Tag Archives: Lio Tipton

Reptiles Never Say Die

Riddle of Fire

by Matt Weiner

An inseparable band of foul-mouthed children drawn into a fairytale-like quest might sound very of the moment, but Riddle of Fire shows how much richness there is to explore in the hands of a unique voice that doesn’t settle for pastiche.

It’s hard to pin down any single genre that gets loving attention from writer-director Weston Razooli, but imagine the Goonies adventuring through the world of Mandy… and it only gets dreamier from there.

Children Alice (Phoebe Ferro), Hazel (Charlie Stover) and Jodie (Skyler Peters) liven up their summer vacation by stealing a video game console, only to be thwarted by a lock on the family television. In exchange for game time, the kids must bake a blueberry pie to cheer up Hazel and Jodie’s sick mother (Danielle Hoetmer).

When a key ingredient gets snatched up by John Redrye (Charles Halford), the trio—who call themselves the Immortal Reptiles—follow him back to his house, where he lives with the cult-like Enchanted Blade. When they accidentally stow away in the cult’s truck on a trip into the woods to hunt a prized stag, the group hardly notices that their afternoon has gone from whimsical fetch quest to life-or-death survival.

As the kids play a game of cat and mouse with the cultists, Razooli heightens the fairytale elements. The cult leader, a witch named Anna-Freya (played with beguiling menace by Crazy, Stupid, Love.’s Lio Tipton ), figures out they are not alone. It is only with the help of her daughter Petal (Lorelei Mote), a princess with powers of her own, that the children manage to outsmart the gang and escape back into town—but not away from danger.

Razooli’s mix of humor and danger ratchets up the suspense for any adult watching the movie even as the young heroes remain defiantly unbothered. It’s a proper fairytale, and also a stylish throwback to an era of movies that delight in the mischief of featuring young kids getting into real trouble.

But Riddle of Fire rises above other nostalgic retreads in the way it commits to the mystery and unease of the world Razooli creates for a remarkably assured feature debut. The film captures the spirit of adventure for weird kids in a grown-up world. And how sometimes it’s worth risking everything to play a cool video game.

Go West, Young D-bag


by George Wolf

As you may have noticed, we’re living in extraordinary times. So when we’re looking back decades from now, what film commentaries will separate themselves as the most insightful of the day?

In the words of Sammy Hagar, only time will tell what stands the test of time. But there are two releasing just this week that seem like good bets to at least make the team picture.

Quinn Shephard’s Not Okay takes some satirical daggers to the social media age, while Vengeance broadens the focus for a lightly comical mystery with some hot button issues on its mind.

It’s the feature debut as writer and director for familiar face B. J. Novak, and it instantly marks him as a smart, sly, and entertaining storyteller.

Novak (Saving Mr. Banks, Inglourious Basterds, TV’s The Office) also stars as Ben, a writer for the New Yorker who wants to be more. He wants to be a “voice.” Fate steps in when he’s lured to West Texas after the fatal opioid overdose of his occasional hookup Abilene (Crazy, Stupid, Love‘s Lio Tipton). Abi may have been little more than a fling, but Abi’s family thinks she and Ben were a longtime committed couple.

They also think Abi was murdered, and when her brother Ty (Boyd Holbrook, terrifically nutty) proposes a teamup to avenge Abi’s death, Ben seizes the chance to pitch a “Dead White Girl” true crime podcast to his editor Eloise (Issa Rae, always welcome).

Early on, Novak gets laughs from throwing a “hundred percent, hundred percent” New York hipster into the home of an eccentrically red state brood who will teach him many things about Texas, including what makes Whataburger so great.

“It’s right there!”

But as Ben starts piecing together Abi’s last days, and glimpsing her dreams of stardom with a local record producer (Ashton Kutcher, understated and better than he’s ever been), Novak begins weaving some impressive and resonant layers.

Speeches are made and then refuted. Stereotypes are outlined and defended, only to be punctured as Novak and Ben dig deeper, searching for the heart of a “new American reality” that took shape when truth became unacceptable.

From podcasts, conspiracy theories and hot takes to the ideological divide between coastal elites and country bumpkins, Vengeance sure feels like an authentic national portrait.

It’s also a funny and entertaining mystery caper, self-effacing but not afraid to wander into some dark places, with a social conscience that Novak reveals in organic and endearing ways. We are more just the record of ourselves in and around new media, and our evolving societal challenges deserve more than convenient cop-outs.

Sounds like a good start to Novak’s transition into filmmaking.

Hundred percent.