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By Vernor Rodgers
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"SPIRAL"

"Spiral" is not a "Saw" reboot. It is presented as the next chapter. Under the directorial guidance of Darren Lynn Bousman, who brought us "Saw" 2, 3 and 4, and written by Josh Stolberg and Pete Goldfinger, who penned 2017's "Jigsaw," it provides all the nasty ingredients of the "Saw" series.

The basic premise is that certain people who have been less than virtuous in life are captured and essentially convicted by a mysterious madman who delivers his own punishment in a mentally as well as physically devastating way: Pay for your indiscretions by either mutilating yourself or dying. Your choice.

In "Spiral," the target of this self-appointed punisher is the police force. Police corruption / brutality has been a source of movies before and is highlighted in "Spiral." Specific infractions brought to light in this film include false testimony in criminal trials, trigger-happy officers and upper-level police executives who turn a blind eye to misconduct.

Chris Rock, who served as one of seven executive producers of "Spiral" -- it seems every movie these days has a crowded bullpen of executive producers, regular producers and co-producers, making it a miracle that, with all those cooks hovering over the pot, any movies get made at all -- has the starring role as Det. Zeke Banks, who is kind of a cross between Serpico and Harry Callahan. Despite being the son of the revered former police chief Marcus Banks, Zeke has to watch his back at all times because he ratted out a partner who shot a potential and defenseless witness. Zeke, like Callahan, employs some unorthodox and lawfully ambiguous means of nabbing bad guys.

When the first victim of the seemingly copycat Jigsaw murders, triggering grim memories of the atrocities committed by John Kramer (Tobin Bell), the original Jigsaw, is thought to be a homeless person but is in fact a police officer, Zeke first has to butt heads with management to take the lead on the investigation and also take on a new partner, William Schenk (Max Minghella). Meanwhile, Zeke has been alienated from his father Marcus (Samuel L. Jackson), and it takes this grisly case to bring them together.

When a second detective is found horribly murdered, it is evident police are the targeted victims. Zeke has to decipher clues, delivered in sweet little ribbon-tied packages, to uncover who the perpetrator is before the body count mounts.

For fans of the "Saw" series, this movie, like the slasher series of "Halloween," "Friday the 13th," "A Nightmare on Elm Street," and other franchises like "Final Destination" and "Paranormal Activity," will not bring much new to the story. The gimmick here is the various ways the murders are carried out as well as the mystery of who is committing these hideous murders now that John Kramer is dead.

The cast is serviceable, although Rock does seem to struggle to reign in his comedic leanings. Bousman is something of a legend in the horror film realm. He knows how to deliver on grittiness, suspense and uncompromising and graphic violence. "Saw" fans no doubt approach "Spiral" with reserved optimism. This movie has been set up to make sequel(s) likely down the road. We'll have to see where it goes from here.

"Spiral" Official Trailer:  https://youtu.be/JjE3LNm48hE

"PSYCHO GOREMAN" (Shudder)

My friends Jen and Sylvia Soska ("American Mary," "Rabid") were touting on social media this movie that is currently available on Shudder. I can see why they recommended it. Not a classic by any means it nevertheless deserves kudos for its attempt to take a familiar story -- ancient evil overlords and gods that seem unable to put the finishing touches on their bitter and deadly rivalries, thus allowing these unpleasantries to fester for centuries then explode in modern times -- and throw it off the rails.

Written and directed by Steven Kostanski, "Psycho Goreman" is comedy-horror with some hits and some misses but the overall impression is that of a little film that does not take itself seriously and is a fun little twist on horror-scifi-superhero-villains capers.

An evil and murderous overlord somehow ends up buried in the backyard of a home on Earth in which dwells a mother and father and two children. Nita-Josee Hannah is Mimi and Owen Myre is Luke, Mimi's older brother. Hannah exudes a lot of potential as Mimi, a bullying, narcissistic pre-teen who rules over older brother Luke and doesn't bow much to the directives of her parents, Greg (Adam Brooks) and Susan (Alexis Kara Hancey).

Mimi and Luke engage in a multi-layered and complex variation of dodge ball and in a sinister conclusion in this game, the loser -- Luke naturally -- has to dig his own grave. While doing this he uncovers a glowing amulet of which Mimi takes possession. But they have unknowingly opened a portal that allow this overlord to escape.

His first three victims are a trio of drug-addled thieves-murderers who are dispatched in brutal ways although one who begs to be spared is granted this wish but is put into a horrifying purgatorial set-up that has him wishing he could die.

When the overlord encounters Mimi and Luke and sees that the girl possesses the amulet he needs to resume his deadly campaign, he also discovers they look upon him with no fear, only curiosity and when Mimi realizes she can control the menacing dude as long as she has the amulet, he sort of becomes a pet and wishmaster. Mimi and Luke name him Psycho Goreman, or PG for short.

 Meanwhile in some galaxy far far away, a committee of gods, who look like they could have their own special reserved table among the creatures at the canteen in Mos Eisley, have felt a disturbance in the force and realize this overlord, a mortal enemy, is on the loose again. After some discussion reminiscent of school board or city council meetings, Pandora takes it upon herself to go to Earth and rid the universe of PG for good.

Had she known what PG was enduring on Earth she might have dropped the whole thing. Reduced to watching television and being a local novelty, PG cannot even impress his captors with stories of his ultra-violent past. He does get to zombify a police officer and turn a neighborhood kid into a huge meandering brain. But when he is allowed to summon some allies to help him in his inevitable battle against the gods, this plan goes awry.

Where does this all lead to? Well, a child's way of solving a conflict  -- a game.

And the ending features a perverse offshoot of the sappy, love-conquers-all conclusion.

It appears that a lot of money was put into the creature designs and gory special effects, hence a cast of relative unknowns. Matthew Ninaber had the difficult task of taking on the physical role of PG, one of those makeup jobs that takes hours to apply. Steven Vlahos did the voice for PG.

The young cast, Hanna and Myre, does exhibit some potential, and it is worth noting that one of the scariest moments is when Mimi, in the company of dominant entities like PG and Pandora, seethes, "Nobody tells me what to do." Scary indeed.

By the way, director Kostanski was a co-collaborator with Jen and Sylvia Soska on the short-film anthology "The ABCs of Death 2." The Soskas directed the short "T is for Torture Porn," while Kostanski's entry was "W is for Wish."

"Psycho Goreman" Official Trailer:  https://youtu.be/JjE3LNm48hE

"WRATH OF MAN"

Director Guy Ritchie and action superstar Jason Statham team up for the fourth time in "Wrath of Man," having worked together earlier in "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels," "Snatch" and "Revolver." With these two collaborating you know you are getting a film with a lot of physical violence and tons of bullets flying. The consensus of Ritchie aficionados, who undoubtedly have forgiven him for "Swept Away" with Madonna, is that this is a good but not great film of his genre. Less humorous than his earlier efforts but matching up evenly with his well-choreographed, high-adrenalin action sequences.

Statham stars as the mysterious H in "Wrath," and mystery he is. The screenplay, credited to five writers including Ritchie, offer practically no information about H. We know he was married and had a son and a tragedy wrecked that. But is he a good guy or a bad guy?

The story is non-linear and from what we get of this, H is the leader of some sort of lethally efficient group of cleaners. H kills without blinking. His group is bent on tracking down the perpetrators of a crime that tore apart H's family. Hunting down tips that are mostly leading nowhere, H finally gets some traction that has him going undercover and getting a job with an armored car company in Los Angeles. Although he barely passes his training, H proves his chops when his truck is targeted for a robbery and he single-handedly guns down the thieves.

The story basically is a countdown to a final battle between H and the armored truck robbery team that includes the people H wants to dispatch in the name of revenge. These guys, led by Jackson (Jeffrey Donovan), called Sarge by his colleagues, appear to be veterans of Middle East battles, now carrying on as regular family men, who just once in a while pull off well-planned heists. Per usual, this group does have a loose cannon, Jan (Scott Eastwood), who turns out to be the person H would really like to get.

This group is planning what the men hope will be their final, set-for-life robbery, targeting the depot where all the armored trucks of the company, that has employed H, bring in their bags of cash.

H is a man of few words, and in a variance to the usual Statham characters, he doesn't get to kick the crap out of his adversaries. Here he is an expert marksman. He does tangle with a couple of foes but these set-tos lack of brutal ballet expected of Statham.

The film offers moral ambiguity. This crack team of robbers does seem to consist of dedicated family men and no doubt respected former military operatives. The plannings of their heists are designed to minimize if not eliminate any killings. They prey on the idea that armored truck security people, when it comes down to it, may not want to put their lives on the line because, well, it's not THEIR money being stolen.

It may have been Ritchie's intent to leave us wondering if, aside from revenge, H was the man to be rooting for.

"Wrath of Man" Official Trailer:  https://youtu.be/JjE3LNm48hE

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