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The Gratuitous B-Movie Column: Rook.

September 11, 2020 | Posted by Bryan Kristopowitz

The Gratuitous B-Movie Column Issue #569: Rook.

Hello, everyone, and welcome once again to the internets movie review column that has never been chased through the woods by a homicidal hillbilly drug runner or, really, anyone, because I don’t like going into the woods at all for any reason, The Gratuitous B-Movie Column, and I am your host Bryan Kristopowitz. In this issue, issue number five hundred and sixty-nine, I take a look at the new low budget crime comedy Rook., which came out this past August (August 11, 2020, to be exact).



Rook., also known as Rook (what’s the deal with the official period in the title?), and directed and co-written by Stephen Morgan (Isaac Walsh also co-wrote the script), is a hilarious crime comedy that, while it doesn’t really do anything new, manages to still kick ass and take names. It gets a little too grim towards the end for its own good, but its issues are vastly overwhelmed by a crackerjack script, terrific performances, and an overall sense of fun. That’s what you want in a low budget crime comedy.

Rook. stars Zack Sztanyo as Ben, a dipshit small time criminal that believes he has a fool proof scheme for a big score in his old home town in Colorado. Ben heard from his buddy Kyle (Omid Harrison) and a guy named Paul No Balls (Ben Hilzer) about a deal going down between a mobster named Mr. Leonard (Tom Borrillo) and some “hillbilly motherfuckers” known as the McCloud brothers (Wyatt and Jesse, as played by Zachary Andrews and C. Matt Burns). Basically, as part of the scheme, Ben hopes to get a bag of gold that he can then turn into money. Ben also hopes to use his somewhat estranged sister Annie (Sarah Johanna Jewell) and her bar in town as a kind of meeting place. Ben’s plan, as he explains it, sounds brilliant and easy.

Yes. It sounds brilliant and easy. The reality, of course, is much, much different. And that is where most of the fun of Rook. comes from, watching Ben’s big plan turn to shit immediately. And when things go badly and Ben has to find a way to regroup, he puts Annie, her friend David (Bobby Lee Black), and anyone else who gets involved in serious danger. The McCloud brothers are ruthless and insane, and messing with them is the last thing in the world you want to do. And when they bring in their cousin, a psycho Catholic priest named James the Minnow (Jordan Leigh) to help them exact their revenge, Ben and everyone else better watch the hell out.

As the audience meets Ben (he talks directly to the camera and attempts to explain what he’s up to and where he’s from), you just know that his big scheme is going to end badly for him and, maybe, anyone who gets involved with him. Ben is a funny, fast talking guy who has been on the lookout for the easy/”sure” thing for most of his adult life, never getting it because there’s no such thing as a “sure” thing. And you get the sense that, deep down, Ben probably knows that what he’s doing/always up to is doomed to fail, but he’s also got boatloads of confidence in himself and his abilities so he’s bound to get lucky at some point. Ben’s relationship with Annie is strained, but as soon as you see them interact you totally get why their relationship is strained. You don’t have to know any of the details to realize that they each see the world differently and are unable to connect fully because of that. They don’t really hate one another, but whatever love they have for each other is expected/because they’re family and that’s what family does. There’s a great scene towards the end of the movie where Ben and Annie let their guards down and talk like siblings that care for each other. It’s a fairly quick scene, but it’s a great example of what could have been if they could have found a way to work out their problems with one another.

Annie has a sort of “father/daughter” relationship with David, which you don’t get a chance to fully understand until the very end of the movie. When I first saw them interact I thought there was some kind of romance between them; one of those “older man/much younger woman” things that’s half platonic and half fantasy. They love each other, but it isn’t sexual because that would somehow be inappropriate, but at the same time there’s a sense of sexual tension there. I was dead wrong about all of that. It’s more of a surrogate father type deal. Annie actually says at one point that she doesn’t want David to act like her father anymore because he isn’t her father. On top of that, Annie has a boyfriend, the cop Charlie (Heath C. Heine), so there could never be an actual romance between David and Annie. Annie’s final interaction with David is shockingly uplifting.

Rook., at a lean and mean 70 minutes, doesn’t waste time (I love that). It packs quite a bit of story into its brief running time, and for the most part the movie uses its time wisely. Could some aspects of the movie been expanded a bit? Yes. I would have loved to see more cat and mouse stuff in the woods right after the big mob deal between Mr. Leonard and the McCloud brothers blows up. The movie also could have used more of Mr. Leonard swearing and complaining about the people around him not being Jewish. That stuff is funny as fuck. The movie’s action scenes also should have been less chaotic. There’s a shootout towards the end of the movie on the main drag of the little Colorado town that the movie takes place in and it’s hard to tell what, exactly, is going on. These scenes would have played better if they had been slowed down just a bit so we, like the characters, could get a better lay of the land and understand what the hell is going on. Lew Temple’s great character Bill deserved a better send off. I mean, there’s some suspense here, but it’s more of a “what is going to happen next?” as opposed to “we know what’s going to happen because we can see it coming but the characters in danger can’t” kind of thing. The gunfire also should have been louder. The gunfire doesn’t need to sound like the end of the world is imminent, but if the gun sounds aren’t jarring/scary sounding there’s no danger.

Rook. also would have been greatly served by seeing more of the town so we can get a better understanding of where the town is and what its issues are. How can this town have a shootout on its main street and not cause a major hooha with the other people in town? And if the McCloud brothers are well known to the police, why aren’t they in jail? What the heck is their deal anyway?

The music in Rook. is some of the best I’ve heard in a long time. The music helps set the tone for everything that is happening and moves swiftly between being ridiculous and funny to sad and suspenseful. It’s like it’s another actual character in the movie. Some of the music sounds original, and some of it sounds like library music used for TV commercials. When the movie is over you’ll wish that there was a Rook. soundtrack CD.

As I said earlier, Rook. gets pretty grim towards the end. That grimness isn’t all that surprising, but you do kind of wish that it hadn’t gone grim at all, or at least not as much as it did. You expect characters to die, sure, but do most of them have to die? Does the movie really have to be as violent as it is at the end? Now, don’t get me wrong; what Rook. does at the end is fine and well done. What we see happen makes sense. But I do wonder how the movie would have turned out if it didn’t go the grim route. Could it have worked without the darkness that invades the story? Who knows?

The cast is phenomenal. Zack Sztanyo is so damn good as Ben. He just exudes unearned cockiness and, like I said earlier, you can tell that Ben is a total fuckup as soon as he starts talking. You still kind of like him, though. You want to see how he’s going to make it through his big scheme, even if you know that he’s going to fail at it somehow. Sztanyo knows how to make the comedy parts of Ben’s personality pop out, and he knows how to make the sad parts extra meaningful. He should have talked to the camera more. That would have been a hoot.

Sarah Johanna Jewell is terrific as Annie. She’s smart and tough and seems pretty resourceful, but you can tell that she’s got issues that she’s unsure of how to deal with. You’ll love it when she slams a guy’s face into a shot glass. Bobby Lee Black does a great job as David. He’s a grizzled, world weary badass who also seems like a nice guy. When he starts talking about how he survived a run in with the cartels back in the day you’ll hope that Morgan and Walsh will find a way to make an entire movie about all of that. Black makes you care about that story.

Lew Temple is awesome as Bill. He’s in the movie briefly, but he has a great introduction scene and you will wonder when his opening line will end up on a T-shirt. It really is that memorable. Omid Harrison does an interesting job as Kyle, Ben’s friend. He spends most of the movie high and confused about what’s going on, and he manages to make those characteristics entertaining as opposed to annoying. That’s hard to do. And Kudos to Kyle for his great “face plant into a car windshield” scene.

Zachery Andrews and C. Matt Burns are appropriately scary as the McCloud brothers, Wyatt and Jesse. Wyatt does all of the talking, and Jesse does all of the stabbing. Watch these guys in action and wonder how the hell they’re not in prison. I don’t give a hoot if they are living out in the woods in the middle of nowhere. How are these guys free? Jordan Leigh is superbly psychotic as James the Minnow, a priest that moonlights as a killer thug. How the hell did this guy become a man of the cloth? It boggles the mind. And yet there he is, terrifying people on the street and being a total psycho. Amazing.

And then there’s Tom Borillo as Mr. Leonard. This guy is hilarity personified. You will wish that the movie had more of him swearing and explaining why he has a problem working with people who aren’t Jewish. You know that his reasoning, whatever it is, will likely be offensive and wrong, but you still want to hear it. That’s how good he is. I bet a whole movie could be made about him, too. Just how big of a mobster is he “back east?”

Rook. is a great low budget crime comedy. It’s lively, it’s funny, it’s fun. Even when it gets grim it’s still entertaining. I loved it, and I can’t wait to see what director Stephen Morgan and company do next. Rook. is a definite must see.

See Rook.. See it, see it, see it.

So what do we have here?

Dead bodies: 9

Explosions: 1 (sort of)

Nudity?: None.

Doobage: A nice opening theme, an opening montage of various things, exploding tree branch, a guy talking to the camera, ass slapping, a funny shot glass to the eye/”penny” trick, face punching, guys smoking pot, a casino filled with slot machines, Nyquil drinking in public, a flip phone, bar stuff, an awkward silence, a “two guys getting drunk at a bar” montage, rampant cigarette smoking, snow ball hooey, accidental vehicular assault, brief cocaine snorting, little dust pieces, knife throwing, knife to the chest, bloody stabbing, running through the woods, public urination, bullet to the head, gun throwing, a .50 caliber revolver with a scope that looks like the gun from Armed & Dangerous, gun kicking, shoes and socks stealing, a brief shootout, attempted suffocation by plastic bag, family bullshit, deer, torture, cue ball assault, mild anti-Semitism, a drone shot of the street below, a suit of armor, a drippy sink, a loud record, a shootout on the street, money dropping, another bullet to the head, grenade hooey, hostage taking, attempted prisoner exchange, a kind of duel, yet another bullet to the head, a big secret, a “Do Not Drink Cyanide Solution: sign, a note, and a funny return.

Kim Richards?: None.

Gratuitous: “For Gary,” a guy talking to the camera about Socrates, a “Suck My Richard” T-shirt, talk of a man being arrested for illegally decorating a public Christmas tree, Nyquil drinking in public, family stuff, “Are you Jewish?,” “Hillbilly Motherfuckers,” TV commercial music on the soundtrack, a priest saying “Jesus fucking Christ,” point of view from inside of a bag, a “Keep Gate Closed No Matter What the Donkeys Say” sign, Lew Temple, turning up the volume, a big secret, and a funny return.

Best lines: “When there’s a revolver pointed at your heart you pray, James,” “The bar looks… nice,” “Oh, by the way, the take is five hundred thousand dollars,” “You smell like cat piss. You smell like dog piss,” “You sure you want this? I don’t trust either one of these morons,” “Don’t fuck this up,” “You the guy?,” “Before we go any further I need to know something. Okay, shoot. You a Jew?,” “Just for the record I am Jewish,” “Are you Jewish? No. Can you pretend to be?,” “Kyle. The fucking philistine,” “You know, you’re stiff for a couple of hillbillies,” “Call the Minnow,” “Are you a priest. Sometimes. What?,” “Jesus, what the hell did you do? You told me to kick a loaded gun,” “What the fuck is that? What the fuck is what?” “Don’t show me evidence,” “Don’t talk about my fucking armpits!,” “Blue eyes are the worst,” “I skipped church for you cocksuckers. Better be worth it,” “It’s been a long time since I shot at something breathing,” “There’s a reckoning coming!,” “Goddamn, I love that sound,” and “I’m sorry. For everything.”

Rating: 8.5/10.0


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Things to Watch Out For


The Big Ugly: This is apparently some sort of low budget crime movie where Vinnie Jones (yes, the Vinnie Jones) is the good guy. Ron Perlman, Malcolm McDowell, and D-Day hisself, Brice McGill, are also in the movie. That’s an insanely good cast, isn’t it? According to the plot description on imdb, the movie is about London gangsters investing in some criminal bullshit in West Virginia for some reason. Does that kind of thing happen in real life? I’ve never heard of anything quite like it, but who knows? Definitely worth a rental. Scott Wiper, the man who gave us The Condemned with Jones and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and, sadly, the worst The Marine so far The Marine 3: Homefront.


Range Runners: This appears to be some sort of low budget horror thriller thing about a woman who is attacked in the woods for some reason, and then she gains revenge on her attackers. I’m leery of the movie’s 111 minute running time (I haven’t seen it, but I will still question why this movie has to be almost two hours), but I’m willing to give the movie shot, based solely on the trailer. The star of the movie, Celeste M. Cooper, looks pretty badass in it. Another worthwhile rental, mostly to see if it’s as good as it seems.


Demons Inside Me: Originally known as Jade’s Asylum, this low budget horror flick is apparently about a bunch of rich guys who take a trip to Costa Rica to party and whatnot, meet a bunch of women, and then some really weird and nasty stuff happens. I mean, check out the ghost monster things or whatever they are that appear in the trailer. The special effects look amazing, and if I’m as creeped out by the movie as I am by the trailer, Demons Inside Me could very well be something worthwhile. Anyone out there see this, either under its current title or as Jade’s Asylum?


Routines is now on Tubi!: Routines, the dark comedy that I reviewed here, is now available to stream, for free, on the Tubi TV website. Just go to the Tubi website, put in the movie’s title, and then check it out. It’s worth your time, especially if you’re a fan of dark comedies. And check out my interviews with the director Domenic Migliore and stars Bruce Mann and Anita Nicole Brown (scroll down to the interview section below and click on their respective links).


Next Issue: It’s the low budget thriller Pool Boy Nightmare!


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Well, I think that’ll be about it for now. Don’t forget to sign up with disqus if you want to comment on this article and any other 411 article. You know you want to, so just go do it.

B-movies rule. Always remember that.


Zack Sztanyo– Ben
Sarah Johanna Jewell– Annie
Bobby Lee Black– David
Lew Temple– Bill
Zachary Andrews– Wyatt McCloud
C. Matt Burns– Jesse McCloud
Tom Borillo– Mr. Leonard
Omid Harrison– Kyle
Heath C. Heine– Charlie
Ben Hizler– Paul NO Balls
Jordan Leigh– James “The Minnow”

Directed by Stephen Morgan
Screenplay by Stephen Morgan and Isaac Walsh

Distributed by Gravitas Ventures

Runtime– 70 minutes

Buy it here or here or here