Film Review: A Day To Die (dir by Wes Miller)

A Day To Die is a low-budget action film with a ludicrously complicated plot.

The film opens with an elite SWAT team reacting to a terrorist incident in a small town.  A group of white supremacists have taken over a hundred hostages in a high school.  An elite SWAT team, led by Brice Mason (Frank Grillo) and Connor Connolly (Kevin Dillon), attempt to rescue the hostages but a mistake leads to the school blowing up and many of the hostages dying.  Corrupt police chief Alston (Bruce Willis) breaks up the SWAT team.  Some of the members become auto mechanics.  Some of them become drug addicts.  Connor becomes a …. parole officer.

A year or so later, Connor is forced to kill one of the henchmen of the local drug lord, Pettis (Leon).  Pettis is upset because, by his estimation, the dead man would have brought in over two million dollars over the course of his career.  Pettis orders Connor to steal two million to pay off his “debt.”  Pettis gives Connor 12 hours to find the money and, just for good measure, he kidnaps Connor’s pregnant wife (Brooke Butler).

Pettis suggests that Connor get the money by robbing a rival’s drug house.  With no other choice, Connor puts in a call to Brice and soon, the old SWAT team has gathered in a garage.  Quicker than you can say Fast and Furious, the team is talking about how they’re family.  If Connor needs them to rob a bunch of drug dealers, that’s what they’re going to do.  However, they’re also going to take down Pettis in the process.  Of course, what they don’t realize is that Pettis has a connection of his own with Chief Alston.

Probably the best thing that can be said about A Day To Die is that Bruce Willis seems to be remarkably steady on his feet.  This was one of the batch of films that Willis made before his family announced that he was retiring from acting.  Knowing what we now know about not only his health but also the allegations that Willis wasn’t always sure what type of films he was being singed up for, it’s always a bit awkward to watch his last few films.  But, in A Day To Die, Willis actually gives a credible performance as the corrupt police chief.  Though there’s not much of evidence of the swaggering wise guy charisma that made Willis a star, Willis still delivers his lines convincingly and he seems to be invested in the character.  While I’m faintly praising the film, I should also mention that Leon appears to be having fun with the role of the sharply-dressed drug dealer and Frank Grillo is his usual rugged self.  They’re all good enough to keep you watching.

Unfortunately, Kevin Dillon uses the same facial expression that he used when he played Johnny Drama on Entourage and, as a result, it’s a bit difficult to take him seriously as an action hero.  (If anything A Day To Die seems like the type of film that everyone would laugh at Johnny for doing while Vince was appearing in Martin Scorsese’s Gatsby.)  Ultimately, the film is done in by an overcomplicated plot that really doesn’t hold up to close scrutiny.  As entertaining as Leon is, Pettis’s actions never really make sense.  In the end, A Day To Die is better than American Siege but nowhere close to Gasoline Alley.

Lifetime Film Review: Killer Dream Home (dir by Jake Helgren)

Oh Hell yeah!

Now, this is a good Lifetime film!

Basically, Killer Dream Home tells the story of Jules (Maiara Walsh) and Josh Grant (John DeLuca).  They’re young.  They’re married.  They’re hot.  Josh never wears a shirt, which is kind of nice.  They’ve just bought a gigantic house that they’re planning on flipping, though there’s no way I would ever give up that house because it’s seriously one of the best that I’ve ever seen.  I mean, the pool alone is bigger than my back yard.  They invite their friend, Bliss (Brooke Butler), to come live with them.  You know that you’ve made it when you’ve got a blonde friend named Bliss.

They also end up hiring an interior designer named Morgan (Eva Mauro) but it turns out that Morgan might not be as perfect as their new house.  First off, it turns out that Morgan’s entire portfolio was made up of pictures that she cut out of magazines.  As soon as Morgan shows up, the first thing that she does is scare away the gardener, with whom she appears to have some sort of deep, dark history.  The second thing she does is suggest to Jules that Josh might be cheating on her with Bliss.  The third thing she does is get undressed while Josh is watching.  Morgan attempts to seduce Josh and Josh is all like, “Just because I don’t own a shirt, that doesn’t make me a man whore!”

And so it goes.  It all leads to murder, of course.  It always does.

Killer Dream Home has everything that you could possibly want from a Lifetime film.  It features beautiful people, beautiful houses, a lot of sex, and a few murders.  (Morgan doesn’t hold back when it comes to killing people.  Just as Jake is apparent allergic to shirts, Morgan is allergic to following a moral code.)  Jake Helgren has directed a lot of these films and he definitely knows not only what the audience wants but also how to deliver it.  Some might complain that Killer Dream Home is not a particularly realistic film but realism is not what we watch films like this for.  We watch films like this for handsome husbands who never wear a shirt and dangerous femme fatales who wear scandalous bathing suits while using the pool.  Lifetime films, at their best, create their own sort of alternative dream world and that’s certainly what Killer Dream Home accomplishes.

Killer Dream Home is a film that you experience more than you watch.  It’s a journey into the heart of Lifetime melodrama, where every house is big and everyone is sexy and every stranger has a mysterious past.  Watch this film for the house and the clothes and the wonderfully arch dialogue.  Watch it for Eva Mauro’s unapologetically intense performance.  Watch it for the scene where Morgan narrowly misses Bliss with a nail gun and then attempts to laugh it off. That nail gun gets quite a workout in Killer Dream Home.  I should probably pick one up because they seem to be very useful.

Killer Dream Home is Lifetime at its best!

Spring Breakdown: The Sand (dir by Isaac Gabaef)

The 2015 horror film, The Sand, is the movie that asks, “What would you do if the beach was literally eating you?”

The answer, to judge from this film, is “Die.”

I mean, seriously, think about it.  If you’re on the beach and you’re still hungover from the night before and your friend is like literally trapped inside of a trash can (and yes, that does happen in this movie), then you’re pretty much screwed if the sand suddenly decides to start ripping apart your body.  I mean, that’s one thing about the beach.  There’s a lot of sand.  The sand has the advantage.

Of course, despite the title of this movie, it’s not really the beach that’s eating people.  Instead, it turns out that some sort of previously unknown sea serpent hatched out of an egg in the middle of the night and burrowed under the sand.  We don’t learn much about the serpent, other than it has tentacles and it apparently injects a numbing poison into your body before killing you.  That leads to a lot of scenes of people sinking into the sand while screaming, “I’ve gone numb!  I can’t feel anything!”  I can’t remember if anyone in the film actually yells, “The sand’s got me!”  It seems like a missed opportunity if they didn’t.

This is one of those movies that opens with a big spring break party, which means booze, lost bikini tops, and drunken hook-ups in the lifeguard tower.  As I mentioned before, it also means that one unfortunate fellow ends up getting tossed into a trash can, where he promptly gets stuck.  Making things even worse is that his friends use a felt tip marker to draw a penis on his face.  He’s definitely not going to die a dignified death.  That’s just the way things go when the beach turns on you.

The next morning, a few people wake up and discover that almost everyone else from the party has disappeared.  That probably has something do with the fact that only a few people were smart enough to fall asleep somewhere other than on the sand.  So, you’ve got one couple in a lifeguard station.  And then you’ve got four people in a car.  And then you’ve got the poor guy in the trashcan.  They’ve got to figure out how to get to safety without getting eaten by the beach.

They also have to work out their own personal issues.  For instance, one of the girls in the car cheated with the girl in the station’s boyfriend and the boyfriend happens to be in the car so there’s a lot of scenes of people apparently forgetting that they’re on the verge of dying so that they can argue about who cheated first.  It gets kind of annoying.  I would put all that personal stuff to the side if I was trying to figure out how not to get eaten on the beach.

(Actually, I probably wouldn’t.  Sometimes, personal drama just can’t wait.  But then again, I’d never survive a horror film….)

On the plus side, The Sand doesn’t take itself seriously at all.  It knows that it’s a ludicrous, low-budget horror film and it doesn’t pretend to be anything other than what it is.  Jamie Kennedy shows up as a fascist beach patrol guy.  When he’s told that his shoes are the only thing that’s dissuading the beach from eating him, he promptly takes his shoes off.  He’s an idiot.  Everyone in the movie is an idiot.  But the movie understand that they’re all idiots and it plays up the fact because it understands that everyone watching is going to be on the side of the monster under the sand.  GO, MONSTER, GO!

So, I guess my point is that The Sand is what it is.  It knows its audience and it goes out of its way fulfill their expectations and you always have to give credit to a film that understands both its strengths and its limitations.  If you want to watch a bunch of unlikable college students get eaten by the beach, have had it.  This film has what you’re looking for.

What Lisa Watched Last Night #143: Online Abduction (dir by Steven R. Monroe)

This weekend, as I recovered from our latest Horror Month here at the Lens, I watched the latest Lifetime original film, Online Abduction.


Why Was I Watching It?

So, as our long-time readers can probably imagine, last month was an exhausting time here at the Shattered Lens.  Though I don’t have an exact count, I believe that I personally wrote over 150 reviews for October.  When Halloween finally arrived I was on the verge of collapse.  What better way to decompress than by watching the latest film on Lifetime?

What Was It About?

Isabel (Brooke Butler) is a teenager with issues.  Her mother (Natalia Livingston) ignores her.  Her stepfather (David Chokachi) is overly critical of her.  Her 3 year-old brother gets the all the attention.  Feeling unwanted by her family, Isabel spends most of her time online or hanging out with her friends, all of whom spend most of their time online as well.

However, one day, her little brother is abducted.  With her parents blaming her and the FBI turning out to be surprisingly inefficient, Isabel takes it upon herself to find out what has happened to her little brother.  And, fortunately, she knows how to use the internet to do it…

What Worked?

Most Lifetime movies are basically about unappreciated mothers whose daughters refuse to take their advise until it’s almost too late.  The film usually ends with the daughter hugging her mom and admitting that she should have listened to her mother from the beginning.  Online Abduction, however, tweaks the formula.  This time, it’s the daughter who knows best and the mom who should have listened to her from the beginning.

As well, most Lifetime film present the internet as being an instrument of the devil.  So, it was interesting to see a Lifetime film where the internet was not only a good thing but also the key to solving all of the world’s problems.  (Online Abduction was pretty much the epitome of a “the internet can do anything!” movie.)

What Did Not Work?

The mystery was a bit pedestrian.  I kept waiting for some big twist and it never came.  Online Abduction lacked the type of over-the-top, batshit crazy melodrama that a lot of us look forward to when it comes to Lifetime movies.

“Oh my God!  Just like me!” Moments

I related to Isabel.  It’s not easy being a teenager.

Lessons Learned

The kids are alright and the Internet can solve anything.

Trailer: All Cheerleaders Die


Lucky McKee is one of my favorite horror filmmakers since I first saw his 2002 film May. I’ve followed his career since and last year he premiered his latest horror film during the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival.

All Cheerleaders Die will have a limited release this summer and will most likely be available on Video On-Demand soon after. Whether I see it on the big-screen or in the comfort of my own home I know for a fact that my partner-in-crime, Lisa Marie, will be watching this as well. She won’t be able to resist after just seeing the title alone. It’s right up her wheelhouse, so to speak.