by Philip Price
The Pope's Exorcist
Julius Avery (“Overlord,” “Samaritan”) is a solid genre filmmaker and exercises that muscle well here as the introduction to this ‘Conjuring’ replacement series is expertly paced, emphasizing Russell Crowe’s titular character and how he engages with the possessed as well as focusing on his process rather than solely relying on gross-out spectacle.'
With no winking tone, the characters always consider the “why” in other characters’ archetypal actions lending a certain credibility and depth to the proceedings. Avery also relies heavily on his child actor - a real gamble - but Peter DeSouza-Feighoney pulls it off convincingly without teetering into humor.
“The Pope’s Exorcist” hints at a focus on the politics and optics of exorcisms within the Catholic church, which would have made for a more interesting movie, but Michael Petroni and Evan Spiliotopoulos' screenplay does at least leverage real historical actions of the church for the current consequences it seeks to sow even if it does get bogged down by said backstory.
Despite the early potential, some genuinely freaky visuals, and several scenic shots of Crowe on a Vespa, the film, unfortunately, deteriorates into an MCU-style showdown in which bad CGI hampers an otherwise compelling tale of fantastical experiences. That said, I would watch more of these.
"The Pope's Exorcist" is currently in theaters.
Jalmari Helander's “Sisu” is a fine example of being all you need it to be or more, if you desire that as well. On the outside looking in, if all one requires is a ‘John Wick’ period piece featuring some badass action sequences inspired by revenge then “Sisu” more than fits the bill. If you're looking for the aforementioned qualifier along with some modest exploration of the value we place on financial gain and the sometimes naive thought that it only takes wealth to provide happiness then it has that as well.
That isn't to say Helander's film gets especially deep, but it does use its time period and setting as a way to give audiences the most extreme circumstances under which the value placed on money and the value placed on time was credibly equal. Taking the war genre - specifically that of WWII - and combining it with these unambiguous lines between good and evil and value and worth results in a journey that is as much about fighting for what you've earned as it is fighting for what is right. The Nazis are the bad guys here because there is no middle ground when it comes to Nazis thus justifying the extreme methods our protagonist takes in order to ensure his financial gain and eventually the quieter, simpler future he yearns for.
If one remains on the outside looking in though and views this as a simple genre film of basic ambitions then what it needs is a construction and style that make it stand out which is where “Sisu” truly excels. Helander has heightened and/or elevated everything about what is largely a wordless experience making the imagery that much more vital. The pounding score from Juri Seppä and Tuomas Wäinölä only enhances the magnitude of the journey as well. From the color of the gold Jorma Tommila's hero discovers to the glow it emits emphasizing the intensity of its importance and preciousness Helander and cinematographer Kjell Lagerroos have treated each image as if they were paintings; evoking an iconography that makes the violence more shocking and the action more visceral.
The latter half of the film takes a turn from the hand to hand combat to larger-scale action sequences that feature some dodgy CGI, but it somehow manages to seamlessly lean away from the full-on force of the earlier scenes and into the later kills by fully committing to the campiness and outlandishness of the violence it's depicting. This crossover from pure carnage to camp also aids in the shift from factual to fantasy (or fantastical) and the indication that a plentiful future sometimes comes from a repugnant past. That is if you need a little substance with your stabbing.
Final note, the underwater bit where Tommila's character breathes in oxygen from a neck he’s just slit to avoid resurfacing is possibly the most badass thing I’ve ever seen.
"Sisu" is currently in theaters.
Toni Collette took the assignment and ran! Every minute of “Mafia Mamma” is over the top, cheap (especially in regard to some of the editing and needle drop choices) camp, but it's done with such lowbrow intent that it can’t help but be appreciated. Like, I have no idea who this movie is for, but it’s kind of a blast in how outrageously it commits to the bit.
"Mafia Mamma" can be rented on Amazon Prime Video, AppleTV & YouTube.