In the Michigan desert, visually impaired Emily (Midori Francis), who has been kidnapped by her stalker ex-boyfriend Charlie (Michael Patrick Lane), escapes into the woods without her glasses. She makes a panic call to a stranger who recently misdialed her. That stranger, Sam (Jolene Purdy), is a depressed stoner who works just one shift at a seedy Florida gas station. While taking care of customers, including an obnoxiously demanding rich lady (Missi Pyle), Sam acts as Emily’s eyes, guiding her to safety through her cell phone cameras.
Directed by Yoko Okumura from a screenplay by Salvatore Cardoni and Brian Rawlins, the chase thriller “Unseen” opens with this clever premise, and for most of its short run the filmmakers do a lot with it. Its style is snappy, with frequent use of split screens to keep the action clear, and a color scheme that distinguishes sunny Florida from gray Michigan. Its plot is also sharp. A lot of thought has gone into how an old phone or wireless headset can affect Emily and Sam’s communication.
The weaker parts of the movie involve fitting more of Emily and Sam’s backstory as they talk about their lives to keep each other company. Even there though, Francis and Purdy’s performances keep the scenes from feeling too much like an information dump. The cast and crew work very well together in “Unseen,” delivering a tense and inventive picture about two young Asian-Americans helping each other through a terrible day.
‘Invisible.’ Not Rated. 1 hour, 16 minutes. Available on VOD
‘Luther: The Fallen Sun’
When the BBC TV series “Luther” debuted in 2010, it had two big things going for it. He had Idris Elba, already a veteran actor but not yet an international superstar, playing a police detective so committed to taking down the worst of the worst that he frequently bent or even broke the law. It also had creator Neil Cross deftly combining the grimness and violence of modern European mystery stories with the old-fashioned flash and action of a goofy cop movie.
The first “Luther” movie, “Luther: The Fallen Sun,” comes four years after the fifth and (so far) final season of the show. But this “Luther” doesn’t feel as special as the TV version, perhaps because it’s not that unusual these days to see a hard-hitting, pulpy crime flick in which an ethically unstable detective stalks a serial killer.
Elba is still pretty good as anti-hero John Luther, who begins the story in prison due to some of the questionable decisions he’s made over the years. When she inevitably escapes, Luther’s determined former colleague Odette Raine (Cynthia Erivo) mobilizes a team to find him. Meanwhile, manipulative mastermind David Robey (played tastefully entertaining by Andy Serkis) is shocking London by broadcasting torture and murder on the internet.
Most of “Fallen Sun” builds on familiar “Luther” moves as our man dodges Raine while delving into Robey’s story, both ways that raise questions about whether the good guys sometimes need to be bad. Cross and director Jamie Payne (who also directed Season 5 of the show) don’t radically reinvent the franchise here. His budget allows for some bigger sets and a wide variety of locations: from seedy London sex shops to a spooky property in a cold climate. But “Fallen Sun” is best described as a season-long movie-sized version of “Luther,” which, for longtime fans, is better than not having “Luther” at all.
‘Luther: The Fallen Sun.’ R, for disturbing/violent content, language, and some sexual material. 2 hours, 9 minutes. Available on Netflix; also playing theatrically, Bay Theatre, Pacific Palisades
“I have a monster”
Anyone who has seen the six-episode HBO drama from writer-producers George Pelecanos and David Simon “We Own This City” knows the story of the Baltimore Police Department’s Weapons Trace Task Force, which went from being Regarded as a community policing success story, with a phenomenal record for getting guns and drugs off the streets, to become another corruption cautionary tale. The TV series was great; but the Kevin Casanova Abrams documentary “I Got a Monster” is good too, covering the same ground in a more compact runtime, with some fresh perspectives.
Like the limited series, “I Got a Monster” focuses heavily on Sgt. Wayne Jenkins, whose GTTF team was accused of robbing suspects, planting evidence, and harassing law-abiding citizens. Abrams surrounds Jenkins’ story with anecdotes of some of the Baltimoreans who were terrorized and forcibly arrested. The centerpiece of the film is a long and insightful interview with Ivan Bates, a defense attorney who has spotted systematic irregularities in his criminal cases that pointed to something suspicious. The documentary can feel a bit scattered due to its multiple angles, but it’s still a fascinating and relevant story, examining how any criminal justice system built around the idea that cops never lie is ripe for abuse.
“I have a monster.” Not Rated. 1 hour, 30 minutes. Available on VOD
‘Sound of silence’
The Italian film collective known as T3 (made up of writer-directors Alessandro Antonaci, Daniel Lascar and Stefano Mandalà) set out to rattle the nerves of horror fans with “Sound of Silence,” a supernatural thriller that uses sound as a weapon. . After a prologue in which an elderly gentleman (Peter Stephen Wolmarans) is violently assaulted by a ghost conjured up on an old radio, the film focuses on the man’s daughter, Emma (Penelope Sangiorgi), who flies home with her boyfriend. Seba (Rocco Marazzita) to take care of the house while his mother (Sandra Pizzullo) is in the hospital. As Emma, a professional singer, plays with her parents’ home studio equipment, she begins to hear some of the same creepy voices that her father made of her just before he was attacked.
Eventually, the spirits reveal to her the terrible crime that occurred in that house long ago, though not before Emma wanders through many dimly lit and quietly atmospheric scenes, enduring a few jump scares. “Sound of Silence” was expanded from a short film, and frankly, there isn’t enough character development or story here to fill a feature film, and the film’s visual design lacks variety in both its locations and color palette. But the T3 team is very good at building tension through shifting shadows and grinding noise. If nothing else, this film is an effective demonstration of the directors’ ability to lull audiences into a relaxed state before leaving them speechless.
‘Sound of silence.’ Not Rated. 1 hour, 33 minutes. Available on VOD
In writer-director Welby Ings’ debut feature, “Punch,” Jordan Oosterhof stars as the handsome young boxer Jim, loved by the ladies and admired by many of the boys in his New Zealand seaside town. Jim then befriends Whetu (Conan Hayes), an openly gay high school student and aspiring singer-songwriter who occupies a beach shack and suffers verbal and physical abuse from local hooligans. His relationship gradually develops into something more, threatening Jim’s fledgling career, his reputation in the community, and his relationship with his loving but troubled father (Tim Roth). The plot of “Punch” follows a fairly predictable path, teetering towards overheated melodrama in its second half. But Ings does a good job of capturing the instant connection between these two young men and conveying Jim’s combination of excitement and terror as he realizes this bond could easily turn into a romance.
‘Punch.’ Not Rated. 1 hour, 39 minutes. Available on VOD; also playing theatrically, Laemmle Glendale
Also on VOD
“Marlowe” stars Liam Neeson as Raymond Chandler’s iconic literary private eye in an adaptation of a 2014 Benjamin Black novel that offered a new mystery for Philip Marlowe to solve. Directed by Neil Jordan, from a screenplay co-written by Jordan with William Monahan, the film is a cool-looking neo-noir, aimed at anyone who likes retro badass. Available on VOD
“Missing” is something of a follow-up to the hit 2018 thriller “Searching,” which cleverly told a twist-filled story using nothing more than what the characters could see on their computer and cell phone screens. The new film features all-new characters and a new plot, involving a teenage girl (Storm Reid) searching for her missing mother (Nia Long), but sticks to the same innovative “life-on-screen” storytelling format. “. Available on VOD
Available now on DVD and Blu-ray
Mildred Pierce is a classic hybrid of steamy Hollywood melodrama and cold film noir, starring Joan Crawford as a wronged woman who slowly rebuilds her middle-class life after her ex-husband leaves her with next to nothing, but soon discovers that no amount of money she can work out her problems, whether it’s with men or her spoiled teenage daughter (Ann Blyth). The new edition of Criterion on Blu-ray includes a variety of old interviews, as well as a documentary about Crawford. The Criteria Collection