By Vernor Rodgers
Find out where it's playing
I am a grizzled old movie fan who recalls
the way low-budget films -- often affectionately known as B movies
-- were marketed. The prevailing strategy was to book these movies
into theaters as the second of a double feature, teamed up with a
better financed movie to give it some exposure before farming it out
to the badlands of late-night television. In the final days of the
drive-in theaters, sometimes three B movies would be offered on a
bill as a nice cheap evening of a triple feature for one low price.
As the home video market took off, there was
a new fate for these movies, the good old straight-to-video racket.
Finance the movie but just have it mass produced as a home-market
product with the other cash flow coming from sale to the pay-TV
In those days, the low-budget movie looked
very cheap indeed with inappropriate shooting locations, bad
cinematography, bad scripts and cast with a seemingly endless supply
of the much-maligned but underappreciated struggling actors and
As I have noted before, thanks to technology
and the continued creativity and resourcefulness of many people,
low-budget movies these days look great. And there are many of us
aficionados of film who applaud these indie efforts that are bucking
the trend of the mainstream film industry and putting out
cutting-edge movies that may not garner mass appeal but do draw
The past couple of months I have taken a
look at two indie projects that are worthy of a look -- Jason Lee's
Western "Badland," which drew a respected cast of Mira Sorvino,
Bruce Dern, Amanda Wyss, Jeff Fahey and Tony Todd; and the remake of
David Cronenberg's "Rabid," directed by Jen and Sylvia Soska
Brandon Slagle is an indie director who
doesn't seem to slow down. His acting credits date back to 2005 (he
appeared on an episode of Sesame Street) and he also has been
directing shorts and feature-length movies since that time.
His movies have explored notorious crimes
("The Black Dahlia Haunting," "House of Manson"), delved into action
thrillers ("Escape from Ensenada") and science fiction
("Crossbreed," which recently was nominated by Film Threat as Best
In recent weeks his horror film, "The Dawn,"
got a limited release in theaters throughout the country in
conjunction with an availability of various VOD platforms.
Slagle also writes the screenplays to his
movies, and with "The Dawn" he collaborated with Elliot Diviney on
"The Dawn" is the story of Rose, who as a
teen (played by Teilor Grubbs) is the only survivor of a horrifying
tragedy perpetrated by her father William (Jonathan Bennett), a
World War I vet and obviously a very disturbed individual. Young
Rose is sent to a convent, as she has nowhere else to go.
A decade passes and Rose (now played by
Devanny Pinn) is still at the convent but hesitating in taking the
final steps to become a nun. She is plagued with bad dreams, or are
they? It seems the same inner demons that haunted her father have
tagged along with her.
Even the convent, a massive and intimidating
structure, exudes an ambience of dread.
A fellow sister, Sister Ella (Stacy Dash) is
one who voices concerns about Rose, who can appear docile but seems
on the edge of going crazy.
Meanwhile, Jeremiah (Ryan Kiser, who played
Charles Manson in "House of Manson") is an enigmatic fellow who
seems to hold some unnamed position at the convent but comes off as
the creepy janitor or maintenance worker who appears to have some
Pinn, who was chilling as Susan Atkins in
"House of Manson," delivers Rose in a wrenching way, young and
haunted, her faith being challenged as she is stalked by some real
or imagined terror even as she should have sanctuary with the walls
of such a sacred place as a convent.
The "dawn" referred to in the title is
brought forth at the end with a tie-in that I thought was really
"The Dawn" is a moody film and for the most
part is more atmospheric as it explores the good vs. evil aspect of
life on Earth and in the spiritual world.
As is the case in indie films, sometimes
people involved in the movie have to wear two hats. Both Kiser and
Pinn served as producers for "The Dawn." And Slagle does appreciate
talent and gives it a chance to develop. Julie Rose, who worked with
Slagle in "House of Manson," playing Leslie Van Houten, has a small
but tragic role as Rose's mother Frances, desperately trying to
embrace faith and keep her family together even as she helplessly
sees her husband falling to pieces.
The cinematography by David M. Brewer and
Lance Rand is superb. For a holy place, this convent was cold and
that was captured well as part of the film's dark and foreboding
Some reviews in IMBD have blasted "The
Dawn," claiming bad acting. Say what? That is an assessment that is
easily made by people who never have tried acting. What was demanded
of Pinn in her role was not easy and had to be exhausting. The
acting in this movie was fine (and yes, I have seen some wooden
acting in indie films, but not here).
"The Dawn" will be released on DVD Feb. 25.
Coming off his box-office hit
"Aladdin," after the flop of "King Arthur: Legend of the Sword,"
director-writer Guy Ritchie returns to the crime drama/comedy genre
-- he helmed "Snatch" and Rocknrolla" -- with "The Gentlemen," and
it is a delight.
Although Matthew McConaughey is top-billed
in this movie, he really does not get as much screen time as
co-stars Charlie Hunnam and Hugh Grant.
The movie flows along mostly in flashbacks
when Grant as unscrupulous private detective Fletcher pays a visit
to the home of Hunnam's Ray, who is McConaughey's character Michael
Pearson's right-hand man.
Pearson is a man who rose in the drug world
and now is one of England's top producers-distributors of marijuana.
Pearson can be vicious but takes pride in noting that his product
does not lead to deaths that can occur with heroin. With marijuana
about to become legal and with Pearson wanting to have time to spend
with his wife, Rosalind (Michelle Dockery), he is on the verge of
finalizing a sale of his business to the wealthy Matthew (Jeremy
But Fletcher has been nosing around and his
visit to Ray is strictly to extort a couple of million pounds or
else he will deliver some damaging goods to Big Dave (Eddie Marsan)
the publisher of a big tabloid.
So Fletcher reveals what he has uncovered
with all the expected twists and turns and double-crosses and perils
that go with the territory in crime. There are colorful characters
like Dry Eye (Henry Golding), Lord George (Tom Wu), Phuc (Jason
Wong) -- the way his name is mangled by others in this movie is
hilarious -- and Coach (Colin Farrell).
McConaughey is cool and collected as
Pearson, and when Ray doesn't seem to get perturbed as Fletcher
reveals what he knows, it is easy to suspect Ray and Pearson have
some cards up their sleeves.
"The Gentlemen" challenges the viewer to pay
attention and then lets you in on the little things you should have
noted. The humor is dark and the plot rolls along piling on bit by
bit the ingredients for a great crime caper. At least the viewer,
unlike the characters in the movie, doesn't have to pay exorbitant
life insurance premiums because of the high mortality factor in this
risky law-breaking business.
Light on character development but
heavy on suspense and terror, "Underwater" fits into the horror
genre of horror that suggests if humans go to places where they
probably shouldn't, the results can be understandably devastating.
Kristen Stewart as Nora heads a small cast
of a half-dozen people in a deep-water research facility that is
rocked by what feels like an earthquake. Their means of a quick
evacuation decimated, these people, led by Captain (Vincent Cassel),
must leave the protection of the now compromised facility and trek
along the ocean floor that is some 6 miles beneath the surface to
another structure where some escape pods are located. Dealing with
limited oxygen supply, claustrophobic conditions, murky and
mysterious water and God knows what else, the crew encounters the
usual problems and then realize to their horror that lurking in
these deep waters can be some truly horrifying and deadly forces.
"Underwater" is basically a body-count
horror movie, as the audience tries to guess who will make it and
who won't and who will be the heroes when the clinch time comes.
The production crew, under the direction of
William Eubank, deserves kudos for the sets and creating a stunning
experience of menacing deep-water challenges.