Online Bullies Deserve All the EVIL in the World! “The Columnist” reviewed! (Vertigo Releasing / Digital Screener)

Columnist Femke Boot is a damn good writer backed by her publication. Yet, Femke feel unsatisfied and unsettled by the extremely harsh social media comments aimed to not only torpedo her career in the column section but also discredited and publicly shamed by twisting events in her past. The barrage of nasty comments, determined to bully her into oblivion, plug up Femke’s creativity, causing severe writer’s block on an upcoming book her editor continues to pressure her on. When she discovers that her next door neighbor has disparaged her online as well, the struggling writer snaps, taking revenge on her neighbor and an army of internet trolls by pursuing their true identities, tracking them down, and takes her revenge, plus takes a little more for an indulging gratification.

Relevant. Chimeric. A social war on words that can be fatally influential from anonymous patrons of the world wide web is Ivo van Aart’s black comedy of retribution entitled “The Columnist.” Also known originally titled as “De Kuthoer,” roughly translated as “The Pussy Whore,” a way better and in your face title in my opinion, the Netherland tongue-and-cheek-and-severed-finger comedy-thriller is the third feature, first beyond the 60-minute mark, clocking in at 86 minutes, for Aart from a screenplay penned by Daan Windhorst. Aart and Windhorst last paired up for a Dutch miniseries, “Suspicious Minds,” and Aart’s debut film, “Quantum Zero,” two years prior. Their concrete foundation of collaboration sets up an engrossing insight on masked mindsets of internet bullying that backfires but not in the typical way and also indorses a freedom of speech theme caught in a vicious circle of death. Sabine Brian and Ronald Versteeg serve as producers under the Benijay capital investment group’s NL Films.

Katja Herbers (HBO’s “Westworld”) gives a stress-inducing performance as the tormented-to-insanity columnist.  Absorbing, like a sponge, of all the scornful negativity, Herbers leaves little room for writer Femke Boots to expand and breathe as a normal person who can filter out the harsh criticism as the “Loft” actress can tune into a louded, distracted mindset of delusion and have an underscored inkling twinkle in her eyes as her character muddles around in life normalcy of being a good mother to her free-speech advocating daughter Anna (Claire Porro) and be in a radically unlikely relationship with a gothically-cladded, fellow writer, Steven Dood aka Steven Death (Bram van der Kelen).  Journalist are trained to accept the harshest criticism as long as they can back up their stories with facts and references, but for a columnist, who makes a living off opinions, the same can not be said and it’s in that gray area where “The Columnist” likes to dwell that someone’s subjective living is under attack and the enemy is the entire world who thrives off being antagonistic just for the hell of it.  Herbers plays right into that soul sucking anger, directing all her energy into those who mask themselves in anonymity as they bombard her character with comments of ill-intent.  The frustration mounts, especially when Femke attempts to file police reports about the death threats, but is shrugged off by an unsympathetic uniform, and the pressure blows her top off in a silent switch into swift vengeance of a variety misogynistic trolls.  Genio de Groot, Rein Hofman, Seno Sever, and Achraf Koutet round out “The Columnist’s” cast.

Though not written, shot, or produced by women, “The Columnist” follows in suit with a string of strong pro-feminism films, coursing with the same blood of the feminist revolution in cinema that has empowered women to exhibit their artistry, such works include Brea Grant’s dual female-lead, black comedy about an opioid addicted nurse’s mafia entanglement in “12 Hour Shift,” Jill Gevargizian’s gothic trip into hairstyles and isolating madness of “The Stylist,” and Emerald Fennell’s 5-Academy Award nominated revenge-thriller about the social system’s gender double-standards in “Promising Young Woman.”  “The Columnist” topicality revolves around a woman writer being bashed, sometimes just for kicks of callous community fun, by a plethora of trolling men who hide behind self-attributing epithets and nicknames.  With only her their commenting handles, Google, and her wit,  Femke tracks them down comment-by-comment for confrontation with her weapon of choice, usually a state forestry bag full of gardening tools, and this is where the good writing and directing comes into the fold by establishing a complete smorgasbord of different male personalities to circulate with Femke’s rage against the unwarranted slanderous and malicious of their own doing. Where “The Columnist” also gets you thinking is the freedom of speech movement that Femke’s daughter, Anna, so tenaciously hammers into her stern high school’s administrative hierarchy, helmed by a, you guessed it, a male principal. While Anna’s story is relatively tongue-and-cheek in comparison to Femke’s more serial killer storyline, there’s a whole lot of irony happening between the two paralleling, mother and daughter narratives with Anna battling the school system singlehandedly to allow her words to ring true and free from principal oppression and repression while Femke, on the other side of coin, is permanently silencing the cataclysmic of social media hate mail in an act with a killer, survivalist instinct. “The Columnist’ is speechlessly brilliant under a candy-coated, caustic-comedy cover.

Opt into “The Columnist’s” op-ed with your own periling opinion as the film circulates around UK and Ireland theaters, and on various digital platforms, courtesy of Vertigo Releasing. Martijn Cousijn is credits as the cinematographer for the film whose mostly bright and buoyant scheme is peppered just enough with darker, minimalist lighting, askew in most case, to capture Femke’s sinister half of this Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde duality with pessimism at the door being the altering elixir. Cousijn doesn’t play too much with the lighting, keeping true to a soft and bright air that doesn’t drop “The Columnist” acutely into a dismal perspective tale of a killer. My only disappointment with the film lies with the gore effects when it’s time to dispatch some rude keyboard-knuckleheads from the comforts of their own safe haven. Much of Femke’s desires to keepsake parts of her tormentors is nothing more than a slight of editing to achieve and that kind pelts holes in the freedom of speech aspect that’s perhaps one-third of the story. “The Columnist” is by no means made for young teens, but Femke Boots deserved to reign hellfire in a fiery display of well unexploitable violence. Having just released March 12th in the UK, there are obviously no bonus material, but there are also no before or after credit bonus scenes to keep you anxiously waiting to the end. Writers will undoubtedly hail Ivo van Aart’s “The Columnist” as a win against stony critics with the film’s profuse display for social change against cyberbullying and the reaffirmation of free speech or else there will be blood.

The Greatest Trick EVIL Ever Pulled Was Convincing Couples the Perfect Marriage Ever Existed. “Happily” reviewed! (Saban Films / Digital Screener)

Tom and Janet have been married for 14 years.  By that amount of time elapsed, marriage has moved past the honeymoon stage and settled into routine with the spark having dulled and sex life becoming nearly, if not totally, stale, but for Tom and Janet, their libidos are the equivalent to hormone-driven teenagers.  Their marriage has happily sustained over the years, never veering off course, but when a couples’ retreat invitation is rescinded by their friends because of the envied desire for each other and a mysterious man arrives at their door step next day offering a syringe injection that will cure them into a normal married couple, Tom and Janet believe they’re a part of a sick joke by one of their so-called friends, leading to a dead body, a brief case of unknown substance, and a re-invitation to the couples’ retreat where they must figure out who is and who isn’t of the four other couples are on team Tom and Janet.  Yet, the trip founded on the idea booze and relaxation turns into a disclosure of lies, secrets, and deadly disconnections. 

What’s the secret to a long lasting marriage?  Good sex, obviously.  But can an ostensibly impenetrable marriage be flawless?  That’s one of the themes writer-director BenDavid Grabinski toys with in his inaugural feature film directorial of “Happily” that disparages the unsullied union of Tom and Janet by a quartet of couples, who are also Tom and Janet’s closest friends, who aim to stick it to the happy couple because of their own marriage and life failures.  Grabinksi, creator and writer of revamped “Are You Afraid of the Dark?” television series, incorporates that element of grim tale mystery for allegorical effect into the psychology of envious, mal intent friends projecting their negativity on Tom and Janet’s positivity and love.  “Happily” is a production of the Arizona based Common Wall Media, an indie record and film production labeled owned and operated by Chuckie Duff, and, perhaps, the reason “Happily” has a killer soundtrack that includes Tim Capello “I Still Believe.”  Jack Black (“Tropic Thunder,” “Goosebumps”) also produces the film under his Electric Dynamite Productions, Inc. banner in collaboration with Indy Entertainment (“Nightmare Cinema”). 

I find extreme difficulty seeing Joel McHale in anything remotely with a serious tone for someone who grew up with the comedian during his 12 season days of E!’s spinoff of Talk Soup titled simply, The Soup.  McHale’s range as a funny man is beyond being paramount with great comic timing and able to deliver an unlimited amounts of laughs in just his mere expressions and that has translated well into his filmic career from comedies such as “Ted” to “The Happytime Murders” and even well into his more earnest and darker roles in “Deliver Us From Evil” and, his most recent release which is “Home Alone” for a more mature audiences, “Becky.”  In “Happily,” McHale plays Tom, a loving husband to wife Janet who can’t keep their hands off each other and never fight for more than half a day in what’s staunchly considered a perfectly sickening marriage by their closest friends.  One thing I’ve learned from watching Joel McHale in this role is not only can he bear the weight evenly of an emotional thriller, but the guy is jacked!  Opposite McHale is “Penny Dreadful:  City of Angels” star Kerry Bishé, matching the sexual and profound tone as the wife, Janet. Bishé takes on Janet’s ever benevolent wifedom, elevating it to a whole new level as the working spouse, ready to gratify Tom by any means possible and in any compromising position possible, who’s also served hand and foot by the same man who knows how to reciprocate at the right moment. Bishé’s a favorable compliment to McHale as a power couple daring the odds together on the same page until losing they’re way because, simply, they’re inevitably human. Tom and Janet square off against four other couples under suspicion of a suspected prank-gone-wrong after meeting with a mysterious man played by “Office Space’s” Stephen Root. Could the pranksters be the flamboyantly affluent, but unaffectionate Karen and Val (Natalie Zea of “The Following” and Paul Scheer of “Piranha 3DD”)? Could it be the uptight lesbian couple Carla and Maude (Shannon Woodward of “Westworld” and Kirby Howell-Baptiste of the upcoming “Cruella”)? Or is it the carefree Patricia and her inhospitable husband Donald (Natalie Morales of “The Santa Clara Diet” and “Mastermind’s” John Daly)? Maybe its the anger unmanaging Richard and his newfound fiancé Gretel (Breckin Meyer of “Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare” and Charlyne Yi of ” Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich”)?

Grabinski forcibly shoves the happily in “Happily’s” Tom and Janet’s marriage down our throats with a diabolical lustful half-exposition, half-hanky-panky action before title sequence intro into their infinity spicy life. The couple screw like two teenage rabbits hopped up on an aphrodisiac more than a typical mundane couple of 14-years should ever seen in their union’s lifetime, but, then, Grabinski throws in the proverbial monkey wrench into the gears. The question comes up, and lingers throughout, whether Tom and Janet are inherently broken, a defect in their existential creation, and that begins to snowball down the hill of insidious thoughts as the protagonists have their idyllic marriage tainted by the hair brain idea of a stranger, carrying two syringes of an insta-fix made up of unknown, illuminating material, who beguiles them with bureaucratic niceties to lie his way into their home and tells them he works for a higher power. Is this mysterious man God? Perhaps, the Devil? Grabinski smartly keeps that little detail under wraps and, for the first half of the film, stays a mystery upon itself. In time, each couple begins to unravel cankerous secrets, all of which have been targeted at Tom and Janet for their perfection and that’s perhaps where “Happily” struggles a bit as a story as Grabinski has a rolodex of past events being flipped through a plethora of interaction exposition, leaving morsels to try and puzzle the uneasiness of the morose couples’ retreat together. The long and short of the story is that the audience will need more morsels to chew on, get the creative juices flowing, to understand character motivations because, in the end, “Happily” is one big couples therapy session of divulging secrets to wash away, more or less, soul-deteriorating sin.

Before all hope is lost between two people, an intervention is warranted, even if it’s a divine one in BenDavid Grabinski’s dark comedy “Happily” heading our way to theaters, digital, and on demand come Friday, March 19th from Saban Films. The R-rated film runs for 96 minutes is presented in a widescreen 2.39:1 aspect ratio that gets to showcase more of Adam Bricker’s luridly dreamy style. The “Starry Eyes” cinematographer instills a firm taste of precise, primary coloring tinting that evokes the intensity of the scene rather than pitching an outlined overlay on top of his soft lighting. The red “Predator”-esque vision through CCTV lens is a nice touch of also breaking up the more natural lit scenes for that ominous approach. Since “Happily” is coming to theaters, there is obviously no bonus material, but stick around for scenes during the credits and after credits. Lies, betrayals, murder, and the uncanny are soaked into “Happily’s” absorbent fibers as one of this years best dark comedies that hones in on ascertaining that nothing is perfect but the perfection that you make together.

In the S.H.U., The EVIL Comes From Within. “Caged” reviewed! (Shout! Studios / Digital Screener)

Psychiatrist Dr. Harlow Reid is sentence to life in prison after being convicted of murdering his wife.  With his assets frozen and his legal representation dropping him as a client, Reid is forced into being his own legal counsel.  To make matters worse, a female prison guard’s perverse pleasure is to slowly torture him while in her custody at solitary confinement.  His only means to enter general population is to behave and confess to the crime he contests, but he continues to maintain his innocence by refusing to sign the confession, remaining alone and withstanding abuse until he can write a formal plea to a judge to reconsider the facts in his case.  As the days turn to weeks and weeks turn to months, the usually stable minded Dr. Reid, alone with his thoughts, has his fortress of reality buckle under the heavy burden of isolation compounded with the maltreatment and his personal demons that struggle with the actual events in his wife’s sudden death, questioning himself that her death might have been at his hand.

Inside the clink is a maelstrom set in a pressure cooker. Ready to explode at any moment are cons of, mostly, unsavory personalities simmering with pent up anger, desperation, and ill-will positioned by equally fraught guards harried by timebomb temperaments and undervalued in training and payment. In Aaron Fjellman’s written and directed debut feature film, “Caged,” the strain festers toward being hell behind bars in a ruthless determination of survival. Also once known as the working title, “The S.H.U,” Fjellman constrains his American-made, and inspired, big house thriller with a minimalist approach set with a backdrop of chiefly the solitary housing unit to lock up viewers in, as witnessing accomplices, with a protagonist’s downtrodden path of mental degradation as well as being humanly degraded. Aaron Fjellman produces his film for production company Panic House Films and Shifty Eye Productions with the latter a company created by the film’s star, Edi Gathegi, serving on the board as executive producer.

It’s no big surprise that Edi Gathegi dons the prison house jumper and clanking shackles in this social commentary thriller. The “Blacklist” and “X-Men: First Class” actor knows a good role when he sees with, especially inside the body and mind of one Dr. Harlow Reid. Gathegi regularly has to battle with himself filtered through the madness of the S.H.U. mind-breaking solitary with a little fanning of the flames from sadistic prison guard, Officer Sacks. In an extremely ghastly transformation, Melora Hardin goes from a classic beauty with a big smile and high cheek bones to baring an unflattering lumpy posture with hair pulled back in a tight, short ponytail overtop a demonizing trope of a scar down the left side of her face and an assured cockiness symbolized by the gum smacking that’s sometimes becomes the only thing in the camera frame. As Gathegi masters the ideals of a convict presuming himself innocent, Hardin lurks beyond his cell door as the devilish guard over his shoulder. Officer Sacks defines a face with a story and her story has a hard on for power over prisoners, especially affluent ones or, maybe, those of African American descent in a tinge of racist undertones as Fjellman notes on the racial injustices in the prison system. A smidgen of that notion is supported shown in Officer Sacks behind-the-back passive aggressiveness toward Warden Perez. “Annabelle’s” Tony Amendola truly delivers being a heartfelt ally, yet sturdy firm handed warden with Reid. Perez, an expressed Catholic, seeks Reid’s redemption through the admittance of wrongdoing and that becomes the steadfast barrier Reid has to hurtle that will test his convictions and his sanity. “Caged” rounds out with Mick Jagger’s son, James Jagger, as Reid’s unhinged S.H.U. bedfellow who speaks in hyperbole of inmate hauntings in an opaque analogy of guilt mixed with madness, and “Westworld’s” Angela Sarafyan told through flashbacks and supernatural induced psychosis as Reid’s wife, Amber.

To tell an inmate’s nearly yearlong story succumbing to the brutal and segregating abuses surrounding him in solitary confinement is a tremendous feat working into the mental cracks and exploring the fallacies. Yet, Aaron Fjellman made his fictional interpretation look easy by relating a surreal, but telling story in just 80 minutes, gripping with metaphorical concepts of an overcrowded prison system preying on uncontested obedience, even if the lengths taken to obtain complete compliance is trauma exacting torture of draconian policy, by primarily privately funded institutions with little-to-no funding or resources to manage. “Caged” is very fleeting with montage upon montage of Harlow Reid’s day-to-day, but never becomes a monotonous roundabout vivarium of Reid sitting hopelessly-looking in his cell. Gathegi’s put to work as a man determined to challenge the system that engages Reid to keep sharp and in shape by working out in various exercises, entertain an unhinged neighboring inmate with his ramblings and blurbs of crazy talk truths, and feverishly work on his legal case by any extraordinary measures, including using his own blood as ink. Yes, “Caged” can elicit a genuine sense of horror, a perspective on psychological terror, and be an eye-opening gasp of real life prison dread when good versus evil is mirrored in reverse with the good guys not being the prison guards. Fjellman imprisons us all in “Caged” by culminating the fact that no matter your social circumstances, the S.H.U. breaks everyone.

Orange may be the new black, but Aaron Fjellman’s bleak fretting “Caged” jars with somber authoritarian power. The new thriller released by Shout! Studios premiers unrated on VOD and digital January 26th. “Caged” is film by director of photography, Jessica Young, with an Arri Amira camera and presented in a widescreen format, 16×9 aspect ratio, and, typically, the Amira camera versatility is in the use for low-budget films, perfect for “Caged” in it’s nearly singular setting and two-tone, steely gray and black, atmospherics that naturally have devoid color vibrancy. CJ Johnson, who will soon see his musical scores in a pair of upcoming Friday the 13th fan films, lines “Caged” with a soft, building industrial score that tunes the disquiet in Reid’s racked inner conflict. With this digital screener, there were no bonus materials or any bonus scenes during or after the credits. Through the use of visual and audible horror tropes and with potent performances from Edi Gathegi and Melora Hardin, “Caged” is a ghost story told for the unspoken voices victim to long-term confinement.

Click the poster to pre-order “Caged” at Amazon!

Bikini-Cladded Revenge on a Small Time EVIL Crime Syndicate! “Rondo” review!


Disturbed and dishonorably discharged Paul finds solace at the bottom of a glass bottle. As Paul falls deeper into dire depression with drugs, the drink, and cigarettes, Jill, his sister, lays down some ground rules while he crashes on her couch. At her advice and insistence, Jill schedules a psychological appointment for him and the doctor recommends sex as a release and not just any old sex, but the behind-the-doors, underground, Freak-a-leak kind of kinky encounters. Paul joins two other men in a high rise condominium, receiving instructions on how to treat and mistreat an affluent man’s wife, but Paul becomes the witness to an organized murder party and flees for his life, barely escaping the clutches of his captors, and returning home to his sister Jill to tell her everything. The only problem is, the killers know his address and now their business becomes a family affair loaded with straight razor slashing, crowbar bashing, and automatic weapon firing mayhem.

“Rondo” is an icy revenge thriller with bullets and blood galore from writer-director Drew Barnhardt. The “Murder Loves Killers Too” director reinvigorates a pulp noir approach into the independent film market that invokes woman power through all sorts of masculinity muck. Breanna Otts and Gena Shaw flourish as the anti-leading lady by wielding large assault rifles and being the kingpin of killers amongst a bunch of kneeling and broken men. “Rondo” is also about family, believe it or not. Whether bound in endless love or broken beyond repair,the theme of taking care of your own blood comes to the forefront, but before you go showing your kids, “Rondo” takes family to hell and back and then back to hell again for a rough ride of riveting vileness and hard-on revenge.

“Rondo” doesn’t necessarily have a lead character. In act one, the voice over utters over the pitiful existence that is Paul (“Galaxy of Horror’s Luke Sorge) who, at the persistence of his sister, tries to step outside the path of destruction by stepping into a sex den at the advice of a radical, and very pregnant, psychologist. The voice over is curiously used since pertaining to the fact that the narration, provided by Steve Van Beckum, becomes nearly Paul’s inner monologue by the end of his tenure. Act two transitions into a father and daughter reunion and then revenge plotters. No voice overs accompany the two, but Jill (“Westworld” and “SWAT” actress Breanna Otts) and her father Sam (“Rage of the Mummy’s Michael Vasicek) have an exposition fest involving what ifs and to dos. Sam felt to be a wasted character; an escaped VA patient returning to his children for revenge that doesn’t quite grow from there. On the other hand, Jill extends into act three as the sole protagonist and her thirst for vengeance is clunky and clanky, stirring up a halfcocked plan in the belly of the beast that happens to work in her favor and in our favor too as Otts ends up in lacy underwear in an episode of boobs and bullets. “Rondo” rounds out with Ketrick ‘Jazz’ Copeland, Reggie De Morton, Gena Shaw, Kevin Sean Ryan, Grant Benjamin Leibowitz and introducing Iva Nora in her first role and first nude scene.

Conceptually, Barnhardt’s tale of ravage savagery rouses out from the cobwebbed conventional anecdotal pathways and while “Rondo” might be a tale that’s rarely been told, apprising the plot into maturity bid Barnhardt with a far more difficulty, leaving to squash the answers to far more questions at the roll of the end credits. One of the more puzzling questions is why does the voice over only narrate for Paul? Kicking off with a voice over that explains Paul’s downtrodden life, then transitioning quietly into Paul’s inner thoughts, and then disconnected completely that literally leaves a punctuation question mark hover just over our scalps. There’s also the question of how deep this criminal organization roots in society? How did Cassie, wife of the barbaric boss Lurdell, get to assimilate herself into positions of power to influence poor souls to become meat for the grinder.

Artsploitation Films distributes an American bloodbath with “Rondo” onto DVD home video. The not rated release is presented in a widescreen, 1.77:1 aspect ratio, and despite some banding, the picture quality spruces a fine package with natural lighting and little-to-no filter use. The Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound pitches perfectly without some much of a hiccup. Range and depth are fine, though the film isn’t necessarily a heavy hitter with action, and the channels are level amongst the LFE gun blasts in the cap your ass finale. Bonus features include a director’s commentary, deleted scenes, selected music commentaries with composer Ryan Franks, and an exhibition of the gritty pulp cover art and lobby cards set to a musical score. “Rondo” is a cult indie classic through the venomous teeth of white-collar Americanisms and a torrent of human immoral inclination that relentlessly shows no mercy scene after scene.

Own “Rondo” on DVD today!