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Gangsters, Strippers, and Space Guns

I am a sucker for a coming of age tale. I am a sucker for an adventure film. I am a sucker for anything science fiction. So when I saw the trailer for Kin, which looked like kids on bikes, explosions, and alien-tech – you know I had to go see the movie. And I regret that I did.

Kin is not a bad movie, it is a terrible movie.

The failure of the movie is that the plot is completely nonsensical. It is almost as though every ten pages of the screenplay a new writer was brought in to write. They just didn’t know the plot of the film, and were instructed to write the film, just a film. Any film their heart desired. Spoilers below.

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“Eighth Grade” is Great

The film Eighth Grade (2018) is the recent coming-of-age tale about adolescence. The film is the feature film debut of Bo Burnham, comedian and YouTuber. What the film does masterfully, is capture the anxiety and awkwardness that we all experienced as we transition from childhood to adulthood.

As teens, we often felt unease and discomfort in our changing bodies. The film captures this beautifully. Remember feeling nervous walking into school? Or walking in front of class to make a presentation. Burnham finds a way to bring these feelings to the screen, through an understanding of pacing and deliberate cinematography. He traps us in our middle school classroom, forcing us to relive some of the most anxiety-provoking moments from our youth. He doesn’t do it alone; his filmmaking is accented by a stellar performance from Elsie Fisher who captures feelings of teenage awkwardness and insecurity without even saying a word.

One of the best scenes in the film is when the main character Kayla shows up at a pool party (one she doesn’t want to go to, and isn’t wanted at in the first place). As the camera follows her on her journey from the bathroom to the pool, you would think she was on a march to her execution. Never has a group of thirteen-year-olds at a pool party seemed so terrifying.

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Denzel is back!

The film, The Equalizer 2, is the continuation of the first film. Again, following the adventures of ex-government black-ops operative Robert McCall (Denzel Washington), and he tries to ease his conscious of the sins of his past by righting wrongs and protecting the innocent. Along they way, he transforms his community, helping and inspiriting those around him to live up to their potential. Sounds promising right?

In the sequel, again Antoine Fuqua returns in the directors chair. The movie has the same visual-style as the first film. The plot is confusing and the pacing feels off. It takes the film a little while to really get rolling. The convergence of multiple story lines in this one is a slow and ardent process. But no one goes too see The Equalizer films for the plot. We go see the films for the creative ways McCall delivers vigilantes justice to “the villains” of the world.

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Go See Your “Uncle Drew”

Growing up a kid in Hoosier Country, we had a phrase we used to use, “basketball is life.” This phrase, simple and elegant, is the premise of the new film starring basketball superstar Kyrie Irving Uncle Drew. The film is based upon the character created in the Pepsi Max ads (if you have no idea what I am talking about, that’s what Youtube is for) following a geriatric basketball player who has no problem putting “young-bloods” in their place. For Drew, basketball is life. The game rules all, because it teaches us how to live together, and work together, and solve any problem.

Uncle Drew follows the title character and blacktop-basketball-legend as he assembles his old team to help Dax win The Rucker streetball tournament in Harlem. After Dax loses his team, Drew agrees to help recruit his old streetball team – despite their falling out – for one last ride to win the tournament. As Drew recruits his team, he teaches Dax about the game (and life) and discovers he hasn’t been as true to his principles as he thought.

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Not as Good as The First

Sicario: Day of the Soladado, is a crime-thriller offering a grim view of reality. It is uncanny that a film playing off America’s greatest border fears, has been released in the midst of renewed political debate surrounding border security and immigration reform. For movie-goers, the film is essentially everything that they have come to expect following the first Sicario film released in 2015. Spoilers below.

Following a terrorist attack in Middle America, and discovering the terrorists used the Southern Border as a point of entry into the United States, a covert operation is implemented to institute a war between the drug cartels in Mexico. The plan is a simple one, used whatever means necessary to instigate the cartels against one another, just make sure that the United States maintains plausible deniability. This brings Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) and Alejandro Gillick (Benicio del Toro) back together, to continue the crusade against the cartels they started in the first film.

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Worth the “Upgrade”

Upgrade is the most recent film from director Leigh Whannell (of Saw fame). The Science Fiction film seems to be flying slightly under the radar, likely as a result of its microscopic budget. In an era where Sci-Fi films like Blade Runner 2049 are produce for upwards of $185 million, a $3 million-dollar sci-fi film seems to pale by comparison.
But Upgrade gets back to the basics of science fiction. In true Asimoff style, the story is a collision between mankind and technology. Set in the near future, the film explores life in the perpetual surveillance state. The film also explores implants and augmentation, and when we combine the human body with tech, where does one end and the next begin. For a Luddite like me, this is the most terrifying film I have seen in a long while.

Spoilers.

The film follows Grey (Logan Marshall-Green) an auto mechanic who makes a living in the digital-world of the future by restoring classic cars. He is a man desperately out of touch with the rest of the planet. After his wife is murdered in a car-jacking and he is left a quadriplegic. After contemplating, and then attempting, suicide, Grey ends up hospitalized where he meets a tech-billionaire who promises to restore his motor-function. STEM is how he does it, an AI spinal cord implant which help to reconnect his nervous system.

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No Point Seeing “Action Point”

Something like ten years ago, a film with Johnny Knoxville preforming his death defying stupid-human-stunts would have dragged every high schooler in America to the movie theater. My, how the times have changed. Knoxville’s latest film, Action Point, is essentially Bad Grandpa meets Jackass, again something that once-upon-a-time would have dragged viewers to a theater. Now imagine that movie, but without any redeeming or entertaining qualities. That is Action Point.

Action Point is more of the same from Knoxville, just, without the laughs. It is a film completely devoid of genuine plot or characterization. It is loosely held together by a story about a father, his backyard-built-budget theme park, and his relationship with his estranged daughter. So, there isn’t much to truly build a film around.

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‘Deadpool 2’ is Ten times better than ‘Logan’ Was

Deadpool (aka Wade Wilson), would tell you that “Deadpool 2 is ten times better than Logan was.

The first Deadpool, was unexpected bliss. Studio-heads and comic-book fan-boys fundamentally misunderstand each other. Nowhere is this clearer than with that three-letter-studio holding rights to the X-men. When the first Deadpool film came out in 2016, we were blown away – they finally managed to give us the comic-book film [we] the nerds had been begging for. So naturally – and skeptically – I wondered, would Deadpool 2 deliver to the same extent? How much of the euphoria delivered by the first film was the result of pop-culture references, unrestrained violence, and pure unadulterated shock value? Could they catch lightning in a bottle a second time?

They did. Spoilers below.

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Photo: IMDB

Tomb Raider, The Video Game Film They (Sort Of) Got Right

As a nineties child, I spent a great deal of my money, and an even greater deal of my time, on the Tomb Raider games. We loved the games because they were fun and walked the perfect balance difficult puzzles and great action. I remember being disappointed in both 2001 and 2003 – with the release of the first two Tomb Raider films (Lara Croft: Tomb Raider and Lara Croft: Tomb Raider – The Cradle of Life). While these films were entertaining and highly stylized, the films were unmemorable. And they lacked the genuine qualities which made the games so damn good.

Film’s based upon video games have always sucked, and the bar is set perpetually low. Whether we were watching Resident Evil, Doom, Silent Hill, or Hitman; regardless of how great the gaming franchises have been, these films have all turned out to be disappointing. Part of the reason is, that video game inspired films have, and always will have, the challenge of condensing a story told via twenty-six of hours of game play into a two-hour feature film. This is not an easy task. But Tomb Raider shows us how it is not as difficult as we previously imagined.

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Photo: IMDB

Red Sparrow: A Spy Thriller, Without The Thrills

The film, Red Sparrow, capitalizes on America’s renewed Russo-phobia. Central to the film is the fact that many in the west believe we won the Cold War, while many in Russia believe the Cold War never ended. While I agree with the sentiment completely, I do feel that the film simplifies decades of U.S. -Russian international relations into terms which can easily be digested by those who pre-November 2016, could scarcely find Russia on the map. While simplified it is does introduce to the masses three monumental facts of national security: (1) there are more Russian spies in the United States now than during the height of the Cold War, (2) Russian intelligence collection programs are built around long-term goals, and (3) the Cold War never ended, despite the fact that too many westerns believe it did.

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Photo: IMDB

Death Wish Leaves Us Wishing For More

The original Death Wish (1974) with Charles Bronson is one of my favorite actions films. It’s the prototype of the vigilante film genre; and though the later ones in the saga get a bit “over the top” [read: ridiculous], the first one is a great film. I love action movies, I won’t deny it. In fact, I will go as far as saying that I love the TERRIBLE ones. I tell you this, so you know that when I tell you the new Death Wish (2018) was bad, you know that I mean it was very, very, very bad.

I always question remakes. I think that is natural. Why are we remaking this film? How can it be different than the original? Will it be better than the original? Eli Roth had no business remaking the original.

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Photo: IMDB

Annihilation Will Blow You Away

While the rest of your friends continue to be infatuated with Black Panther, seeing it for the third or fourth time with their Movie Pass, consider seeing something a little different. Annihilation can best be described as a cinematic experience, one of those movies made to be seen in a theater. So, if you plan on waiting until the digital release to watch it, think again.

This experience presents itself when the characters enter The Shimmer, an alteration of space-time where the laws of nature are constantly reinventing themselves. The sound design, the powerful and emotional scoring, the color pallet, and the stunning visuals all work in harmony to immerse us in this altered-state bubble. You can’t help but check Google Maps when you leave, to see if a real-life version of The Shimmer is currently swallowing up the American South. It feels real.

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A Conversation With Myself About Star Wars [SPOILERS]

I’ve been trying to come up with a pithy way to effectively review Star Wars: Episode VIII The Last Jedi, and the truth is, I’m stumped.

I was really looking forward to this film. But after two screenings, I think I need to come to terms with the fact that, well…. I just don’t like it that much.

And considering a lot of the reactions on Twitter, YouTube, and Rotten Tomatoes, I’m apparently not alone.

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It turns out that The Last Jedi has been incredibly divisive for fans.

In listening to commentary on YouTube channels like Screen Junkies and Collider, a lot of people seem to be throwing up their hands and saying that since the reaction to The Force Awakens (such as mine) was that it was a beat-for-beat remake of “A New Hope”, and since now some reactions to The Last Jedi are mad that it’s “too different” (more on that later), there’s just no way to please Star Wars fans.

There’s a grain of truth to this.

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City of Ghosts: Movie Review

The documentary City of Ghosts begins at a black-tie gala in New York City.  A group of Syrian men mingle with donors and have their pictures taken.  “Maybe a little smile?” a photographer asks.  But they are thinking about the struggles of their home city, where there is little smile about.  They are part of “Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently,” a group of citizen-journalists who have documented the human-rights abuses of ISIS in the city of Raqqa, Syria.

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Thank You For Smoking Movie Review

The film “Thank You For Smoking,” starring Aaron Eckhart as Nick Naylor, is a satirical dramady about the cigarette industry’s leading lobbyist and the trials and tribulations he overcomes, not only in his career, but in maintaining the respect of his son.

Nick Naylor would, at first glance, appear to be your everyday, average guy, but the reality is he’s big tobacco’s smooth talking man on “the hill”. On a day to day basis he’s fighting the stigma of cigarettes, after all, everyone deserves a fair defense – even multinational corporations. As we pick up his story, he’s planning a strategy to combat new congressional labeling bill for cigarette products – a large skull and crossbones, reading “poison.”

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The Siege Movie Review

“The Siege,” starring Denzel Washington and Annette Bening, is a story of ‘blowback’ and the extreme measures government will implement to maintain control.

After the bombing of a U.S. facility abroad, American military forces capture and place in custody the man suspected to be responsible (the Sheik). It’s this action that sets off a chain reaction of retaliation. Soon after, in New York, unnamed Islamic terrorists attack the city and its people, demanding the Sheik’s release. Denzel, as the FBI’s chief counter-terror agent, chases the terrorist cells through the city, always rooting his actions in law and order, despite the directions of others. It’s when the terrorists blow up a federal building, killing 600, that the President steps in and declares martial law. The army goes block by block, door to door, and rounds up any and all Muslim people that fit their broad profile: male, 14-30 years of age. Beyond that, the military sees no moral conflict in torturing suspects for information, despite Denzel’s eloquent plea against it. In the end, the FBI works in the shadows to legally take down the terrorists and arrest the military men responsible for the reprehensible actions in the city.

This film deals with several major liberty themed points, namely: the idea of blowback, the morality of torture, law & justice, and the dangers of ‘racial profiling’. The film’s jumping off point is the tactical take-down of the Sheik, the man responsible for the bombing of an American facility abroad. While it is understandable to seek retribution for such an act, the film brings to light the idea of blowback – that foreign policy actions have unintended consequences. In this particular example, a “rouge” elements of the U.S. military engaged in his illegal extraction, undoubtedly invoking contempt that manifested itself in the bombings. This isn’t to say legal means of capturing the man would have had a different effect, but it is to say every action has an equal and opposite reaction.

Beyond this, though only a minor plot point, it is revealed that Annette Bening’s CIA trainees are the very same individuals now terrorizing the United States. In regards to torture, and martial law in general, Denzel’s character has a rather powerful monologue, in which he regards the current situation as “shredding the constitution”, and in that effect “they’ve already won”. Finally, one of the biggest thrusts of the film is in regards to Islam and people’s fear of it in the wake of religiously charged attacks. It is in this point that the film’s message is most relevant given current American fears and political rhetoric. To this, the film shows the “lump sum” attitude as misguided, as the large net the military stretches to round up the last remaining terrorist cells doesn’t even catch one lawbreaker. Instead, this net catches the innocent, a point made by Denzel’s Lebanese partner searching frantically for his 13 year old son in the large cages.

1) Is martial law ever a reasonable option?

2) Is it a coincidence that the military’s racial profiling of Muslim individuals was completely ineffective? Was this a conscious decision by the film-makers?

3) Is this film an indictment of America’s foreign policy? In what ways is it?

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I like Underpants…

I never grew up reading the Captain Underpants book series by Dave Pilkey; they were as us old-folks say “before my time.” Still, something about the trailer spoke to me, and I found myself watching the film Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie (2017).

Spoilers throughout.

In the film, best friends Harold and George, a storyteller-artist tandem obsessed with creating comic books, find themselves at odds with their fascist Principal Krupp. The Principal is obsessed with order, structure, and efficiency; all of which come at the expense of his student’s creativity, and innovation. With the use of a cereal-box hypno-ring, the two hypnotize Principal Krupp into believing he is the embodiment of their comic book magnum opus, Captain Underpants. With Captain Underpants as their principal, their harmless pranks become a welcomed addition to school, and art and music are returned to the school curriculum. They spend their day helping the Captain blend in as a convincing principal, and making sure he does not accidentally return to his natural Krupp state.

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Wonder Woman: Everything We Could Hope For… And More

I don’t know about you, but I have been anxiously awaiting a “Wonder Woman” feature film since rumors circulated in the late ’90s of one starring Sandra Bullock. For me, the films near twenty-years in pre-production hell was well worth the wait.

For starters, “Wonder Woman” is the film that we needed to finally prove the Exec’s wrong. The belief that female superhero films cannot be successful is farce! You may remember leaked emails from 2015 revealing their suspicions that female characters were not a draw in the box-office. The failure of female comic book movies – or any comic book movies for that matter – has nothing to do with the sex, gender, or ability of the character. No instead, as fans have always maintained, the failure of comic book films is the result of shoddy film making at the hands of filmmakers who do not understand the properties they are working with. “Wonder Woman” is a film seeming created by those who seem to understand, and love, the character. And what a difference it makes.

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Why I Hate the “Guardians of the Galaxy,” and Why You Should Too!

I hate the film Guardians of the Galaxy. I hate it. I understand that my position is not a popular one; but then again, I never really was that popular. Need proof? Look me up in the high school yearbook.

I hate the film and everything about it, from its Kevin Bacon inspired jokes to its talking Raccoon. I have spent the better part of the last two years trying to convince the rest of you, that I am right. With the sequel arriving in theaters, I will give this one another go.

I hate Guardians for one simple reason: lazy storytelling. Essentially, Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) is a carbon-copy of the Avengers (2012) formula, just with a relatively obscure series from deep within the Marvel vaults. And yes, before you start questioning me and my fan-boy creds, I am in fact one of some twenty-five people who has ACTUALLY read the Guardian’s books.

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It’s Morphin’ Time!

Jason David Frank – or maybe you better remember him as Tommy Oliver – has to be credited as one of the driving forces behind the new Power Rangers movie. After the internet hyped some really great Power Ranger shorts, JDF approached series creator Haim Saban about the possibility of a mature Power Ranger movie following the Green Ranger (which would have been awesome to watch). Instead of limiting the film to just the Green Ranger, we get a full cinematic reboot of the series in the new film Power Rangers (2017).

These Rangers are very different from the ones we remember. While in the series Zordon instructs Alpha to recruit “teenagers with attitude,” the original Power Rangers severely lack the attitude. They are essentially “squeaky-clean” kids with martial arts skills. These new Power Rangers – screw ups, trouble makers, and even bullies – are edgier, bringing a certain amount of depth and realism to the characters. While the purists might see this as tainting the beloved heroes, to true intention is to sever the “campiness” which defined the series in favor of something more “realistic”.

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“Contact” Movie Review

In the film “Contact” an astronomer (Ellie), considered fringe by many of her colleagues, discovers a radio signal transmitted deep in space, in essence, discovering alien life.
As the film opens, is clear to see that Ellie is pursuing her life’s dream: contacting intelligent life in space. However, soon after arriving to a large antenna in Central America, her project is shut down by the National Science Foundation (a federally funded program) who sees her work as frivolous. Steadfast, she lobbies for private funding and finds it with an eccentric billionaire who believes in her passion. It’s after this that she makes a breakthrough. On the verge of the government once again “icing them out”, she discovers a mysterious transmission flying through space, hurdling toward Earth.

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The Barbarian Invasions: The Illusions of the Past

Les Invasions Barbares

A few weeks ago, as I was mindlessly journeying  across channels on cable, I run into a film that made quite an impression on me when I first watched it a few years ago. The film in question was The Barbarian Invasions by French Canadian director, Denys Arcand. It earned him an Oscar for Best Foreign Film in 2004, among many other numerous awards.

The film revolves around Rémy, a former college professor who is confined to a hospital due to liver cancer. Whatever the grim circumstances, he devotes all his energies to maintain his bon vivant approach to life. As nurses, friends and former lovers parade into his hospital room, he maintains the facade almost intact. However, what really brings flavor to the story, as well as conflict and humor to the foreground in equal measures, is Rémy’s son, Sébastien. It’s the initial clash between these two that really puts the whole story into motion. Father and son have been estranged for years as a result of their contrasting philosophies. While Rémy is an old school leftist who flirted with every revolutionary movement since the 1960’s, Sébastien is a successful businessman who has deftly navigated the world of finance. The father thinks of himself as a staunch idealist thus he perceives his sons almost as a traitor, a representative of a coldblooded capitalist world. The son has always resented this prejudice but despite his initial misgivings about reuniting with his father, he soon rushes to his side. It doesn’t take long for us to see that the public hospital where Rémy is staying becomes a symbol of everything that went wrong about the old generation; Sébastien must battle with unions and bureaucrats in a place that overflows with red tape and decay in order to ensure some decent care for his father.

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Mad Max: Fury Road – The Action and The State

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Furiosa’s War Rig

Mad Max: Fury Road opened last weekend and I finally made it out to see it this weekend. Not only am I thrilled it lived up to my expectations when I first saw the trailer, I am relieved to know that when it comes to making action pictures, there is someone out there willing to work hard, putting in the time and effort to convey their vision to a production team, who all then execute it flawlessly.  In the current golden age of Marvel action films and other CGI driven movies, writer-director George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road destroys this kiddy-field of action films (no offense to the hard working computer animators) much the same way Furiosa’s War Rig plows through the desert destroying everything in its path to liberate its cargo. (Furiosa being portrayed by Charlize Theron in a role that should now forever be the model for what an actual Lady Liberty would like in a world that needed her most,)

The heavy use of practical effects, stunt work and careful, deliberate directing and camera work are key in connecting audiences with the emotional state of the story and characters – and with Mad Max: Fury Road, that emotional state is jaw-dropping, awe-inspiring, heart-pounding ecstasy.  It’s the first time in a long while, that I actually sat in a theater and marveled at the stunt work and choreography – all of which you could completely follow with ease – and couldn’t wait to find out how they achieved it all.  I eagerly the Blu-ray special features menu.

When it comes to the plot of the film and the world that is depicted, I’d like to defer to author, publisher and all around  liberty geek Jeffrey A. Tucker of FEE.

“… The setting is usually described as “post-apocalyptic.”

Who destroyed the world (a question one character in the new version asks)? We don’t know for sure, but it’s a good bet that it is the same crew that, in the 20th century, blew up whole cities, dropped bombs on millions of innocents, slaughtered whole peoples in famines, gulags, work camps, death marches, and gas chambers.

I’m speaking of the state. That’s the only institution with means and the will to destroy civilization. So if I had to guess the answer to the question, I would guess: politicians and bureaucrats destroyed the world.”

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Film Review – The Connection (the French one)

2-la-french-film-2015-habituallychicReleased in US this past weekend, the French-Belgian production, The Connection (La French in Europe) is based on the infamous French Connection heroin drug scheme of the 1960s and 70s.  This plot brought the opiate from Turkey into the US by way of France, thus the name, the French Connection.  The story was first popularly dramatized in the 1971 American film, The French Connection starring Gene Hackman and Roy Scheider and directed by William Friedkin.  While both films only claim to be loosely based on the actual drug trade, this latest incarnation is focused solely on the French investigation (versus the NYPD investigation focused on in the Friedkin film) and is set a number of years later.

The film points out early on the devastating impact that the drug was having on western cultures in the seventies and into the eighties and even uses archive footage of then US president, Richard Nixon first declaring the “war on drugs,” to set the stage.  What of course followed in the US has been written about, fictionalized on film, studied in academia and debated on endlessly for over four decades. The creation and rise of SWAT raids and the over-militarization of police, the highest incarceration rate in the world, and a blackmarket that has lead to tens of thousands of deaths due to gang violence and innocents fleeing their homeland for better living conditions.  While the film doesn’t address the lasting impact this war on drugs has had over the years, it certainly gives us a familiar look into the underground world, the power struggles and the dangers associated with trying to combat it all. From warrant-less (or at least bending the rules) wiretaps, crooked cops and judges, and politicians who turn a blind eye in order to secure their political futures, The Connection brings home the fact that corruption throughout the system and questionable law enforcement tactics in the war on drugs isn’t just an American problem.

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Film Review – Child 44

[Editor’s note: The following is a guest review by Brian Watt originally posted in the members only section at Ricochet. It has been posted here with permission from author.]

Only a handful of theaters around the country are still showing the Ridley Scott-produced and Daniel Espinosa-directed Child 44. It is available for pre-order on Amazon and iTunes now, so should be released for sale or rental within a month. If you search for reviews of the film you’ll find a mix of opinions and several of them negative though IMDB does display an overall rating of 6.4 out of a possible 10, which isn’t that bad. Most critics and moviegoers have complained that as a thriller Child 44 is just not taut or thrilling enough and instead is too dark, brooding, oppressive and ponderous — essentially not akin to other flashier blockbusters in the genre – any of the films in the Bourne series or even more realistic and slow-paced spy thrillers that probably tread more closely to actual spycraft, like Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.

If you want extreme car chases through the streets of Moscow, motorcycles racing over rooftops, explosions hither and thither or endless and preposterous martial arts fights where good guys and bad guys leap onto walls and do back flips and break each other’s kneecaps, then Child 44 will surely disappoint — though it does have three intense fight scenes, particularly one aboard a train, that all appear much more realistic and chaotic and less choreographed than anything you’ll see in a Bourne or Bond film.

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Chikatilo mugshot

It seems to me that the more salient reason Child 44 will disappoint is because it is not a spy thriller at all and I would argue is not intended to be a thriller but more of a detective story while also a graphic indictment of how dehumanizing communism is when practiced. The film is based on the Tom Rob Smith novel of the same name (which admittedly I’ve yet to read), but which I understand is loosely based on real-life serial killer, Andrei Chikatilo, also referred to as the Butcher of Rostov or the Rostov Ripper, who was active between 1978 and 1990 and who sexually assaulted and brutally murdered 52 women and children that authorities know about in Russia, the Ukraine and the Uzbek regions during the latter years of the Union of Soviet Socialist states.

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