Category: Z-View

“Don’t Look Up” / Z-View

Don’t Look Up (2021)

Director: Adam McKay

Screenplay: Adam McKay

Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Ryan Reynolds, Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep, Cate Blanchette, Rob Morgan, Jonah Hill, Tyler Perry,  Timothée Chalamet, Ron Perlman, Ariana Grande, Michael Chiklis  and Paul Guilfoyle.

Tagline: Based on truly possible events.

The Overview:  Beware of Spoilers…

When a grad student (Lawrence) and her professor (DiCaprio) discover a huge comet on a collision course with Earth they bring the information up the chain of command to the President (Streep).  Unfortunately the information about the possible end of the world comes at a bad time — the mid-term elections are just around the corner.  Although sworn to secrecy, Lawrence and DiCaprio take the information to the media.  Now that the world knows action will be taken… or not.

A satire about an apocalyptic disaster with this all-star cast had so much potential.  Sadly, Don’t Look Up is a bit heavy-handed and long.  Lawrence and DiCaprio come off as neurotic worriers needing medication to get through the day (even before the discovery of a planet-killer comet on collision course with us).  Streep and her followers are in denial (Hence, the Don’t Look Up title) and more interested in ratings, money and being re-elected.  This set-up could have worked if we had some likeable characters and tighter editing.

There are funny scenes and set-ups.  Lawrence and DiCaprio are forced to wait for hours and hours to see the President with perhaps the most important information ever. Then when they finally do get in, the President and her staff downplay the danger because of ratings.  There’s potential laughs in how both conservatives and liberals react to the knowledge that the comet is coming.  It’s interesting that both groups find ways to make money off the comet – a concert for the libs and a rally for the President’s followers.  The way the media delivers the message to the masses and makes stars of some and ignoring others is ripe for laughs.  And we do get a few, but not enough to get better than a 2 star rating.

“Red Notice” / Z-View

Red Notice (2021)

Director: Rawson Marshall Thurber

Screenplay: Rawson Marshall Thurber

Stars: Dwayne Johnson, Ryan Reynolds, Gal Gadot and Ritu Arya.

Tagline: Pros and Cons.

The Overview:  Beware of Spoilers…

FBI agent, John Hartley (Johnson) is on the trail of Nolan Booth (Reynolds), one of the world’s top art thieves.  What looks like a slam dunk arrest of Booth goes sideways and Hartley is left holding the bag.  In this case the bag is one of three priceless eggs created for Cleopatra.  In order to clear his name, Hartley becomes an reluctant partner to Booth.  They will have to steal back the original egg as well as the other two that are in different exotic locations around the world.  Complicating matters is The Bishop (Gadot), an art thief, also after the priceless relics.

Red Notice is a fast, fun action/caper that doesn’t take itself too seriously.  It is filled with tons of stunts and funny (well, mostly funny) repartee performed by likeable stars.  There are homages to James Bond, the Bourne films, Raiders of the Lost Ark, True Lies and more.  Our heroes fight with each other, Russian prisoners, each other, Interpol agents, each other, a crime lord’s guards, each other and a bull.  They fall off a building, escape from a Russian gulag, are knocked unconscious, have a bridge blown out from under them, suffer electric shock to the groin, survive multiple car crashes, fall off a gigantic waterfall, are shot at with pistols, machine guns, rocket launchers and are never even winged.  In fact thousands of rounds of ammo are spent and NOBODY gets hit.  Even our heroes are terrible shots.

And that is my biggest problem with the film.  Our heroes are put in dangerous situations, but very quickly we get the sense that nothing bad is going to happen to them.  The stakes don’t seem real.

 If that doesn’t bother you, then you’ll probably enjoy Red Notice even more than I did and I liked it.  There are some scenes/lines that made me laugh and even more that made me smile (far outnumbering the few that fell flat).  I appreciated the fast pace, action and stars.  There’s a fun plot twist that I didn’t see coming.    Red Notice has the potential for a sequel and I’d be up for that.

“Rocky vs Drago” Director’s Cut / Z-View

Rocky IV: Rocky vs Drago – The Ultimate Director’s Cut (1985/2021)

Director: Sylvester Stallone

Screenplay: Sylvester Stallone

Stars:  Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire, Burt Young, Carl Weathers, Dolph Lundgren, Tony Burton, Michael Pataki, Brigitte Nielsen, and  James Brown.

Tagline: Get ready for the next world war.

The Overview:  Beware of Spoilers…

Rocky feels guilt for the death of his friend, Apollo Creed, who was killed in a boxing match with Russian Champion Ivan Drago.  When Rocky is unable to get a fight with Drago sanctioned in the US, he agrees to go to Russia to fight the giant Russian.

Sly Stallone’s new cut doesn’t change the story, but does adjust the pace, increase the drama/humanity of characters and removes elements of the film that made it such a product of the MTV era.  This was a bold move on Stallone’s part since Rocky IV was the highest grossing of all the Rocky films, was one of the top movies of 1985 and is beloved by generations of Rocky fans.  Still, Sly felt that there was a better movie to be had.

The new cut starts with a deeper dive into Rocky III.  We see Rocky lose the title to Clubber.  At that point he has also lost Mickey who was like a father to Rocky.  Apollo shows up and offers to help Rocky win back the title.  Rocky, with Apollo training him, regains the title.  I like this new extended beginning.  It adds (pardon the pun) credence to why Rocky feels an obligation above friendship to train Apollo for his fight against Drago.

We lose the scene of Rocky coming home from his private “rematch” with Apollo.  I always enjoyed that scene but like that we instead cut to Apollo in the pool getting the idea to fight Drago.

When Apollo goes to Rocky to ask for his help in preparing for a fight with Drago we get at least 3 scenes with Rocky talking negatively about the idea.  I love how these scenes show that Rocky is against Apollo fighting Drago.  In the original version they had one conversation at the table and while Rocky had some hesitation, he pretty quickly got on board.  By having multiple discussions against the idea (with Rocky slowly coming around) we understand: 1,  How dangerous Drago is and 2. When Rocky is talking about Apollo not fighting anymore he is also thinking that maybe his time to retire has arrived or will soon.  These conversations also add to Rocky’s guilt since he was unable to convince Apollo not to fight.

We lose the robot and I am fine with that.

Adrian gets more screen time.  She is against the Apollo / Drago fight and is more adamant.  I love the scene where Rocky excuses himself to check on Adrian in the kitchen.

The fight between Apollo and Drago is an improvement.  Apollo has more moments to shine.  He isn’t just given a beat down and killed.  I like that despite Apollo telling Rocky to not stop the fight, Rocky does attempt to throw in the towel, but is less than a second too late.

Duke (Tony Burton) gives a nice eulogy at Apollo’s funeral and Rocky has more to say as well.

One of my favorite additional scenes is between Rocky and Adrian when she asks him not to go to Russia.  In the original the focus was on Rocky getting revenge for Apollo’s death with little thought for the ramifications the fight would have on Adrian.

I loved the new cut of Rocky’s fight against Drago.  I was shocked (and happily surprised) when Rocky scored early.  It made the fight seem more believable that as Rocky continued to fight against overwhelming odds he was able win the crowd over.

Drago was made less robot and more human.  There are looks and body language that he displays that show surprise, awe, respect and anger.  We better see that he is a pawn being used by his government to show the superiority of their way of life.

Rocky’s “we can all change” speech isn’t as long and better for it.

I love the scene of Rocky, Adrian and Paulie leaving the ring after the fight and the quick display of mutual respect between Rocky and Drago.

Overall I felt this Director’s cut was a major improvement over the original version.  It feels more in line with Rocky and Rocky Balboa.

If you loved the original version then you’ll probably have some problems with the Director’s cut.  This is especially true if Rocky IV was the movie that made you fall in love with the franchise.  If you’re more a fan of the original (and its bookend, Rocky Balboa) then you’ll probably love Rocky vs Drago.  I did.

“The Tomorrow War” / Z-View

The Tomorrow War (2021)

Director: Chris McKay

Screenplay: Zach Dean

Stars:  Chris Pratt, Yvonne Strahovski, J.K. Simmons, Sam Richardson, Edwin Hodge  and Mary Lynn Rajskub.

The Overview:  Beware of Spoilers…

Dan Forester (Pratt) is an ex-military high school science teacher who believes he is destined for something bigger.  Forester will get his opportunity when he is drafted to fight in a war being held nearly 3 decades in the future.

Still with me?

Okay.  In the future earth has been invaded by aliens who have killed almost everyone on the planet.  In an effort to turn the tide and save humanity, future soldiers have come back into the past to recruit people to fight in the future.  A worldwide draft is instated and draftees are sent to the future to fight aliens for seven days.  If they survive they are returned to their proper time.  Forester is drafted.

Forester and the others in his group learn there is no training.  They are given weapons and transported to the future to kill aliens.  Less than 30% will survive the seven days.  In Forester’s group we have a nervous college professor, a tough as nails vet who has done three tours and a bunch of others who we learn nothing about (yep, they’re alien fodder).  As soon as they are in the future Forester’s team is given a mission and off we go.  Alien battles come fast and furious and we learn about the plan to save the world.

What I liked:  Chris Pratt was good.  This may be his best performance yet.  Edwin Hodge is a standout as the soldier with 3 tours.  Sam Richardson provides comic relief (although maybe too much in some spots).  I loved seeing Mary Lynn Rajskub and wish she was given more to do.  The action is non-stop once.  I really liked how they explained who could participate in the time travel (coming and going).  I liked the explanation of how the aliens got to earth.  All through the movie I was thinking these creatures don’t have the brains for space travel.

What bothered me:

  • Too many daddy issues.  Forester has them with his dad and Forester’s daughter has them with him.
  • The coincidences to save the day.  We need a solution that will kill the monsters.  Forester’s daughter (now grown) comes up with it.  We need to figure out where the aliens arrive when they come to earth so we can be there to kill them. Forester’s wife brainstorms with him to figure it out.  We need someone to figure out what the alien claw can tell us.  Remember the nervous college professor?  He can do it.  We need a volcano expert.  Hey, Forester has one in his high school class!  We need a way to get into Soviet air space undetected.  Uh, Forester’s dad can do it.
  • Sometimes the aliens are lethal killing machines and sometimes you can go mano y alien and kick their butt (if they have a butt that is).
  • (Most) Everything gets wrapped up too nicely: Forester was indeed destined for something bigger, daddy issues are resolved all the way around.  Everyone (Forester, his wife, his daughter, his dad, nervous college professor, hardcore vet, nerdy high school volcano lover) has a role in saving the world.
  • What I’d like to know: How does what Forester pulled off change the future (other than the obvious, there will be no aliens wiping out the earth)?

Despite the things I didn’t care for, The Tomorrow War has a core cast that is likeable, a script that keeps things moving and a conflict that involves saving the world.  If you’re looking for a fun ride (and don’t give it too much thought) you’ll enjoy The Tomorrow War.

“No Sudden Move” / Z-View

No Sudden Move (2021)

Director: Steven Soderbergh

Screenplay: Ed Solomon.

Stars:  Don Cheadle, Brendan Fraser, Benicio Del Toro, Kieran Culkin, David Harbour, Jon Hamm, Ray Liotta, Bill Duke, Craig muMs Grant, Julia Fox, Amy Seimetz and Matt Damon.

Tagline: Trust is a set-up.

The Overview:  Beware of Spoilers…

Three low level crooks who don’t know each other are hired for a mysterious, high-paying job.  Curt Goynes (Cheadle) and Ronald Russo (Del Torro) each need the money from the score to get out of town.  Goynes has stolen important papers from one of the major crime players in the area and Russo is sleeping with his crime boss’ wife.  The job seems easy enough.  Goynes and Russo will hold Matt Wertz’s (Harbour) family hostage while the third man (Culkin) takes Wertz to collect something from his boss’ safe.

When things go sideways, Goynes and Russo realize that they’ve been set-up to be murdered with the Wertz family.  Both men are already on the run from their former alliances and now learn that there is a price on their heads.  Having just met, Goynes and Russo form an uneasy alliance and try to figure out their next move.  What follows is an intelligent story full of double-crosses, twists and an ending that is surprising and satisfying.

I have nothing but praise for No Sudden Move.  It has an intelligent screenplay by Ed Solomon which is extremely well directed by Steven Soderbergh.  It is rare to see a film with so many stars that is perfectly cast.  Cheadle, Del Toro, and Liotta are at the top of their game as to be expected.  David Harbor is spot on as the man in over his head with his wife, his job, and his mistress.  It was great seeing Brendan Fraser in a role that will surprise many.  The same is true for Bill Duke!  And don’t forget there is an uncredited role that is pivotal to the entire film!

It isn’t often that we get a film so perfectly written, cast and directed.  No Sudden Move is that rare film made for adults — it assumes the audience isn’t dumb and it doesn’t rely on special effects.  I absolutely loved No Sudden Move.

“The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It” (2021) / Z-View

The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It (2021)

Director: Michael Chaves

Screenplay:  David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick (story: James Wan & David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick; based on characters created by Chad Hayes & Carey W. Hayes)

Stars:  Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga, Ruairi O’Connor, Sarah Catherine Hook and John Noble.

Tagline:  The Demonic Case That Shocked America

The Overview:  Beware of Spoilers…

The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It is a change of pace in that the Warrens are working to save a man from death row by using the “he was possessed by the devil” defense.  Talk about a Hail, Mary!

So, there’s a lot of courtroom action?  No, just two brief scenes.  But you have to understand this isn’t about that.  It’s about finding out why the man was possessed and curing that.  But, we know why he was possessed, he asked the devil to take him instead of the boy.  Yes, but as we learn, he wasn’t possessed by the devil, he was cursed by a Satanist!  But, the title is “The Devil Made Me Do It”?  Yes, but it wasn’t through the Devil directly.  But, the movie is scary and full of tension like the other “Conjuring” movies, right?  Well… not really.

The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It is all over the place.  There are exorcisms, a cold case murder mystery, a story of young love, old love, a possession, a curse, a demonic/satanic controlled murder, there’s ESP, raising the dead, a hospital drama, and keeping a man off death row.  For me, it was a bit too much.

I like the chemistry between Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga.  The nod to the original Exorcist when the priest arrives for the exorcism of the little boy is a nice touch.  The set-up with the little boy and the waterbed was creepy.  John Noble was a nice addition but needed more to do.

Nits to pick: It wasn’t as scary or filled with tense scenes as past Conjuring films.  The lighting in every indoor scene was as if to remind us “this is a horror movie” and something scary could be in the shadows.

The set-up of Patrick Wilson’s heart problems were well done but then for the rest of the film the threat of a heart attack looms despite his constant running, straining to lift his wife as she goes over a cliff, etc.  I didn’t think that the whole “Here’s Johnny” with a sledge hammer instead of an axe scene worked.  We know he’s not whacking his wife with it.

I didn’t buy at all that a man in jail for murder and who is using the devil made me do it defense would be allowed out of a cell to mop floors in a semi-dark (spooky, huh?) room.  That he would be come possessed, levitate off the floor, windows would be blown out and not a single cop or orderly shows up?

Overall, I found The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It to be an okay viewing experience.  So it gets 2 of 5 stars.

“Army of the Dead” / Z-View

Army of the Dead (2021)

Director: Zack Snyder

Screenplay: Zack Snyder & Shay Hatten and Joby Harold.

Stars:  Dave Bautista, Ella Purnell, Ana de la Reguera, Omari Hardwick, Theo Rossi, Matthias Schweighöfer, Nora Arnezeder, Hiroyuki Sanada, Garret Dillahunt, Tig Notaro, Raúl Castillo, Huma Qureshi and Richard Cetrone.

The Pitch: “Zack Snyder wants to create a zombie movie to be a tent-pole for other movies, animation and who knows what.  The first film will be called Army of the Dead!”

Tagline: Always Bet on Dead.

The Overview:  Beware of Spoilers…

Las Vegas has been overrun by zombies.  The city has been walled off by the US government and is set for nuclear destruction in 48 hours.  The clock is ticking…

Scott Ward is former military.  Most of his team survived the zombie outbreak in Vegas when they were sent in to save high ranking government officials.  Ward was given a medal for his efforts.  Now he flips burgers in a diner.  So when super-rich Bly Tanaka offers Ward $50 million to put together a team to enter the city and get $200 million from Bly’s casino vault, Ward accepts the offer.

Ward brings together his crew: former members of his military squad plus a helicopter pilot to fly them out, an adrenaline junkie, a safe cracker and a “coyote” who knows how to get into the city. Odds are they will all die, but the team agrees the risk is worth the reward.  Tanaka provides them with schematics of the safe, weapons and his security captain who will go along to make sure that they don’t run off with all the cash should they survive.

As the team moves into the city they learn that not all zombies are created equal.  Some are fast moving, with the ability to think and communicate with the other zombies.  They don’t talk and there is almost a hive mentality about them.  Also, not everyone on Ward’s team has the same outcome in mind.  There are plot twists and betrayals.  Friendships form, relationships are tested and most will not survive.

I really liked Zack Snyder’s Army of the Dead.  The action starts immediately.  The opening scenes hint at how the zombie apocalypse started and how deadly the zombies are.  Snyder uses the credits to creatively show the fall of Vegas.  This is definitely a Zack Snyder movie — if you’re not a fan of his work, you probably won’t like this.  If you are a fan, then there’s a lot to love.

The cast is excellent.  Because there are so many characters, each with a unique personality, it is important to get the right actors for each role.  Several standout: Bautista, Purnell, Hardwick & Schweighöfer, Rossi, Dillahunt and Notaro shine.

Snyder isn’t just making a movie, he’s creating a universe.  There are two Army of the Dead prequels in development (one animated!) and there is the possibility of a sequel.  Snyder doesn’t give us all the answers — instead he provides us with enough information to fill in the blanks. There are nods to other movies (Aliens, Planet of the Apes, etc.).  The soundtrack is excellent.  If you’re just looking for a fun ride, Army of the Dead provides one.  However, if you like to look deeper into the film. there’s a lot there to discuss.  Were those UFOs in the opening credits?  What about the robot zombie?  What was it doing there?  Where did it come from? (And the exposition of the robot is so subtle, I missed it on the first viewing.)  How did the first zombie get created?  And THAT ending!!

Are there nits to pick?  Sure.

There’s a character that does things that are stupid.  Yet, I would argue that they are consistent with what we’ve seen from her.  Also, if the hero did the same thing (which he does), we’re okay with it.

The length of the movie.  It clocks in at 2 hours and 28 minutes.  Some people have complained about the length.  I thought the time flew by.  I was entertained and didn’t think it was too long.  In fact I’m looking forward to more time in that universe.

A character survives something that should have killed him.  There are a couple of explanations to that, but to discuss them here would be to give too much away.

The team doesn’t seem overly concerned with the clock ticking down the the nuke.

I believe that all of these quibbles can be explained.  I loved Army of the Dead.  I’ve seen it twice and liked it even better the second time.

“Black Summer” Season 2: The Poster, 3 Teasers and the Trailer are Here!

That’s the new poster for Black Summer season 2.  If you didn’t see season 1, you missed out.  But don’t just take my word for it.  Take my word AND the word of Stephen King.  Here’s what I posted with my review of the first season of Black Summer

You’d think by now we’d have seen it all when it comes to zombie stories.  Black Summer is proof that just ain’t so.  I really liked this first season and hope that it returns for a second.  Guess who else likes Black Summer?  Stephen King said this today…

“BLACK SUMMER (Netflix): Just when you think there’s no more scare left in zombies, THIS comes along. Existential hell in the suburbs, stripped to the bone.”

Black Summer season 2  premieres on June 17th. Netflix has released three teasers and a trailer to prepare for the ride!   Here’s teaser one…

Teaser 2…

Teaser 3…

And the trailer…

Winter comes with cold-blooded new challenges during the zombie apocalypse as frantic scavengers and violent militias battle the dead and desperate.

If you missed out on season 1, you have plenty of time to catch up before the premiere of season 2!

“Stowaway” (2021) / Z-View

Stowaway (2021)

Director: Joe Penna

Screenplay: Joe Penna, Ryan Morrison

Stars:  Anna Kendrick, Daniel Dae Kim, Shamier Anderson.

The Pitch: “Let’s update Lifeboat, but do it in space!”

Tagline: Millions of miles from home, survival comes with sacrifice.

The Overview:  Beware of Spoilers…

About 12 hours into (and past the point of no return of) a two year mission to Mars, the three person astronaut team discovers a man unconscious and badly bleeding.  The accidental stowaway is a launch support engineer who was making last minute preflight checks before liftoff when he was injured.  In order to make the journey to Mars, the ship was equipped with just the essentials to ensure the safety of the three astronauts.  Now with four on board, the question of survival of all comes into play.

Shamier Anderson is excellent as Michael Anderson, the accidental stowaway.  His realization that he is the odd man out on a journey he hasn’t been trained for, nor wanted plays out beautifully though his facial expressions and body language.  Toni Collette plays Marina Barnett, the ship’s Captain who will have to make the ultimate decisions about who lives or dies.  Daniel Dae Kim is the team’s biologist, David Kim and most pragmatic/logical of the team.  Anna Kendrick plays Zoe Levenson, the ship’s doctor and medical researcher.

Initially, they believe that by rationing and conservation of supplies, the trip can be made by four instead of three.  Then they discover that their carbon dioxide scrubber isn’t working. They will be pushing it to have enough oxygen for three.  Now, faced with decisions that will effect not only the mission, but the lives of every person on board, the four must come to grips with the reality of the situation.  Not everyone will survive the journey and as things worsen, the question becomes not of who will survive, but will any of them survive.

Stowaway is well acted and contains excellent special effects.  The tension mounts as the movie progresses and presents itself as more of a morality drama then action/adventure.  As for me, I liked it and rate it 3 out of 5 stars.

“Unhinged” (2020) / Z-View

Unhinged (2020)

Director: Derrick Borte

Screenplay: Carl Ellsworth

Stars:  Russell Crowe, Caren Pistorius, Gabriel Bateman.

The Pitch: “It’s Spielberg’s Duel crossed with the scariest monster you can imagine!”

Tagline: He can happen to anyone.

The Overview:  Beware of Spoilers…

Rachael is having a bad day.  She’s going through a rough divorce.  Her mom has just been moved into an assisted living home that Rachael can’t afford, her out of work brother and his “fiancé” have moved in with her and her teenage son.  To make this bad day even worse, Rachel overslept.  She’s got to drive her son to school, herself to work and both will be late.  Yeah, Rachel is having a bad day.

It’s about to get worse.

At an intersection Rachael finds herself behind a big truck that just sits when the light turns green.  She’s already late and this guy isn’t moving.  So she lays on the horn.  Still no movement.  She lays on the horn again and then pulls around him.  As she passes the truck she gives the driver a gesture letting him know she’s pissed.

As it turns out, the guy in the truck is having a worse day.  His wife was divorcing him, going after his house and all his assets, and having an affair with her attorney.  I say was divorcing him because she (nor her attorney-lover) are now in a position to do anything.  Yeah, this guy is having a real bad day and Rachael’s actions have pushed him to the limit.

He pulls up beside her and gives her a chance to apologize.  This just infuriates her and she says things to make it worse, not realizing that she’s dealing with a man who is about to come unhinged.  And he does.

To tell more would be to tell too much.  Suffice it to say, Unhinged delivers thrills and continues to ratchet up the tension until the very satisfying climax.  Crowe is perfect as the man who is on a mission to destroy Rachael by killing everyone dear to her before he is killed.  What makes Crowe so scary is he knows he’s going to die, probably at the hands of the police, and he is alright with that.  For him it is just a question of how much damage he can do before they get him.

Caren Pistorius is excellent as Rachael.  What I liked about her character is that she creates most of her issues and it is her actions that sets everything in motion.  This is a nice change from the innocent woman in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Pistorius is believable as Rachael.  Kudos also to Gabriel Bateman who plays her son, Kyle.  He comes off as sympathetic and likeable.

Crowe deserves special praise for his portrayal of the nameless man who becomes Unhinged.  He isn’t just a one-dimensional psycho killer, and perhaps that is what makes him scarier than Jason, Michael Myers or any of the other monsters we’re used to seeing.

If you’re looking for a action-thriller, then you should consider Unhinged.  I really liked it!

Tax Collector (2020) / Z-View

Before we get into my review of Tax Collector, let me say that I’m a David Ayer fan and after seeing the poster and trailer for Tax Collector back in July, I posted them both saying that I looked forward to seeing the movie.  recently had a contest for a free DVD of Tax Collector.  I entered and won a copy.  That copy is what I am reviewing.

Tax Collector (2020)

Director: David Ayer

Screenplay: David Ayer

Stars:  Bobby Soto, Cinthya Carmona, Shia LaBeouf, Jose Conejo Martin, Cheyenne Rae Hernandez, George Lopez and Brian Ortega.

The Pitch: “David Ayer is ready to make another movie!”

Tagline: From the Creator of  “Training Day” and “End of Watch”

The Overview:  Beware of Spoilers…

David Cuevas (Soto) and his crime partner, Creeper (LaBeouf) are tax collectors for a crime lord known as The Wizard.  They collect a 30% tax on all illegal gang activity in the city.  If the money isn’t on time or the count comes up short, Cuevas and Creeper resolve the issue so it doesn’t happen again.

Cuevas is living a double life of sorts.  He has a beautiful wife and two children. He wants to be a good husband and father.  The life Cuevas lives has given him a nice house, lots of money and respect, but the things he does to earn them are hard to justify.  While Cuevas is a religious man, his partner, Creeper has come to terms with who they are and what they do.

Things go smoothly until a Conejo (Martin), a rival gang lord, returns to the city with intent to take over the Wizard’s operation.  Conejo meets with Cuevas and offers him a choice: join Conejo or Cuevas and his family will be killed.

To tell more would be to give away too much.  The movie contains more than a few twists, but it shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone going to see Tax Collector that there are scenes of brutal violence.  If you’re a fan of David Ayer, then you know what to expect.

As a screenwriter, Ayer got my attention with Training Day.  As a director, it was with Street Kings.  Then as a writer/director he brought us Harsh Times, End of Watch, Sabotage (one of Arnold’s best), and Fury just to name a few.  Ayers’ films take us into a world where men are placed in violent situations and there are consequences to their actions.

I’ve never been a big Shia LaBeouf fan, but man, he owns every scene he is in.  His character, Creeper, is a stone cold killer, and LaBeouf was perfect for the part.  Remember No Country for Old Men and the character Anton Chigurh played by Javier Bardem?  Remember the universal praise Bardem rightly received?  I’d rate LaBeaouf’s performance at the same level.

Other standout performances include Cheyenne Rae Hernandez as Gata and  Jose Conejo Martin as Conejo.  It was also cool to see George Lopez playing against character and Brian Ortega from the UFC in a supporting role.

I really liked the Tax Collector.  If you’re a David Ayer fan, you probably will as well.


“The Unholy Wife” / Z-View

The Unholy Wife (1957)

Director: John Farrow

Screenplay:  Jonathan Latimer (based on a story by William Durkee)

Stars:  Diana Dors, Rod Steiger and Tom Tryon.

The Pitch: “We’ve got Diana Dors, let’s star her as a femm fatale in a film noir!”

Tagline: HALF-ANGEL……HALF-DEVIL, she made him HALF-A-MAN! …she flaunted his hopes, taunted his dreams, turned his peaceful valley into a volcano of seething passions that even murder could not stem!

The Overview:  Beware of Spoilers…

The Unholy Wife is a little known, under-rated film noir released in 1957 staring Diana Dors and Rod Steiger.  Steiger plays Paul, a war vet who runs the gigantic family vineyard.  A chance encounter with a beautiful woman leads Paul to fall in love with her.  And that love sends him down the path to death and ruin.

Sound familiar?  It should because its the outline for all great film noirs.  Double Indemnity?  Check.  The Postman Always Rings Twice?  Check.  Now, I’m not saying that The Unholy Wife meets the gold standard of those two classics, but it’s definitely coming from the same mine.

Dors plays Phyllis a bleach-bottle blonde bombshell (say that three times fast) that steals Paul Hochen’s heart.  Despite the warning signs (some from Phyllis herself), Paul marries her. He then brings Phyllis and her young son home to live on his huge vineyard estate.  It isn’t long before Phyllis is having an affair and plotting to set her husband up for murder.

The Unholy Wife reminds me of a lesser known Gold Medal book you’d find on the paperback racks back in the 50s.  I say that as a good thing.  Even The Unholy Wife movie poster looks like it could have served as a Gold Medal cover!

I like everything about The Unholy Wife.  Dors is excellent as the beautiful, heartless seductress.  Steiger is convincing (and doesn’t overact) as the nice guy led astray.  Tom Tryon doesn’t have much to do, but is just right as Dors’ lover.  The movie was made in Technicolor and the process and colors make it look like a lurid paperback cover come to life.

If you’re a fan of film noir then you should really enjoy The Unholy Wife. I did.