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.

And We All Thought Puppy Mills Were EVIL! “Breeder” reviewed! (Eureka Entertainment / Blu-ray Screener)

Avid and accomplished equestrian, Mia, yearns for a child of her own with husband Thomas as the clock on her ovaries continues ticking into her 30s, but something keeps her husband from digging himself out of a sexually frustrated trench, causing strain on their marriage.  Mia thinks his imperative financial venture, a collaboration alongside ruthless businesswoman and unorthodox scientist named Ruben, has made him sexually reclusive being wrapped up in a delicate investment of reversing the aging process that could crumble at any time, but when a beautiful and youthful neighbor goes missing after frantically showing up bloodied at her front door, Mia follows her trail to an abandoned candy factory where Ruben holds hostage young women for her violating biohacking experiments.  Becoming caged herself at the mercy of Ruben, Mia, and the rest of the women, are left to the sadistic and misogynistic whims of Ruben’s henchmen, the Pig and The Dog, in between the good doctor’s examinations. 

What happens when the powerful elite, using wealth and influence, circumvent ethical red tape in order to receive medical advancements as soon as possible?  Director Jens Dahl and screenwriter Sissel Dalsgaard Thomsen explore that radical and illegal biohacking ideology with an intense and extreme feminist view in their 2020 released, invasively graphic, horror thriller, “Breeder.”   Hailing from Denmark, not too many extreme films come out of the Nordic country, but taking a cue from their German neighbors from the South with a sexual and age dysphoria viscosity, “Breeder” takes an urban legend-esque approach to age defying that’s more Countess Bathory than anything Aveeno facial creams could ever manufacture in a story based on biohacking blended loosely with the French folklore of Bluebeard where an affluent man has an obsessive habit in murdering his wives, one after another, per director Jens Dahl.  “Breeder” might not be that black and, well, blue with a tough love message and an illicit theme of subversive genetical achievements produced by Peter Hyldahl, Amalie Lyngbo Quist, Penelope Bjerregaard and Maria Moller Christoffersen of Beo Starling (Beofilm) production company.

Leading the pack of caged, exploitered women in this human puppy mill comes with a hefty price of compromising positions and uncomfortable scenarios. The 32-yeard old actress, Sara Hjort Ditlevsen, plays an age appropriate Mia whose coming down to her last straw when coming to her husband’s inability to commit to their teetering marriage, but Mia comes with a twist in that she never gives up, achieving her end goal even if that means strapping on her riding boots and stirrups, dropping her panties, and digging those spurs into her hind parts while masturbating just to release the sexual tension. Ditlevsen gives a gradual fuming performance gaslit by the abusing sustained by the sadistic misogynist, monikered The Dog (Morten Hoist) who, in appearances, has the visual looks of a greasy Bill Oberst Jr. Jackson Pollock’d from a Mads Mikkelsen portrait and has the temper to match. The Dog and his partner, The Pig, played by Jens Anderson in an unbalanced contrast to the The Dog’s screen time, are harnessed and weaponized by a mad scientist role that was originally intended for a man before screenwriter, Sissel Dalsgaard Thomsen, had an epiphany that her feminist script was playing right into that systemic, male dominant, structure. Instead, the role was flipped, in gender only, and performed by “Wild Witch’s” Signe Eghom Olsen. Olsen gives a chillingly cold performance in Ruben’s contradictory indifference for life by snatching youth and beauty from young women, those who spite Ruben just by the mere fact of their innate good genes and healthy reproductive system, and selling the epitome of their stolen essence to the highest, or oldest, bidder in an age-reserval scheme. Ruben does have another motive with self-preservation as her rare genetic makeup makes finding a genome match nearly impossible, but she slays away a lot of women and a lot of infants in order to unearth her type. Anders Heinrichsen, Eeva Putro, Elvira Friis, Eja Rhea Mathea Due, Oksana Kniazeva, and Sara Wilgaard Sinkjær round out of the cast.

One of the “Breeder’s” core themes is the power one holds over another, but absolute control is not a singular reoccurring motif as power ebbs and flows from one character to another in a rolodex of examples that include Thomas’s financial control of Ruben’s rebellious operational decisions, The Dog’s inhumane dominance over captive women he loathes, and, on the receiving end, an enslaved woman’s embracing of a submissive, masochistic posture to The Dog’s punishing sadism, but control can be fleeting as seen in many movies yet proved to be in an abundance in Dahl’s “Breeder” with plot points that overturn sovereign power through a pendulum sway of brute, bloody force and hostage exploitation ugliness.  One bizarre recurrent through the cat and mouse power struggles is urination.  Yup, bodily fluids make an appearance, but go beyond the one-time shock value affect with three, count them three, acts of peeing in which two scenes reflect dominance as the powerful relieve themselves all over the, at that time, docile weak as a dog would when marking his claimed spot in the yard.  “Breeder” continues the varied questionable character tactics when primary plot turning points fail to impress plausible reactionary needs; an example would include when Ruben uses Thomas’ affection for Mia to control his unpredictable behavior, but the obsessed mad scientist, not to be bested by losing her financial support, lets Thomas run freely around her private abandoned factory of horrors which allows Thomas to become a monkey wrench in her biohacking laboratorial machine.  The same easy street escapes run rampant throughout and is even unintentionally spoofed when one women is able to escape not once but twice The Dog and The Pig’s rigorous grasps, taking “Breeder’s” serious new wave extreme a level down to a sickly stage of story blunders with rough draft written characters and scuffle.

 

If golden showers are not the extreme go-to for brutal survival horror, “Breeder” offers a variety of acrid amenities from stapling lips together to a trash can full of dead, dismembered babies and is homeward bound in the UK on Blu-ray from Eureka Entertainment under the company’s Montage Pictures banner.  Available February 15th, 2021, the first 2,000 prints of the Blu-ray will come with a limited edition O-card slipcase.  If you’re not a physical media aficionado (…loser.  J/K), “Breeder” will also be available digitally and will be presented in the film’s original aspect ratio of 2.35:1.  The Danish language DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio mix will be accompanied with optional English subtitles.  Since this review is based off a Blu-ray screener, I will not go into depth with the audio and visual conditions, but the cinematography work is from the sophomore feature of Nicolai Lok.  Behind the camera, Lok’s settles on a drab color schemes of mostly black and grey of a sterile environment, with the Lindberg house or inside Ruben’s medical popup tent, along with hard yellows, like mustard, to accentuate the rust and grime in closeups to medium shots within the tight confines of the abandoned candy factory turned into an unsweet meat market, but uses a fisheye lens on the regular to the effect I couldn’t pinpoint other than to fishbowl dysphoria an already narrow area. The end result made scenes unnecessarily warped for the viewers already stomaching a large amount of women battering. The special features included an October 2020 answer only interview with director Jens Dahl and screenwriter Sissel Dalsgaard Thomsen discussing in depth the reason they wanted to make this film. “Breeder” opens with Mia prancing her horse Karat and she inner dialogues how they move in tandem, but she questions the pecking order of master and prisoner between them knowing for certain she’s Karat’s jailor and that translates perfectly into her own subhuman treatment as a branded and caged animal for the pleasure of others; however, this type of depth thinking begins to rotate the hamster wheel but, as soon as momentum picks up on those tiny legs of collusion and betrayal, a gradual limp slows that hamster’s endurance with not enough plot developmental pallets to digest in order to keep up the effort.

A Kingdom Engulfed by Evil! “Rampant” review!


The kingdom of Joseon is in a state of great turmoil as the absolute monarchy is being influentially divided. The King has treacherous whispers being fed to him by head of the nobles, Minister Kim, and the eldest royal son, the Crown Prince, witnesses his father’s dominion being redirected against the common people despite his best efforts to persuade his father. When the Crown Prince’s insurrection plan for kingdom stabilizing is foiled, the Crown Prince commits public suicide as act of sacrifice to spare his cohorts and their family from capital punishment, but before his death, the Crown Prince sends word to his younger brother, Lee Chung, to return home from the Qing Dynasty and escort his sister and unborn child out of a country soon to be in the throes of chaos. In the midst of the struggle, a foreign ship cargoes new age weapons and the Captain has secret dealings with Minister Kim, but is raided by the Crown Prince’s rebellion The ship also holds another human eradicating payload, a plagued foreigner in the brig is transforming into a blood hungry monster with grayed out eyes and razor sharp teeth With one of the raiding members being bitten, the carnivorous outbreak spreads throughout the kingdom days before the pleasure seeking and arrogant Lee Chung returns home. Chung not only finds his people suffering from bloodthirsty monsters, but also from a turbulent hierarchy sought for destruction by a devilish and traitorous orchestrator who will do anything, like leave a plague go unchecked, to see the lineage die out.

From the same studio that delivered the critically successful, zombie apocalyptic nail biter, “Train to Buscan” comes Kim Sung-hoon’s martial arts horror-fantasy, “Rampant,” that’s a perfect accompaniment double feature film involving a familiar fast-spreading zombie-like outbreak with gripping, non-stop action based on the webcomic Kingdom of the Gods. “Rampant” is the filmmaker’s junior film from 2018, a film blended with truly epic magnitude and an ancient Korean civilization that’s penned by “Scary Hair” writer-director Shin-yeon Won and Hwang Jo Yoon to weave battling aortic stories that inherently funnel toward the dismantling of an established empire. While not serving as a straight genre film with savage moments of on the edge of your seat horror, the theme hones in on the separation of classes, peasants and blue-blooded or high ranking officials, and the reuniting them by compassion and strength. Inklings of fear, greed, and ignorance are stitched in the very hanbok and gat-laden fabrics of the story and serving as a precursor to the Netflix produced television series, Kingdom, scripted by Kim Eun-hee and directed by Seong-hun Kim, involving virtually an identical premise of a troubled monarchy being plagued by a horde of diabolical creatures.

Prince Lee Chung is a stimulating character to say the least; the prince’s introduction isn’t favorable to royal morals as a pleasure seeking, womanizer who gets his kicks by doing what he wants, when he wants. Yet, Chung arches so prominently that the transformation goes seamless, and covertly, to persuades audiences to rally behind Chung in the least-to-most extreme circumstances. Hyun Bin’s confidence in the prince ceases to amaze. From his impeccable arrogance to selfless protection, Bin sustains high level performance no matter the situation while bearing a giant blade, holstered on his lower back. Chung has the skill of a warrior, but the tact of a barfly at first and comes to be a complete better version of himself at the dire end that also completes Bin’s full range of the role. Chung is pitted against Minister Kim, the head of all the court’s ministers, and Kim plots to dethrone the Joseon kingdom in chaos by any means. Jang Dong-Gun is Korean’s version of Mads Mikkelsen. Jang envelops a deepening mystery that’s hard to deescalate and emits a presence on screen just by the way he positions himself in an ominous, if not anime swordsman, manner. Minister Kim is a staggering and formidable nemesis, more overall suited to be the main villain amongst an ever-growing sea of plague-spewing creatures. The remaining lot of characters feel auxiliary around the protagonist Chung and antagonist Kim and these roles are supported by Kim Eui-sung (“Train to Buscan”), Jo Woo-jin, Jo Dal-hwan, Jung Yoo-An, Lee Sun-Bin, and Seo Ji-hye.

You might have noticed that the term creatures were used to describe the menace that plagues Joseon. Characters often reference the plague transformed attackers as demons and, to be honest, these grayed eyed, pointy teeth demons could pass as extras in Lamberto Bava’s “Demons” or Kevin Tenney’s “Night of the Demons,” but the U.S. marketing of the Well Go USA Entertainment release promises zombies and zombie action, even going as far as splaying on the front and back cover that the same studio produced “Train to Buscan.” To be fair, a plague did start the mayhem, transmission of the disease was by bite, and the course ran the kingdom very, well, rampant like a traditional, George A. Romero style, outbreak. Either way, to kill a demon and/or zombie, an assortment of kill method was acceptable such as: beheadings, severing the heart, and, to thoroughly ensure death, kill with fire. Demons. Zombies. Audiences won’t be too hard up on how to label the hungry hordes as “Rampant” slices, dices, and crucifies the the living hell out of the living dead.

Well Go USA Entertainment presents the VAST Entertainment and Leeyang Film, “Rampant,” onto a dual format, DVD and Blu-ray combo, release. The 129 minute runtime Blu-ray is exhibited in a widescreen, 16:9 aspect ratio. There’s money behind this release as visual effects are one of the superior cases over the lot of 2018 releases with pinpoint detail from the mass of infected, the textures and coloring of fire, and the Joseon Kingdom structures and detail attire. The attention is really in the details with not only historical authenticity, but also realism. Human coloring looks rather natural and the no issues with compression either. The Korean DTS-HD Master Audio track suits the action heavy film with LFE combustions and explosions, unlimited range and depth amongst a vast Kingdom battleground, and dialogue that right up front. The DVD has a Dolby Digital audio track. Well constructed and syned English subtitles are available on both formats. Inyoung Park’s ho-hum score is the Achilles’ heal of brittleness that downplays the feverish action and reducing the entire sequence as mediocre that doesn’t aspire greatness to come or to be beheld. The same can be said about the bonus material too with a making of featurette that’s more of “Rampant’s” Stateside promo reel, Behind the Scenes featurette that also feels like a marketing campaign ad focusing on character introductions, and Well GO USA Entertainment trailers. In short, no substance in the bonus features. With sound swordplay choreography, a swarm of multiplying reanimated corpses, and an engrossing narrative with a lore foundation, “Rampant” is the next Korean mega hit in the fantasy-horror catalogue.