The Sweet Hereafter

As a critic, we sometimes challenge ourselves with films that have won awards. We do this whether or not we have any fire in the belly over it or a passionate interest. I watched this film because of its huge Metascore of a “90” and the many awards it has won. Though it started slow, I did enjoy this one.

The Sweet Hereafter (1997)
R | 1h 52min | Drama | 21 November 1997 (USA)

A bus crash in a small town brings a lawyer to the town to defend the families, but he discovers that everything is not what it seems.
Director: Atom Egoyan
Writers: Russell Banks (novel), Atom Egoyan (screenplay)
Stars: Ian Holm, Sarah Polley, Caerthan Banks

Director Atom Egoyan is known for “Chloe” and “Devil’s Knot” among many more. He is an accomplished director. He knows how to write and ignite passion in his films. He shines a light on human nature.

There is an age-old topic here of money vs. retribution in court. Ian Holm plays the lawyer that has come to call on this very small snow covered town. It seems the school bus that held every child in the town veered off a cliff and sunk into the frozen lake. Sarah Polley plays one of the few who survived the crash. The film consists of this lawyer trying to get these people to press charges and then get a story together that will win them money. It’s a fun ride but the payoff is just mild. The lawyer learns some towns don’t care about winning lawsuits. There is much to discuss here. I give this film a 7/10

Between Us (2016)

Streaming now on Netflix! This is an independent film that tries to show the reality of fights in a couple that probably shouldn’t be together but stay that way out of comfort. It shows we can get comfortable in familiar torture.

Director, Rafael Palacio Illingworth, has directed 3 films as near as I can tell. Another film of his, “Macho,” is described as having a lot of sex scenes in between titles. He seems comfortable shooting sex scenes, there are many in this film as well. Mayeb it was just me but it seems these were forced and served to show how the lovers were incompatible.

The actors include Alison Sudol, Analeigh Tipton, Olivia Thirlby They all do a pretty good job but in my opinion the script isn’t realistic and that takes away from their impact.

A man and a woman feel pressured to get married so they begin to question why they are together.

This film is not very well made. Still, it does fit into the “chick flick” category. There is a coupe and they fight, a lot. They explore things and it’s a great film to discuss at Starbucks later. Expect little and be impressed as well as entertained. Please leave me a comment! This title is streaming now on Netflix!


The Ritual

I’d been waiting for this film to come into theaters and once again: we have a Netflix movie that never made it there. Is that bad? This is the first real horror film of 2018 and it certainly watches like one. Unlike some movies that have come down the pike in a forest that really weren’t horror like “The Witch” and “It Comes at Night,” this one has the elements of a horror and delivers as such.

The Ritual (2017)
1h 34min | Horror | 9 February 2018 (USA)

A group of college friends reunite for a trip to the forest, but encounter a menacing presence in the woods that’s stalking them.
Director: David Bruckner
Writers: Joe Barton, Adam Nevill (novel)
Stars: Rafe Spall, Arsher Ali, Robert James-Collier

The director is David Bruckner, known for “V/H/S,” “Southbound,” and “The Signal.” Looking at these titles makes me realize he has a solid background in horror and “The Ritual” is his foray into the big time. This one will probably be enjoyed by more than the others. It’s an “on location” piece meaning it is filmed in the woods. This must have proved challenging. I found some pparts of it to be a little misguided but as a whole, this is a directorial accomplishment.

There is a house the hikers happen upon in the film. Upstairs there is an odd piece of ritual like art. It looks rustic and religious in form. I found not much was explained there and it never really added up for me what was happening there. It was if it was just being blamed on the supernatural when the scenes could have held better clues.

Other than the house scene, the film develops well throughout. The ending is a massive crescendo and it’s nothing you’d expected up to that point. By saying less, he says more. By suggesting the size and shape of creatures, he makes them all that more scary. Because it’s supernatural, we can’t really argue logic here which is good for the director because it’s lacking a bit there. Having said that, I found this horror film scary and full of suspense. There are many roads to Rome and this one definitely finds its way there. I give it a 8/10

‘Star Trek: Beyond’ – Don’t Blink on This Ride


Starring: Chris Pine, Zoe Saldana, Anton Yelchin, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Simon Pegg, John Cho

Genres: Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi, Thriller

Directed By: Justin Lin

Studio: Paramount Pictures

MPAA Rating

I saw Star Trek: Beyond last night on its second night after release. When I see Star Trek films, I usually miss some secret winks because I am not much of a “Trekkie” and therefore don’t know the labyrinth of secret passageways that many others I meet new. In fact, my wife, who is not a film critic, explains a lot to me when we go to see these films. Last night had a few parts I couldn’t figure out but I’ll avoid those.

Instead, I’ll tell you that Captain Kirk is put in a position to save the galaxy (common theme). The adventurous quest to do that is a rip-roaring ride! Directed by Justin Lin (Fast and the Furious), the spaceships are now the race cars. There is a lot of action in this film but I must disagree with some other critics who are saying it’s too fast and furious. There are moments of suspense as well and moments where the viewers is ban rest, stop, and get cerebral..

The visuals are stunning. Because this is a quick review intended to have “no spoilers,” I won’t describe them to you. I will say that in 1977 when Harrison Ford, Alec Guinness, and Mark Hamill saw the death star for the first time, it had a mind-blowing effect on movie goers. There is actually some stuff in this film that will leave you in “shock and awe” in a similar way. Please note however that the plot is pretty good and special effects are secondary to that, which always makes me happy.

There is so much in this film worthy of the ticket price. There is a side story Spock is dealing with, sense that virtually fill the movie with the now departed Anton Yelchin, a Smokin’ hot Zoe Zaldana, a vaguely funny Simon Pegg (but funny all the same.) I had a blast watching this film. I anticipate Trekkies will like the new villain Krall (Idris Elba). He’s a tortured creature with a lot of hate for the federation which makes for some really juicy fight scenes. I did have some issues with the film. Instead of developing the villain they sort of catapulted him into hate mode. I wanted to know more about him and why he became who he was. It was explained a little in a very rushed fashion in the last 1/4 of the film but I think doing that earlier would have invested me more in his character. For the haziness of the villain, I took one star away. This is an amazing film, I highly recommend it.

True Grit (2010)

Long before Hailee Steinfeld wowed audiences in “Edge of Seventeen,” she played this role of the teenage girl in “True Grit.” It was a great casting choice since she has the same sassy attitude as the girl in the original. She works perfectly alongside Jeff Bridges who definitely takes the original role of Rooster Cogburn and gives John Wayne a run for his money. This remake is a lot of fun.

True Grit (2010)
PG-13 | 1h 50min | Adventure, Drama, Western | 22 December 2010 (USA)

A stubborn teenager enlists the help of a tough U.S. Marshal to track down her father’s murderer.
Directors: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
Writers: Joel Coen (screenplay), Ethan Coen (screenplay) | 1 more credit »
Stars: Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Hailee Steinfeld

The directing duo here, Ethan and Joel Coen, are a dynamo and probably need no introduction. They took on a huge undertaking with this remake and in most ways pulled it off. They inject a humor into their films that starts to feel familiar the more of their movies you see. It is here but the general vibe of the film seems to be in effort to bring the original “True Grit” to a modern audience.

Watching the film, it was like the remake of a sing note for note. The only differences were the drunken growling style of Bridges voice contrasted against the nasally, self-assured voice of John Wayne. Josh Brolin and Matt Damon really didn’t add much to the roles they played either. I think in reflection, I enjoyed the original immensely and also the remake but not enough to really justify them making it. The Cohen Brothers are original dudes. They shouldn’t attempt to copy a masterpiece unless they are going to put their own changes into it.

Riley’s Favorite Films of 2017

Ok so we finished out 2017. I’m glad I survived, it was wild here on this end. How about you? Well, along the way I managed to watch a lot of movies. I made this list to show the ones I liked.

Also, I got into a new format here at my blog of shorter reviews (100-300 words) and I got serious about podcasting at the Damien Riley Podcast. The format there is 5 minute film reviews. As you can see, I was busy. The films below were quite enjoyable to me. They are in no particular order because I would have to force that so I decided against it. When I did a podcast on a film, I put the player there for interested ears. Have you seen the whole list? Which did you enjoy in 2017? Please leave me comments!

I, Tonya
The Red Turtle

Happy Death Day
The Void
Your Name

A Cure for Wellness
Dave Made a Maze

Fist Fight
Wind River

47 Meters Down

The Bad Batch
Brigsby Bear

Better Watch Out
Phantom Thread

The Zookeeper’s Wife

The Lost City of Z
A Dark Song
Lady Bird
Kong: Skull Island
The Big Sick

War for the Planet of the Apes
Creep 2


Lady Macbeth

‘Good Kill’

Ethan Hawke gives an amazing performance of grounded pilot trapped in a box, unable to escape his fate.

*This review contains spoilers.

This thriller moves a bit slow but builds the suspense until you get the point like a tidal wave: War is hell whether “in theater” or via joystick.


Good Kill (2014)

Ethan Hawke, January Jones, Zoë Kravitz

Directed by

Andrew Niccol

Written by

Andrew Niccol

Other Info

1h 42min
Drama, Thriller

Writer/Director Andrew Niccol has an impressive resume: 2014 Good Kill, 1998 The Truman Show, 1997 Gattaca, and more. Good Kill is just the latest impressive project he’s done. It deals with the individual conscience amidst a system that goes against it.

Major Thomas Egan, Ethan Hawke, is a grounded pilot. He has become part of a secretive force that controls drones in Afghanistan by controls resembling that of an XBox. He is stationed in Las Vegas and goes to kill every day in a portable room of sorts where the remote equipment is kept. There are many rooms like this. In fact, Egan is not alone in his daily kills. He has a team with him.

In charge of Egan’s team is Lt. Colonel Jack Johns (Bruce Greenwood). Being a huge fan of his, I was glad to see him in this role. I liked the character because he wore his heart on his sleeve. He shared his difficulties with the drone kills they were doing. Still, he never breached his orders and did what he was told from his commander.

Egan starts regretting what he has to do every day. He begs the Colonel to put him back in the plane but that seems like it will never happen. Egan starts seeing rape and murder happening and he is told to stick to the orders. He is told the rapist “is a bad man but not their bad man.” He is ordered to let him be.

Events like this and others like collateral damage he witnesses cause profound strain on Egan. He starts drinking and neglecting his wife and kids. From there we starts to see him crumble and we learn through his story what this sort of remote warfare can do to an individual.

This film is done very well. The obvious comparisons to XBox games like Call of Duty are there but it’s more about real war I think. How many of theirs do we have to kill until they stop killing us? Is this sort of warfare that is going on now in real life actually protecting us from terrorism? So many questions like these are raised in this film. I would have liked it if they gave more background on his type of warfare and showed the connection to video games. It was alluded to that there is a connection but seeing that as part of the story would have sent a stronger message to the young men and women out there who get vehemently into these games. Because that connection was not explored much, it lost a star for me. I still think this is one of the better films of 2014, I recommend it.


After seeing Alice Lowe as the love interest in “Sightseers” I will recognize her in anything she does I think. She a unique look, beautiful and yet just on edge. You’re left wondering what she will do in every situation. That is very true in “Prevenge” only most would never guess what she’s planning next in this film.

Prevenge (2016)
Not Rated | 1h 28min | Comedy, Drama, Fantasy | 24 March 2017 (USA)

Widow Ruth is seven months pregnant when, believing herself to be guided by her unborn baby, she embarks on a homicidal rampage, dispatching anyone who stands in her way.
Director: Alice Lowe
Writer: Alice Lowe
Stars: Alice Lowe, Dan Renton Skinner, Jo Hartley

Alice Lowe gives us a triple blow here: She is director, writer, and leading lady. This undertaking always impresses me. Sometimes, the quality of the film suffers but in this case it doesn’t. This reminds me of some crazy idea she had maybe in a restaurant some night out after a lot of beverages. The difference between this and most ideas directors have is that she saw it through. The idea for a horror movie is a novel one and it follows a specific rhythm. It is comedy, but black comedy at that. Not everyone will find this funny. Fans of horror surely will. I give this one a 9/10.

‘The Planet of the Apes’ (1968)


‘The Planet of the Apes’ (1968)

Charlton Heston, Roddy McDowall, Kim Hunter

Directed by

Franklin J. Schaffner

Written by

Michael Wilson (screenplay), Rod Serling (screenplay)

Other Info

Adventure, Romance, Sci-Fi
Rated G
1h 52min

Writing this review now in 2016, I was shocked to find this film had a G rating. As a kid growing up 0-10 in the 70’s, I remember certain images from this film that used to creep me out. Plus, it’s so rare that you find a G rated sci fi nowadays. I didn’t understand it in those years but when I hit my twenties, this was one of those films my scooter buddies and I would rent along with other classics like The Godfather and Blade Runner to just trip out on and talk about. It’s of course a timeless classic now and there has been a resurgence of the franchise with a whole new set of CGI movies that are surprisingly good in a different way.

The concept of the franchise is pretty simple: Apes have evolved above man and use him as their slave. In the 60’s the evolution arguments were rampant of church and university grounds so this fit right in with that. Actually seeing these apes likely had a polarizing impact on the religious folk who saw man as greater tha ape. At the same time, I think it infused strength to the IMG_0626argument that man was just another animal and we shouldn’t rule over animals in the sometimes harmful ways that we do. BUt that is just the “ape level.” There is much here about science and faith. In the original film, there is talk of “scrolls” and “heresy” by the humans and apes who help them. f you know Christian subculture or have observed it, these references are accurate and quite funny.

I love the prosthetic masks in the movie. They look camp at first but you really get used to them after a while because the costumes and backgrounds are so masterfully crafted. It reminds me of a Twilight Zone episode for good reason: Rod Serling, creator of the Twilight Zone, co-wrote the screenplay. This movie is something to look at. Most the outdoor footage was filmed at Lake Powell. It resembles Mars or some other uninhabited planet. In this film, a crew was sent into the future but something went wrong. As a result, they have to try to survive and escape from a civilization of apes that speak and are much like intelligent humans.

While there among the apes, they see the effects of man’s greed and imperfections. The apes have an opportunity to see themselves as well but they are not as interested. There is a bit of a “not-friendly” history in the scrolls and therefore humans are not to be listened to.

Charlton Heston plays the lead human, George Taylor, and he is so much fun to watch. He has interaction with a slave who cannot speak and there is some chemistry there but hardly enough to call the story a romance, as IMDB does. Roddy McDowell plays Cornelius, the scientist ape that buys in to the intelligence of humans. His partner Zira, played by Kim Hunter, is devoted to humans as much as she can be in her society. It was sort of like a Jane Goodall and the chimps kind of thing. At the end Taylor asks her for a kiss and she says shyly, “But you’re so ugly.” That is a fun scene because it’s an opposite scene. If you recall the Twilight Zone episode when the woman is in face bandages the whole episode and at the end you find out they are trying to make her ugly, she is actually beautiful. It is in the eye of the beholder. Serling loves taking structures apart and letting the audience put them back together, or not. Planet of the apes is one of the most classic examples of his style in doing that. We may not question our own systems but if we see an ape and an actor talking, maybe we cab deconstruct theirs and return smarter, changed for the better. Most of all, this movie is for the open-minded or those who are open to becoming more open-minded. *raises hand*

Speaking of being open-minded, the stunts in this film are about as real as an outdoor rodeo during the clown show. When Taylor gets sprayed with a firehose, you see every sinew in his neck flexed. I love his over acting. The movie is meant to be serious sci-fi but watching some of these stunts makes you think of the comedy of later decades like Airplane or Scary Movie. Other props and effect in the film are almost comical in their representation of seriousness. There is a cadaver in the space pod that looks just like Norman Bates’ dear fake looking mummified mother in Psycho. My point is not to jeer or belittle these poor effects but rather to praise a film that evokes such a powerful response from so many people worldwide in spite of these simple stunts and props. Once again it is proof that directors don’t need a palette of CGI to make a film popular with audiences. This film evokes a response and takes itself seriously. If you have a good story, this film proves that is just about all you need to make a hit.


In conclusion, I had a lot of fun going to see this film recently in the theaters through Fathom events’ TCM series. I was just as entertained as I have been with any recent films I really liked. I know almost every director out there has seen this film but I hope they can start to follow its movie making wisdom more closely. We need less CGI (done badly, I don’t mind it when it’s done well) and more good story surrounded by people with passion and the desire to evoke an audience response.

True Grit (1969)

When you see John Wayne and Glen Campbell starring in a film from 1969, you know you’re getting a film with true grit! That’s the theme here. The teenage girl wants a man with it to track down and kill her father’s murderer. This film is an unchallenged classic loved for 4 decades by western lovers worldwide.

True Grit (1969)
G | 2h 8min | Adventure, Drama, Western | 21 June 1969 (Japan)

A drunken, hard-nosed U.S. Marshal and a Texas Ranger help a stubborn teenager track down her father’s murderer in Indian territory.
Director: Henry Hathaway
Writers: Charles Portis (novel), Marguerite Roberts (screenplay)
Stars: John Wayne, Kim Darby, Glen Campbell

The director here, Henry Hathaway, is noted for his 67 films he directed. When do we see that sort of accomplishment in today’s directors? Judging by the titles ie; “The Shoot Out” etc., He knew the western genre well.

The appeal for this film for me is in it’s simplicity. Rooster Cogburn (Wayne) is a bad-ass and that’s why the girl wants to seek him out. You contrast her youth and innocence on the trail with his and you have a vibrant show of shootouts and shenanigans. Glen Campbell is at his best in this also. Furthermore I like old westerns like this because they give you a chance to digest things. Many modern ones fill the space with over violence and they aren’t as enjoyable.

As a western that does just what you’d expect of it, I give this film a 10/10.