Sentinelle – review

Brief synopsis: after suffering a traumatic incident whilst on combat duty in Syria, a soldier returns home to France. Out clubbing with her sister, they get separated, her sister going off with a Russian playboy. The sister reappears the next day. She is in hospital and has been beaten and raped. The soldier decides to hunt down the man who she believes raped her sister. 

Is it any good?: No. Sentinelle is ponderous and atmospheric but unbearably slow. The film looks good, if a little too dark, and has some nice visual flourishes but the central story takes nearly forty minutes to get going and the film is only eighty minutes long. 

The acting is okay, not bad nor particularly good but that is mostly because the only person we properly meet in the film is the central protagonist. Every other person in the film is a cliched stereotype. 

Spoiler territory: in a Syrian war zone, a soldier has a gun pointed at a local woman’s head. He wants to know where her husband is. The woman is terrified. Klara (Olga Kurylenko), an interpreter, relays the question. She persuades the woman to give up his location, telling her that it would help her son. They only want to question her husband. 

A team of soldiers go to try and capture the husband. After a brief standoff, they find their target. Klara is watching the operation unfold from a neighbouring building. She feels uneasy. Something is not right. She leaves her vantage point and moves closer to the operation. 

There is an ambush but the team manage to repel it. They split up the family and one of the team takes the young son to check him for weapons. His father is screaming, telling his son to “do it!”. Klara sees, too late, that the boy is wearing explosives. The boy detonates the bomb. 

Klara returns to France. Traumatised by the incident, she is transferred to the Sentinelle peacekeeping force, a military presence employed to react to potential, domestic, terrorist threats. She returns to her family, mother and her sister, Tania (Marilyn Lima). Klara is not happy about her transfer. 

Klara has a mild addiction to opioids, having been prescribed drugs because of her trauma. She joins up with the patrol. As they patrol the streets, Klara seems a little fraught, her experiences a constant filter. The team come across a domestic altercation on the beach. 

Klara goes to break it up, shouting at the man to stop hitting his girlfriend. When the man does not heed her words, she takes him down and drags him into the ocean. One of the other soldiers stops her drowning him. 

Back at home, a struggling Klara is hugged by her mother in the kitchen, who tells her that she will be fine. Tania comes in and tells her they are going out on Saturday. 

Klara returns to patrolling. She is triggered by a father tying his son’s shoelaces, the boy reminding her of the incident. Later, in the evening, she goes to meet a drug dealer to get some codeine. 

Saturday night comes around and the two sisters go clubbing. At the club, the two ladies dance away happily. Tania spots a man she likes the look of. Tania sees a friend, Aurélien (Michel Biel), a club regular. She asks him who the mysterious man is. He tells her he is Russian. Does she want an introduction? He takes her over to meet him. 

Klara, alone on the dance floor now, meets another woman. She looks to where her sister is. Tania indicates to her that she is going with the Russian and that she will call her. Klara goes home with the woman. The next morning, she texts her sister. There is no reply. 

Back at work, she ends up chasing a suspected drug dealer. She catches up with him. It is the same dealer she bought from. She lets him go. She gets a call, the news prompting her to go to the hospital. 

Tania is in a coma. Police Captain Catherine Muller (Carole Weyers) tells Klara that her sister was found on the beach and that she had been raped and beaten. 

Klara returns to work and uses her position to return to the club and review the footage of the night she and Tania were there. She gets a photo of the man that her sister met. 

She goes and sees captain Muller, showing her the image of the man who was with her sister. Muller tells her that it is Yvan Kadnikov (Andrey Gorienko), son of a tech billionaire, Leonod (Michel Nabokoff). He is well connected and has diplomatic protection. 

Muller tells her that Yvan is hiding out at his father’s villa. Klara goes and checks out the villa. She sees Yvan there. She goes to visit her sister and comforts her mother. 

The next day, she finds herself patrolling near the villa. She walks into the grounds and searches for Yvan. One of her colleagues comes and leads her out. she should not be there. 

She returns to the club looking for Yvan. She sees him go to the bathroom and follows him in there. She threatens him with a knife. He denies attacking her sister. Yvan’s friends come into the bathroom. She ends up fighting with them and beats them all up. The club’s security finds her in the bathroom and throw her out. 

At work, Klara steals a gun. She sneaks into the villa, looking for Yvan. She gets knocked out. She is nearly drowned by one of Leonod’s guards. Leonod wants to know why she is in his home. She tells him that his son raped her sister.

Leonod tells her that is son has left the country. Besides, he had nothing to do with the rape or attack. He does not like women. Leonod boasts about having her himself. Leonod’s boasting is interrupted by a phone call. He leaves the room, telling his goons to take care of Klara. She promptly escapes. 

Tania wakes from her coma. She tells Klara that Yvan did not attack her. She knows. Tania does not want to press charges, she just wants to forget. Klara urges her to press charges but Tania refuses. Klara leaves the room and sees Leonod on the news. He evades questions about his son’s alleged sexual attack. 

Someone tries to kill Tania in the hospital. Klara goes looking for the person and fights with her in a hospital equipment room. Klara bests her. She returns home to get her passport. She leaves just before the police arrive at her place looking for her. 

Klara rents a van goes to her workplace and steals some guns from requisitions. She heads to the villa. Inside the villa, she kills her way through Leonod’s security as she looks for him. She finds him hiding in one of his upstairs rooms. She kicks him over a balcony when he offers her money. 

Before she can check whether he is dead or not, she gets stabbed by Yvan. She shoots him dead. She is forced to hide as special forces police converge on and search the house. They find Leonod. He is not dead. 

Three months later, a recovered Leonod is in Dubai. After a morning swim, he asks the hotel staff to send him up some breakfast. Oblivious to any danger, he pays no attention to the woman who brings his breakfast. It is Klara and she stabs him to death with a fork. Klara returns to France and checks on her sister’s progress. The end. 

Final thoughts: Sentinelle is no better on second viewing. It is molasses-slow and lacks emotion making it very difficult to care about anything happening on the screen. Written and directed by Julien Leclercq, with an additional writing credit for Matthieu Serveau, Sentinelle is a film stuck between drama and action and failing on both. 

Because the antagonist in Nabokoff’s Leonod is so weak and underwritten, the film lacks urgency. He is supposedly a tech billionaire but they put him in an old-world mansion villa and his security is old school manpower. Not a security camera, motion sensor or laser beam in sight. 

The weakest McGuffin ever is used for Lima’s Tania to find herself as the victim of a vicious rape and beating, as well as a target for assassination. Yes, we have all seen an attractive person we want to meet but having met the son of an oligarch for all of five minutes, she decides to follow him to his mansion on her own? Bullshit. 

They lazily throw in some lesbian action to lengthen the runtime I assume because it does not add anything to proceedings at all. I love naked women but if the scene had not been in the film I would not have missed it. 

The film is shot in dour tones, a brownish, depressing hue over proceedings, with most scenes looking as though they were lit with forty-watt bulbs. There is zero humour in the script and character interactions, aside from getting punched or shot or stabbed, are kept to a minimum, making it difficult to gauge the personality of any of the people in the film. 

Kurylenko is very watchable but is only required to scowl her way through the film and shake a bit. Sentinelle is only eighty minutes long but feels longer and, in truth, should have been longer. Had the two writers taken the time to flesh out the characters a little it might have been a moderately entertaining film. Unfortunately, it is not, it is eighty minutes of boredom. Avoid.

Coming 2 America

Sequels have always been seen as an easy way to make money in Hollywood. Even before the seventies penchant for adding a number to the end of a title to denote it being a sequel, Hollywood and the wider film industry were producing sequels, rehashing and reusing the same characters of a successful story in another film. 

It is a rare thing, the sequel that is as good or better than the original, especially if the original film is regarded as a good film. The better sequels tend to be made shortly after the original. The Godfather two, one of cinemas most lauded sequels, was released two years after its predecessor. 

Rocky two came three years after its parent film and The Empire Strikes Back, named in the old style of sequels where the title did not just gain a numbered appendage, also came three years after a genre-defining Star Wars. 

Some sequels have worked with a larger gap between films. Terminator 2: Judgement Day was released seven years after its epic originator. However, the intervening years saw such technological advances in film that the sequel proved to be an impressive spectacle. Unfortunately, subsequent efforts in the series have seen not only diminishing returns but also a definite lessening in quality. 

In terms of genre, dramatic action films tend to be easier to make sequels or series of. The characters are set and the story tends to be good versus evil, a relatively easy premise to work with. The comedy genre is not, generally, a good genre for sequels, especially if the film is a hit or classic. 

Scary Movie was amusing but was followed by increasingly wretched sequels. Similarly, the Police Academy films stretched a silly idea to the point of punishment for the eyes and mind. Great comedies are even harder to make sequels of. The likes of Airplane, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventures and Ghostbusters have all spawned underwhelming sequels.

That is not to say they were bad sequels or not funny, it is just that trying to recreate funny is a difficult skill. Thirty-three years on from its classic originator, Coming to America, stars Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall, plus many of the original cast, reprised their roles to make a sequel, Coming 2 America. 

Like many fans of the original film, I was not thrilled to hear about a sequel to one of the most quotable comedies of my life. Coming to America is, rightly, thought of as a comedy classic and probably Eddie Murphy’s best film. Playing multiple roles, as does Hall, Murphy was at the height of his powers, having made his name on 48 hrs, Trading Places and two films in the Beverly Hills Cop series. 

Directed by John Landis, who was mostly known for directing Michael’s Jackson’s Thriller, even though he had directed many films before that including Animal House, Blues Brothers, Trading Places, starring Murphy, and An American Werewolf in London, the film that would get him the Thriller gig, Coming to America is gold. 

With a story by Murphy, Coming to America had an almost entirely black cast and was a comedy that contained very little of the comedy staples laid down in the previous decade’s blaxploitation era comedies. There was no hoes, no drugs, no thugs, no shucking and jiving, none of the expected staples of ‘black’ comedy. 

Set in the fictional land of Zamunda – think Wakanda without the technological advancements – Coming to America was a very different black comedy. Whereas before, Eddie had been the funny, wisecracking, black guy in a white world, in Coming to America he was still a funny black guy but he was displaced in a black world. 

Coming to America was a hit both domestically and worldwide, with the humour in the film still bearing up more than three decades on. So, what about the sequel? Unsurprisingly, it is not as good as the original. Many have quickly come out to deride it as being a poor, money-grabbing, unfunny effort. That is not true. 

Coming 2 America, whilst not been as funny as the original, is better than one could have hoped for with some genuine laugh-out-loud moments. Wesley Snipes’ General Izzi is a great addition and Leslie Jones as Mary Junson, mother of Murphy’s Akeem’s illegitimate son, Lavelle (Jermaine Fowler), plays to her stereotype but it works well within the context of the film. 

The film keeps the laughs coming but still manages to fashion a pleasant story, romcom, in amongst the silliness. Fowler’s role as the would-be heir to Zamunda is a difficult role for any actor to undertake, especially as he was always going to be in Murphy’s shadow. Fowler bears the burden well, with the story split between him and Murphy’s Akeem. 

There are some clever nods to the original film with one particularly funny reprise coming from Vanessa Bell Calloway. The barbershop is back, even though all of the patrons of the shop were old men in the first film! And, for me, the return of Sexual Chocolate is a real boon. 

Like many sequels, Coming 2 America will always suffer when compared to its predecessor, the original being such an unknown quantity at the time but becoming a classic over time. If one can watch the film in isolation, something made easier by the fact that one does not need to have seen the first film to understand this one, it is an amusing comedy in its own right. 

With a one-hundred-and-eight minutes runtime, Coming 2 America is slightly over the rom-com standard ninety minutes but is about ten minutes shorter than its predecessor. The film moves at a good pace with the only dips being when the story strays into rom-com territory, though the dips are slight and do not detract from the comedy too much. 

It was always going to be a herculean task to match the magic of the first film or to even make a film that does not offend or alienate the rose-tinted vision of the original’s many fans. Coming 2 America just about manages it.

Outside The Wire – review

Brief synopsis: In a war-torn future, a drone pilot is sent into the field after he disobeys an order, resulting in the death of two soldiers. He finds himself under the command of a top-secret sentient robot chasing after a warlord intent on destroying the world. Or so he is led to believe. 

Is it any good?: Nope. Outside The Wire is a convoluted mess and seems somewhat anti-American, though it proves not to be. Politics aside, Outside The Wire is too smart for its own good, layering red herring exposition upon red herring exposition and throwing in a McGuffin for good measure. 

At nearly two hours long, Outside The Wire is a bit of chore to sit through for a story that was better told back in 1983’s WarGames. 

Spoiler territory: it is the year 2035 and the US military are on a peacekeeping mission to prevent Russia from taking Ukraine back under its sovereignty. Sergeant Miller (Enzo Cilenti) is on the ground in Eastern Europe with a forty strong troop of soldiers. 

A terrorist faction, led by the elusive Victor Koval (Pilou Asbæk), is a constant threat. Miller and his men find themselves in a battle with some of the faction. The US has added robot soldiers, called Gumps, to their ranks. 

As the battle rages below, a couple of drone pilots, Harp (Damson Idris) and Bale (Kristina Tonteri-Young) watch the scene unfold from a quiet location in Nevada, controlling their drones from there.

On the ground, one of Miller’s men gets injured. He sends Gomez (Adam Fielding) out to try and rescue him, the rest of the battalion will give covering fire. A truck is approaching the area where Miller’s battalion is. Harp sees the truck and wants to engage believing it to be hostile. 

Miller tells him that two of his men are in the zone, he is not to engage. Harp wants to engage, asking Miller to fall back, reasoning the lives of the majority outweigh the needs of the two probable casualties. He asks Bale to contact their superior, captain Brydon (Henry Garrett) to override Miller’s orders. 

Brydon contacts Miller and is told about the injured soldier that Gomez is trying to rescue. Harp believes the battalion are in imminent danger and locks on to the truck. Miller refuses to give the order for a strike and Brydon agrees telling Harp to stand down. Harp releases his missile, destroying the truck and killing two soldiers. 

Harp faces disciplinary action over his disregard of orders. Having never seen any military action in the field, he is sent to meet captain Leo (Anthony Mackie). Harp finds himself flying to a US base in Eastern Europe to report to Leo. Harp is told by colonel Eckhart (Michael Kelly) where he can find Leo. 

Leo is in a remote part of the encampment, a section where they work on the Gumps. Harp finds Leo in a large library inputting data whilst listening to jazz music. Harp introduces himself to a typing Leo. He ignores Harp as he finishes the task he has at hand. Finishing, Leo looks up and recounts Harp’s life to him. He knows who he is and why he is there. 

Leo gets up and tells Harp to bring some packages from a fridge. He puts the packages in a backpack as he tells Harp what he does there. He delivers vaccines to those who need them ‘outside the wire’; the region of the country the US does not patrol. Harp will be going with him. 

He asks Harp if he has heard of Victor Koval. Harp says he has. Leo enlightens him on the entire picture of Koval, that he has been responsible for thousands of deaths and, more pertinently, he is trying to get hold of the codes for all of Russia’s nuclear warheads. 

He tells him that they are going on the mission immediately and he needs to change out of his military garb. As Leo gets changed Leo sees that he is not human. Leo is an android. A shocked Harp stares at Leo in wonderment. Leo asks him if he thinks he can trust him. Harp says he thinks he can. 

The two go an join a convoy to begin the mission. Before they leave, Leo goes to take care of something else. Harp gets jumped by some soldiers and beat up a little. Miller comes and asks if he recognises his voice. He tells him the two soldiers who died because of him, were only nineteen years old. Leo returns, Miller and the soldiers stand down. 

The convoy head out. Leo warns him that where they are heading is notoriously dangerous and the situation spontaneous. As they drive, Leo asks Harp about his life and his fiancé. He ribs him a bit. They travel through the war-torn regions outside of the military enclosure. The come across a blockade. 

A group of Ukrainians are having food passed out to them by militia from a hijacked food truck. The ragtag militia faces off against the convoy. One of the Gumps shoots one of the Ukrainians. Leo, who had not left his jeep, gets out to calm the situation. He tells Miller to tell his men to lower their weapons and approaches the militia. 

Leo manages to find an accord with the militia and the convoy begins to retreat. Both groups are attacked by a third group. Leo tells Miller that they are going to go ahead on foot. He and Harp grab the vaccines and leave. Away from the firefight, Leo believes Koval is getting closer to his objective. 

As they walk, Leo tells Harp that the reason he looks like he does, the highest possible military-technical representation of US might, is because he expresses neutrality. The enemy will not feel threatened by him. They are heading to a shelter run by the Resistance. As they get to the camp, Leo is beckoned through. 

Inside the camp, a man is watching the two men. Leo delivers the vaccines to a doctor. The man who was watching, trains a gun on them, watching through a scope. He contacts Koval. Koval tells him to kill them both. The man shoots a nurse, causing panic in the hospital. Leo shoots the sniper, wounding him. 

He tortures the sniper, wanting to get information but he refuses to speak. Leo, much to Harp’s horror, leaves the man to be beaten to death by people in the camp. Harp wants to call back to base for back up but Leo tells him it will take too long. Harp thinks Leo is going rogue and threatens to report him.

A reluctant Harp is forced to follow Leo. Harp asks Leo what he is. He is a combat soldier he tells him but can act for himself when required to. Harp thinks that emotion makes people fallible. They reach their destination, a place where Leo is to get intel on Koval’s whereabouts. 

It is an encampment where orphaned children are looked after. The encampment is run by Sofiya (Emily Beecham). Leo wants Koval’s location. She tells them that Koval is close to acquiring the codes he needs for the missiles. The person with the knowledge for the code exchange is an arms dealer, Oshlak (Velibor Topic). Sofiya tells them they will need weapons. 

She can supply them as she is also an arms dealer. Leo tells Sofiya that Harp is a drone-pilot. Harp, who is outside watching the children play, is told by Sofiya that many of the kids he is watching were orphaned by drone bombs. 

They go to meet Oshlak. Oshlak’s men try to stop them. Leo beats up and kills them. He gets information about Koval from Oshlak. Sofiya kills Oshlak. Leo and Harp head to the location. On the drive, Leo has Harp cut out his shutdown switch, telling him that the Russians can track him. 

They arrive at a bank where Koval’s men have taken all the employees’ hostage. The codes are in the bank’s vault. Leo directs Harp to contact Eckhart and get the hostages out of the bank. He goes after Koval. Harp contacts Eckhart and tells him that they are at the bank. Eckhart sends Gumps. Some of Koval’s men come out of the bank with hostages in tow. 

Gumps purchased by Koval join the battle. Eckhart tells Harp that they going to take out Koval. They are sending a drone. Leo pursues one of Koval’s men who has the codes. He kills him and gets the codes back. The drone bombs the building. 

Leo and Harp survive. Harp realises that Leo has a different plan when he says they are not taking the codes back. Leo knocks him unconscious and leaves him. Harp wakes up and is grabbed by some militia. Leo goes to see Koval. 

The militia that grabbed Harp work for Sofiya. She tells him that Koval is alive. He was never in the bank. Leo asks Koval why he tried to kill him. Harp tell Sofiya that she is foolish to trust Leo. Leo wants Koval to give him the location of the Soviet nukes. Sofiya knows Leo’s plan and believes in it. He is going to launch a nuclear strike on the US. 

Leo kills Koval and all of his men. Sofiya releases Harp. Harp is picked up by Eckhart. He tells him that Leo is not destroyed and plans to launch a nuclear strike on the US. With his chip mistakenly disabled by Harp, Harp calls Bale to track Leo’s car by drone. He goes after him. 

Harp gets to the nuclear plant. Leo is already there, multiple bodies of Koval’s men evidence of that. Harp finds him preparing to launch the missiles. Leo chokes him unconscious. He returns to preparing for the launch. Bale has a lock on the silo. Eckhart radios Harp, rousing him. He tells him that the drone is locked on the plant. 

Harp damages Leo with a rocket launcher. He asks why he wants to launch an attack on the US. Leo says it is the only way to stop a war. Eckhart wants to know if Leo is in the silo. They are going to strike the silo. Harp leaves the silo as Bale shoots. 

Harp escapes the explosion and returns to base. He is granted leave to return home. The end. 

Final thoughts: on second viewing, Outside The Wire is worse than I remembered. It is such a mess of a film and elicits scant emotion making it difficult to care about what is going on. The acting is fine from all on show but, as I said, with so little emotional involvement in proceedings it is difficult to appreciate. 

The story by Rob Yescombe, who also wrote the screenplay with input from Rowan Athale, is unnecessarily complex. The villain in Asbæk’s Koval is not introduced until fifteen minutes before the end of the film and is then promptly killed. Sure, his name is bandied about and loads of atrocities are attributed to him, but in the context of the film, it does help one to know who he is. 

The action scenes are surprisingly lacklustre, probably because Mackie’s Leo is an unstoppable android and everyone he attacks, fights or kills is only in the film to increase the body count. The directing by Michael Håfstrõm is competent but pedestrian, the story lacking any sort of urgency. 

Watching the film for a second time was a punishment and not at all enjoyable on any level. Scoring a reasonable five-point-four on IMDB, with a nearly two-hour runtime, I can only put that down as generous. Outside The Wire was outside of my comfort zone but not in a good way. Give it a miss.

Sightless – review

Brief synopsis: After a violinist is blinded in a violent assault, she wakes up in a hospital bed and is told that she will be blind for life. She calls her brother and he arranges an apartment for her and a part-time nurse. When she begins to hear strange sounds and suffer nightmares, she thinks that she might be losing her mind. 

Is it any good?: Not really, no. Sightless takes ideas from far better films – Shutter Island and Misery to name two – and fashions a convoluted story that promises more than it delivers.

Spoiler territory: a young, blind woman, Ellen Ashland (Madelaine Petsch), makes her way across her apartment to a balcony. She climbs over the rail and jumps. A month earlier she was in the hospital, waking after being assaulted and blinded by a chemical being thrown into her face. 

With her eyes still bandaged, a nurse, Omar (Deniz Akdeniz) comes and speaks to her. He takes her bandages off. This is the first time Ellen realises she cannot see. Omar tells her that he will go and get the doctor to speak with her. He knocks twice on the wall as he leaves.

Doctor Katsuro (Mathew Yang King) comes in to examine her. The doctor tells her that the damage to her eyes is irreversible. Ellen speaks to Detective Bryce (Jarrod Crawford) about the assault. She tells him that the only valuable item she had was her violin. She is sure that the assault was personal. 

The detective asks if it could be her ex-husband or a fan, as she is famous. Ellen tells him that she has not been famous for a long time. Bryce tells her that her type of fame never goes away. He assures her that they will catch her assaulter. 

Omar comes to see her later. He has her brother on the phone. He is in Japan but has arranged an apartment for her and a part-time nurse, Clayton (Alexander Koch). The nurse comes highly recommended. 

Ellen moves into her new apartment. She is woken by knocking on her bedroom door. She is in her new apartment and Clayton has come to meet her. He has keys. A reluctant Ellen allows Clayton to enter the bedroom. She tells him that she does not remember coming to the apartment. Clayton looks at her medication and tells her it probably knocked her out. 

He tells her about the layout of the apartment and that he will prepare lunch for her. Ellen leaves her bed and goes into the lounge-cum-dining area. Clayton explains that he will be there on the weekdays from eleven to two. He is there to help her adjust to her new reality. He leaves, telling her he has to go to his next appointment. 

Ellen calls her friend Sasha but gets her answer machine. She goes to sleep and is haunted by the night of the assault. The next day, Clayton brings her a parrot. Ellen asks him what colour it is. He tells her that it can be whatever colour she wants it to be. He explains that she is as free as her mind allows her to be. 

Ellen walks over to the balcony and calls Clayton over. She tells him that she can hear all the street sounds clearly at that window but, she walks over to an adjacent wall’s window, she cannot hear anything at that wall. Clayton tells her that it is because the window has thicker glass. He tells her that she has a phone message. 

It is from the detective. There were no fingerprints and most of the suspects are accounted for. They did find a boot print. Clayton tells her that she is safe in the apartment. Ellen scoffs, telling him that is what her ex-husband always told her; that she was safe with him. 

She asks Clayton if he googled her. Clayton lies but quickly admits that he did. So he knows about her ex-husband’s shady past and financial impropriety. Her husband destroyed a lot of people’s lives, including her friend Sasha’s. Imprisoned for his crimes, Ellen believes that one of the people that he ripped off is targeting her because they cannot get to him. 

Clayton asks her about her music. She had been a child prodigy, her album a bestseller. She does not want to talk about her musical past. Clayton tries to keep talking but she shuts him down. After lunch, Clayton tells her he is leaving but is leaving her a gift. He gives her a cane. 

Alone, Ellen turns on the television but she cannot find a channel, the television just giving off static. She puts on some music and picks up the cane. Later, Ellen lays in bed trying to sleep. She hears footsteps and tries to call security. She gets an answering machine. She gets up and checks the front door. 

Ellen goes into the bathroom. She pauses, a bottle of pills in her hand. She nervously puts the pills down and calls Clayton. As he answers, she ends the call. He calls her back. Ellen tells him it was an accident and ends the call again. She hears a woman crying and a man shouting at her. The voices are coming from the air vent. 

The next day, Ellen tells Clayton about what happened. He tells her that her senses are going into overdrive and fooling her. He asks her if she wants to go out for lunch. No, she does not. Later, she stands by the balcony window listening to the outside world. 

She leaves the apartment and goes to the apartment next door and rings the bell. Nobody answers. She leaves a note on the door. Clayton is over again. He is taking Ellen through some computer commands. She does not want to learn about the computer. 

She asks him how he got into this line of work and why. He tells her it was because his mother was sick growing up. He tells her that because she was bedridden, she would, with his help make ornate birdcages. It is what helped to give him a vivid imagination, something he finds useful in his work, dealing with different personalities. 

Ellen asks him to describe what is happening outside. Clayton tells her what is happening in the outside world. She asks if she can ‘see’ him. He lets her touch his face. Clayton leans in to kiss her but an alarm interrupts him and he loses his nerve. He leaves. 

Alone in her apartment, Ellen is drinking. There is a knock at the door. Lana (December Ensminger), the woman from next door, calls to her. She saw the note. Ellen opens the door. Lana introduces herself and tells her she brought tea. Ellen tells her that she is blind. Lana looks around the apartment. She takes out a cigarette and asks Ellen if she minds her smoking. Ellen tells her she can smoke outside.

Lana lights up anyway, especially on hearing that Ellen’s brother is a smoker. Lana asks about her brother. She then asks her about losing her sight. How does she know that she lost her sight and was not always blind? A panicked Lana tries to leave. Ellen grabs her. She feels her face and feels stitches on it. Lana whispers in her ear, telling her not to trust anyone. 

Lana leaves the apartment. Her husband, Russo (Lee Jones), is back. Ellen calls Clayton and tells him that she thinks Lana’s husband assaults her. Clayton tells her he met the husband and that he is a nice man. She calls detective Bryce. He sends a police officer over. She speaks to him again. He tells her that the neighbour has a bit of a history for histrionics and is not mentally stable.

The next day, Ellen is talking to Clayton and telling him that she hears the same sounds at the same time every day. The next day, she calls him over to the window as she hears the car. There seems to be a pattern. He tells her that the man gets picked up the same time every day when he arrives at the apartment. 

He tells her that she is letting her other senses overwhelm her. Later, Ellen is listening at the air duct. Before she retires, she stands in her bathroom remembering the night of the attack. She contemplates suicide again. 

The next day, Ellen goes to see Lana and encounters Russo instead. He intimidates her, telling her she is paranoid. Clayton comes to see her. He tells her he has feelings for her and thinks it would be better if he gave up his position. He tries to kiss her again and she recoils. Ellen tells him she needs him to be professional and get her through whatever she is going through at that moment. Clayton apologises and leaves.

She calls Sasha again but gets her voicemail. She gets attacked by a masked assailant in her apartment. She passes out after being strangled. She wakes up to the voice of a paramedic, Rafferty (MIkandrew). He tells her that he tended to her wrist wounds. He cannot see any neck marks. He leaves the room. Clayton comes into the bedroom. 

He tells her he is worried about her drinking. Ellen speaks to detective Bryce. He tells her that Sasha has disappeared and the boot print he found is Sasha’s size. He thinks she attacked her. Ellen tells him that a face mask was the last thing she saw. Bryce tells her there are no signs of a break-in and no one was seen on the security cameras. 

A fraught Ellen realises that no one believes her versions of events. Clayton comes to see her the next morning. After he leaves, Ellen dictates a suicide letter to the computer. She goes to her balcony, climbs over and jumps. 

A while later, Ellen wakes up on the floor of a dark room. She can still hear the same sounds but everything around her is different. She feels her way around. Her fingers are met with soundproof cladding. As the outdoor sounds continue, Ellen tries to find an exit. She feels her way back to the balcony and climbs back into the apartment. 

She tries to escape, going out of the apartment to the lift. It does not work. A panicked and confused Ellen knocks on Lana’s door. She tells Lana that she left her lighter in her apartment. In the apartment, Ellen starts the water running and whispers to Lana, asking her why they are there. Lana tells her it is because she saved them. Russo comes to get Lana. 

Clayton turns up after Lana and Russo have left. Ellen confronts him about his lies. He tells her it is to help her acclimatise to her new reality and because she is suffering from PTSD. Ellen relaxes and he prepares dinner for them both. 

At dinner, Clayton gives her a violin. He tells her it can help her get back to her old self. The oven dings. Clayton knocks twice on the table and it triggers memories of the multiple interactions she has had with people since her assault and their commonality. 

Ellen realises that all of her interactions have been with Clayton. She asks him to have a drink with her, telling him to take a seat. She drops the drink she hands to him. As he goes to pick it up, she hits him with a knife block. She takes his keys and leaves the apartment. 

She finds herself in a warehouse. She feels the costumes of all the characters Clayton had inhabited. She finds Lana and tells they need to leave. Lana tells her that she is home. She is his sister. She tells Ellen that she cannot save her like she saved Clayton. She saved him from the dark. 

Ellen hears Clayton. She is still trying to persuade Lana to leave with her. Lana tells her she has to go alone and there is only one way out and it is back in the apartment through the air duct. Ellen leaves the room but is immediately caught by Clayton. He knocks her out and ties her up. 

When she comes to, he tells her that his father abused him by locking him in the same basement that she is in for three and a half years. He only had his imagination to keep him company. His sister snuck music into the basement; Ellen’s music. The only way she could understand how it was for him was if she was blind to everything as well. 

Ellen tells him that she will make his world real but only if he can be himself, not the multiple characters he has been. Clayton is hesitant. She takes the chance of his distraction to grab his taser and shocks him unconscious. She gets to the air duct but realises it is not large enough for her to get out of. All she finds is a vial in it. 

Clayton catches up with her in the apartment and throws her around as she tries to escape. He grabs her, seeing the empty vial in her hand. She spits the contents into his face blinding him. Clayton begins shouting for his sister. Lana comes and lets Ellen out, taking out of the basement. 

Six months later, a still blind Ellen has started playing the violin again and is about to do a concert. The end. 

Final thoughts: Sightless is a moderate, if slightly underwhelming, thriller. Written and directed by the backward named Cooper Karl, it is a film a little too clever for its own good. Karl shows the story mostly through the perspective of the blind Ellen, so before the revelation that her present existence is fabricated, there is no real indication as to where the film is going. 

All the other character that the viewer sees are creations of Ellen’s imagination, in a visual sense, brought to life by Clayton. The PTSD could have been caused by hallucinogens given to Ellen by Clayton but that is left somewhat unclear. 

Because the film is shot entirely within the confines of the apartment and fake building, there is never any sense of the ridiculousness of the story – how come nobody noticed a world-famous violinist had gone missing? – so one is not pulled out of it by those thoughts, which is a good thing. 

The film moves at a good pace, even if nothing seems to really happen. Petsch is very watchable, her performance easily making one forget that she is in Riverdale. Koch is similarly impressive as the not quite trustworthy Clayton. 

The film is well directed by Karl and looks good with the shot selection and constantly keeps the viewer confused as to what is going on. Ensminger is fine as Lana but the character is mostly exposition and has very little else to do. 

Clayton’s reasoning for blinding and kidnapping Ellen is as bad and equally ungrateful as the reasoning of Yashida in 2013’s The Wolverine, repaying a good deed with an extremely horrible one. 

At one-hundred-and-twenty-nine minutes long, Sightless is not a long film and bumps along quite quickly. Unfortunately, it is not as smart as it would like to be. 

Hard Kill – review

Brief synopsis: A billionaire hires a group of special forces mercenaries to protect him from a terrorist that wants to kidnap him and retrieve some codes for a new program he has developed. The terrorist is known to the group. He is a man they had believed dead. The terrorist also has the billionaire’s daughter. 

Is it any good?: Hard Kill is terrible. Of course it is. Bruce Willis is in it and he has not been in a good film since the second Die Hard. Maybe the third. Willis aside, Hard Kill is a mess of a film with a convoluted story, crappy dialogue and awful performances. I would say it is, mercifully, short with a runtime of only ninety-seven minutes, but watching it is such an eye-searing torture, it feels like it is hours long. Avoid. 

Spoiler territory: In a warehouse, filmed in slow motion, a team of mercenaries are up against a small army all clad in black. But we are getting ahead of ourselves. Sometime before, Eva Chalmers (Lala Kent), a blonde with too much botox in her face, is meeting in a scary, unspecified, warehouse location, with The Pardoner (Sergio Rizzuto), a terrorist and the bad guy.

We know he is the bad guy because he has a scowl and his beard is not very well tended to. Eva gives him a hard drive. It contains project 725 on it, a miracle A. I technology apparently. The Pardoner – a really stupid name for a character that I am going to have to type multiple times! – is very pleased to receive it. I think he is anyway, can’t really tell. 

As any self-respecting terrorist would be, especially if what he says is true and how it will help him change the world. He is an antagonist with a plan. It is a stupid plan but a plan nonetheless. He is going to change the world. 

The next morning, Derek Miller (Jesse Metcalfe – the pretty boy from Desperate Housewives) is woken from his slumber by his mobile phone’s alarm. He grabs his phone. There is a message. He has a meeting later in the day. For some reason, this prompts him to pray. As he prays, he remembers the conflicts he has seen. He is a soldier, his body marked by war. 

Whilst having a coffee for breakfast, Miller cleans his gun. His apartment is not exactly a palace. He gets dressed and goes to his meeting. He is picked up by a limousine. In the car is Dayton Chalmers (Bruce Willis), after a brief introduction he tells Miller that he is impressed by his service record. 

He himself was in the military – of course he was – and saw a lot of action. Now he is a tech billionaire. Miller wants to know why he switched from going to war zones to becoming a tech billionaire. Chalmers, who for some reason still wants to employ the idiot, tells him it was because of family. Okay then….

Miller wants to know who recommended him to Chalmers. The Limo picks up another passenger. It is Nick Fox (Texas Battle), the man who recommended him and an old colleague of Miller’s. The two men greet one another and Fox gets down to selling the gig to Miller. He tells him about The Pardoner and how he has stolen a piece of dangerous tech. 

There is a failsafe code that can prevent The Pardoner – argh! – using the technology fully. Only Chalmers has the code. Fox wants Miller and his team to look after him until they can retrieve the tech. Chalmers wants to check out an old warehouse site and needs protection whilst doing that. That’s the story they give him anyway. It should be an easy job and it pays well. Really well. Miller agrees to take the job. 

At a bar, Dash Hawkins (Swen Temmel), persuades his drunk buddy (Adam Huel Patter), to hit on a girl at the bar. As he heads towards the woman, Harrison Zindel (Joe Galanis), who had been playing pool and watching the scene unfold, tells Dash he is an arsehole. The drunk grabs the woman at the bar. The woman, Sasha (Natalie Eva Marie), Harrison’s sister, slams the drunk’s head into the bar, twisting his arm behind his back.

As Harrison and Dash giggle, Sasha, noting their glee, scowls at them. Miller comes into the bar and tells her to let go of the drunk. They have business to discuss. The four sit down and Miller tells them about the job that Chalmers’ has offered. Sasha is not so sure, it does not sound right. Miller tells them it is an easy protection job. Alarm bells surely? No? Okay…

Sasha agrees to do the job. Dash, at the thought of a good payday, is all in as well. Harrison does not think it is worth the hassle and wishes them good luck. Sasha, who does not watch shitty B-movie action films, persuades her brother to come along, effectively signing his death warrant. 

The next day, the team accompany Chalmers and Fox to the abandoned warehouse. On the roof of one of the many buildings, a sniper is watching them as they enter the site. Inside the building, Miller asks where the building manager is. Fox tells him there is no building manager. It was a ruse to get him and his team there. 

The Pardoner – nope. Nah. Stupid! – is meeting Chalmers there. He has his daughter – yep, the same one that gave him the tech – and wants the codes in exchange for her. Outside, the antagonist – it’s better than calling him the Pardo..! – has a small battalion of men all clad in black with face coverings, watching the building. 

He has Eva in cuffs. He grabs her by the back of the head telling her that he thought she would understand his methodology. She will understand when it is all over. All I understand is he has watched too many Bond films and is an underwhelming villain. 

Back in the warehouse, Fox is justifying his duplicity by telling Miller that all of them and their ilk, ex-military types, crave action and money. He is offering both. Miller tells him that not only did he bring them there under false pretenses, they are also undermanned and lack firepower. The rest of the team want to beat the smug out of Fox but Bruce, sorry, Chalmers tells them not to. 

They are there because of him and he would do anything to get his daughter back. Maybe he should have employed more people then, it’s not as though he could not afford to. Miller decides to try and find the safest place for Chalmers to stay whilst they try to protect him or get his daughter back or whatever…

Outside, Pardon-Bloke’s team is moving in. Miller threatens Fox, telling him if anything happens to his team he will come for him. Fox is nonplussed, as well he might be. It turns out to be an empty threat. The team heads out to face Pardon-My-French’s henchmen. The henchmen stalk around the grounds and inside the warehouse, guns at the ready. 

The team hide around corners and in alcoves and begin stacking up the bodies. Outside, Lt. Colton (Tyler Jon Olson) radios the scouting team. He gets no response, them being somewhat dead and all. He relays to Pardoned-For-Bad-Acting that Chalmers seems to have a better team than they thought. Scowling happens. He comes up with a new approach. 

In the warehouse, Miller knows that there is a bigger attack coming. The soon to be deceased Harrison bleats about the money being too easy for it to have been such an easy job. Dash, who is a bit of a rat, says they should make a run for it. They already have the money. Miller, a principled man, says he cannot leave Chalmers and his daughter. Besides, they never run from a fight. Sounds a bit punchy. 

Eva is sent to the warehouse on her own. Fox goes out to get her. She asks him if her father is there? He tells her she was the only way to get him there. She thinks he is only there for project 725. Yeah, the film is still about that apparently. Pardon-The-Pun comes out of hiding and points a gun at Eva. He sees Miller. They are old enemies but he does not bear a grudge. 

Miller does bear a grudge. That damn Pardon-Fella shot him in the back. In the back! After Pardon-my-P-and-Q’s talks a lot of bollocks about his plan and mentions project 725, he takes Eva away, his henchmen and the sniper persuading Miller and Fox to retreat to the warehouse. 

The team confront Chalmers and Fox. What is project 725? It is an artificial intelligence program but not just any A. I program. It is a quantum A. I program. Okay. Completely clear then. Eva stole it – well, she created it – and gave it to Pardon-My-Unshaven-Appearance. She wanted to help the world. 

Outside, Eva is feeling like a fool. She thought a man whose first name is ‘The’ and surname ‘Pardoner’ was going to help her solve the world’s problems. Right. He wants to help the world, he tells her, in an egotistical monologue painting himself as a saint, that he wants to reset the world. 

Back in the warehouse, Dash has retrieved weapons from all the henchmen they killed. Miller worries about darkness falling. Unfortunately, after paying Bruce, they could not afford to shoot any night scenes and at no point do we see nighttime. 

The plan, if one can call it a plan, is to hide and pick off the henchmen. So, same as before then. Dash shoots a few from the window and, even though they can see the approach to the front door, one of the henchmen has enough time to blow torch through a lock into the warehouse. 

The fact that the building has multiple entrances and windows galore and, as Pardon-Guy alluded to earlier, is a security nightmare does not dissuade the henchmen from coming through the entrance that is most likely to get them shot. In they come and the bodies fall. Colton is not happy. He asks Pardon-But-I-Don’t-Mean-To-Be-Rude if he is sure about the plan. 

Preacher-Pardon asks him if he is doubting the cause. Colton says he is not but they are losing men. Pardon-The-Lie tells him that he feels their pain. Well, that’s a lie. They’re dead. Anyway, he assures Colton he will not forget their sacrifice. Um, okay. He tells Colton to send more men to their deaths around the side entrances. Colton, the worse leader ever, complies. 

Colton leads a team into one of the rooms in the warehouse. Pardon-My-BS brings Eva and another bunch of targets into the warehouse. In the room, Miller and his team are hiding behind pillars. They have their guns trained on Pardon-Matey and his henchmen. Pardon-If-I-Speak threatens to kill Eva again and wants them to bring Chalmers to him. Eva elbows him in the stomach and runs. Miller’s team opens fire. 

They are all terrible shots and do not kill any of the henchmen before they begin to return fire. Colton’s crew come into the firefight and Harrison gets killed. Oops. Sasha gets mad and tries to shoot everyone with scant regard for her own safety. Dash pulls her out of the firing line. 

Fox gets wounded and Miller pulls him out of the firing line. Pardon-My-Backbone retreats with his henchmen. Chalmers hears the gunfire and leaves his safe room. Eva, who is running around the warehouse aimlessly, is about to get perforated by a couple of henchmen but is saved by her father. 

The team get the wounded Fox back to another room. He cannot help anymore and is bleeding badly. Unsurprisingly, Sasha wants him to die blaming him for getting Harrison killed. She then opens up the argument, making Miller and herself culpable in his death. 

Eva admits to her father that the whole situation is her fault. There really is a lot of guilt going around. They talk about family stuff and other bollocks that does not help the story at all. They hear footsteps. Chalmers gets Eva to hide and is captured by Pardon-I’m-Back. He knows he will not kill him as he needs him for project 725. 

Pardon-My-Mad plan has his henchmen bring in a massive amount of computer equipment as he pushes forward with his masterplan. He knows that Chalmers will not give him the codes and tells him so as he plays with a Rubik’s cube, to make him seem more interesting. It doesn’t work. The fact that it is already completed does not help either. 

He tells Chalmers that he is going to find Eva and torture her to get him to reveal the codes. Disappointingly, he did not follow that with a maniacal laugh. Eva continues to sneak around the warehouses, evading the henchmen. She does a terrible job and is spotted by a couple of them. She runs and hides but is found by Miller. 

The henchmen report back to Pardon-Sir-I’m-An-Idiot, who now has a tech wiz, Gemma (Jacquie Nguyen), has joined him. She is setting up the computers for project 725. Miller returns to the safe room with Eva. Eva tells the team that Pardon-The-Bad-Guy has her father and wants the codes but her father is strong. 

She goes on to bleat about the people she worked for wanting to make money from her invention. Pardon-My-Mad-Plan wants to use it to crash and erase every computer on earth and put everyone back to the Dark Ages. Told you it was convoluted. 

Eva wants them to help her stop him. Miller is up for it, he is the hero after all. Sasha wants to do it for her brother. Dash is in the room so….okay? Eva draws a plan of the warehouse layout from memory, she is a genius after all. The plan is to knock out the power so as they cannot power the….computers. That sounds more stupid the more I read it. 

They begin to execute their plan, shooting cameras on the way because Gemma has hacked into the CCTV feed and killing henchmen. Pardon-But-I-Know-You’re-Out-There comes over the tannoy system and tells Miller to give him Eva and he will let him live. Obviously, Miller does not do that and they carry on their mission. 

They get to the power room and pull the power. The computers go out. All of them. In every other film, the tech expert has a battery-powered laptop. Not in this one. Electricity goes out, everything is out. The warehouse is plunged into darkness. Well, not really. Remember I said they could not afford a night shoot? 

Miller and Sasha sneak around in the daylight – pretend night – lit warehouse, wearing night-vision goggles and shooting henchmen. Dash, who has cat vision and doesn’t need night vision goggles it seems, throws a grenade at a couple of henchmen. 

The team come together. Miller says they need to get Chalmers. Dash has a different idea, he thinks they should sell project 725 on the black market. He grabs Eva, taking her hostage. He takes her to go and find Pardon-Have-You-Seen-My-Codes. Sasha and Miller follow after him. They all run into Pardon-The-Poop-Head and more henchmen.

After a brief exchange of gunfire, Dash tries to make a deal with Pardon-Still-A-Bad-Guy and gets shot for his troubles. Eva is captured once again. Miller and Sasha return fire and kill most of the henchmen. Sasha gets winged by a bullet as she goes to Dash. Dash dies. Sasha, hard as nails, barely reacts to getting shot. 

Eva is dragged back to the computer room and plonked next to her father. Pardon-My-Ego bores them both of them stupid with a philosophical allegory. He makes more threats about project 725 and getting the codes once the generator is on. Miller gets Sasha back to the safe room. He is going it alone now. She and Fox – he has not bled to death – are to escape while he distracts…everybody. 

Miller leaves the room and goes on a killing spree, taking out multiple henchmen with a hunting knife. He even manages to sneak on to the roof and take out the sniper. It really is his fault everyone is dead. They were slowing him down! 

Pardon-My-Masterplan has his computers back online. Gemma has trepidation about the plan to destroy all the world’s data. Pardon-My-Bullying-Attitude asks her if she wants to back out. She does not say anything. He leaves and goes to try and persuade Chalmers to give him the codes, threatening to kill Eva. 

Chalmers refuses. Pardon-My-Ungentlemanly-Conduct smashes Eva in the face. Chalmers still refuses. Gemma has project 725 up and running and wants to know what they are going to destroy first as it is partially operational. Pardon-My-Smugness cannot decide. He hears gunshots. Miller has killed all of his henchmen. 

Gemma, who is only in it for the money, decides that it is time to leave. Pardon-My-Huge-Ego goes to face Miller. They fight as Chalmers and Eva free themselves from the, frankly pathetic, restraints. They go to the computer and Chalmers tells Eva that they have to destroy the program. Miller and Pardon-Beardy-Not-Good are still fighting. 

Miller is winning but Pardon-Slimy-Git gets a gun and is about to shoot him. Chalmers shoots him dead. Miller goes and finds Sasha and Fox. They go for drinks. The end. 

Final thoughts: Wow. Hard Kill is awful. With a story by Clayton Haugen and Nikolai From and a screenplay by Chris Lamont and Joe Russo – not one of the Russo brothers, no – Hard Kill is a hard film to enjoy on any level. The story is rubbish, the acting not much better and the directing, by Matt Eskandari, is borderline experimental. 

There is no sense of urgency in the film and Rizzuto’s The Pardoner is such an underwhelming villain you know he is going to lose. His plan is ludicrous and pointless and madcap. Project 725 – which should probably have been the name of the film – is just a Mcguffin that you do not care about because it is never explained properly. 

The gunplay and action are mundane, with the faceless henchmen in the film just for a body count. At just over ninety-five minutes, Hard Kill is an hour and a half of your life that you will never get back. In this post-lockdown era, there have already been enough wasted hours. Give this film a miss.

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Brief synopsis: successful blues singer, Ma Rainey (Viola Davis), heads north to Chicago to meet up with her band to make a recording of some of her songs. One of her band, Levee (Chadwick Boseman) causes a rift with his ambition and passion.

Is it any good?: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is a little too stagey and more of a collection of monologues than a coherent story or film. From a play written by August Wilson, the screenplay by Ruben Santiago-Hudson does nothing to disguise the stage play roots. 

With good performances from everybody on show and standout performances from Davis and Boseman in his final film, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is a watchable film but not a must watch film. 

Spoiler territory: in a tent, down south in America, 1927, black people come from all around to see blues singer Ma Rainey perform. The tent is packed out and Ma Rainey is performing to great acclaim in front of an appreciative crowd. 

With emancipation having happened in the north, black people had begun to migrate in numbers in search of work and a new life. Ma Rainey’s reputation and fame continued to grow down south, her and the band playing in bigger venues. 

At one of the shows, her trumpeter, Levee, steps into the spotlight, add-libbing a solo. A little while later, the band arrive in Chicago. They are there for a recordIng session at Sturdyvant’s (Jonny Coyne) Hot Rhythm studio. 

Ma’s manager, Irving (Jeremy Shamos), is at the studio preparing for their arrival. Sturdyvant is not especially happy about the upcoming arrival of Ma. He finds her difficult. 

Three of the band arrive. Cutler (Coleman Domingo), Toledo (Glynn Turman) and Slow Drag (Michael Potts) and are greeted by Irving. He wants to know where Ma is. She has not arrived yet.

Levee is not there either. On the streets of Illinois, Levee is admiring a pair of shoes. The band settle into the studio and get ready to rehearse.

Levee arrives. He bought the shoes and makes a show of putting them on. It is hot in Chicago. Levee goes to open a door but finds it locked. He does not remember it being locked the last time he was there and remarks on how everything has changed. 

Toledo tells him things always change. Levee, a young abrasive trumpet player, starts to tell the rest of the band that he is going to have his own band. 

Cutler, who is the de facto leader of the band, tells him that they are an accompaniment band. They play Ma’s music, how she wants it. Levee tells them he has a new, more upbeat arrangement for one of her songs. Cutler says they cannot do his arrangement. Irving comes into the room.

He is looking for Ma. Cutler tells him she has not arrived yet. He asks about the arrangement. Irving tells him they are going with Levee’s arrangement. 

In town, Ma is seeing a different kind of black people to the ones she is used to down south. She walks around a tea house with her nephew, Sylvester (Dusan Brown) and niece, Dussie Mae (Taylour Paige). The black people watch Ma and her charges as though they were curiosities. Ma returns to her car. 

Back in the studio space, the band are ribbing Toledo about his old shoes. Levee starts dancing. Toledo cautions them against only looking for fun as black people suffer the world over. They start talking religion. Levee insists that he has no time for God. 

Outside the studio, Ma as arrived but Sylvester has had an accident with another car. Irving comes out of the studio to find Ma arguing with a policeman. Irving nervously intervenes and smooths things over. Inside the studio, an irritable Ma has Irving scurrying around for a fan. 

Dussie, an attractive girl, uses her looks to curry favour with her aunt and asks for new shoes. Ma tells her she will get her some new things. She tells Sylvester he will get some things to. 

He is also going to do a bit on the recording. Music is playing; Levee’s version of Ma’s Black Bottom. Ma asks Irving about it. He tells her that people want to hear a more upbeat sound. Ma is not changing her arrangement. She will sing the song how she originally wrote it. 

She tells Irving to take Sylvester to meet the band and tell them that he is doing the intro to the recording. She decides to go and introduce him herself. She also tells Cutler that they are doing the song to her arrangement with Sylvester doing the intro. Levee tries to protest but Ma is having none of it. 

Ma leaves and a frustrated Levee voices his frustrations. Cutler tells Sylvester the opening he needs to say and asks him to repeat it back to him. Sylvester begins to speak and the band realises he has a stutter. Levee laughs, asking how Cutler plans to sort out the intro. Sturdyvant comes down to the studio. 

Levee approaches him with some of his songs. Sturdyvant takes the songs and leaves. The rest of the band laugh at Levee’s subservient attitude towards Sturdyvant. 

Levee takes offence and tells them he acts how he needs to around white people to get what he needs. He tells them that he learned how to do so from his father who he had seen smile in the faces of the men who sexually assaulted his mother and then return at a later date to try and exact revenge on them. 

Cutler tells Irving that Sylvester cannot do the part. As the band rehearse, Ma sees Levee eyeing Dussie. She tells Cutler to warn him. They get ready to record and Ma wants Sylvester to do his part first.

Irving tells her he cannot do it. Ma insists on him getting a microphone and doing the part. Sturdyvant tries to complain about the cost and she reminds him that she makes more money for him than all his other acts put together. 

There is another hiccup. Irving did not get any Coke. Ma stops the session and sends Slow Drag and Sylvester out to get some. Ma speaks to Cutler, unhappy about having to fight to get Sylvester on the record as she obviously knows the boy has a stutter. Dussie goes to find Levee and flirts with him. 

Ma explains to Cutler that she understands that the only reason Sturdyvant or any white people put up with her, is because of her voice and she makes them money. 

That includes her manager Irving. Levee continues to charm Dussie, telling her he is going to form his own band. The two get frisky. Ma and Cutler speak about the blues and the meaning of the music to black people. 

Slow Drag and Sylvester return with the Cokes. Levee and Dussie’s union is interrupted as he needs to return to the recording. Sylvester, unsurprisingly, struggles to get the intro out. 

He nails it after multiple takes and the band strike up, Ma singing the song perfectly in one take. Unfortunately, Sylvester’s microphone’s wire is frayed and they did not get the recording. 

A frustrated Ma leaves the studio. She is going home. Irving begs her to stay. He will sort everything out in fifteen minutes. Ma stays. The band takes a break. Cutler tells Levee he needs to leave Dussie alone. Levee lies, saying he only ever asked her her name. Toledo tells him that he understands how he could become foolish over a woman. 

Cutler tells Levee that his roving eye is going to get him fired. Levee argues with the rest of the band about their acceptance of their lot in life and how he plans to be respected by white people. Cutler tells the group about a black reverend who had been forced to dance at gunpoint and ridiculed for his belief in God. 

Levee challenges Cutler, asking where was God when that man needed help. He tells Cutler that God hates black people. Cutler punches him and the two scuffle. 

The other band members separate them. Levee pulls a knife and goes for Cutler. Cutler manages to avoid getting stabbed. An angry Levee asks God where he was when his mother was calling out for his help.

They return to the recording room. They record the track perfectly. Ma asks Levee why he felt the need to embellish. He tells her he likes to add his own flavour. It quickly escalates to an argument and Ma fires him. 

An angry Levee leaves the recording room, returning to the rehearsal room. Upstairs, Irving tells Ma that Sturdyvant does not want to pay Sylvester. She tells him to get the boy’s pay. Sturdyvant quickly comes around to Ma’s way of thinking and pays Sylvester. 

He needs Ma to sign the music release forms. Ma leaves, Irving chasing after her asking her to sign the forms. She tells him to send them to her home. She warns Irving that she will record elsewhere in future if there are any more hiccups. 

The band get ready to leave and Sturdyvant pays them. Levee speaks to Sturdyvant, asking if he can get a recording session. Sturdyvant tells him he will buy the songs but does not want to record them. They do not sound right. Levee’s argument to convince him otherwise falls on deaf ears. 

A despondent Levee returns to the rehearsal room. Toledo accidentally steps on his new shoes. He apologises. Levee is riled up and wants a more fulsome explanation for the transgression. Toledo dismisses him, packing up his things and turning to leave. Levee stabs him in the back, killing him. 

Ma is being driven home, unaware of what has happened back at the studio. Levee cradles the dead Toledo. An all-white band record a version of Black Bottom. The End. 

Final thoughts: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is most notable for being Chadwick Boseman’s final film. Directed by George C Wolfe, it does flow nicely and looks great. 

Regrettably, as a Boseman’s last film, it is not a masterwork. Boseman is excellent in it and, if anything, it is almost sadder to see that his obvious talent was extinguished so prematurely. 

Viola Davis matches Boseman with a captivating performance as the bigger than life Ma Rainey. Such is the power of her performance it will have you looking into the real-life Rainey. 

As I alluded to earlier, the film is too obviously based on a stage play, the screenplay putting the monologue style of stage work to the fore. 

The story is centred around the recording studio but seems a little truncated, the whole story not told. Though the original August Wilson play was written in 1984, it is set in the twenties and, as such, reflects the black sensibilities of that time. 

The outlook is quite bleak and needy, with even the successful Rainey knowing that her acceptance is only because of her voice. 

The appropriation of black music by whites is not new and still happens to this day and is the underlying theme of the film. There is also a veiled dig at the blind faith shown in a Christian god that has never favoured black people. 

At ninety-four minutes long, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is not a long film and whizzes through its runtime fairly quickly but suffers a little from having too much story to tell in its runtime. As I wrote earlier, the film is not bad but it is not great either. 

Is it worth watching? For the performances of not just Boseman and Davis, but the whole cast, yes. As an enjoyable ninety-minute-plus film it is not a must-see.

The 2nd

Brief Synopsis: a group of mercenaries are tasked with kidnapping a senator’s daughter as she leaves college for the Christmas holidays. Their plans are interrupted when a green beret, the father of one of the daughter’s friends, realises that something is not right and intervenes. 

Is it any good?: The 2nd is a pretty dumb title for a very dumb film. The story is Die Hard meets Zero Dark Thirty, with some double-cross nonsense thrown in to make it more convoluted. The acting is uniformly terrible and the script even worse. One to give a miss. 

Spoiler territory: green berets, a domestic terrorist, Hansen Cross (Anthony Oh), sporting the classic Middle Eastern looks with an added scowl, is contacted and told that his target is senator Jeffers (William Katt). He is to make it messy, so I’m guessing a big bomb. As a crowd protest outside the senator’s office building, inside Jeffers is informed that a Delta team is coming to extract him.

There has been a bomb threat. Jeffers, who is about to be interview by an attractive journalist (Reisa Miller), is eager to voice his pro-gun views to the journalist and goes ahead with the interview, even as his aide advises against it. Vic Davis (Ryan Phillippe) and Kyle (Tank Jones), the Delta unit, are on their way to pick up Jeffers. 

They flip a coin to decide who gets to pull him out of his interview. Vic wins and goes and gets the senator. On the news, it is being reported that Jeffers’ office has had a bomb threat against it. It is also reported that the CIA director, Phillips’ (Richard Burgi), daughter died in a bomb attack. He is pro-gun. 

Jeffers is with Vic and Kyle. He wants to know what is going on. Vic tells him that he is on a list of already dead politicians. Jeffers gets a call on his mobile. Vic screams at him that they are trying to track him. Why they did not secure his phone beforehand is not a question that is addressed. 

A car crashes into them. Vic tells the senator to stay behind him as multiple masked men start to shoot at them. The mask seems to make them especially stupid as most of them shoot at Vic, Kyle, the senator and the other agents who were backing them up, in full view. Maybe the mask makes them bulletproof? They do not and, even with most of the agents being terrible shots, they end up dead. 

Kyle gets captured by Cross, who is wearing a suicide vest. It does not look good for Kyle. He is a black guy and – though I don’t like to play the race card – is expendable to both the plot and follows the rules of film where the black guy dies first. He is also the sidekick of the hero, so…

Kyle, dumb hunk that he is, tells Vic to shoot Cross. Cross tells him to lower his gun. Vic listens to Cross and lowers his gun. Why? Does he really think the psychopath with the suicide vest is not going to kill Kyle? Cross points his gun at Vic. Kyle, a hero to the end, detonates Cross’ vest. They both die. 

Sometime later, Vic is going to pick up his son, Shawn (Jack Griffo), from college, so as they can spend some time together. As he packs up some gear, he drops his phone and it breaks like its 1990, immediately failing to work. His significant other, Olivia (Samaire Armstrong), comes to see him off and tell him to bond with his son.

She lost her mother at a young age, so she knows how he feels. So there is that. Vic tells her not to forget to lock the doors when she is in the house. Strange but okay…

At college, Shawn is fencing with Erin Walton (Lexi Simonsen). She wins the bout and a bet the two of them had. Shawn asks Charlie (Patrick McLain), to pay Erin. He will pay him back. Later, Erin asks Shawn when he is getting picked up. He tells her that his dad is running late. What about her? She tells him that her father is too busy with the gun-control issue and is sending a driver. 

Neal (Jacob Grodnik) comes into the gymnasium and tells all the students that they need to leave by five. Neal catches up with Erin and Shawn again and reminds them they need to leave by five. Erin tells him that she is not getting picked up until six. Neal tells her he will make an exception for her. Shawn has to leave by five. 

Vic has been slowed by traffic and is running late. At the college, Rogers (Kia Mousavi), campus security, stops Erin’s driver. He does not recognise him so he needs to check his license. The driver shoots him. Rogers, who is not going down like a punk, sounds the alarm. In the college building, Charlie asks Shawn to make sure that everybody has left the campus. 

He was meant to do it but he has to catch a flight. Erin is the only person who has not left. Shawn is reluctant to seem too pushy, as he obviously likes Erin. Charlie reminds him that he owes him. Shawn agrees to finish the check. Charlie tells him to give the list to Neal when he has finished. What could Neal be doing? 

Rogers sounding of the alarm has brought the cavalry. Driver (Casper Van Dien) waits with a cane. He is told to put the cane down. He obliges. One of the campus cops approaches him and asks who he is. Driver is not a man who likes to answer questions it seems and immediately thrust a hand into the campus cop’s throat. That will teach him not to get to close. He shoots his three colleagues and then kills him. A bit over an overreaction but it shows he is a bad man. On the campus, Shawn goes and checks on Erin to see how long she is going to take. 

Outside, Driver and a crew of five, half of whom, for no good reason, are dressed in disguise, look to capture Erin. Vic arrives at the campus. He is met by a guard – one of the crew, so that makes seven – he lets him in. He informs Driver that Vic is coming. He should not be any trouble he is there to pick up his son. Never seen Die Hard then. 

Shawn and Erin leave the campus building. Vic meets Shawn and the driver comes and takes Erin’s bag. Erin tells the driver that she has forgotten her laptop and goes back into the building. Shawn tells her he will wait until she has left as he promised Charlie he would make sure everyone had left. Erin mentions that the driver is not her usual one. 

Father and son have a stilted conversation as they wait for Erin to come back. Shawn covers his motorcycle, which just happens to be right outside of the campus. A suspicious Vic notes the crew members standing around, watching. He tells Shawn to get in the car. He is going to get Erin. Vic asks Erin to call her father, Justice Walton (Randy Charach), and check if he changed the driver. 

One of Driver’s crew, who is tracking all the electronics from a van, cuts the call just as she asks about the driver. Erin had already got the answer. He did not change the driver. Driver tells the girl in the van to cut the lights. It is not even dark, so the move makes no sense but they do it anyway. 

Vic, he’s a green beret you know, tells Erin to get down. Because that is what one does in a power cut. He checks out of the window. The crew are not doing anything differently from what they were doing before. Maybe the driver is eco-friendly. Shawn decides to go and look for his dad and Erin. 

One of the crew, posing as a cleaner, knocks on Erin’s dorm door. Driver tells the crew to move in and extract the target. This is serious. He has gone full military speak. In the van, the electrics girl is manipulating a satellite to find Erin. Yes, she is. Driver tells the rest of the crew that Vic and Shawn are expendable. Surprised they asked. 

Paula (Nicole Reddinger), is watching the building with a sniper rifle. In the building, Vic is telling Erin to stay close. Driver calls Erin. He quickly realises that she knows he is not there to help her. He tells her to put Vic on the phone. Driver tells him all the usual bollocks; surrounded, no way out, all communications on lockdown. Vic is unfazed. He is Delta! 

Driver gives him five minutes to bring Erin out. There is an hour of runtime left in the film so…anyhoo, Shawn comes across the fake cleaner. He asks him if he has seen Vic. They both go into the lift. The fake cleaner tries to kill him. Shawn, who was raised by a green beret, fights the professional mercenary. 

They fall out of the lift and Vic beats the mercenary unconscious. Director Phillips goes to visit Walton. He tells him that he has his daughter and he wants him to support some changes in amendments. Back in the college, Vic wants to get to a phone. He leaves Erin and Shawn. He gives Shawn a gun. 

Jade (Jennifer Wenger), the electrics girl, tells one of the team that they are in the lift, heading for the ground. The big lump, Rodriguez (Esteban Cueto) is fooled by the ‘old phones in the lift ruse’ and is overpowered and taken hostage by Vic. Jade calls the driver into the van. She has found out that Vic is a highly decorated green beret.

Driver tells his team, recounting, for all listening, including the kids, his violent and impressive military achievements. Shawn is shocked to find out his father has quite the body count on his resumé. Erin notices that Shawn is bleeding and insist on tending his wounds. 

Meanwhile, Vic has got to the phone and found that communications go no further than the van. Rodriguez takes the opportunity of Vic’s distraction to attack him. After getting thrown around by the much bigger Rodriguez, Vic hits him with a weights plate and kills him. 

As Erin dresses Shawn’s wounds, he tells her about his miserable upbringing and how his mum died, killed in revenge for one of his dad’s missions and how it made Vic pull away from him. Yawn. The fake cleaner, who wants to kill Vic because of the beating he took, goes after the kids. He beats on Shawn a bit and is about to Strangle Erin but is stopped as Shawn points a gun at him. 

Phillips threatens Walton. I’m still not sure if he is pro or anti-guns, it is all very unclear. Erin and Shawn hide in a closet. Jade and her magical satellite, see Vic on the side of the building. The driver tells Paula to shoot him. She cannot see him properly. Driver sends Krieg (Christopher Troy) and Rose (Kelina Rutherford) to get him. 

Paula has a shot and takes it. She tells Driver that he is down. Driver tells Krieg to confirm he is dead. Erin decides to sacrifice herself to save Shawn. She will give herself up. Vic fights Rose and Krieg. He stabs Rose and slaps Krieg with a plank. Erin runs into a security guard. He is part of the crew – there is a lot of them, I have lost count. He punches her to the ground. Shawn, who was following after her, points a gun at the fake guard. 

The guard, seeing how scared Shawn is, warns of the possible insertion to his posterior the gun is likely to make if he does not shoot him. Vic comes around the corner and obliges, shooting the guard dead. Another person turns up. It is Neal. He does not know what is going on. Vic asks if he knows another way out of the building.

Yes, there is a service tunnel. They believe him even though this is the most obvious and blatant, snake-in-the-grass double-cross in cinema, and he tells them there is an old service elevator. They go to the elevator. Vic is holding off another gunman – I have really lost count – and Neal and Erin get in the lift. Shawn goes back to help his dad, leaving Neal to take Erin. The fool! 

Neal delivers Erin to Driver and Jade. Neal asks Driver for payment. He is not a man who has watched a lot of films, obviously, and does realise what happens to rats like him! Driver beats him to death with his cane. 

Driver tells Jade to take care of the rest. So she puts a bomb in the lift and sends it back up. Boom! Driver sends a video of the captive Erin to Walton. Walton messages Phillips to tell him he has done as he asked. Okay…

Vic gets himself and Shawn out of the rubble. Driver is putting Erin in the car as Shawn and Vic get to the exit. Shawn runs to go and save Erin, even as Vic warns him there is a sniper. As Shawn shoots at Driver, Paula trains her gun on him. Somehow, Vic manages to get across the road to where Paula is perched and gets into fisticuffs with her. Paula puts up a far better fight than her two colleagues did earlier almost besting Vic. He knocks her out. 

Driver and the remaining crew leave, taking Erin. Vic jumps onto the roof of the van. Yes, he does. Shawn gets on his bike – the one conveniently parked outside the campus – and gives chase. Vic climbs into the van and throws Paula out, not very gentlemanly at all. 

He fights the fake cleaner again after the other occupant, Babcock (Gene Freeman), gets accidentally shot. The van crashes into a parked car and there is an explosion. That causes Shawn to lose control of his bike. He is uninjured but not for long. Driver shoots him through the shoulder and takes him hostage because…I do not know. 

At the location where Philips is meeting Walton, Driver arrives with the two kids. Vic gets an automatic rifle from the van and flags down Walton. He is there to help. The sign he has written in blood is enough to convince Walton. 

Back in the warehouse – it’s always a warehouse – Phillips is feeling bossy and tells Jade to drown Erin. They should get rid of Shawn as well. Walton arrives at the warehouse. He starts to run. The car blows up and Vic comes out shooting. Vic goes into the warehouse and kills multiple henchmen, all of whom are terrible shots and make no effort not to get shot themselves. 

He comes face to face with Driver. They fight. Shawn manages to overpower his captive. Out on the pier – Erin’s supposed to get drowned remember – Jade and Erin end up fencing. Shawn fights another henchman and stabs him in the neck. He grabs his gun. Vic is looking for an elusive Driver in the warehouse. 

Erin, it turns out, is not a great fencer and is overcome by Jade. Jade decides she is going to kill her with the sabre. As she is about to stab her, Shawn shoots her dead. Walton finds his daughter and Shawn on the pier. Vic and Driver keep fighting. Driver gets blown out of the window. 

Out on the pier, Phillips is about to shoot Walton. Vic comes out and tells him he has three seconds to change his mind. Phillips leaves. Back in his apartment, Phillips is met by a severely burnt Driver. Driver kills him. 

The next day, Shawn is in the hospital recovering. Vic sits by his bed. Erin comes to see him and Vic leaves the two kids alone. As Vic goes into the hospital reception, he is confronted by a man. He looks around and notes that several people are converging on him. Another man drags Olivia into the reception. Vic kicks one of the assailants in the face. The end. 

Final thoughts: The 2nd is hokum and nonsense. The story is convoluted and muddle and the acting is poor from just about everybody on show. Admittedly, the script is wretched and the actors are working with terrible material. Written by Eric Bromberg, James Bromberg and Paul Taegel, with direction by Brian Skiba, The 2nd is a real chore to watch. 

The film’s runtime is only ninety-three minutes but it feels much longer, the lacklustre fight scenes and poor camera work make it almost painful to watch. I suffered the film twice and I am still not sure whether they were for or against the second amendment, the amendment that gives the film its, frankly, stupid title. 

The 2nd is an action film with underwhelming action sequences and a story that goes nowhere. What is even more galling about the action sequences is that there are a lot of them and none of them are good or particularly memorable. 

The 2nd is not good and not worth an hour and a half of anybody’s time. That they left scope for a sequel is hubris in the extreme. Avoid.

Ava

Brief synopsis: An elite assassin is thought to be a liability to her organisation when she begins to stray from normal protocols and begins to question her missions. The head of the organisation decides that she needs to be eliminated. 

Is it any good?: Ava is an okay slightly misjudged thriller/drama. With a strong cast and a moderately good premise, Ava should have been an action thriller to equal the 2010 Angelina Jolie starrer, Salt, even if it was aiming for the far superior Charlize Theron starrer, 2017’s Atomic Blonde. 

Unfortunately, Ava suffers from being a little too heavy on drama over action and, unusually, being too short in runtime. 

Spoiler territory: Ava (Jessica Chastain), acting as a chauffeur, picks up financier, Peter Hamilton (Ioan Gruffud) at the airport. A woman on a motorcycle watches Ava picking Peter up. She greets him in French but once in the car, Peter, noting her accent is American, speaks English. The woman on the motorcycle follows them. 

Peter is taken by Ava’s attractiveness and asks her name. She tells him that she is called Brandy. He asks her what she would like to do and she tells him that she would like to stop the car and join him in the back seat for a drink. She stops the car. 

The woman on the motorcycle stops. Ava gets into the back of the car with Peter. The woman on the motorcycle gets out a directional microphone to listen in on Ava and Peter’s conversation in the car. In the car, Ava asks Peter what he did. Peter is confused. She tells him that he must have done something for someone to want him dead. 

Peter sees that she is pointing a gun at him. He begs her not to kill him. Ava wants to know what he did but can see that he does not know. Ava kills him. She contacts management to confirm the kill. The woman on the motorcycle rides off. Duke (John Malkovich) asks if there were any hiccups on the job. Ava tells him no. 

She tells Duke that she is taking a break, going to Boston. As she travels, she remembers an idyllic childhood and going off the rails in her teenage years, getting into drugs and alcohol. She found purpose in the military and served with distinction. She became a covert assassin even as her issues with substance abuse resurfaced. 

In Boston, Ava checks into a hotel. Outside a club, Alain (Efka Kvaraciejus) is tasked with keeping an eye on Ava by Duke. Ava goes for a run. She returns to her hotel room and is momentarily tempted by the mini bar in the small fridge. She receives a parcel. It is a gun, passport and cash. 

She goes out to a small club. Her sister, Judy (Jess Weixler), is in the band. After the show, Judy sees her. She is not over the moon about it. Ava disappeared from her life eight years before. Judy assumes that Ava has returned because of the email she sent her. Ava does not know about the email. Judy tells her their mother had a heart attack and is in hospital. 

The next morning, Ava and Judy visit their mother, Bobbi (Geena Davis). Bobbi is passively aggressive towards Ava, making subtle and not so subtle comments about her life and appearance. She brings up Michael (Common), Judy’s partner. 

Ava gets a new assignment. She is to kill a general, Gunther (Christopher J. Domig), in Saudi Arabia. She has to make it look like natural causes. Ava gets to Saudi and during an initial meeting with Gunther, Ava says the wrong name, alerting one of the general’s aides. Gunther, not noticing anything odd, invites Ava up to his apartment. 

In the apartment, Ava injects Gunther with a drug to kill him by inducing a heart attack. Before he dies, the general’s aides start banging on the door. Ava is forced to kill them and all the security that comes to his aide. As she escapes, she kills multiple military personnel. 

Ava goes to see Duke. The intelligence was wrong, she was given the wrong name. Duke tells her it was a typo and that management know that the error was not on her part. Duke asks her about talking to her kills. He asks her if she is using drugs again. She assures him she is not. She asks Duke if they are trying to kill her. He says they are not. It was a mistake. She tells him she is going to take some time off. 

Ava goes to see her mother and runs into Michael. They have a history so the meeting is slightly awkward. Ava goes to an addicts meeting. She tells them how she ended up leaving home after catching her father with another woman and threatening to tell her mother. 

Because she was already an addict, her father had told her that he would just tell Bobbi that she was lying to cover for her thefts. So she left and joined the army. She did not return until after he had died. Duke goes to see Simon (Colin Farrell). 

Simon is having a christening for his son. He is also the manager. He asks about Ava. He is worried that she is fallible. Duke assures him she is not and that she is the best agent they have. Simon tells Duke he will let her rest. Duke leaves. 

Simon speaks with his daughter, Camille (Diana Silvers). He wants Ava dead. He tells her to call Alain and take care of it. Camille asks what they should do about Duke? Simon is not worried about Duke. 

Ava goes for a run and is followed by Alain. As she runs through the park, he attacks and they fight. Ava manages to overcome him but when he pulls a gun, she runs. Alain goes after her and loses her by the fountains. Ava emerges from the fountain and kills him. 

Ava goes to see Duke again. Why is management trying to kill her? He tells her the company is not trying to kill her. He tells her that he told Simon not to touch her. The man who tried to kill her was a junkie. Ava is not convinced. Ava goes to dinner with Michael and Judy. Judy, who is drinking a little too much, takes offence at Michael’s conversation and starts sniping at Ava. 

Judy leaves. Michael and Ava talk for a bit. She apologises for leaving without saying anything. Michael leaves. Judy comes to see Ava. It is five in the morning and Michael has not come home. Ava asks when he started gambling again. Judy tells her that Michael never stopped gambling. Ava goes to find Michael, she knows where to look. 

She goes to see Toni (Joan Chen), who runs an underground gambling den and club. Michael is at a table with Toni and a load of other gamblers. Toni gets up to talk to her. She does not want to let Michael leave. Ava is forced to pacify several of her henchmen before they can leave. 

Michael wants to know where she has been and how she learned to fight. Ava does not tell him anything. He tells her that he wanted to marry her before she disappeared eight years ago. Ava leaves again. She returns to the hotel and goes to the bar and asks for a double scotch. She does not drink it. 

Duke goes to see Simon. He knows that he is trying to kill Ava. Simon tells him that he did not tell him because he wanted to spare his feelings. Duke tells him to rescind the kill order. Simon refuses. Duke pulls a gun on him. Camille pulls a gun on Duke. They are interrupted by Simon’s young daughter, Daniela (Simonne Stern). 

Daniela’s mother comes and gets her. Simon and Duke fight. Simon pulls a knife and slices Duke across the guts. He cuts him again, incapacitating him. Ava goes to see her mother. Bobbi admits, over a game of cards, that she was too weak to leave her husband and she knew that Ava was not lying all those years ago. 

Simon has Duke chained-up on at the of a pier. He kills him by pushing him into the lake. He films the whole lot. He sends the video to Ava and calls her to tell her who he is and that he has killed Duke. Ava tells him that she is going to kill him. She watches the video. 

Ava goes to Judy’s home and tries to persuade Michael to run off with her whilst Judy is at work. Michael tells her that Judy is pregnant. A stunned Ava leaves. She goes to see Toni. The gambling den is a nightclub at night and Ava kills multiple henchmen as she goes looking for Toni. As she beats people up, the club’s crowd disperse. Toni comes out to face her. 

Ava lets Toni beat on her for a bit and admits she wanted to steal her sister’s fiancé away from her. She tells Toni that she has killed forty-one people. She stops Toni hitting her and begins to choke her. She pays off Michael’s debts and leaves. She returns to the hotel and raids the minibar. 

Simon sneaks into her hotel room and tries to kill her. They end up fighting. They fight to a standstill. A fire alarm goes off, the hotel being evacuated. Simon leaves and tells Ava he will kill her if he sees her again. Ava gets the money and gun and passport she received when she arrived and goes after Simon. 

She catches up with Simon and kills him. She goes and sees Judy and tells her to take their mother and Michael and leave the country. She gives her money and an off-shore account number. She leaves. As she leaves, Camille follows after her. The end. 

Final thoughts: Ava is a moderately enjoyable thriller that is let down by having to compress so much story into such a short runtime. At ninety-seven minutes long, Ava is not a short film it is just that there are too many strands of story to unravel and tidy up. 

Chastain is great and believable as the lethal Ava and carries the film comfortably. The story is quite lightweight, not that it is an issue, after all, it is an action movie. Unfortunately, there is not quite enough action. It is not even a case of too much exposition, it is just too much stuff. The strange problem is the story, by Matthew Newton, is too interesting.

This makes the central story of Ava being a target, get lost in the other stories. Directed by Tate Taylor, the film looks good and is nicely directed with some interesting sound work interspersed with the visuals. All the actors are, unsurprisingly, good. Farrell manages to stay the right side of hammy and Malkovich almost steals the film with his laconic style and delivery. 

Ava moves at a good pace and entertains throughout its runtime but it is still a bit of a let down in the end.

Voces – review

Brief synopsis: a young family; husband, wife and their young son, move into a remote, rundown, house. The husband plans to renovate the house and sell it, just as they have done before. The young son begins to hear voices. 

When the boy is drowned in the outdoor pool, the wife leaves to stay with her parents. The husband hears his son’s voice. He goes and sees a man who looks into paranormal activities to get to the bottom of the mystery. 

Is it any good?: Don’t Listen (Voces – original Spanish title) is a well-told and beautifully directed horror film. The acting is good from all concerned and the story maintains one’s interest throughout. The editing and the directing are first-rate and, along with the sound work, crank up the tension throughout. Worth watching. 

Spoiler territory: Daniel (Rodolfo Sancho) retrieves a football from the outdoor pool that has come with the old, large, multilevel, house he has recently purchased. In the house, his son, Eric (Lucas Blas), is being spoken to by a psychologist, Doctor Carol (Beatriz Arjona). She asks him why is he having trouble sleeping and how he is feeling.

Eric tells her that the voices keep him awake. They won’t let him sleep. The doctor asks what the voices say. They tell him to draw pictures but he cannot tell her what they say. Eric stops talking and starts to play with his toy robot. 

Sara (Belén), Eric’s mother, asks the doctor what is wrong. She tells her that she thinks Eric is just disrupted by the constant house moves and that he should be fine once he makes some friends. The doctor leaves.

In the car, as she is driving, the doctor’s radio cannot pick up a signal properly. Back at the house, Eric is drawing. In the car, a fly goes into the doctor’s ear.

As she struggles to get the fly out, her foot presses down on the accelerator. Eric is still drawing. The doctor goes off the road, crashing. Eric has drawn a picture of a tree branch with blood on the end. Back in the car, the doctor has been killed, a tree branch through her face. The fly comes out of her ear. 

Later, Daniel is working on the house. A crack in the wall is infested with flies. He goes and gets some bug spray and uses it on the crack. Over a walkie talkie, Eric asks his father to get his ball from the pool again. 

As he retrieves the ball, Eric sees the bug spray in his father’s tool belt and asks him about it. Daniel tells him it is for infestations. 

Eric asks if he means like the flies by the fireplace in his room. Daniel tells him, yes. Eric’s mother calls for his bath. In the bath, Eric is distracted as he hears voices again. they are coming from the shower radio. 

The voice is his father’s. He tells him he hates him. Sara comes into the bathroom. He asks her if his father hates him. She tells him that his father loves him. 

Later, Daniel is watching television, engrossed by an interview with Germán Domingo (Rámon Barea), who has released a book, Sounds from the Great Beyond. Germán tracks the EVPs (electronic voice phenomena), voices that are believed to be from the afterlife and transmit via radios and other electronic media. 

Sara asks Daniel if he told Eric off. No, not at all. Sara is worried about their son. Daniel repeats what the psychologist said; he will be better once he has made some friends. 

During the night, Daniel is woken by the gate to the swimming pool banging. He gets up and closes it. Eric is woken by voices from the walkie talkie. 

His robot toy springs to life. As he grabs it from the floor to switch it off, he sees old, gnarled, feet. He looks up to see a shadowy figure behind the semi-transparent dust sheet that is hanging in his bedroom. 

Eric rushes to his bed and hides under the covers. Daniel comes into the bedroom to find the petrified Eric. He is followed by Sara. Eric clings to his mother. 

The next day, Daniel sees that the flies are still coming out of the crack in the wall. He hears Sara drive up. Eric is with her. He has been expelled for biting his headteacher. 

Sara tells him that he will have to see the psychologist again. Eric tells them that the doctor is dead. They ask him how he knows that. He tells them that the voices told him. 

Daniel calls to schedule an appointment with the doctor. They find out that, as Eric said, she is dead. Sara wonders how Eric knew. Daniel thinks he must have been told at school. 

Daniel goes to talk to his son. He asks him about the previous night. Eric tells him he was talking to him on the walkie talkie. Daniel tells him it was not him. 

Eric is drawing in the middle of the night. A shadowy figure watches him. An hour later, Sara wakes Daniel because she hears the pool gates banging. 

As Daniel goes to sees about the gate, he notices that the front door is open. He grabs a shotgun and looks around the house. A shadowy figure moves unseen by him through the house.

Sara goes into Eric’s bedroom. He is not there. Daniel sees Eric’s pyjama top, just outside the house. Frantic, he runs to the pool. He finds the boy dead in the pool. 

They bury their son. Sara goes to stay with her parents. She tells Daniel she cannot live in the house. Daniel tells her that everything they own is tied up in the house. 

Alone in the house, Daniel watches a video of when the family first arrived at the house. Eric had been very happy to see the new house. Daniel calls Sara and leaves a message for her. 

He switches off the television and goes to leave the room. The television springs back to life. he switches the television off again and goes to sleep.

Sara calls Daniel. She tells him she got his message but it was very muffled and there was screaming obscuring it. He tells her that it is probably the bad service in the area. After the call has ended, he plays the message back to himself. He puts the message into his computer and plays it again. He hears Eric’s voice calling for help. 

Daniel goes to a book signing by Germán Domingo. He begs Germán to listen to his recording. Germán is reluctant, having heard his share of hoaxes but Daniel convinces him. 

Convinced there is something in the recording, Germán and his sceptical about EVPs daughter, Ruth (Ana Fernández), head to the house. They drive past the site of doctor Carol’s death.

At the house, Daniel welcomes them. Ruth asks if there is a room that she can set the equipment up in, a basement maybe. Daniel tells her there is no basement but there are many free rooms. Germán warns Daniel that he may not like what they find. Daniel tells him he just wants to help his son. 

Ruth sets up cameras and microphones around the house. She is startled by Daniel, who asks her about working with her father. She tells him that she only occasionally works with him. 

She does not believe in the afterlife. With everything set up, Ruth mans the monitors as her father checks for sound around the house. Ruth sees a figure sitting in Eric’s bedroom. 

She tells her father that Daniel is messing with the infrared and needs to leave the house. He tells her that Daniel is outside. Germán goes to the bedroom to check but cannot hear or see anything. 

Ruth tells him that the figure is right in front of him. Germán’s headphones shriek causing him to pull off the headset. Later, Germán is telling Daniel about the incident as all three watch the recording of two thermal images, one being Germán, in the bedroom. 

Ruth is still not convinced. That night, Ruth is asleep in front of the monitors. Germán is woken by a nightmare. A voice beckons him. He goes down to the kitchen. In the kitchen, he sees his deceased wife, Sofia (Nerea Barros). They sit at the dining table as she speaks with him. 

She wants him to join her, pulling out a knife and slicing it across his wrist, back and forth. 

Ruth screams at her father. Sofia has disappeared and Germán is cutting his own wrist. Ruth stops him from cutting himself. He is very disorientated, looking for Sofia. Sara’s phone rings in the night and she answers. It is Eric’s voice. 

The next day, Ruth is out on the balcony when she looks out to see a tree with multiple cats hanging dead from it. She tells the two men. Daniel buries the cats as Germán tells him that the voice he heard probably was not his son. Daniel is sure it was. Sara arrives back at the house. 

Ruth goes into town to buy some items. A mature woman (Rosa Alvarez) calls to her. She knows she is at the house with the voices. She tells she should not return to the house. 

The voices tell you things that are not true. Back at the house, Sara is in Eric’s bedroom. She is about to leave when she hears the robot. She turns around and sees Eric, his back to her, sitting on the ground. She approaches him but he scampers under the bed. 

Sara looks under the bed. She sees old, gnarled feet on the other side but when she looks up there is no one there. She looks again. The feet are there again. They climb on to the bed. She looks up. Nothing.

Eric runs past her and she shuffles back towards a wall. She puts her hand down on a gnarled foot. A matching hand grabs her face. 

Germán is looking through reference images, the cats’ deaths having reminded him of something. He finds one similar to the cats hanging from the tree. He tells Daniel that it is a warning. 

A warning of what? Ruth returns and tells them it was a warning of it being the territory of a witch. The house had been a courthouse and witches had been tried there during the inquisition. 

Their conversation is interrupted by Sara’s body crashing through the window, her hanging from the bedroom above. A fly leaves Sara’s ear. The police and coroner come and pick up her corpse. 

Germán continues to research the images. He tells Ruth he thinks he knows where the bodies are buried. Ruth wants them to leave. Germán refuses, he wants to solve this mystery. 

A distraught Daniel sees Sara and Eric behind a dust sheet whilst sitting in his bedroom. When he moves the sheet, they disappear. Back in the room where the monitors are set up, Ruth sees the film of Sara before she died. She killed herself. 

Infrared picked up another brief presence in the room. Ruth and Germán hear a shot in the house. They go to Daniel’s room and see him with the shotgun. He is wild-eyed, pointing the gun at something unseen. They take the gun off of him. 

Germán tells him he thinks he knows how to stop the voices. They need to find the corpse of the witch. Daniel says he knows where it may be. He smashes through the wall where the flies keep appearing from. Behind the wall, they find a staircase to a basement. The three of them go into the basement. 

They find a skeleton in a cage. It is the witch. It is her voice causing things to happen. Germán says they have to burn her. They return to the house and look for gasoline. 

Daniel finds half a can but Germán tells him they need more. Daniel keeps looking as Germán takes the half can back to the basement. He tells Ruth not to come with him. If he does not return in ten minutes, she is to leave. 

Back in the basement alone, Germán is bombarded by apparitions, seeing the fate of the witch in the inquisition and different shocking visions.

In the house, Ruth sees her mother, Sofia. She has not seen her since she was a child. The apparition tries to entice her but Ruth refuses. Sofia disappears. Ruth sees the gnarled old witch. The witch disappears. 

In the garage, Daniel is also being haunted by the witch. The witch disappears and is replaced with Sara and Eric. They beckon Daniel to them. Daniel hugs the apparition, thinking it is his family. It is the witch.

Down in the basement, Germán throws gasoline on the witch’s corpse. Ruth appears in the basement. She is controlled by the witch and stabs her father in the stomach.

Germán picks up the shotgun. In the garage, convinced to join his family, Daniel has doused himself with gasoline. Germán knocks Ruth unconscious and shoots the corpse, causing it to burst into flames.

His actions release both Ruth and Daniel from the witch’s power. Ruth helps her injured father out of the basement. She wraps his wound. 

The next day, Ruth checks on her father. Daniel goes into his son’s bedroom. He sees Eric’s drawings. They depict all of the deaths and incidents that have happened. One of the drawings triggers a memory. He remembers taking Eric to the pool and holding him under. He killed him. Shocked at the recollection, Daniel kills himself. The final drawing shows that he blows his head off. The end.

Final thoughts: Don’t Listen is a very good horror film. Written by Santiago Diaz, Angel Gómez Hernández, Victor Gado and Juan Moreno and directed by Hernández, who also came up with the story, Don’t Listen is a beautifully crafted film. 

The camerawork by Pablo Rosso is stunning. Every image looks fantastic. The editing is good, the sound is good, the makeup is good. This film is so well put together that there is very little to distract from the storytelling. 

The story starts slowly but builds nicely, with a constant sense of foreboding after the unfortunate doctor’s demise. Even though there are only four deaths in the film – the doctor and the family – the film still manages to be tense. The acting is good from everyone on show, making an extraordinary story more believable. 

The only, slight, complaint with regards to the story is the family seemed to suffer just because they bought the wrong house. There is no indication that they deserved the fate that befell them, neither bad character traits nor ill-intentioned decisions. It is only a minor slight. 

Don’t Listen – Voces – is an entertaining horror, clocking in at ninety-seven minutes. A gem in the slew of tripe on Netflix.