Movie Review ~ Sisu

The Facts:

Synopsis: When an ex-soldier who discovers gold in the Lapland wilderness tries to take the loot into the city, Nazi soldiers led by a brutal SS officer battle him.
Stars: Jorma Tommila, Aksel Hennie, Jack Doolan, Mimosa Willamo, Onni Tommila
Director: Jalmari Helander
Rated: NR
Running Length: 91 minutes
TMMM Score: (8/10)
Review:  Among the various ways movie studios tried to market their films on BluRay back in the day was to introduce a new way of watching the movie: Maximum Movie Mode. That could mean any number of things, depending on the studio. It could mean you’d watch the film while a video of group commentary played in a small corner of the screen. Or you could branch out at various points to making-of documentaries without losing your place in the movie. You could also have your BluRay player send you an order of Buffalo Wild Wings and a six-pack of beer when the film was half over. OK, that last one is a lie, but I bet it wasn’t far off. I never got into this viewing experience – it was just too distracting.

A film like Sisu already exists in its own version of Maximum Movie Mode, so I couldn’t fathom how anything could be done to make the experience of watching it more eye-popping or blow-your-hair-back than it already is. This is the type of film you wouldn’t dare put on after midnight because you’ll be up way past your bedtime, desperate to know how it ends. (Yep, that was me.) A take-no-prisoners splatterfest that goes big, goes home, gets a shovel, and then hits you over the head several times with it. It’s an insane treat to take in and could easily be a buzzy hit in the making.

The end of World War II is drawing near, and the Nazi soldiers exiting Lapland know it. Heading home to what is undoubtedly their doom from a country that seeks to punish them for their crimes against humanity, they are slowly returning and exercising final acts of brutal power while at it. Happening to cross paths with what looks like a simple miner on horseback with his dog, they have no idea they’ve run afoul of Aatami Korpi (Jorma Tommila), an ex-soldier dubbed Koschei (The Immortal) because he refused to die. 

Korpi has risked the trek through this land to get to town for a critical deposit: chunks of pure gold he found on his land that are worth a fortune. He just must get them past the greedy Nazis that figure if they had the gold, they could use it to bargain their way out of being executed. Under the direction of high-ranking Nazi official Bruno (Aksel Hennie, The Martian), the ungainly troopers are sent in to forcibly take the golden treasure from the guy who has yet to speak a word. One man against an army of soldiers. Sounds easy. It’s anything but as Korpi takes out an entire fleet of combatants one by one by one by one, in gorgeous, brutal form. 

The beauty in Jalmari Helander’s film is not just in how the violence is so over the top that it becomes comical but because Helander establishes the winking tone of the kind of movie he’s making from the start. It’s a Finnish Spaghetti Western, a David and Goliath story recast as a violent tale of critical survival. Our hero (or what we believe is our hero – who knows what he’s done before we meet him) receives massive injuries as well, grotesque maladies that would send any of us fleeing but only motivates him further to penalize them for their desire to steal what is not theirs.

As the man of few words (he only speaks once in the entire film), Tommila is superbly cast. Believable as a man who has already seen his fair share of death and tried to put it behind him, it is out of necessity, not want when he has to spring back into action.    The more he’s pushed, the harder he pushes back, hoping he will be left alone. Hennie is also good, building on a rote part and making something bigger than a simple Nazi officer out of it. I liked Jack Doolan as Bruno’s sidekick, too, and though women’s roles are underdeveloped, Mimosa Willamo is memorable and delivers the movie’s two greatest scripted moments of dialogue.

Divided into multiple “chapters” and benefitting from a wild but pitch-perfect score from Juri Seppä & Tuomas Wäinölä, I kept wondering what Quentin Tarantino would think about this. It feels like a liberal pull of style from Tarantino’s preferred comfort zone of filmmaking, and I wouldn’t doubt he’ll be commenting on it at some point. I’d also hedge a bet that once this is released and a few more important eyes are on it, Helander will get the Hollywood red carpet rolled out for him. You can count on the fact that based on the quality of Sisu, Helander is the one that’s truly struck gold.

Sisu opens in theaters nationwide on April 28
A full list of theaters is here

Movie Review ~ The Black Demon

The Facts:

Synopsis: Stranded on a crumbling rig in Baja, a family faces off against a vengeful megalodon shark.
Stars: Josh Lucas, Fernanda Urrejola, Venus Ariel, Carlos Solórzano, Julio Cesar Cedillo, Raúl Méndez, Héctor Jiménez
Director: Adrian Grünberg
Rated: R
Running Length: 100 minutes
TMMM Score: (5.5/10)
Review: All together now: What genre does The MN Movie Man love above all else? The Big Shark Movie! And what genre constantly lets The MN Movie Man down above all else? The Big Shark Movie? Oh, the pity. Oh, the pain. Yes, I have been burned by many a bad shark movie over the years, which I have lamented in several reviews during my tenure here. I’ve never remotely thought that any would match up to my beloved JAWS, but you’d think that after all this time and all the technological advances, someone would be able to strike gold at some point, right? I mean…right?

Here’s what you came here for. Is The Black Demon any good? Yes, it’s not half bad, and the half that isn’t very good isn’t as bad as you fear it might be, and even so, it’s a heckuva lot better than the best worst dreck that’s been chumming streaming rentals ad nauseum. In that sense, The Black Demon is quite the breath of fresh salty sea air because there’s a sense there are more than a few people involved with the production that cared about making a movie that has value to its entertainment. It’s got its problems (mostly narrative; surprisingly, the effects are why I’d recommend it). Still, I have a sneaking suspicion that those who have scoffed at its comically askew plot might enjoy this mother-of-a-shark movie more than they initially thought.

A vague air of the supernatural haunts The Black Demon from the start, with the insinuation being that the locals in a tiny town near Baja, Mexico, have called for assistance from a mystical Megalodon shark which supposedly hunts near the Sea of Cortez. An oil rig from a smarmy corporation has killed the tourism industry and the profits for the town, and the people want revenge. So now a shark has crippled the rig and ensures no one comes or leaves. 

Too bad no one told Paul Sturges (Josh Lucas, She Dies Tomorrow) that. Using a work trip (for the oil company he stumps for) to Baja to double as a family vacation, he brings his wife Ines (Fernanda Urrejola, Blue Miracle) and bickering children Audrey (Venus Ariel) and Tommy (Carlos Solórzano, Flamin’ Hot) along to see the tropical locale. He’ll do a little business quickly on the rig and then return to his family. When they arrive, they don’t get the warmest greeting and instantly feel that something is off – as if the boarded-up shops and glaring locals didn’t indicate that. No matter, Paul still needs to check some things out for his company, and then they’ll find a new location to enjoy their time together.

Of course, the entire family somehow winds up on the rig, along with two workers and a yappy Chihuahua. Obvious math will tell you who won’t be touching dry land again, and so we put our remaining 60 minutes into the hands of director Adrian Grünberg and ask that he is kind. And he is, mostly. While Carlos Cisco & Boise Esquerra’s script doesn’t go all the way with its supernatural angle (it could have gone even further and had more fun), Grünberg is a whiz at finding the right visuals to keep us hungry for more and not hangry for being kept waiting too long. The CGI of the shark is above average, and as long as it’s acting on its own, it’s often impressively menacing. Things can get wonky when the big guy (or gal, I don’t know them personally) gets up close and personal with other objects. 

In the realm of The Big Shark Movie, The Black Demon rises high near the surface. Instead of allowing the movie to sink on the weight of its ludicrous premise and overzealous performances (I’m looking at you, Josh Lucas, wearing an ill-advised tank top), Grünberg has taken pains to jostle his film to a level of brisk entertainment not often found in this genre. It’s not the fastest swimmer in the bunch, but it gets a good bite occasionally.

THE BLACK DEMON will be exclusively in theaters April 28

Movie Review ~ From Black


The Facts:

Synopsis: A recovering drug addict, desperate for closure and saddled by crushing guilt after the disappearance of her young son, is presented with a bizarre offer to learn the truth about what happened and set things right – if she is willing to pay a terrifying price.
Stars: Anna Camp, Jennifer Lafleur, John Ales, Travis Hammer, Richie Montgomery
Director: Thomas Marchese
Rated: NR
Running Length: 100 minutes
TMMM Score: (4/10)
Review: If I had more time, I might be tempted to go back to From Black and fast-forward through all of the parts of the film where a character a) walks s-l-o-w-l-y up a staircase/down a hallway, b) is shown in slow motion, or c) is shown doing something slowly in slow motion. I’d be willing to bet it should shave off at least (at least!) 10 minutes off the already bloated run time for this disappointing demonic horror which could have turned out quite differently.

Let’s start with the fact that the film has no right being as long as it is, with barely any premise to build off of. As the film opens, Cora (Anna Camp, Pitch Perfect) has been brought in by the police because Something Bad Happened, and she’s cagey about the details. We know there are buckets of blood strewn about a room in her house, and Cora’s in such a state of shock she’s not talking. Still grieving over her son’s disappearance, adding these recent events to her continued pain has only pushed her further toward her breaking point. 

That’s when big sister Bray (also an officer) comes in and gets her talking. Can she tell us whom the blood belonged to and why her floors had so many odd symbols, melted candles, and salt sprinkled around? And where is her low-life ex-boyfriend and grief counselor Cain (John Ales, Gatlopp) that had been visiting her more and more lately? Bringing us back to the beginning, Cora recounts the past few months’ events and starts with her son vanishing while she was drugged out and not paying attention to his well-being. Her inability to cope with the loss led her to Cain’s support group, but her guilt prevented her from progressing toward the acceptance she needed to move on.

Cain notices this within her and strikes up a strange friendship, culminating in offering her a seemingly impossible opportunity. She could still see her son again, but only if she worked with Cain on an ancient ritual they would perform in her house over several days. Recoiling at first, Cora’s motherly instincts finally compel her to call – a call that will change everything she knows about life and death. As the ritual proceeds and she’s exposed horrific truths about her life’s trajectory and the death that waits in the darkness, she’ll understand her overall role in a long-standing agreement with evil. 

Ours is an Anna Camp household, which is one reason I jumped at seeing the actress leading a horror film. Left to her good instincts, Camp does well as the single mother struggling to battle her grief and lingering addiction with diminished willpower. Paired with an equally watchable Jennifer Lafleur (Nope) as her big sister, the two have an excellent bond. It’s Ales that sours the mix in From Black, bringing uncomfortable energy to the proceedings…and not the type his character is supposed to be offering. With Ales treating the film like a playground for zealous scene-chewing and Camp going for a more naturalistic breakdown, a misalignment of acting styles further drags down From Black.

It’s evident director, and co-writer Thomas Marchese has a firm grasp on the intended tone of From Black. Shot in Mississippi (I’m guessing during COVID due to the lack of extras and the number of 1:1 scenes between Camp and Ales), cinematographer Duncan Cole makes good use of the locale and location shooting. I’d be dishonest if I didn’t give the film high marks for its few decent chills the further Cora ventures into troubling territory, especially the nefarious creature that appears to get stronger the closer she gets to the answers she seeks. That slo-mo, though, kills the pace whenever Marchese employs it. Anytime you see someone mournfully looking up a flight of stairs or pensively peering down a hallway, you better sit back and close your eyes – it’s going to be a long walk.

FROM BLACK will stream on
Shudder and AMC+ on April 28

Movie Review ~ Clock

The Facts:

Synopsis: A woman who enrolls in a clinical trial to try and fix her seemingly broken biological clock after friends, family, and society pressures her to have children.
Stars: Dianna Agron, Melora Hardin, Saul Rubinek, Jay Ali
Director: Alexis Jacknow
Rated: NR
Running Length: 91 minutes
TMMM Score: (2/10)
Review: We’ve barely gotten to the end of April, and already 2023 has been a weird year for moms onscreen. February’s Baby Ruby found the idyllic life of a famous blogger undone by her pregnancy, with the difficult birth and subsequent post-partum depression mined for all its real-world horrors. It’s not out yet, but Birth/Rebirth will deliver soon on Shudder, and it will put mothers through the wringer as they watch a nurse team up with a pathologist to bring her deceased daughter back from the dead. Now there’s Clock, a Hulu original that aims to join the ranks of these effective mommy movies but can’t quite make its case thanks to muddy execution on the flimsy premise.

Having made up her mind long ago not to have children, it’s only recently that Ella (Dianna Agron, The Family) has started to feel the pressure around her growing to reconsider her decision. Her widowed and lonely father (Saul Rubinek, Blackberry) always raises the subject in passing, frustrating his daughter in the process. Though her husband Aidan (Jay Ali) entered their marriage with the same outlook on parenting, he has even appeared to change his stance. Surrounded by new mothers or mommies-to-be, Ella surprises herself when she agrees to upend her life and participate in a recent study by Dr. Simmons (Melora Hardin) at a private retreat.

Until this juncture, writer/director Alexis Jacknow had been making good headway in solidifying the argument that women claim to feel ostracized from their peer group if they aren’t in line to start families. Give in and have a baby and you may resent your child because you had them for the wrong reasons, resist and stick to your gut and feel the need to defend your right not to procreate constantly. Unfortunately, the moment Ella steps into the study with Dr. Simmons, Clock starts to wind down rapidly, devolving from a thriller going somewhere to a film that’s hitting its snooze button.

Mumbo-jumbo is the best way to describe what’s going on in the latter part of the film during sessions between Ella and Dr. Simmons. You might be tempted to be swayed by the stellar performance of Hardin, who is quite convincing in her role, but you get to the point where even Hardin can’t keep it all straight. Agron’s not much help either, losing all her strong character traits established in the beginning for the sake of the script. The same goes for Rubinek, who enters the picture with a gleam in his eye but comes back for another scene so changed for the worse (he gets downright hostile) it’s as if the character’s backstory was rewritten entirely. Also – you’ll likely be asking yourself where true horror is in this horror film – because it’s rarely rousing. (Save for one shot I won’t spoil that will have men instinctively crossing their legs and grimacing.)

I appreciate that Hulu continues to throw money at filmmakers with new voices, especially those expanding earlier good works into longer feature-length films. As with the upcoming Appendage, (like Clock, adapted from that director’s earlier short film), I hoped this would find a way back to a solid center by its conclusion, but there’s little left to scrape together by the finale. Even with Hardin keeping the gears turning for most of the running time, it can’t stop this Clock from breaking down.