A List of Movie Reviews for Fellow Fans of "THRILLERS"-Original and Always Updated (on 2-4-17)
Denzel Washington time and time again elevates the caliber of any film he touches. To employ the vernacular, "The guy really classes up the joint". His portrayal of Frank, a no-bullsh-- veteran Train Engineer in 2010's "Unstoppable", only serves to perpetuate this career-spanning capacity.
Washington is equal parts compelling and believable in this "based on actual events" story as an ordinary man thrust headlong into extraordinarily volatile circumstances as he struggles to stop a runaway and pilotless train of tankers filled with explosively flammable cargo. Frank is somewhat jaded and cynical, yes, and with fair reason in light of the unseemly politics and the for-crud management he has wrestled with over his decades of rock solid service. It is consistently captivating to witness this fellow grapple with both the enormously stressful situation at hand and the incompetents who inhabit positions of leadership at his railway freight company.
Chris Pine is just fine as the new kid Engineer, Will, working his first day on the job with Frank. However, for my money it isn't anywhere near the authentically impressive performance he generates in the Oscar-nominated movie of last year "Hell or High Water". In that role Pine is really good, clearly far more mature and evolved as an actor. Here he merely more or less occupies a run-of-the-mill stock function.
And props are due Rosario Dawson, as well, who is staggeringly beautiful as always in a helluva turn as a tough-a-- chick who bucks authority to do what is right rather than what most satisfies the corporate bottom line. Dawson's character of Connie is strong, smart, savvy and, again, aesthetically stunning.
"Unstoppable" is a notch or two above your standard Popcorn Thrill Ride flick. But it almost certainly would not have been even this good were it not for the inimitable contributions of the wondrous Washington.
Don't Breathe (2016)
How can we genuinely root for either "side" in the crime thriller "Don't Breathe"? Both are reprehensible. And yet each in their own way also manage to stimulate an investment of pathos and pity.
On the one hand we have the trio of desperate young folks, whom life has collectively exploded a big ol' gigantic sh-- bomb all over while they slowly disintegrate in the dregs of Detroit. We feel for these kids, yeah. But not overly so. After all, it is of their own free will that they engage in a series of suburban home break-in robberies, with the most unstable among them the only one who is armed. Not exactly keen inspiration for advocacy on behalf of the audience with this boorish bunch, is there?
Enter the other component in the equation presented in "Don't Breathe". He is "The Blind Man", a Gulf War vet who lost his eyesight in battle fighting for his country, and whose misfortune is compounded by the tragic loss of his only child, a daughter who was accidentally run down by a car. Instant sympathy for this sorrowful soul, right? Ah, but not so fast. Consider that this guy is also liable for kidnapping, imprisonment and torture, all within the creepy confines of his dilapidated domicile, and even the most compassionate among us are given pause to reconsider our position.
So, given the respective parties in "Don't Breathe", it is for us, then, to examine and assess where we come down regarding any potential allegiances as we watch the grim and grisly proceedings play out in this house of horrors.
Until, at last, it is game over.
Or is it?......
The Autopsy of Jane Doe (2016)
Not for the squeamish. Wanna make sure this is resolutely understood now. I said, not, not, not, not! for the squeamish! Oh, boy howdy, can I tell ya? This father and son coroner tandem pull everything out of this mysteriously well-preserved and curiously comely cadaver but the proverbial kitchen sink! And in so doing these guys leave nothing to the imagination. Eeeeeeeewwwwwww!!!!
As for the rest of the new film "The Autopsy of Jane Doe", I'm goin' a notch above standard supernatural demonic horror fare with my assessment on this one, based pretty much solely on the caliber of acting we get here. Brian Cox is a natural treasure among the pantheon of rock solid dependable veteran actors. The venerable old pro certainly does not disappoint as Tommy Tilden, even when the massively chaotic circumstances around him start to go a bit, hell, a lot, around the bend. And Emile Hirsch (so superb in one of my favorites, 2007's "Into the Wild") is an abundantly worthy foil to Cox's anchoring performance as Austin Tilden, a kid who does all he can to save the only parent he's got left from the ghastly forces neither one of these men can even begin to comprehend.
If I have a bitch about "The Autopsy of Jane Doe" it is with the lighting in an inordinate number of the scenes. Granted the story takes place primarily in an underground morgue so naturally it is gonna be pretty dang dim. However, far too often it is nearly impossible to tell what is happening because what is being presented to us is so pervasively dark and indistinguishable. But I probably should give Director André Øvredal (the wonderfully weird Norwegian fantasy/horror trip-out "Trollhunter") and Cinematographer Roman Osin (2005's "Pride & Prejudice") a bit of a break in this regard when I pause to consider it. After all, it does serve to underscore the driving message that these two ill-fated fellows in "Autopsy" couldn't process what in the (nether)world was going on most of the time, either.
The Shallows (2016)
Blake Lively is so scorching spectacular it is absolutely ludicrous. Even when she's beat all to hell as she becomes in her ostensible one-woman show "The Shallows", even then, she still devastatingly stuns.
Awrite. Get it under control here, buddy. Steady, steady. There. I'm back. Now, on with the review...
So in term's of Lively's actual performance in the film, she is really pretty damn good, particularly in light of the fact that her stages here are primarily a surf board, a rock and a buoy. As regards the story, have you ever seen "Jaws"? Remember the young chick who gets shredded and taken under by the great white at the start of the movie? Okay, cool, because that is ostensibly the plight of Ms. Lively in "The Shallows". Except that she's not nude, she's not drunk and she proves herself to be one helluva resourceful and resilient bad ass babe. Lively's character, Mia, tirelessly and ferociously fights for her life against a relentless giant shark who has made it's pursuit of the fetching lass personal.
The action is suitably captivating, the photography both above and below the surface of the sea is first-rate (though you get the feeling that the remarkable underwater sequences may have been shot on a soundstage) and you will undoubtedly squirm and shudder at several points along the way from the direly disconcerting activity being depicted on screen.
Overall, that's not a bad recipe for respectable cinematic entertainment now is it? But if it isn't, and speaking directly to the (hopelessly one-track mind) guys out there now, what is so bad, after all, about beholding a perfectly fit and tan Blake Lively in a bikini? If you do come up with something you'll let me know, won't ya? ;]
Rear Window (1954)
Boy, could that James Stewart ever carry a movie in the dude's prime? That answer would be an unequivocal Hell Yeah! This is precisely what the legendary actor does as his hobbled photographer turned opportunistic voyeur character of Jeff is integral to nearly every single scene in Alfred Hitchcock's classic 1954 mystery thriller "Rear Window". I'm not going to launch into detail regarding plot and such as you, unlike me, have in all probability seen this film before, if not several times.
I will simply say that ol' Al, along with a uniquely twisted sense of both the macabre and of human nature, also had quite the natural knack for comic relief in the form of sly sexual innuendo and salacious double entendre to go right along with his mastery of suspense.
Oh, I suppose I could nitpick on conspicuous aspects along the lines of a window reveals what's on both sides of the pane. And hey, Raymond Burr, as you advanced upon a wheelchair-bound Jimmy with extreme menace toward the finish of the flick, did it not occur to you to shut your eyes when you knew the flash was coming?
But why niggle? This is such a suck-you-in story that is at once so damn fun and funny only a horse's as...uh, "rear"...would fish to find fault in it.
Operation Avalanche (2016)
I am the proud son of a proud retired NASA engineer. My Dad and his teammates, many of them fathers of my friends and neighbors in suburban Houston, Texas, helped put Americans on the moon. I grew up literally within sight of "The Site", the Manned Spacecraft Center. My position is biased, enthusiastic and completely Pro-US Space Program. Unabashed and unwavering.
So it will hardly come as a shock when I tell you that it offends me deeply when I hear that the July 20, 1969 moon landing was faked. That it was staged somewhere in the middle of a vast and barren desert of the American southwest. There are those who actually believed this then. There are those who believe it still today. And there will likely always be such conspiracy theorists.
As I watched the freshly released found-footage mockumentary "Operation Avalanche" I just could not get this notion out of my mind. The movie imagines a hoaxed lunar touchdown as fabricated in a warehouse by a group of enterprising young CIA agents. Several scenes were filmed on location at the Johnson Space Center and in front of the iconic Building 1, which is probably the most commonly recognized landmark amidst the facility. I have been to this place. My Dad worked in Building 1 among several other venues around the complex. I visited him in his office there as a kid. I fed the ducks and raced toy hydroplanes with him and the rest of my family in the ponds behind it. These places and these memories matter to me. A lot. And they are enduringly strong.
Good luck with your movie, guys. It is engaging for the most part. And I fully recognize that it's purely entertainment. But try telling my Dad that Neil Armstrong, whom my Dad knew personally, would ever go along with what you envisage in your story. Or that my father or any of the dedicated professionals he worked together with in tireless commitment to a purpose they all fiercely believed in at NASA would be complicit in any such insidious deception.
On second thought, don't. Or you would almost assuredly be looking at an "avalanche" the kind of which you can never even begin to imagine.
Private Number (2014)
Michael (Hal Ozsan of TV's "Dawson's Creek") has a case of serious writer's block and it's killing his progress at completing a follow-up novel to a minor best seller debut effort. Then to compound his woes he begins getting freaky phone calls in the middle of the night which seem to evolve into something supernatural. Soon Michael finds himself researching a series of unsolved murders in the California town in which he and his bride Katherine (Nicholle Tom) reside. I'll stop here at the risk of becoming a Spoiler, except to append that things get pretty dang twisty-turny over the cacophonous course of this flick's frenzied finish. And wind up most ominously open-ended.
Sniff, sniff. What's that I smell? Can you say "Sequel"?
The Warriors (1979)
Hard to fathom that a flick about a ration of reprobates running for their lives from an onslaught of equally as reprehensible New York City gangs circa the late 1970's would have you pulling for the former. Yet somehow "The Warriors" pulls it off.
The lion's share of the credit for such goes straight to the deliciously down and dirty vision of director and co-screen writer Walter Hill ("48 Hrs.", "The Long Riders") and his brilliant utilization of on-location street and subway venues immersed in middle of the night, dimly lit shades throughout "The City That Never Sleeps". Hill maintains the tension at amped up assault levels with enormously enthralling action sequences combined with expert orchestration of fight scenes both brisk and brutal. There is even a well executed moment of poignancy squeezed in here as Hill allows us to catch our breath while we witness an interaction on a train between those kids who get all the breaks and their peers who know only that which is irrevocably broken.
Toss in the fact that this may be, if not the first, certainly one of the initial instances of an electronica rock music score serving as the soundtrack for a feature-length film courtesy of some guy named Barry De Vorzon. Hey, dude did compose the theme music which the TV soap "The Young and the Restless" has used now for nigh on four and half decades. So let's not be dissin' the man, awite? And I simply must, as one of his biggest fans on the planet, recognize the great Joe Walsh for his rousing riffs providing a sonically stalwart serenade for the film's finish. "In the City" (De Vorzon strikes again, kids-he co-wrote the tune with Walsh) punctuates the closing credits as they roll over "The Warriors" strolling along Coney Island beach in the early morning, having miraculously cheated death all through the night. And yet, as the rising sun shines on these wayward and woebegotten lads, indications are that this may very soon become an erstwhile home.
And, once departed, one to which none of them are likely to ever return.
Not a big fan of 1940's cinema. It just is what it is with me. I'm also not hugely into Alfred Hitchcock either as it happens. He's okay, mind you. "Master of Suspense" and all that stuff, right? Simply not generally my thing from a subjective perspective of personal preference.
Which leads me to the 1948 Hitchcock flick "Rope" starring the indisputably great James/Jimmy Stewart. I did not get it. Well, that's not true. I got it certainly. I just didn't get entertained by it.
This play playing out for far too long as a movie was insistently dull and laborious and the acting was, and this really surprised me, nearly uniformly stilted and uninspired (with the exception of the emotionally explosive moments showcasing the performing gifts of Stewart at the tail end). Sure, I appreciated the machinations of tension, the sly and twisted word play on killing and death by the oblivious party-goers, the fact that this is a twisted tale based on real events and then certainly the groundbreaking use of unedited and continuous scenes. Plus, it's kinna cool that this was Hitchcock's first-ever film in color (though I actually thought that this was a "colorization" of an original black and white presentation). But in, and by, the end I was never inspired to become involved in neither the rather weakly contrived plot nor with the rigidly bland characters.
But then, who am I to say? After all, nobody ever called me "The Master of Suspense". At least not that I can recall anyhow.
Oh, and please. Feel free to break the news. ;}
The Rover (2014)
I am becoming ever more partial to Australian cinema. And the futuristic thriller "The Rover" has only served to amplify my growing admiration.
Set a decade into the future after a catastrophic financial collapse, this severely stark story can't help but inspire a grim vibe of "The Road Warrior" smashes headlong into "The Book of Eli" variety of apocalyptic mood. The music is completely, and completely mind-bending, Aussie indigenous. And the cinematography as realized throughout the ruthless terrain of the South Australian Outback by Natasha Braier is at once brutally gritty and strikingly spectacular.
Guy Pearce is plain and simple one of the finest actors of our time. Pearce's searing depiction of a guy who, having lost everything that matters in his life, has nothing left to lose is as sympathetic as it is repugnant. And that ain't easy to pull off. With a lesser actor it would be impossible. And let it be said that Robert Pattinson is a sheer revelation. He is damn near unrecognizable here, both in appearance and affectation, as a mentally challenged, trigger-happy man-child who nonetheless fully comprehends when a blood brother has egregiously and unforgivably let him down.
In the end we at last come to learn why Pearce's character of Eric is so viciously driven to recover the car a gang of ribald robbers had ripped off from him. And in that moment, and if possible, we find that we feel even more pity for the hopeless fate of this man doomed to be a rudderless rover for all the rest of his joyless days.
Not exactly the cheery stuff of "Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm", certainly. But then again, neither is the end of the world.
The Loft (2015)
As most of the pretty principal performers populating the production appear to be spawned from the genre (excluding an alcohol-addled Eric Stonestreet of the tube's "Modern Family"), the potboiler murder mystery "The Loft" plays out like a soap opera on steroids.
The style is slick; the substance, just enough to thump your thinker. Talk about your guilty pleasure. If finding this bombastic B-movie to be good fun and it's twisted plot tantalizingly twisty makes me a sucker for schlock, then it is guilty as charged, Your Honor.
The Unborn (2009)
"The Unborn" isn't really anything you haven't seen before as regards
the legacy of a horrific curse. The exception here is that it focuses
on an extraordinary and quite detailed Jewish faith-themed conflict and struggle for resolution.
And any flick with long-respected veteran acting pros the likes of Jane
Alexander and Gary Oldman can't be all bad, right? So, as you may
expect, "The Unborn" really isn't all that bad of a film.
It's frankly just not all that memorable, either.
"+1" is the kind of a movie where you have just got to be sold on the premise. That being that some manner of mysterious asteroid has struck our earth and is producing sinister doppelgangers of everyone in the immediate vicinity of it's crash site. Therein lies the foundation for this exceedingly odd yet mildly engrossing and mostly worth the while story (say, 2 3/4 out of 5 stars) written and directed by Dennis Iliadis, whose previous project was the 2009 remake of "The Last House on the Left".
The plot revolves in and around a completely hedonistic pagan ritual of a college bash thrown by a rich kid in his folks mansion while the parental units are away. David (Rhys Wakefield) has just fallen out of favor with his girlfriend (Ashley Hinshaw) of two years (this courtship time period is reiterated several times in the flick for no apparent purpose) and is on a mission to patch things up at this swingin' soiree. The task proves to be easier said than done, however, as body duplicates and time dimensions get as screwy and scrambled up as the alcohol and drug-addled brains of the preponderance of partiers.
And just as we come to believe that it's ostensibly a case of all's well that ends well (well, mostly), we get this glimpse of a final image that seems to be telling us, "Hey. Not so fast there, bub."
And here we go again...
Confusing as all hell. That about sums up the proceedings in "Regression" for me.
Allegedly based on real events, I came out of this police procedural investigating possible satanic cult crimes of the most vile nature with nary a notion of what I just witnessed. Did these events actually occur? Were they vividly disturbing hallucinations? Was this an example of some manner of psychological gobbledygook dealing with mass hysteria imagination gone whole hog wild? Who can surmise from this mess of a convoluted story spun by Chilean Director and Writer Alejandro Amenábar?
"Regression" co-stars Ethan Hawke, who does representative work as the lead detective here. While I'm not the guy's biggest fan in the world, the veteran actor seems to pop up in a lot of films I find to have interesting premises, "Regression" being one among them. It's too bad that in this case the payoff fell far short of what was anticipated. In the right hands "Regression" could have been a progressive step forward in Hawke's hit-or-miss career.
Not much new added to the "murderous psychopath terrorizes gal alone in the house" formula with the exception of one intriguing twist in "Hush". Kate Siegel's damsel in serious distress character of Maddie is both deaf and mute. But this is not to indicate that she is in any way fragile or weak. For we come to discover that Maddie is a flat-out total badass.
Siegel (who co-wrote the script here with her husband Mike Flanagan, the film's Director) does a superb job with an extraordinarily demanding role across a number of fronts. And while the conclusion to "Hush" was fitting I suppose, I just thought it would be a bit cooler. More special.
More...well...at the risk of being droll...resounding.
The Invitation (2016)
What begins as an emotional exploration of coming to terms with unbearable loss evolves into something even more decidedly dark in the psychological thriller "The Invitation".
Logan Marshall-Green ("Prometheus", "As I Lay Dying") is Will, who along with his girlfriend accepts a request to attend a dinner party hosted by his ex-wife and her new husband at the home the former spouses once used to share. The couple's devastatingly tragic past is gradually divulged, soon after which all hell breaks loose in and around the ostentatious house and grounds.
Director Karyn Kusama ("Aeon Flux", "Girlfight") deftly guides this deeply unsettling narrative toward a shift in tone that is both abrupt and startling. And her film's jaw-dropping ending delivers absolutely one of the most viciously wicked wallops you're likely to witness in any movie all year.
10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)
"10 Cloverfield Lane" is Producer J.J. Abrams shrouded in secrecy sequel to the 2008 surprise found footage hit "Cloverfield". Sort of.
Without completely surrendering the premise, there are thematic elements from the original which come to prominence in this amply anticipated follow-up widely released this weekend (3/11/16). But certainly not to the overarching degree that these aspects factored intrinsically into it's predecessor.
John Goodman is a particularly peculiar survivalist/conspiracy theorist (like there's any other kind?) who takes Mary Elizabeth Winstead into his farmhouse bunker for "safekeeping" in the wake of a violent car crash. John Gallagher Jr. is already a tenant of this cozy cum creepy underground community.
Goodman is, as per usual, his reliable character actor self as Howard, a guy whom you never really know both if you can accept what he's saying as gospel (he claims the world above the trio has succumbed to a catastrophic chemical assault) or what in the living hell he may do next.
Winstead has emerged as a personal favorite of mine. Her role as Michelle is one of a super sci-fi action hero here. It is a distinctly distant departure from previous impressive roles in substantially smaller scale productions including "Smashed" and "Alex of Venice". Winstead proves in resounding fashion to be more than up to the formidable demands of this heretofore unexplored province of performance. Still, despite a couple of moving moments, it is decidedly disappointing that more of her considerable acting acumen was not on display in this story.
"10 Cloverfield Lane" dutifully delivers it's fair share of twists and turns, scares and surprises and jumps and jolts to be sure. But in the end it couldn't help but feel as one long lead-up to a tacked on departure point for the next installment in the series. And I think that we as faithful fans expected and deserved just a little bit more than that.
Wouldn't you agree, J.J.?
Jurassic World (2015)
"Jurassic World" is what happens when the mad scientists behind the life-sized dinosaur theme park attractions aren't so mad. They're just too damn good at their jobs. Know what I'm sayin', Dr.'s Frankenstein and Jekyll?
You walk into this film fully expecting these terrifying neo-prehistoric creatures to get dastardly and deadly. And this is, of course, what you're gonna get. In all it's state of the art CGI and ear-splitting surround sound glory. The human element? Ehh, not so much. Although let it be noted that Nick Robinson and Ty Simpkins give it a game effort, injecting a shot of special familial warmth into the special effects on steroids all about them as young brothers bonding together when it matters most.
I saw the original game-changing release of 1993's "Jurassic Park" (which receives more than a few respectful references generously sprinkled in among this "World"). And, let me tell ya, this in no "Jurassic Park". Still, for what it is, a theatrical thrill ride to be white-knuckled for all it's worth, it's about as good as you're gonna get.
Not absolutely out of this "World" perhaps. But, then again, no walk in the "Park", either.
Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
"Mad Max: Fury Road", (starring Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron, two pretty fair actors who don't get to act much here) is the second of George Miller's quartet of post-apocalyptic frenzied action thrillers I've seen now, the other being 1981's "The Road Warrior". While "Fury" certainly lives up to it's titular description with virtual non-stop murderous mayhem, and the special effects are literally and figuratively "of another world", I found it lacking the starkly primal immediacy that Miller and star Mel Gibson brought to "Road Warrior".
Sometimes bigger is not better. It's just louder. And it has more babes.
Tom Hardy is thoroughly remarkable in the title role of "Locke". His is the only character physically on screen who ever speaks. The other actors are introduced to us only as voices over an in-car speaker as Locke navigates his BMW and his life through and toward a myriad of crises, both personal and professional. I can not imagine any other performer delivering such a continuously riveting performance for nearly an hour and a half while literally never moving from behind a steering wheel.
Hardy plays a construction project foreman overseeing the monumental task of pouring the concrete base for a massive building. But his portrayal is of a man who has ever so painstakingly, and yet with consistently composed calm, controlled all aspects of his and other's lives for years. And we bear witness as a series of ever-expanding cracks threaten to shatter the very foundation upon which such a fragile existence has been built.
Steven Spielberg's debut feature film as a Director is a taught and tense thriller made for TV back in 1971, but thoroughly of theatre quality.
"Duel" tells the chilling tale of an unhinged Truck Driver (whose face we never see) terrifyingly toying with ineffectual traveling salesman Dennis Weaver, who is desperately driving to beat a deadline (pun intended) in his beater sedan. The completely crazed Cat & Mouse game plays out viciously across vast stretches of remote roads built upon brutally barren desert.
This classic suspense story serves as the first in a long and illustrious line of movies where Spielberg does what he does like no one ever has. Or ever will. That is, masterfully transforming regular folks in mundane circumstances into extraordinarily unforgettable and emotional cinematic experiences.
Scenic Route (2013)
The rapid fire flashes of ultra-violent imagery jolt you to attention right from the get-go of "Scenic Route". What in the hell happened to cause this brutally barbaric behavior between these two guys? Then the tale begins, and we discover what led to such a disturbing duel.
Josh Duhamel (who also footed this flick's bill as Exec Producer) and Dan Fogler are old college chums now turned 30 on a detour through Death Valley in a beater pickup. The two men become stranded and soon descend into desperation. Each of this pair gradually cause the other to realize how the dreams of their younger years are today all but dead and gone.
In the movie's final frames we wonder if this has happened in a literal sense, as well. I have made my conclusion, which I won't reveal. Except perhaps to ask, "Is this not Heaven then?". Alas, this is for you to decide during the uncomfortable, yet thought-provoking, ride along the "Scenic Route".
Blue Ruin (2013)
Dwight (brilliantly played by Macon Blair) has been sleeping in a bullet-riddled car (aka "Blue Ruin"), eating out of dumpsters and breaking into homes to take baths as a detached drifter for years. He is certainly no action hero bad ass. Still, we watch riveted as this mild mannered guy relentlessly reaps retribution against those who have brutally broken his family.
Ain't payback a bitch?
Well I'll be damned. Yet another shining example of a low-budget flick with no name actors proving to be well worth my while to watch.
"After" touches effectively on universal themes of loss, alienation, forgiveness and sacrifice, all while the guy (Steven Strait, for the record) and gal (Karolina Wydra in by all evidence only her second feature film) at the center of it all battle a mysterious creeping black smoke and a super creepy creature from the netherworld following a violent bus crash. In the end we discover that what we have witnessed is a most unconventional love story.
And they all live happily ever "After".
Eight candidates for a coveted job with a mysterious organization convene in a sterile windowless room to take a test. If they answer "the question" correctly the plum position is theirs.
The first question that will come to your mind in "Exam" is: Why in the hell would ANYONE ever WANT to work for these guys???!!! The good news is that the script reveals this particular answer to us. Let's just say it's for much more than the reward of a fat paycheck. And along the way that age old innocuous idiom of "I'd kill for this job" takes on a whole new meaning...or does it?
The British cast is uniformly quite good and credible in their designated characterizations, with each being assigned their own respective literal "labels". And the twists and turns as the octet's predicament unfolds will keep you in a sufficient state of suspense until the decidedly coy conclusion.
It's for you to decide if it's also a happy ending, as well.
The Blue Room (2014)
The French kick arse at a lot of things. Wine, art, architecture, gifting the U.S. it's "Lady Liberty" and snooty 'tudes. And, of course, top notch suspense films. No? Oh, oui, OUI, mon ami.
May I submit for your consideration one in a long line of fabulous forged in France thrillers, 2014's "The Blue Room". Tense, sensual, beguiling and intelligent all rolled into one mysterious ball, this entrancing tale steamrolls along at a breakneck pace, hurtling inexorably into an explosive fireball of a finale.
While Mathieu Amalric does a most formidable job both in front of and behind the camera as star, Director and co-screen writer, a significant share of appreciation must go to "Room"'s dazzlingly imaginative film editing. Chief Editor François Gédigier creates his own virtual character, expertly overlapping visuals and sounds over, around and between each other, ambitiously demanding the viewer's rapt attention, lest they become lost in this intricate tale of adultery, betrayal and murder.
I was in college during the 444-day Iran Hostage crisis that most Americans from that era of an age to process the events almost certainly recall. However, I was not aware of this particular Tehran hostage rescue story until "Argo" was released in theatres. Having watched the DVD version, I found myself riding a relentless emotional roller coaster permanently perched on the euphemistic edge of my seat throughout this wallop of a dramatic journey.
And just for the record here, there are those who once chastised Ben Affleck for his perceived ineptitude as an actor. Let it be said that this guy can not only act, he, as so brilliantly displayed in "Argo", can direct his ass right off to boot.
I, for some time now, actually, can not wait until the release of his next cinematic project.
Alone with Her (2006)
Seldom have I felt so REALLY uncomfortable watching a movie as I did now having seen 2006's "Alone with Her". That's because the film's images are presented almost entirely from the visual perspective of an emotionally diseased stalker (like there's any other kind?).
Colin Hanks is chilling to the core as a social misfit nut job. His cracked character of Doug systematically high tech spies on, then hunts down, his randomly selected victim Amy, played by Ana Claudia Talancón in a remarkably natural performance.
Not one to give anything away, I'll conclude only with this. The final moments of "Alone with Her" leave us with the unsettling certainty that the terror we have just born witness to is far from an "isolated incident".
It Follows (2014)
Not generally one to impose my interpretations of what may or may not be going on in a fundamentally ambiguous film, I'll venture to offer the following on "It Follows".
This deeply strange and scary suspense story seems to approach, if not hurl headlong into, moralistic territory in it's apparent position against young folks fornicating out of wedlock. Do the deed without commitment and you're committed to pay the ultimate price. With your life.
Director David Robert Mitchell consistently references a much more pure, and puritanical, age circa the 1950's. Old black and white creature features on late night TV and classic Sunday newspaper comics doubling as cheap makeshift window shades seem to suggest that this was an idyllically bygone, and LONG gone, time in America. And modern day USA has screwed up the country's morals and morays so badly that, to coin a fitting euphemism, the chickens have now been provoked to come home to roost. And there is gonna be all KINDSA hell to pay the piper, kids.
And what of the guy trying to drown the girl in the pool who mere moments later appears to be among those posing in a framed family photo as the dad? Or is he? And why are the adults never shown in full but exclusively at a distance, in side profile or in only partially in-frame shots? And are all the moms "Single Head of Household"?
With an ending left ominously wide open and threatening, rest assured that these and other perplexing issues will be further pursued in the inevitable follow-up to "It Follows".
I'm sucked in, and as such will follow this freaky franchise wherever it may lead.
Based on an original story by M. Night Shyamalan, "Devil" is a briskly paced, roundly involving take on the age old notion that Satan is among us. As in right next to us. And in the most unpleasantly cramped quarters imaginable.
Chris Messina (TV's "The Mindy Project") leads the cast as a police detective struggling to rescue trapped elevator riders from what he has come to suspect may be a demonic force. His performance is a solid one, and the caliber of acting throughout the film is uniformly quite high.
The conclusion of "Devil" could have gone in essentially one of two directions. I must admit that I am partial to the path the filmmakers chose to follow at this pivotal ("pitch") fork in the road.
Let's go ahead and make that the "high road".
"'71" is a brutally unforgiving examination of a war driven at it's core by the vicious hate that ripped Northern Ireland to shreds during what came to be known as the time of "The Troubles". It was an era of unconscionable violence, one in which fellow countrymen turned against each other with unmitigated hostility. One barbaric atrocity beget another by way of retaliation in a relentless blood bath between Catholic IRA separatists and Protestants loyal to the British Crown.
That is the brief history lesson. The movie, brilliantly directed with stark propinquity by Yann Demange, is an uncompromising and riveting chronicle of an English soldier's terrifying odyssey as he negotiates through a gutted Belfast night in search of the unit he was driven away from after narrowly escaping with his life from the bedlam of a raging street riot.
Jack O'Connell is superb as the combat-naive serviceman who, when asked if he is Catholic or Protestant, flatly responds that he doesn't know. It is inferred that he, along with his little brother, is an orphan. There certainly seems to be no parental presence. But we never actually come to conclusively know this, either. What is understood is that here is a young man simply doing his job, one he will come to learn later in the film is to ostensibly serve as an expendable pawn in a much deeper and insidious political game. It is a game in which he, nor, truth be told, everybody, can never truly win.
Finally, substantial recognition simply must go to "'71"'s Music Director David Holmes along with Film Editor Chris Wyatt. The extraordinarily effective, and affecting, work of these two talents in tandem combine to make "'71" a production which absolutely demands you remain transfixed until the end. And, at least to some extent, that it will linger hauntingly long thereafter.
"They" imagines what may happen if children's night terrors chased them right into adulthood and were physically manifested as the bogeyman. If the bogeyman resembled some kind of slimy leaping totally gross sorta like grasshopperish type thing. That's about the best I can do for you there.
This one could have actually been pretty cool. But the pacing is so confoundingly erratic, and the scares so few and far between, that it winds up being just barely lukewarm.
Suffice it to say that you'll not be missing much should you choose to stay away from "They".
Generally speaking, when you've made the commitment to watch a low budget film, particularly one that purports to be among the genres of horror/slasher/thriller, one of two things are to be expected. One, the entire experience is dreadful. Or, hopefully, you find that your investment of time and attention met with acceptable, at times, even passable plus, satisfaction. I'm putting "Evidence" right smack dab in the latter category. But only by the skin of it's celluloid.
The concept of law enforcement piecing together the events of a grisly massacre using video from various source devices is an intriguing one, and, for the most part, plays to engaging effect. Ultimately things get kinna dumb though, and, shocker, in the end we find it's all an elaborate set up for the next installment in an apparent franchise.
Still, I'll say this for "Evidence". As a guy, I fully appreciated that every single chick in this flick is completely knockout FINE gorgeous. Sure helps to pass the time when the story line isn't otherwise carrying it's share of the load.
Espionage, betrayal and murder-all are spellbindingly explored along with the darkest depths of the ocean in the absorbing Norwegian thriller "Pioneer".
Aksel Hennie ("A Somewhat Gentle Man") is superb as deep sea diver Petter, who becomes entangled in a web of deadly deceit after losing his brother and diving teammate in a suspicious fatal underwater "accident". Petter makes it his mission to expose an increasingly evident sinister alliance between an American oil exploration company and the Norwegian government. It is an uneasy joint venture, forged with the express purpose of extracting billions of dollars in oil reserves discovered deep beneath the surface of the North Sea circa the early 1980's.
The breakneck pace, uniformly first-rate performances and stunning underwater photography all come together to make "Pioneer" a film into which you will want to fully submerge.
"Preservation" is about as heavy-handed on the foreshadowing as any flick can conceivably ever be. Or frankly ever should be. The filmmakers may just as well have had one of the three unfortunate chief characters turn to the camera at some point and ask, "So are you getting it here, people? Bad stuff, real bad stuff, lurks out here in these woods. It's comin' straight for us. And we're gonna have to deal with it. Whether we like it or not." Yeah. We get it.
Still, what we are presented with is a mostly worthy effort, with credible acting, legitimate suspense that doesn't entirely depend upon "jump scares" (although there is one courtesy of a canine that's bound to spark at least a semi-surge) and some completely unanticipated killer action heroics from "Boardwalk Empire"'s Wrenn Schmidt. Her character Wit must have some feline in her, because she burned up most of her at least nine lives summoning every shred of her wit and wile in a punishing struggle to survive this catastrophic commune with nature.
Lastly, let it be said that the homicidal miscreant stalkers sport hunting for humans in "Preservation" are most definitely not kiddin' around in the furiously demented tracking down of their two-legged prey here.
You'll get it.
Abject evil comes a callin' and seeps sinisterly through the cracks in a by-all-appearances upper middle class family's "perfect" life in the Dutch creeper "Borgman". Can you say "Bogeyman"?
The devil you say.
Return to Sender (2015)
Having just seen "Return to Sender", and pairing it with last year's twisted thriller "Gone Girl", I now find it reasonable to issue the following declaration: Rosamund Pike is firmly ensconced among the upper echelon of still waters run deep and dark, you best not even think about crossing me, capable of anything at any time don't you dare judge my enigmatic book by it's gorgeous cover femme fatales doin' her diabolical deeds on screen today. And, boy oh boy, did the despicable dirt bag dude depicted by Shiloh Fernandez discover this horrifyingly harsh reality in severely unforgiving fashion in this one. With the emphasis on severe. You will learn what this means.
It need also be noted that Nick Nolte as a father struggling mightily to deal with the aftermath of a vicious attack upon his daughter brings both pathos and humility to his role. Nolte's quiet yet poignant portrayal is appropriate for this stage in the bad boy actor's career, and his work is genuinely effecting.
Finally, can the consistently charismatic Camryn Manheim just be in more movies? And, if she can't, why the hell not?! Come on dingbat Hollywood producers. Not everyone has to be Rosamund Pike, do they? Hey, no offense, Rosie.
Sure do not want to get on your bad side, madam.
White Rabbit (2013)
Harlon (Nick Krause in a mesmerizing performance) is a troubled teenage kid who talks to Graphic Comic Book characters and bunnies in "White Rabbit". As in with them. And it's not a damn bit laughable.
Viciously bullied by his peers and relentlessly belittled by a far from Father of The Year ("True Blood"'s Sam Trammell) at home, Harlon embarks upon a gradual descent into disturbing dissociation and despair. Veteran indy Director Tim McCann effectively establishes an unnervingly ominous tone throughout his odd yet absorbing film. This includes the decidedly interesting choice of accentuating Harlon's escalating break with reality by way of a constant and eerily foreboding music under bed for about the good final third of the story.
It all builds in portentous crescendo to a startlingly unanticipated ending that is as unorthodox as it is a relief.
That's how at least one viewer is choosing to interpret it anyhow.
The Gift (2015)
The sins of the past return, demanding ruthless retribution in the dark thriller "The Gift". Multi-gifted Aussie Joel Edgerton writes, directs and stars as a sad sack loser who will not let go of the atrocities done unto him decades ago in high school. And the upwardly mobile yet troubled couple played by Jason Bateman and Rebecca Hall are set square in his vengeful crosshairs.
Edgerton is masterful as he infuses virtually every single scene in his extraordinary film with urgent potency, while consistently propelling the story along at a vigorously unnerving pace. See if you agree that it puts one in the mind of another ominously harrowing flick with which you may be familiar, the 1987 domestic terror classic "Fatal Attraction". Granted, Edgerton's character may not be as frantically psychotic as the whacked out woman scorned whom the great Glenn Close tormented us (and poor Michael Douglas) with in that one.
But he is every bit as frightening.
The Orphanage (2007)
"The Orphanage" is not your run-of-the-mill horror movie. In fact, it's not really a horror flick at all. Not in traditional terms at any rate. And most certainly not in the common contemporary sense, either.
Spanish Director J.A. Bayona crafts a healthy share of scares and suspense for sure, but not at the expense of presenting a compelling chronicle skillfully infused with drama and genuine human emotion. At it's heart a narrative of a mother's love for her child and the ferocious and limitless power embodied in such, Bayona's film also gives us a ghost story, summoning as it does so spirits both conjured and broken.
Belén Rueda is a relentless dynamo of raw strength and dogged determination as a parent who refuses to believe that her lost child has lost his life. Her extraordinary performance is intensely demanding and grueling, one rarely witnessed from any actress regardless of the role. And the strikingly breathtaking cinematography by Óscar Faura consistently punctuates the overall impact of most every scene.
The recommendation is to go in to "The Orphanage" anticipating something far out of the ordinary. Or at the very least without the expectation that it will fall in line with what you've come to expect.
The Box (2009)
Silly, confusing, WAY overlong and just plain dumb. And with that I have taken you inside "The Box", a distended discourse on blind greed and the abject horror of it's aftermath. Oh, plus there's living zombies controlled by aliens from outer space to boot. At least I THINK that's what they were at any rate.
This miserably misguided mess is the quintessential poster child for the wretchedness wrought when a short story is bloated into an almost two-hour endurance test chock-full of characters you couldn't give a crap about.
Think I may just give Richard Matheson's terse tale "Button, Button" a shot here. As I certainly should NEVER have done with this dreadful dreck inspired (absent even the most miniscule evidence of the notion) by his work.
Track Down (2000)
"Adapted from a true story" flashes upon the screen as we are ushered into "Track Down" and our introduction to super cyber security system hacker and convicted felon Kevin Mitnick (Skeet Ulrich in a fine and frenzied performance). And what a messed up megalomaniacal miscreant we will come to know. "Truly".
"Track Down" takes us along on a swiftly paced cat and mouse game Mitnick launches versus the feds and fellow hackers during the 1990's. And by all evidence furnished by Director Joe Chappelle (TV's "The Wire", "CSI: Miami"), entirely and simply because he could.
The extreme lengths that Mitnick goes to perch himself atop a kind of self-fashioned "hierarchy of hackers" absolutely astounds. It is practically unfathomable to imagine what this "gangstuh geek" may have accomplished had he been of clear mind and even HALF a heart.
Mitnick is vividly depicted here as unconditionally brilliant. And while certainly proving to be explosively bright, this is a miserably sad fellow who is emotionally busted to bits. Mitnick reveals to us in pieces a wretched upbringing which has continued to torture him into an angry and malicious adulthood.
Here is just one striking example of how SERIOUSLY screwy this dude is. Mitnick has a character played by the paralyzingly gorgeous Amanda Peet all to himself on a couch in her apartment following an evening date. And SHE is even making the FIRST MOVE. It is at this pivotal point in the proceedings that Mitnick actually asks this vision in voluptuousness, even as she is wholesale submitting her most ample charms to him, if she knows how to SCAN? It's enough to make a guy wanna reach into the scene and whack the weirdo over the head with an iPad!
Looking at computer screens crawling with programming code and dry eraser boards scrawling with indecipherable mathematical equations is not inherently entertaining. However, human beings desperately wrestling with such daunting data and the havoc it can wreak CAN prove to be compelling. And so is the case with "Track Down".
Still, in the end, the reality is that what we are left with is the sordid story of a brazen and bitter man who proved to be nothing more than a viciously vindictive terrorist thug.
Sleep Tight (2011)
You know those kinna people whose mission in life seems to lie in projecting their own personal misery on to everybody else? Truth be told, and most unfortunately, we all do, right? Well, this guy in the squeamish Spanish suspenser "Sleep Tight" takes that morose mentality to a most monstrous art form.
Carlos is diabolically driven with every foul fiber of his being to indiscriminately infest any poor soul who crosses his path with the hopeless misery that pervades his wretched existence. And such unharnessed hatred even extends to his own dying mother!
Carlos's principal possession is to effect the irrevocable obliteration of a perpetually bubbly disposition. Such cheeriness is unfailingly displayed by a friendly young lass who lives in the apartment building in which Carlos toils as a handyman. As wholly abhorrent as this was to witness, I was transfixed as this heartless heathen carries out the systematic disintegration of a heretofore effortlessly contented human spirit. It is both stunning and sickening to absorb.
Now there are some scenes in this film that you're gonna need to just let go. Stuff that, if you didn't have it, then you simply wouldn't have a movie kinna stuff. But it doesn't detract from the comprehensive creepiness quotient of the perverse proceedings.
Toward the end of "Sleep Tight", I found myself really wishing that one especially viciously violated character in particular would have emerged as a vanquisher of evil here. You will likely pick out the one I'm referring to, as these moments of callous cruelty are roundly heartbreaking.
There is a place in this story where we come to understand that this demon seed was born innately and incurably unhappy, and will remain so for the duration of his entirely self-inflicted hell on earth.
As I wind up this review may I offer the following recommendation by way of a lasting lesson learned:
Will ya just crack a damn joke every once in a while for crissakes?!
The Wave (2016)
"The Wave" is a made in Norway disaster flick. The flick is not a disaster. The crushing tidal wave created in a previously placid fjord from catastrophic mountain rock shifts sure as hell is, however.
To me these Norwegian characters seem to project more genuine gravitas and less over-the-top hysterical histrionics than we are routinely subject to in your standard issue American disaster epic fare. These people don't come across like actors, but rather more like...well...people.
This is spectacular filmmaking on a glorious yet fittingly gruesome scale, thanks to the remarkably vivid vision of Director Roar Uthaug ("Cold Prey"). The stirring cinematography contributed by John Christian Rosenlund is first-rate, realistic and riveting. And while the scenes of apocalyptic aftermath are admittedly kind of momentum neutralizers for a time, they nonetheless are effective in depicting a community awash both in suffering and in mourning.
The movie concludes with the resolution of a man's doggedly determined and frantic search for his semi-submerged wife and child. While I won't reveal the outcome, I will say that, as a parent, the gripping scene between father and son resonated on a very personal level as completely authentic and deeply effecting.
The driving thrust of this project ultimately manifests in disrupting a staunch national position of whistling in the dark while wishing away any potential calamity. In the wake of such tragic devastation wrought by "The Wave", one would reasonably believe that such decidedly dangerous doctrine is now drowned for good. But is it?
I am of direct Norwegian lineage, my own dad being native-born. Beware and be vigilant, all ye good people of the "old country".
Next time, it may not be merely a movie.
At times (and it seems these times happen far too often) we all find ourselves checking to see how long a movie has until it ends, freeing us at long last from some manner of misery. And then there are cinematic gifts like "Sicario". Man, I never wanted this brilliantly brutal masterpiece chronicling the down and dirty business of fighting Mexican drug trafficking to frickin' ever finish!
Emily Blunt, Benicio Del Toro, Josh Brolin and Daniel Kaluuya. Uniformly exceptional performances from each of these true pros in every sense of what this word stands for. One minor quibble. I really would have liked to see Director Dennis Villeneuve focus in greater detail on Del Toro's agonizingly tormented character Alejandro. "Sicario", the exquisite model of top-tier movie making that it is, could have been considerably better served through more concentration invested in and close-ups of a man whose soul is condemned to be interminably tortured whether or not he exacts at last the vengeance he stalks with such fierce and unbridled commitment. Del Toro is certainly that class of actor who I believe could have given us even more to remember in an already tour de force performance.
However unsavorily gained, U.S. law enforcement ultimately scores a major victory in "Sicario". The film's final images portray a seemingly innocent scene of a bunch of kids being cheered on by their moms while playing soccer in the Mexican dirt. The abrupt and menacing "time out" delivers a stark and sobering punch to the gut with the reality that this insidious war on drugs rages on.
Brolin's character warns us earlier in this harrowing story that as long as 20% of Americans are consumers of the commodity at the core of this ruthless combat the fight must continue. Which leaves us to struggle with the enduring and deeply disturbing question...
How, then, is it ever going to end?
Not gonna spend a lot of time on this one. "Curve" stars Julianne Hough (TV's "Dancing With The Stars") as a bride-to-be who veers way off track with an unhinged hitchhiker on an ill-advised back road detour to the wedding.
Pretty standard fare madman-menaces-beautiful girl (and Hough stays staggeringly so even after being beat up in an over the cliff car crash) fare with some pretty fair acting from the damsel in deep distress. Hough actually does one helluva job here in practically the worst predicament possible. This includes those seriously squeamish interludes where a girl does what a girl's gotta do for makeshift nourishment. Eeeeeeewwwwwwww!!!
I won't delve into the seemingly standard requisite moments of implausibility in "Curve" as they are readily apparent even if you're only half paying attention. I will make mention however that even in this modest movie I expected more from the ending than the cath...no, wait. I won't say it.
If you should find the free time and you choose to fill it with this small-scale suspenser, you will then indubitably be able to complete this adjective I have chosen, as a serial sans-spoiler, not to.
Big Sky (2015)
I am forever a sucker for movies set in the wide open expanse of the American west. This penchant is what sucked me into seeing the low budget dramatic thriller "Big Sky".
Now admittedly I don't know what severe agoraphobia looks like. But I imagine that Bella Thorne does a pretty damn good job of depicting how this insidious psychological affliction debilitates and paralyzes those who can not bear interaction with the outside world. And Kyra Sedgwick as her less-than-model yet loving mom and the consummate acting pro is first-rate despite being rendered incapacitated early on in the proceedings. There's your propers, kids. The rest of "Big Sky" is so implausible, inexplicable or just downright impossible it loses it's way pretty quickly, never to regain any true traction.
Make it a big whiff on "Big Sky".
More by this Author
I know. Coolness is way subjective. "Eye of the Beholder" and all that jazz. Still, I invite consideration of these criteria for cool, and uncool, and see how many you may connect with, as well...
Are Norwegians really grim? Or is it perhaps that they're simply sly and bemused? Such is the provocative territory explored by the son of a native Norske. Tongue, all the while, planted firmly in cheek...or is it?
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