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Archive for the ‘thriller’ Category

poster_infernoI love these Robert Langdon movies. And I love the story concept of waking up without knowing where you are or how you got there. I’ve even had a couple of moments like that happen to me, much smaller scale of course, and from those moments I’ve thought of my own screenplay and stageplay ideas from that concept vehicle. I’ve read a couple books and graphic novels with this concept. I think what attracts me to it is that situation creates an instant mystery  Without mystery, your thriller is worthless, I feel.

So, with Inferno, the latest film production inspired by a novel of Dan Brown (The DaVinci Code, Angels and Demons), we have not only one mystery but two. The first is figuring out why Robert Langdon awoke in a hospital in Florence, Italy. The second is locating the virus left behind by an unhinged idealistic billionaire. However, the film has faults and not as strong as one would think having a double-mystery thriller.

Langdon, once again played by Tom Hanks (Sully), wakes up in a hospital not knowing whom he is or how he got to Florence, Italy. However, after being shot at and rescued by his nurse, he finds a clue to the location of a deadly virus intended to wipe out the Earth’s population by 75-percent, using Dante’s notorious book Inferno as a guide.

Eventually, we learn who is after Langdon and his assistant, whom to trust and whom are the “bad guys,” and eventually we find ourselves in Istanbul for the exciting climax.

I will start with what I loved about the film. One, I loved the double mystery of the film, especially moments like when Langdon discovers he and a partner stole a mask of Dante’s from a museum, which he learned by watching the security video with authorities standing next to him. Scenes like that reveal were strong and excellent. There were several WTF moments in the plot which really kept me involved and caring about the next turn.

Two, I liked the pacing. It felt like a quality thriller with high intensity and always that sense of urgency Robert Langdon stories now need to have and bring that expectation. Director Ron Howard (The DaVinci Code, In the Heart of the Sea) did well to slow the film down in spots to allow the viewer to process certain information to keep up with Langdon and his assistant, Sienna, played by Felicity Jones (The Theory of Everything).

Three, I enjoyed the locations. Who doesn’t enjoy chase sequences by car or on foot through European cobble stone streets? Seriously. IF you don’t, you’re dead inside.

However, the film isn’t perfect. The pace of the film got disrupted a couple times with a very weak storyline about Langdon’s not-quite romance with investigator Sinsky, played by Sidse Babett Knudsen (Tv’s Westworld). I really struggled to give a shit about lingering “what could have been” feelings between Langdon and this lady. I was okay with the writing establishing their backstory as such, but letting it linger, feeling some sort of closure or inner conflict was necessary to address was a mistake and took away from an otherwise exciting film.

**SPOILER ALERTS IN THE NEXT TWO PARAGRAPHS**

It also seems to me that the company responsible setting up Langdon with a memory lapse and creating this incredibly elaborate fake hospital just to get them to help them find this virus was overkill. Langdon isn’t exactly an FBI profiler. It seems he could have been much easily duped into helping the wrong people until he gets evidence to the contrary than having to kidnap him, distort his memory and pull all the other strings involved. The whole presence of this company was weak, I felt.

I also felt the sequences involving Langdon attempting to get his memory back and having loads of annoying frightful visions really got old. It seemed to occupy the entire first 20 minutes of the film and was really getting hard to watch until we the viewers starting getting hard clues about our mysteries. Until then, it was giving me a headache.

Next, I thought it was obvious Sienna was working for the wrong side. Langdon got played by the person standing closest to him. Maybe it’s easy to spot the double crossing character easier now that three of Brown’s novels have made it to screen, but between Ian McKellan’s character in DaVinci Code, Ewan McGregor in Angels & Demons and not Jones in Inferno, it’s apparent whomever is closest to Langdon is the bag guy or a part of them. I and others I know who have seen the movie saw this twist coming.

That being said, Seinna as a character was quite strong once we learn her entire back story. Between her and billionaire boyfriend Zobrist, played by Ben Foster (The Finest Hours), whom created the virus to kill most of humanity, presented a antagonist presence which truly felt they were doing the right thing for humanity. They felt by destroying 75-percent of it, they were saving humanity’s existence for the future. I’ve always said movies’ most scary villains are the ones who are convinced they are doing the right thing.

Overall, I felt the movie was worth the cost of admission and were not better or worse than previous Robert Langdon films from Ron Howard. This movie just makes me want to read other Dan Brown books awaiting their shot at a silver screen production.

To read the review of Inferno from my Movie Corner writing cohort, Brian G. Felts, click here.

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poster_thegiftThis is one of those movies where the title is terrible because it really says nothing about the film. If anything “The GiftS” would be better suited. That being said, my wife and I saw this in the cinemas last year, and we thought it was quite well done and worth seeing. Is it worth owning on DVD? Probably not for me. But I would recommend it to someone else as a rental.

The Gift is about a young married couple Simon and Robyn, played by Jason Bateman (Horrible Bosses) and Rebecca Hall (The Town), who move back to his hometown area after Simon had taken a job there. Soon, their already fragile life and relationship is threatened after a high school acquaintance named Gordo, played by Joel Edgerton (Exodus: Gods and Kings), becomes inappropriately codependent of the couple, leaving them odd gifts on the doorstep of their new home.

However, there seems to be more to Gordo than what’s on the surface as Robyn starts to learn certain things about Simon from his days in high school, some of which may have carried over to his adult life and their marriage.

So, this movie is a thriller about Gordo tormenting Simon and his wife. Underneath the surface, I’d almost say the movie is about what secrets can do to a marriage. The plot is basically being told from Robyn’s perspective since she, like the audience, is the one investigating different confusing facts she learns about Simon as she attempts to learn more about Gordo’s high school nightmares.

This is where the movie was very well written. Maybe it’s just my love for a well-plotted mystery, but her piecing together this picture of high school darkness from Gordo’s and her husband’s past was presented near perfect. I also appreciated the “event” from Gordo and Simon’s past which destroyed Gordo and left him bitter and vengeful wasn’t something simple like bullying.

Although Simon turned out to be a bully, their backstory didn’t exactly end at a couple classroom wedgies and some general hazing. Their “event” was terrible and made you feel for Gordo and really being unnerved by him, feeling anyone who went through that as a child would probably be dangerous and capable of almost anything violent in this movie. The backstory made the movie, I felt, and learning about it through Robyn’s character was perfect. This film is a major credit to Edgerton as a screenwriter and director since he served both roles on this production.

I also enjoyed how this movie could have been riddled with sudden jumps which I HATE. I call this technique to cheaply startle an audience The “OH CRAP A CAT” Technique. Mostly because it’s usually a cat which jumps out to startle the audience. In this movie, the jumps aren’t nearly as superficial. They are slow, methodical and far more effective.

Like I said, this film is simple on its surface but gets far more complex once you get into character inner motivations and conflicts, get into what the material is truly trying to say and the immense backstories Edgerton’s original screenplay had to share about it’s frail characters.

However, I will not own this on DVD mostly because I don’t think the magic can be recaptured after you’ve seen it the first time. So there’s no point in owning it. I would recommend it to any one who is in the mood for a quality thriller without a ton of blood and gore or the unusual pacing of a M. Night Shyamalan film. These types of thrillers are rare I feel, especially one written this well.

Overall, this movie leaves me most curious what Edgerton as a writer and director has in store for us next.

 

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poster_martianMatt Damon’s character said why “Space” movies make for great stories of survival in his final scene. “It’s space and there’s no way to control it.”

That’s the core of the appeal for this movie. It has three main components which make it one of the year’s best films; space, survival and director Ridley Scott.

The Martian, based on the novel of same name by Andy Weir, is about astronaut/botanist Mark Watney, played by Damon (The Departed), who finds a way to survive about 1.75 Earth years on the planet Mars after his mission team members presume him for dead and make an emergency abort due to severe sand storm conditions.

Ridley Scott (Gladiator) is a master of creating tension in a dramatic thriller with little material. I think a director who can make it interesting to watch one person deserted and surviving until the chance to be rescued is a special talent; Robert Zemekis’ work on Castaway is another example. However, Scott only needed to work the strengths of the screenplay and make sure it was pretty to watch.

Drew Goddard’s screenplay adaptation of the book was the true shining star of this movie. Using the mission’s video log as a way for us to know what was going on in Watney’s head was a great addition. Goddard (World War Z, Cloverfield) also involved classic movie screenwriting plot techniques where as soon as the characters involved, both in space and NASA folks on Earth, reached that ‘We can do this’ moment something even worse came up to threaten Watney’s goals of survival and returning home. It truly left the director with a perfect map from start to finish to keep the viewer engaged and helping the film feel believable even though technically it takes place in the future since there has never been a manned mission to the surface of Mars in real life. At no time did I feel ejected from the film because it asked me to suspend disbelief. I was in it from the start and it kept me there until the end.

Damon had one of his best performances with this role. A lot of his performance was unspoken except to the video log. And since his character had to ration his food especially towards the end, Watney was dealing with a lot of weight loss and malnutrition. Although the film used body doubles for Damon’s VERY skinny scenes coming out of the shower and whatnot, Damon still had progressive weight loss to endure for the role. I’ve always admired that from an actor since I can’t even lose five pounds without major lifestyle changes and aggravating sacrifice. This however is a major staple in Damon’s resume for many reasons.

The cinematography and production design also added to the film. Martian landscapes were vast and gorgeous. It was an extremely pretty film. As for the art direction, the Mars station, rover and costumes all added to the believability and really helped SELL the film.

IF the film had a fault, it was on the ground believe it or not. The NASA folks had the same dynamic as I felt was best presented in Apollo 13 (1995); people in charge setting impossible deadlines for technicians and staff who think it can’t be done but do it anyways. Everyone in the ground cast was important but their portion of the story felt done before in spots. At least no one phoned in their performance.

Overall, this was for certain one of the best films of 2015 if not THE best, at least among those I had seen. It’s exciting, witty and smart without making you feel stupid. Best of all, it’s memorable which is an attribute I’m finding starts to fade from most other mainstream movies in the past couple years.

The Martian deserves whatever accolades is coming it’s way.

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poster_prisonersIf you have children, this movie is may be the worst thing for you. It’s basically every parents’ worst nightmare and the film treats it as such.

Prisoners tell the story of Keller Dover, played by Hugh Jackman (Les Miserables), whose daughter is abducted along with his friend Franklin’s daughter. Quickly, a suspect, Alex, played by Paul Dano (Little Miss Sunshine), is discovered and arrested but soon set loose on a lack of evidence. Convinced of Alex’s guilt, Keller kidnaps the suspects and performs a series of intimidation and soft torture tactics on the suspect in an attempt to get him to give his daughters whereabouts. As the investigation continues with detective Loki, played by Jake Gyllenhaal (Everest), Keller is on a deadline to save his child or become a criminal himself.

Like I said, if you have kids of your own, this movie is terribly hard to watch. It is beyond intense, frustrating and there is little satisfaction. However, the film is crafted brilliantly to truly suck your sole out through your eyes when you are emotionally connected to the material, thanks to director Denis Villeneuve (Sicario).

Hugh Jackman and Terrance Howard (TV’s Empire) both performed well to be expected as the parents of the abducted girls as did Maria Bello (Coyote Ugly) and Viola Davis (The Help) as their respective wives.

However a standout performance for the movie was Dano. No matter what movie he’s in, he just has that don’t-get-caught-in-the-closet-with-this-guy aura. And for this role it’s perfect. He gave the entire film the unrest it needed to make it a legitimate and respectable thriller.

Act III of the film was very well crafted and nerve racking. The twists which come along are marvelous even if you are asked to suspend disbelief a bit. But I find see types of films are truly about the ending and for Prisoners it’s a greatly satisfying one.

Overall, the film delivered on what it promised to be from its trailers. It’s hard to get through if you have children but ends up being worth it.

However, even to show a friend, there is no way in hell I’m going to watch Prisoners a second time. I’m good.

 

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poster_spotlightThe postscript to this movie which listed all the cities where major instances of abuse had been uncovered was massive. That was the film’s final jaw dropping moment.

Sometimes, even though you may know these terrible things are going on, you don’t realize to what extent. THAT is the point to this picture.

Spotlight tells the true story of a special investigation team at The Boston Globe which uncovered a scandal of sexual abuse at the hands of the clergy of the Catholic Archdiocese in the region. Their investigation starts looking into the habits of one priest which soon expands to the evils of 70 priests in Boston alone committing sex crimes against minors.

Eventually, the Spotlight team investigates the church’s influence on Boston’s religious, legal and government systems to cover up such matters leading to its Cardinal who turned his head despite knowing of such abuse on a massive scale for more than 30 years in the area.

Just as much as journalists and lawyers are hated by reputation and stereotyping, both are extremely important for their own reasons. This film is a prime example of how a media outlet that is independent of both church and state is vital in holding these establishments accountable.

I loved how every exterior shot had a Catholic Church looming in the background. Now I know, having been there, there are numerous churches seen throughout Boston, but I have to think all these locations were deliberate filmmaking choices. And they were brilliant and gorgeous.

Director Tom McCarthy (Win Win) outdid himself with this. His choices were simple and not flashy. His pacing was perfect and never was the visual aspect confusing. He also did a magnificent job of taking a series of scenes involving just a handful of people sitting around talking and somehow turning it into a thriller. That’s it. No action scenes. No sex. No violence. Just people talking. And it was a thriller. I’ve referred to it as a non-thrilling thriller. It was perfect for what it was trying to do.

The cast was a sea of masters class guest lecturers. Michael Keaton (Birdman) was exceptional as the working editor of the Spotlight team. Liev Schreiber (Salt) created an awesome editor in chief character whom was terribly realistic and the catalyst for the work the spotlight team did on this breaking story.

Mark Ruffalo (Foxcatcher) had a great moment as the lead writer for the first story the Globe published on this Mike Rezendes. His work garnished him a best supporting actor nomination from the Academy Awards and well deserved. However, Rachel McAdams (Midnight In Paris) had very little grit for her to lockup an Oscar with her role in this. She was a great contribution to the film but maybe not special enough for an Academy Award nomination like she got.

My other favorite character and probably the one to show the most growth was lawyer Mitchell Garabedian, presented by the exceptional Stanley Tucci (The Terminal). Basically, there wasn’t a single performance that soured the picture. Every principal actor showed a hearty attempt to make what they were doing special.

If you have seen a little released picture known as Shattered Glass, this film reminds me a lot of that. And I LOVED that one. It’s not quite like it, but they have the same reasons I love both.

This film deserves whatever awards are coming it’s way. As for Best Picture possibilities, I personally enjoyed The Big Short a little more, but as a journalist myself Spotlight deserves the spotlight among the best films of the year.

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poster_exmachinaThis movie was terribly awkward, and part of it was how quiet it was. It was like sitting in a room with a super smart but socially awkward person and not saying anything to each other for almost two hours.

While highly interesting, Ex Machina struck me as a new generation Stanley Kubrick film; one that is far more entertaining and with actually something to say.

Ex Machina is about a young programmer named Caleb, played by Domhnall Gleeson (The Revenant), who is hired by a young but powerful tech mogul named Nathan, played by Oscar Isaac (Star Wars: The Force Awakens), to assess the result of Nathan’s latest AI development for flaws. The AI to assess? An android beauty who shows her true intelligence, artificial or not, by using Caleb as a means of escape.

The best thing about this movie is watching the mysteries surrounding Nathan unfold. What the hell is going on with this guy? What did this programmer get himself into? That’s what you spend half the movie wondering and getting little clues towards. And albeit the movie is paced slow until the third act, it’s these wonders and these clues that kept me engaged. I had to know what the hell was going on with this Nathan guy, no matter how slow the film. So I will credit this engagement to the screenplay by also-director Alex Garland (Dredd, 28 Days Later), which garnished him an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay and deservedly so.

As a director, the pace was a little too slow for me to say no nomination was a wrong. However, this awkwardness of the style accompanied the film’s style very well.

There were only three principal performances in the film each of which committed extremely well. My two favorites were Alicia Vikander (The Danish Girl) as the AI femme droid, and to which the visual FX attached to her character Ava were beyond incredible; truly seamless. However. as her character inner and outer motivations unfolded, the extent of what Vikander gave to the role become increasingly more impressive.

Isaac as Nathan was also spot on. He seemed creepy, but we never really had a reason to be nervous. He was dark and stormy, but we always saw him interact with Caleb with courtesy, accomplishment and appreciation. Isaac really presented this genius with a subtle dynamic that was ultimately hard to explain on the surface and completely added to the fun of unraveling the mystery around him and what he is trying to achieve with his AI development….and why.

Since the film had me so involved, I didn’t mind the Kubrickness of the style. I definitely feel, despite this style, this is the best picture Garland has added to his writer-director credits to date. However, I would say this type of movie is an acquired taste and I can’t say for sure if just anyone will enjoy it as I did.

Let me just put it this way. I enjoyed the film immensely, but I will never own it. I just don’t find it a film I would pop in for fun and watch a second time.

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For those of you who are old enough to know what this statement means…I could have had a V8.

Yet another remake of a bad terror movie from the 1970s, “When a Stranger Calls” is about a young woman who realizes she is being stalked by a serial killer after babysitting for some rich folk in a bad unnerving house.

Simon West (Con Air, The General’s Daughter) directed this movie, and there were a couple of tricks I thought were memorable. There was a scene where the killer was trapped in a living bird and water atrium, but we find out he escaped when the young girl, named Jill, played by Camille Bella, finds birds fluttering in the house.

Also, the house has motion sensors for each room’s lights to turn on, and West played well with those. In fact, I think he could have played with them more.

The bottom line is, this movie went out of its way to stick every scary movie cliche it could within the first 40 minutes. After that, the picture got better and more intense.

The climax was very believable and not over-sensationalized, which I appreciated; however, the denouement of the film went right back to another cliche and ruined what it built up to.

This is a story which only works in today’s technology, but it doesn’t make the movie any better than the lame original version from 1970.

There’s nothing to be gained from this movie; however, if you’re a teenager and going on a date, this would be a decent pick. Don’t expect a decent movie though, just a nervous girl sitting next to you.

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