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Encapsulated Movie Reviews – Twelve New Indie Titles

For those who claim there is a shortage of film releases week to week, the list of flicks below sure puts you to multiple movie shame.  There are a whopping twelve releases dissected here and that’s only because I didn’t have time for the rest.  (I am only ONE film critic folks!)  Docs on imprisonment and hope, the abortion issue and how we got the commander in chief we got, plus tales of gun slinging payback in South Africa, a lone wolf let loose in a locked down stadium, demons coming through the net, love in Nazi occupied Germany, cults and crazed vigilantes, Viking sword stories, the effects of PTSD, taking in kids who may be evil and wrong place wrong time dramas make up the plethora of flicks covered in this massive movie edition of Encapsulated Movie Reviews.  Check out the critical skinny on Letter From Masanjia, Five Fingers For Marseilles, Final Score, Reversing Roe, e-DEMON, Where Hands Touch, Mandy, Redbad, Armed, American Chaos, Lost Child and Warning Shot all below.

LETTER FROM MASANJIA
(Parade Deck Films)

An edge of your seat doc that begins with an Oregon woman finding a SOS letter from a Chinese political prisoner in her Halloween decorations from Kmart and then proceeds down a dark rabbit hole to expose a harrowing tale of human persecution that plays out like a suspense mystery.  With plenty of intrigue (the Chinese government and police are in this one neck deep!), first hand accounts (letter writer Sun Yi is a big part of this doc!) and even some animated on-screen illustrations to hammer the horror home, this eye-opening flick is an effective and important reminder that not always well in the world.

FIVE FINGERS FOR MARSEILLES
(Uncork’d Entertainment)

A gripping tale of truth and consequences in a small town, the South African set western Five Fingers For Marseilles is certainly ‘can’t take your eyes off it’ cinema.  The saga of a group of five kids who endure a life changing event and reunite years later as damaged adults is a real alluring piece of stylistic celluloid in the tradition of Once Upon A Time In The West and High Plains Drifter. Great performances throughout for sure (love the tainted smile of Hamilton Dhlamini’s creepy effective Sepoko!), but specifically the turn by leaning man Vuyo Dabula as the torn Tau ensures this one stands tall alongside previously effective tales of revenge and redemption – Sergio Leone would be proud.

FINAL SCORE
(Saban Films)

While Final Score is fully recycled in both story (lone man must stop a group of terrorists – Die Hard homage anyone!) and setting (caught inside a stadium – the Jean-Claude Van Damme outing Sudden Death comes to mind!) the staging is frankly too damn fun to ignore.  Guardians alum Dave Bautista leads the cool carnage as a soldier with serious skills who takes on Russian baddie Ray Stevenson and his motley crew in order to protect both a young girl of a fallen comrade and the totally unaware soccer-loving crowd.  The film enlists all the typical tropes including a quirky sidekick (Amit Shah’s high-pitched Faisal!), an explosive master plan (why do these guys love C4 so much?!) and even some ass kicking female foes (love the spirited sass of Alexandra Dinu!), but under the uber-enjoyable direction of helmer Scott Mann this familiar action yarn still manages to shoot and score.

REVERSING ROE
(Netflix)

No matter what side of the controversial issue of abortion you come down on, this doc is a fascinating history lesson that proves eye opening for all sides.  Not only do we get to see the amazing the long political history including the case details of Roe vs. Wade and after effects, but this one has chatter from both sides of the fence (both practicing doctors and their outspoken family value critics!) and fully examines the severe actions taken by all involved.  (Though murdering abortion doctors still somehow seems like a wrong path.)  The two most eye opening previously unknown moments here include the clergy starting the first abortion clinic and Republican Ronald Regan signing the first bill in favor of it – history can be telling.

e-DEMON
(Dark Cuts)

While this one uses the over-used scenario of friends chatting simultaneously on a computer chat screen as it’s scary setting, there are nevertheless some nifty notables in this horror outing.  The use of the net as a conduit for demonic possession is definitely a new take on the tried and true, plus there’s some eerie bits involving outsiders that keep this low budget chiller on a fairly creepy level.  So while there some far fetched moments and the single screen format does grow a tad tired, e-DEMON keeps human spirit infestation interesting.

WHERE HANDS TOUCH
(Vertical Entertainment)

While there are a ton of very recognizable dramatic tropes within this tale that takes place once again in Germany in 1944 involving the atrocities of the war, it’s the heartfelt love story that makes this one stand out.  As two characters from completely opposite sides of the tracks, Amandla Stenberg’s African German and George MacKay’s Nazi soldier have just as much chemistry as there characters have adversity and it elevates the standard setting for sure.  Always best when used to make the ordinary extraordinary, never underestimate the power of love.

MANDY
(RLJE Films)

Having been a massive fan of the first five-star outing by 80’s filmmaker icon George P. Cosmatos’ visually savvy son Panos Cosmatos titled Beyond The Black Rainbow (it made my Top Ten list for that year!), seeing his next outing was a no brainer.  Problem is Panos has a wild and wonderful story sensibility, but matched here with the manic wildness of lead man Nic Cage makes Mandy one truly whacked out piece of work.  Not that there aren’t cool bits in a tale that sees Cage seeing revenge (Rolling Thunder style!) on the cult freaks (think Mad Max: Fury Road rejects!) who kill his beloved, but the film feels like a really intense psychedelic drug trip gone wrong – good and bad existing equally.

REDBAD
(Epic Pictures)

The good side of this 754 AD epic involving a reluctant warrior king fighting both the Franks and for freedom of religion is the solid stylistic direction by Dutch filmmaker Roel Reiné.  Utilizing everything from beautiful battle sequences to a tasty triangle involving the two women (who both fight fierce BTW!) who love the titular hero, Reiné does a tremendous job trying to make a stock story fresh.  Down side is the film runs a whopping two hours and forty minutes and it feels like it.  A virtual mini-series squeezed into a single cinema sitting, the sprawling Redbad would have been served better with some shortening.

ARMED
(GVN Releasing)

A film inspired by current events but taken to some strange and extreme places, Armed is as discombobulating as its lead characters mental state.  An obvious passion project of former New Jack City auteur Mario Van Peebles (who directs, writes and stars in this one!), the film manages to throw in everything AND the kitchen sink in an effort to tell the story of Peebles’ US Marshall suffering from some severe PTSD.  (When resident wacko William “Master Chang” Fichtner is the straight man there’s trouble in paradise!)  Kidnapping hillbillies, drug kingpin kids, a seriously perverted neighbor and an artful female nudist are just a few of the interesting oddballs that Armed enlists – war really can be hell.

AMERICAN CHAOS
(Sony Pictures Classics)

The problem with James D. Stern’s doc on the examination of all the Trump support right before the fateful election is that it’s not all that surprising.  In fact, there are not many revelations within the journey that Stern takes into small towns in ruins that are in need of either real or false hope.  The subjects interviewed are working class people, out of work and in their minds life cannot get any better.  It’s a tad askew that most don’t even know the background of the gut they claim to be a ‘man of the people’ (Stern brings up Trump’s past discretions to mostly stone faced folks!), but there’s no new info here.  Like it or not, right or wrong, American disillusion and all that follows for now is here to stay.

LOST CHILD
(Breaking Glass Pictures)

Definitely dug the otherworldly aspect of this suspense story involving a troubled army veteran who returns home to reconnect with her brother and finds a mysterious abandoned boy in the nearby forest instead.  The whole angle of is said tiny tot a runaway or an actual life-sucking demon from hell starts off solid, but goes off the rails trying to become more of an allegory than a evil story.  But still appreciate the work by lead Leven Rambin as the military gal haunted by demons in her past – when the story seams start to come apart she’s the glue.

WARNING SHOT
(Cinespots/Veritas Films)

What’s amusing in this very hard to watch drama about a mother and daughter being held captive by lurking henchmen is that it features David Spade in a dramatic role.  And it’s actually not what you think, as the early scenes between Spade’s character and his grandfather Bruce Dern are surprisingly the best in show here.  Problem is the rest of the film not involving Spade is utterly uncomfortable, with Guillermo Diaz playing one sick and perverted gunman who even terrorizes the above duo and even a door-to-door religious gent.  (A sad and beaten down Frank Whaley!)  So rest assured Spade does decent drama, but even with a notable cast, Warning Shot feels like it should have been a kill shot.

 

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I'm a passionate and opinionated film critic/movie journalist with over 20 years of experience in writing about film - now exclusively for WhySoBlu.com. Previous sites include nine years at Starpulse.com where I created Forgotten Friday Flick back in 2011, before that as Senior Entertainment Editor for The213.net and 213 Magazine, as well as a staff writer for JoBlo.com. My other love is doing cool events for the regular guy with my company Flicks For Fans alongside my friend, partner and Joblo.com writer James "Jimmy O" Oster. Check us out at www.Facebook.com/FlicksForFans.

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