EVIL Has an Unbreakable Glass Ceiling. “The Five Rules of Success” reviewed (Ambassador Film Group / Digital Screener)

Upon his release from a long prison stint, a man incarcerated into the system since a young boy tries his hand succeeding in the outside world.  Alone with no family or friends for support and looking to keep his nose clean, he designs his own set of rules for success, including responsibly checking in periodically with his hardnose parole officer and saving up enough money and knowledge working at a restaurant to open his own.  When the path seems clear and everything seems to be falling into place for his chances as success, societal temptations gnaw at him as negative influencers tempt to steer him astray and his own goals try to illicitly fast track his efforts.  Will he fall into crooked society’s trap or will he persevere to reach his aspirations? 

Hard knocks.  That’s the simple, raw core theme of Orson Oblowitz’s “The Five Rules of Success.”  The 2021 crime-thriller is the third directorial from the “Corbin Nash” co-producer, but the second penned script following his debut, a seedy L.A. underbelly thriller “The Queen of Hollywood Blvd” from 2017.  The story is the first for co-writer Christian de Gallego who steps out of his international sales executive role to put his ideas onto paper.  As compelling as any story could be mirroring the struggles of a downtrodden ex-con in a society that browbeats and takes advantage of those on good intentions to rebuild, “The Five Rules of Success” is also a visual quest of imagery and color, produced and distributed by the Ambassador Film Group with de Gallego producing and Apurva Patel as executive producer. 

Stepping into his lead man shoes debut is Santiago Segura (“47 Meters Down,” “Scream: The TV Series”) playing the mastermind behind the five rules of success as X, as in X could be anybody.  However, X couldn’t have been more invested into than what Segura put into the story’s character as a man left to his own devices, without support, without a comforting presence, and without much guidance.  Segura’s range is limited to a monotone stare and tough guy attitude that never wavers or breaks and you have to wonder what X is fighting for to make his ambitious dream a reality?  Where does his determination root?  The fact that there is an absence in a grounding, sobering symbol all the more makes X more susceptible to the deeper end of society’s morality pool.  Along his rise up from the ashes, X meets colorfully sordid individuals feeding off his vulnerability due to either being on probation or stereotyped as being inclined to be favorable toward criminal activity…you know, being released from prison and all.  He’s befriended by Danny (Jonathan Howard, “Godzilla:  King of the Monsters”), a drug using goon who works alongside X at his father’s restaurant.  “Crocodile 2:  Death Swamp’s” Jon Sklaroff plays the stark contrasted Greek immigrant father, restaurant owner, and disappointed father to Danny.  Sklaroff and Howard couldn’t be more adversarial as a hardworking immigrant father who struggled to get to where he is today and a silver spoon fed son throwing his life away with riffraff, drugs, and as the restaurant’s cook.  The relationship formed between X and Sklaroff’s character is the wishful dreaming that X couldn’t be the son he never had and all X has to do is be patient and listen to a little friendly advice.  A more brazen and mysterious obstacle in X’s path is his parole officer, Emma, whose uppity authority holds X’s freedom in the palm of her hand played by Isidora Goreshter.  The line is blurry whether Emma has either the hots for X or is secretly a sadist and Goreshter offers to uphold that inscrutable presence with unscrupulous tactics. 

One way to crave out the meaning behind Oblowitz’s film is to not be standing high-and-mighty on greener pastures.  “The Five Rules of Success” sensationalizes real time problems with our prison system and the after effects of walking out a free man after years, if not decades, from a life that’s all you know to a life you know nothing about.  X’s past burdens him immensely as flashbacks, denoted in literal quick flashed cuts, of the downward spiral turning point in his childhood find their way into his determined route to success.  Ultimately, the past and present are one in the same where society sees not a boy, not a man, not a person, but a criminal and how we as a society be contemptuous of former convicts released back into our soicalled perfect public community.  There’s parallelism between each chaptered rule and the downward progression he sustains in his associations with the wrong people that start to twist his mindset, his rules, into the very unlawful reprehensible activities he tries very hard to avoid. Oblowitz does a nice job detailing X’s habits as a loner, working out his pent up frustrations by exercising, shadow boxing, and refining his rules, but the root of all evil is hard to ignore as cold hard cash, easy money for one of Danny’s illicit jobs, begins to lay out the possible steps to skip in order to fulfill his own ambition.  Despite the momentary monotone mishandlings from Segura, the story is well-written and mostly well played out with some scenes more intense than others with the subject material as you begin finding yourself rooting for the ex-con and booing the very society you yourself live in scot-free. 

Clocking in with a runtime at 83 minutes, “The Five Rules of Success” symbolizes the ups and mostly downs in the here and now game of chutes and ladders.  Having been released last month, July 30, be sure to check out the unrated feature available for purchase on your preferred platform of either iTunes or Amazon released by the Ambassador Film Group.  Oblowitz doesn’t just write-and-direct the film, but he also serves as cinematographer dabbling in a Kafkaesque arranged world with hints of tint, hints of different lenses, hints at overexposures, hints at strobe, and more.  Nearly every scene is comprised of a different shooting technique or editing visual that may or may not possibly induce a seizure as forewarned during the preface.  Stylistically, I can only compare and describe “The Five Rules of Success” as this:  Stanley Kubrick’s “2001:  A Space Odyssey” meets Darren Aronofsky’s “Requiem for a Dream.”  As far as extras go, there’s a quaint, no major dialogue memorandum scene after the end credits that speaks to vicious circles and permanency.  For a L.A. shot film that has more technique than bite, “The Five Rule of Success” is a success of an auteur’s written storytelling as well as the visual understanding of just how to tell that story in a surrealistic context. 

Rent or Buy “The Five Rules of Success” on Prime Video!

EVIL Wears a Mask, Has Sex Parties, and Likes to Watch. “X” reviewed! (Cinedigm / Digital Screener)

Christian King was handed the philanthropic The Foundation once was directed by her mother Lynda, a legendary singer with powerful vocals who is now on the decline with onset dementia.  Christian, along with her business partner and friend, an equestrian stable hand named Danny, uses The Foundation as a façade for monthly masquerades of elaborate dinners and afterhours sex parties that rake in substantial donations from her clients, but Christian, who clads no mask, doesn’t partake in the normal debauchery of the orgiastic stage.  Her perversions are more privately invasive as she gets off on voyeurism with a hidden camera recording every thought-to-be discreet act her clients are doing in the bathroom.  When a Stella, a familiar face from Christian’s High School past, crashes one of the parties, forgotten secrets bubble to surface that lead to nail-biting paranoia.  Compounded with the seemingly recorded rape of Stella in her bathroom, Christian King’s money and monarchy threaten to expose her peeping Tom habits to the world. 

Sex, lies, and video tape.  “X” is the Generation X’s response to Stanley Kubrick’s “Eyes Wide Shut” doused in cynicism and a disaffection spray.  “X’s” carnality of deceits is the edited and directed work of LGBT+ advocating filmmaker and music artist, Scott J. Ramsey, who co-wrote the 2021 released film with Hannah Katherine Jost.  Ramsey and Jost previously collaborated on Ramsey and producer, Kevin De Nicolo’s short music videos, “Knave” and “Queen,” for the duo’s queer electro goth-pop band, The Major Arcana; the shorts inspired the feature films voyeuristic qualities, majestically medieval terminologies, and, of course, a queer theme.  A garnered support sees “X” as a family produced suspense thriller from not only Kevin De Nicolo, but also Alex serving as producer with Susan and Tazio De Nicolo as executive producers for the self-funded production under Ramsey’s indie banner, The Foundation, completing the filmmaker’s trifecta of multi-media storytelling.

Following polar oppositely a minor role in her first feature film, “Sleep Away, a family comedy, Hope Raymond quickly jumps the rated for everyone shark and right into the complex titular character a melodrama sexcapade and illicit perversion. Raymond plays a King, a character named Christian King, who employs the definition of her name by applying the real world as her kingdom, or at least her lavish home, to used for the monthly orgy shindigs. Christian King was probably name more suited for a male lead, and was at one point most likely written for such, but tweaking the role for a female actress gave Christian King new meaning, a new perspective, and a whole new depravity intrinsically worked into a system that’s thrives off of identity anonymity, ambiguity, and gender reversal. While Raymond plays the royal King, her business partner, Danny, plays the royal Queen under the sexuality masking by Brian Smick, also making his sophomore feature film appearance. Raymond and Smick comfortably indulge themselves into roles of pansexuality without having the lifestyle be the crux of “X’s” core. Zachary Cowan and, introducing, Eliza Bolvin play the, whether intentional or not, monkey wrenches thrown into the King and Queen’s perfect, cash-cow machine. “X” endows Bolvin’s Stella as a threat to the King’s illicit Kingdom, but Stella provides strategic publicity as a renowned cam girl in certain circuits to which the Queen aims to market for new members. When Stella invites her boyfriend, Cowan’s Jackson, that’s when things get complicated with misperception and mistaken identities. Rounding out “X’s” cast is Valerie Façhman, Hans Probst, Ashley Raggs, Vickey Lopez, Mira Gutoff, Miyoko Sakatani, and Wendy Taylor.

The five act chaptered narrative, described a Shakespearean tragedy and a Hitchcockian thriller, continues the regal motif all along the way, exploiting the means to sound ritzy, refined, and provocative and to show the power of sovereignty with Christian King’s thumb over every single orgy participant’s dirty little bathroom secrets or as she puts it, “I know them better than anyone else,” as she shamefully masturbates to what should be the privy of relinquishing the bladder. The idea of getting off on watching people in the bathroom isn’t just a twisted, one-off fetish, but also symbolizes a power aspect against the unaware, leading to self-serving and self-induced loneliness because of the one-up she holds over them. “X” tries to justify King’s rationale for exploiting her sexually engorging guests with flashbacks of sexuality shaming by the snarky high school boys, which in my opinion, dilutes the LGTB+ perception of you are who you are because something terrible happened to you. However, on the other side of the spectrum, you have Danny who is also taken advantage of in more than one way and in a different and separate context, but doesn’t react in the same regards as his King. Their dichotomy exposes true personalities and gives audiences a defined line of ego and humble attributes to experience different perceptions and events that speak to who they are as an individual. “X” circulates around the titular King of self-proclaim monstrous perversions in a dicey cinematic case study in vanity, arrogance, and the sexy manipulation power.

From being entirely shot in Northern California to the five year, labor-intensive production, “X” marks a spot with a digital and DVD release from Cinedigm with digital platforms including VUDU, Google Play, Amazon, and iTunes. “X” runs a lengthy, but well entertaining pace of 127 minutes and is presented in a widescreen 2.35:1 aspect ratio. In a little buyers beware tidbit, the dialogue track might feel dubbed and that’s because it is. Director Ramsey has noted that due to the constant crashing waves in the background, much of the the three year post production included re-recording all the dialogue as well as creating a 11-track score album accompaniment entitled “At the Devils Ball” from his band The Major Arcana. Chantel Beam’s first feature credit is a good solid effort with a slew of medium closeups and framing of multiple actors in a single scene while tip-toeing outside the box and into another world with a playful black and white sequence and the hidden bathroom camera reel that’s spun like a kinky comedy, but renders into the realm of diabolical depravity. As a pillar of anonymity, X has always served as the wild card for anything goes and the same rings true for Scott J. Ramsey’s autarkic ball room blitz between sex and perversion film.

Buy “X” on DVD or Stream from Amazon Prime Video!

2014 Halloween Commercial #7: IKEA – The Shinning

Number seven Halloween commercial comes to us all the way from Singapore. IKEA dives into horror inspirations and pulls out a Stanley Kubrick The Shining reference and it is fantastic.

The commercial has a small boy mimicking an all too familiar and famous scene with the boy and his big wheel trike. Take notice of the small easter eggs along the boys ride until he reaches the twins!

This is a good use of reference to market IKEA’s massive, maze-like store while paying tribute to a horror classic.