Jinn and Life Itself are currently available on instant Netflix
Jinn (2014) – Rated PG-13
“An earthly crisis prompts a race of beings called the jinn, who’ve walked invisibly among us since the beginning of time, to make themselves known.”
Jinn is a fantasy/horror/thriller hybrid with aspirations higher than its budget. Unfortunately the lack of funding periodically rears its ugly head. The CGI is cheap but generally effective. Good choices were made on when, where, and how to use it. There is a laughable car chase that, thankfully, doesn’t run very long.
For a low budget though, casting is pretty decent. Dominic Rains (Saeed The Pimp in A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night) is our nominal star as Shawn but is overshadowed a bit by his co-stars. Ray Park is well cast for his movement prowess (X-Men, Star Wars Phantom Menace) as Gabriel. He gets what amounts to an extended martial arts scene/montage/dream sequence. William Atherton finally gets a break from playing a professional asshole (Ghostbusters, Real Genius, Die Hard) and gets to be the helpful priest, Father Westhoff.
Faran Tahir (Star Trek, Iron Man), a very recognizable ethnic actor, is good as Ali. Serinda Swan is our resident damsel in distress (darn you stereotypes!), Jasmine. Walter Phelan, who plays the titular character, has made a career out of playing monsters. Interestingly, Phelan previously played a Djinn in Wishmaster.
The story is an odd hodgepodge, trying to take something from Islam and shoehorn it into judeochristian belief. It is certainly a laudable attempt at cross-denominational co-operation. It just comes off a little, well, off. There are a few nice horror sequences, especially the opening one. Jinn is not a great movie but it is an interesting one and makes for a passable waste of an hour and a half, particularly if the description seems to be your bag.
Strangely, like Joss Whedon’s Avengers, there are two post credits sequences, one after credits begin and another at the very end. People know to expect them at the end of various summer movies (so much so that Regal put up a sign during Godzilla, informing patrons that there was no credits sequence) but not so much on small horror productions.
Life Itself (2014) – Rated R
“Follow Roger Ebert from his school newspaper days to his status as America’s premier film critic in this documentary drawn from his memoir.”
Occasionally I poke my head out of the clouds of fantasy, horror, and science fiction to watch a documentary. One I missed at the theater but recently caught on Netflix was Life Itself.
Given that it was a film about Roger Ebert by Steve James, I was a bit concerned that it would be a hagiography. Roger Ebert was an early and fervent champion of Steve James’ Hoop Dreams, helping to put James on the map. I need not have worried.
Life Itself is a good movie and a perfect title, referencing not only the movies that Ebert loved so much but nearly half the movie deals with Ebert’s end of life struggle and his movie review partner’s passing (Gene Siskel). The two of them were where I got all my film criticism when I was growing up and I watched their television series religiously.
Life Itself serves as a nice biography of Roger Ebert but also a harrowing struggle with cancer. Warning: most of the film has Ebert on screen without his jaw, much of the film is devoted to his losing medical battle and this may be disturbing to some.
If you love movies and/or Roger Ebert, this is a fascinating documentary. It is not all that it could be but the access to Ebert at a time when he knew his life was ending is something you won’t forget.
I definitely give this a thumbs up.
R.I.P. Roger and Gene