” lauds the actress’s versatility of performances and ability to work with any director from any country and fans who love “Emmanuelle,” or of just Kristel, will undoubtedly fall in love with this Cult Epics comprehensive look at the Dutch icon’s outermost filmography.

The “Sylvia Kristel:  1970s Collection” Available on Blu-ray and DVD at Amazon.com!  Currently on Sale!

Being Dismissed is EVIL That’s Hard to Choke Down. “Swallow” reviewed! (Second Sight Films / BD-R Screener)

Newly pregnant housewife, Hunter, putters around the house while her workaholic husband enjoys the fruits of success and friendship with colleagues.  When she’s not cleaning the house or preparing a meal for herself, Hunter stares into the oblivion of her isolating environment.  The country girl who really had nothing to her name has fortunately found an opportunity to never be worried about financial insecurities and with every material thing a person could want in their right at her fingertips.  All Hunter has to sacrifice is her control.  Feeling lonely, powerless, and trapped, Hunter discovers swallowing inedible, dangerous objects gives her great joy and something she can control.  As she goes deeper into this obsession and her perfect world begins to crumble, she’s confronted with reexamining her dark past that stems her unusual eating habit.

Sometimes it’s our strange quirks, our self-destruction behaviors, and our subconscious need to be noticed, or in control, or out of the pockets of others that can deliver horrid outcomes that, ironically enough, can be also our incognito liberator.  As such displayed in Carlo Mirabella-Davis’ written and directed introductory feature film, a blend of family melodrama and interior body horror, with “Swallow.”  The 2019 released psychological thriller is difficult to digest, literally, as the protagonist struggles coping with external control issues in a seemingly perfect life, a life that has never quite felt like her own, while also encouraging an alarming new physiological appetite for what is known in the eating disorder circles as Pica.  Set in upstate New York, shot around the idyllic Hudson Valley area, “Swallow” is produced by the award-winning “Nomadland’s” Mollye Asher and “Black Box’s” Mynette Louie, who have a long history in investing into bold and interesting emotional depth tales, and is a production of the France based companies, Charades and Logical Pictures.

Undertaking the daunting task of Pica emulating is Haley Bennett.  “The Haunting of Molly Hartley” and “Hardcore Henry” actress tethers a line to the core basis of her character Hunter who has to gradually chip away portions of her blank exterior of a person subconsciously suffering from similar symptoms of Stockholm Syndrome.  Hunter very much believes in the social saturation of wifely duties at an attempt to please her bread-winning husband Ritchie (Austin Stowell, “Colossal”), constantly gathering reassurances and happiness from him.  I also like the play on words with the husband name Ritchie that speaks to his haughty behavior.  Bennett, in great detail, captures Hunter’s disfigured, uncertain happiness and wholehearted attempts to join the ranks of a proud housewife, an area mirrored by silent authority from her mother-in-law Katherine (Elizabeth Marvel, “All the Little Things We Kill”).  As soon as Hunter swallows that very first foreign object, Bennett derives true delight from the bizarre action.  From then on, blistering is away is being a slave to Ritchie’s wealthy ties as that little object, that spherical inkling of hope, gets the marble rolling down the gullet of taking back what’s hers, her life.  Bennett and Stowell finesse their characters’ relationship with a teetertotter of genuine sympathy and ingenuine gratification in what’s a blurry line of compassion or a total fake façade for the allusion of appearances.  The weakest character, for me, is Luay, the Syrian expat who fled the turmoil of homeland war and has become something of a caretaker to Hunter.  Played by Laith Nakli, Luay’s sympathy for Hunter runs deeper than her psychological disorder, and Nakli can dish out awkward, slow burn compassion with the best of them, but that connection between Luay and Hunter misses the timely mark with a blank and acute switching of allegiances gone unspoken and with inaction.  Luna Lauren Velez (“Dexter”), David Rasche (“Cobra”), Babak Tafti, Nichole Kang (“Ten Minutes to Midnight”), Zabryna Guevara, and “American Horror Story’s” Denis O’Hare rounds out the cast.

Hunter’s fixation can be compared to the likes of any other vice and soul-swallowing addiction – gambling , drugs, sex – but the very fact that it’s Pica, and on a certain level of the OCD spectrum, makes Mirabella-Davis’ script somewhat of a curious oddity as the filmmaker builds a story around a dysfunctional family and one’s own personal grasp on destiny.  Though set in modern times, “Swallow” very much has a 1950s-1960s vibe with the dynamic of the working husband and the wife stays home to spruce up the house; there’s even a particular scene of Hunter vacuuming in a 50’s-ish tea length swing dress.  Despite the story’s curious and odd nature and the stuck in time antiquated gender inequality veneer, Mirabella-Davis utilizes these aspects to shape and shed light on the more diabolical of inner detriments with Hunter’s lack of confidence and autonomy stemmed from a difficult to swallow past and a financially affluent relationship that actually disallows personal freedom.  “Swallow” is oppressive in ways as Ritchie and his family and friends attempt to squeeze every ounce of value out of Hunter with value being the unborn child amongst other things.   The psychology of “Swallow” melds past and present together to form Hunter’s dangerous method of taking over the reigns of a life she never steered and Mirabella-Davis crafts an exquisite niche thriller to encourage us to gobble up.

Second Sight Films, a label known for it’s substantial and lavish re-releases, snacks on another high profile film with their profound limited edition Blu-ray of Carlo Mirabella-Davis’ “Swallow.” The single disc, PAL encoded, region B BD-25 is presented in the original aspect ratio of a widescreen 2.39:1 aspect ratio. Since a BD-R was provided for review purposes, I am unable to comment on the true characteristics and qualities of the audio and video, but do note Katelin Arizmendi’s stunning cinematography that’s full of palpable texture to every minute piece of inedible edibles Hunter puts down her throat and the gorgeous long shots of Hunter being engulfed by the depth with the isolating forest setting that looks to be lurking in the background. The limited edition release hit shelves this past Tuesday, the 22nd, and has a ton of features to check out, including a new audio commentary by director Mirabella-Davis and producers Moilye Asher and Mynette Louie, A Personal Story exclusive interview with the director that’s seriously in-depth and passionate about his work on “Swallow,” Something Bubbling Underneath exclusive interview with producer Moilye Asher, The Process exclusive interview with editor Joe Murphy, Metal and Glass exclusive interview with composer Nathan Halpern, Alexandra Heller-Nicholas’s take on “Swallow” A Room of One’s Own, Mirabella-Davis’ short film “Knife Party,” and a rigid slipcase with new artwork by Haley Turnbull along with a soft cover booklet with an introduction by the director and containing essays by Anne Billson, Jordan Crucchiola, and Ella Kemp. Lastly, at the tail of the special features are 6 beautiful collectors’ art cards. “Swallow” is rated UK 18 and runs for 94 minutes. Bennett wins the prize for making “Swallow” a throat-clearing success and bravo to Mirabella-Davis for being brave enough with an unusual story set around an uncommon eating disorder and directing the hell out of it.

Limited Edition Blu-ray from Second Sight Films Available at Amazon.com

Once You Let EVIL In, EVIL Will Never Let Go. “The Babadook” reviewed! (Second Sight Films / Blu-ray Screener)



Stage set six years after a car accident involving the death of her husband, single mother Amelia and her difficult six-year-old son, Samuel, struggle to find a harmonious balance in their mother-son relationship.  Samuel’s outbursts and aggressive behaviors deflate the boy’s sometimes sweet nature that has oppressed Amelia into her wits end, alienating her from connecting with other people, even her own sister.  For days Amelia can’t sleep as the stress mounds and Samuel’s erratic temperament continues to worsen, especially when Samuel discovers a mysterious book from the shelf entitled Mister Babadook.  A book he can’t shake from his mind.  The frightening book, filled with graphic imagery and popups, tells of an ominous, dark figure eager to be let into their lives and when the Babadook presence lurks from the pages to reality, hiding in the darkest corners of their home and leeching on the strained anxiety and fear, Amelia and Samuel must rely on each other to wade out the Babadook’s horrible wretchedness only to realize that the way to stop from succumbing to the Babadook’s wrath is to face it head on. 

I can not believe that nearly 7 years has gone by and I have not once sat with a viewing of Jennifer Kent’s “The Babadook.”  Well, luckily for me, genre UK curator and distributor Second Sight Films is releasing the golden egg of limited edition 4K UHD/Bluray sets and was able to snag a screener for review!  The Australian film is an emotionally complex and enormously identifiable thriller that demonizes the post-death states of those dealing with loss and struggling to live on tasked with what’s typically a two person responsibility of mutual support and care.  Kent, who wrote and directed the film, expands upon her original 2005 short entitled “Monster,” by keeping the wrenching core that close in tighter and tighter on the mother and son while upping the visual and audio stylistic elements to make an immersive sympathetic undergo and not just an empathetic one.  “The Babadook” is a production of a conglomerate of companies, including Screen Australia, Causeway Films, Smoking Gun Productions, The South Australian Film Corporation, and Entertainment One and is produced by “Cargo’s” Kristina Ceyton and Jeff Harrison along with “The 13th House’s” Kristian Moliere.

Tackling these performances of a suppressed grief-stricken mother on the edge of snapping and a young boy growing up without a father and innocently oblivious to his own autistic like behavioral issues come with layers upon layers of character depth and, in my firm opinion, Essie Davis and Noah Wiseman crush the roles with a heartbreaking dynamic.   “The Matrix Reloaded” and “Revolutions” star Davis has a tangible wearied performance of a single parent with no one to turn to for help as your unconditional love for her troubled son runs on fumes, dangerously low without an outlet for support, encouragement, or relief.  Samuel has more familiarity in the genre as a relatively new trope, an autistic child that becomes intertwined with a wicked presence that has popped up more recent films, such as Jacob Chase’s “Come Play” and Greg McLean’s “The Darkness,”  as researches learn more about autism and society has been able to authenticate the condition over the years.  The debut feature performance from young Noah Wiseman can get under-your-skin being a restless busy body, a screeching backseat thrasher, and a poke and prod child in constant need of attention, but Noah is able to switch right into a sweet natured young boy with lots of wonderment and love for his mother.  Noah’s inventive, creative, and has a knack for self-preservation when dealing with a looming evil hungry for his fearful submission but because Noah is different from other children, he’s society labeled “disadvantage” is actually advantage, a tool for survival, that keeps him fixated on what’s important.  Focally attuned to just Amelia and Samuel in the story, the film barely registers the supporting cast that rounds out with Hayley McElhinney, Daniel Henshall, Barbara West, and Tim Purcell as the obscured Babadook.

Right from the opening scene, director Jennifer Kent instills a visually stylish premise geared to layer Amelia’s troubled mindset with an etherealized environment nightmare of her husband’s tragic death followed with the reality-grounding energy drain of raising single-handedly a difficult child and the rest of Amelia’s social bubble imploding without a sense of compassion.  From Samuel’s school to her own sister, Amelia is bombarded with delineation of Samuel’s behavior, riddling her psyche with shot after shot of disparaging remarks compounded upon a lingering pain that goes all the way back to her husband’s death nearly seven years ago and to which she subconsciously assigns Samuel blame.  Culminating to a head on Samuel’s birthday, the exact same date of her husband’s death, is a flood of weary and breakdown overtaking Amelia’s last bit of hope for her child and for herself.  This manifests an internalized darkness protruding out into the exterior in the form of Mister Babadook, the embodiment of grief pent up and let loose, feeding off Amelia’s exhaustion and malevolently possessing her being to want to do the worst possible thing overly stressed and repressed parents can do – take out their pain on their children.  Kent masterfully crafts symbolizing grief as an atypical presence of our normal selves.  The sheer amount of dimly lit negative space for the Babadook lying in waiting goes not to waste as when you think something is there, perhaps the Babadook, nothing actually materializes from the ominous shadows, but, in the realm of the story’s reality, that sensation of feeling a presence in the room with you is beyond a tauten tangibility and Kent, playing with that construct, adds stomach knotting audible cues, a guttural discordance, that narrow the eyes, pull the covers over the head, and have you wait with bated breath.

Let the “The Babadook” in with Second Sight Films’ 3-disc limited edition dual formatted, region free 4K UHD and region B Blu-ray, release arriving in the UK on June 21st.  The 4K presentation, an upscaled 2160p, is mastered by the original post production facility and presented in a 10-bit HDR10.  Both 4K and Blu-ray have an aspect ratio of 2.35:1 widescreen.  Audio options include the an English language DTS-HD master audio 5.1 and an English LPCM 2.0, complete with perplexing creature roaring soundbites from the original Resident Evil game on PlayStation.  Since only a screener disc was provided for this review, I am unable to comment on the exact quality of the release’s audio and video outputs; however, the rigid slipcase, with artwork from Peter Diamond, sheaths an abundance of special features, including a new audio commentary by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas and Josh Nelson, “This is My House!” – an interview with lead actress Essie Davis working with the cast and crew as well as her impressions of the story, “The Sister:  Interview with Hayley McElhinney” who talks about her character’s uncompassionate sibling role, and interviews with producers Kristina Ceyton and Kristian Moliere, editor Simon Njoo, production designer Alex Homes, composer Jud Kurzel, and book illustrator of Mister Babadook Alexander Juhasz.  The release also comes with Jennifer Kent’s inspirational short film, “Monster,” the making-off “”They Call Him Mister Babadook,” featurette about production design and set location in “There’s No Place Like Home:  Creating the House,” special effects talk about the sole stabbing scene, segment on stunt work, “Illustrating Evil: Creating the Book” that was illustrated by Alexander Juhasz, and a 150-page hardback book with brand new essays, an achieved interview with the director, concept illustrations, and behind the scenes photos  and collectors’ art cards that were not included with the screener.   Broodingly topical and harrowingly acted with perfection, “The Babadook” is the epithet for silent deadly threats, squirrelled and suppressed away by innate survival instincts only to be a subsonic explosion when the unstable psyche’s flashing point is sparked. 

When EVIL Becomes Obsolete, Its Time for an…”Upgrade” reviewed!


In the near future where assistive technology serves as the cultural way of life, a very manual Grey Trace still clings to being self-independent while his loving wife, Asha, laps up and embraces new and innovative tech. When an fatal shooting strikes down Asha and cripples Grey to an automated wheelchair, Grey is forced into a depressive world he no longer recognizes. Desperate to find his wife’s killers, he accepts experimental computer chip implant known as STEM to send the signals from his brain to his extremities; however, that is not all STEM can do. The smart technology can also scan, record, and reactive to all of Grey’s experiences, be a voice of knowledge, and enact super human abilities that will aid in Grey’s vengeance, but without much control over his own body, how much will Grey continue to use the smart device that becomes smarter every minute.

In a cinematic age when remakes, re-imaginings, and sequels really do rule supreme, a breath of innovation and compelling storytelling in Leigh Whannell’s 2018 science fiction, action-noir “Upgrade” is a technological advance that’s feels lightyears ahead in comparison. The “Saw” and “Insidious” writer, who indulges in all of horror’s gracious qualities, tackles the future with a synergetic and brutal vengeance film on indie-budget proportions; however, “Upgrade” feels no where near being low budget in a futuristic world that includes monochromatic self-driving cars, bio-weaponized forearms and hands, and a robotic protein shake slingers for those meal replacement pick-me-ups. With the assistance from Blumhouse Tilt, a Blumhouse production sublabel that seeks to release projects onto multi-platforms, Whannell gained freedom to script, in every sense of the world, his own vision of cyborg horror and crime thriller.

Logan Marshall-Green stars as Grey Trace, an analog man living comfortably in a digital world. Trace is a dying bred as the technology ecosystem slowly creeps into all that earned by hard work, even in his small classic car restoration business. The “Prometheus” star tackles a unique physicality aspect of an action film that involves the robotic responses of hand-to-hand combat while also being the emotional punching bag of pelted heartache and turmoil. Portraying his character as a man’s man, Marshall-Green has to find humility in not only unable to self-serve himself as a cripple, but then also rely on the one thing he withdrew himself from for help….a machine. “Upgrade” primarily focuses on Trace to even having the camera affix to his character during fight sequences, but though most of the narrative is through Trace’s vindictive narrative, a cascading effect of his destruction brings one of his nemesis’s into reactive defense. Fisk, Benedict Hardie from the upcoming remake of “The Invisible Man” that’s also directed by Whannell, is a mysterious soldier of fortune whose backstory, that salivates at the tip of the tongue to be told, is only sampled at best with his cybernetic implants or why he was even chosen to be a deadly, robotic killing machine. Perhaps Fisk’s backstory, and those of his fellow veteran comrades, are another misrepresentation or the maltreatment of veterans by conglomerate, privately owned tech and weapon companies that lean more toward involuntary experimentation rather over anything else that’s an allegory of owning a person, a piece of property, as we also see with STEM attached to Grey Trace’s spinal cord. “Upgrade” rounds out with performances from Melanie Vallejo, Harrison Gilbertson (“Haunt”), Betty Gabriel (“Get Out”), Kai Bradley, and Simon Maiden as the voice of STEM.

Shot in urban Melbourne that’s quasi-reflective of the gritty streets of Chicago, Leigh Whannell aimed for a fatalistic mystery that breaks down relationship barriers and sustains a punitive jurisdiction of grime. Whannell surely achieves the desired affect that goes from a classy futuristic society to the bottom barrel of human existences that have been tainted by the dark side of tech including addiction and dangers of being fully aware as a sanctioned being. “Upgrade” capitalizes on every inch of its capital to enlarge the quality of a miniature budget and utilizes local talent, who, aside from Logan Marshall-Green, never wane from their unnatural American English accents, to offer heartfelt human performances despite their mechanical transitions. “Upgrade” isn’t “Robocop” or “Nemesis,” but rather more “Terminator” where organic and inorganic don’t exactly coincide to benefit as a single entity. Unlike the autonomous killing machine portrayed by Arnold Schwarzenegger, “STEM” acts like a computer virus working off commands, coding, and complex algorithms to infiltrate and deploy executions to subverse the man over the machine and Whannell’s concept brilliantly contextualizes that dynamic without having too much exposition to divulge and is easily computed without having to be deciphered from binary code.

Coming November 18th is Second Sight Film’s limited edition Blu-ray release of “Upgrade” presented in full HD, 1080p, and clocks in at 100 minutes under a region B UK coding. Unfortunately, a screener disc was provided for review and so I will not be critiquing the video or audio quality at this time so this review is solely about the film only. A static menu including chapters were available on the disc as well as bonus features including a commentary by writer-director Leigh Whannell, a new Second Sights’ interview with the director about his envisioning and how it came to fruition, more new interviews with producer Kylie Du Fresne, cinematographer Stefan Duscio, editor Andy Canny, and fight choreographer Chris Weir. All the interviews showcase depth with the material to their respective roles and opinions about “Upgrade.” Don’t think it necessary to refer filmmaker Leigh Whannell as the “Saw” guy now that “Upgrade” has completely overshadowed the franchise in a single sitting entertained with action, gore, and a heart-rendering story. Surely to be Whannell’s break out film from the horror genre.

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