Plop yourself down in your most comfy seat. But brace yourself to spend most of your viewing time trying to keep from falling right off the edge of it.
At times (and it seems these times happen fartoo 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 neverwanted 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?The Wave (2016)
"The Wave" is a made in Norway disaster flick.
is not a disaster.
The crushing tidal wave created in a previously placid fjord from catastrophic mountain rock shifts sure as hell is
To me there 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. 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.
"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 seriouslyscrewy 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. 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 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.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 at school 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.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
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 Cameron 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.Preservation (2014)
"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.Pioneer (2013)
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.Evidence (2013)
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.They (2002)
"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".'71 (2014)
"'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
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.Devil (2010)
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".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". Good People (2014)
It is not great. It is not awful. It just is. That about sums it up for the paint-by-numbers tepid thriller "Good People".
Vicious drug dealers. Crooked cops. Dirty money. Decent working folk stuck right smack dab in the middle of all the violence and mayhem being generated, and all because of "smack". You've seen it all before.
James Franco, Kate Hudson, Tom Wilkinson. They're all just fine. And they're all just pickin' up a paycheck here.
We have all witnessed much the same in much worse.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. 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.Before I Go to Sleep (2014)
It's the "same ol', same ol'" for Nicole Kidman's character Christine in "Before I Go to Sleep". A mysterious and brutal assault has condemned her to years of an entire life's worth of memories being completely wiped out. Consequently, she must now begin every morning as if it is her first. Ever
Christine sets about painstakingly piecing together the puzzle that may lead to the circumstances of the attack, and more importantly the identity of the animal who nearly literally beat her brains out. Colin Firth (in about as wide a departure from his dignified role in "The King's Speech" as you can conjure) for just a few brief moments here threatens to take this tale into slasher territory. But the typical lazy filmmaker temptation to succumb to this "easy out" is thankfully averted. And what we get instead is a touchingly reassuring denouement reinforcing the notion that true love is timeless.
And never forgotten.The Moment (2013)
Jennifer Jason Leigh is a war photographer who sacrifices both family and sanity for her job in "The Moment". While it is not consistently apparent what in the hell is going on nor what the focus is intended to be exactly, one premise does seem to emerge relatively clearly. That is that the massively conflicted character of Lee appears fated to a life of helpless incapability separating reality from fantasy. And yet, she remains, by choice, a veritable slave to the calling that renders her such.
Listen closely to the voices she alone hears in the final frame of the film and this is made chillingly plain."Best Laid Plans" (1999)
"Best Laid Plans", while certainly not the best made movie, does provide a serviceable degree of entertainment as threadbare thrillers go. If nothing else, it's fun to see present day superstars Reese Witherspoon and Josh Brolin in the more embryonic stages of their respective now formidable careers.
Oh, and this just must be noted. Rocky Carroll (TV's "NCIS") is an absolute hoot as a guy billed here simply as "Bad Ass Dude". His portrayal of a drug king pin with an especially keen awareness regarding the economics inherent in his craft is by the far the "best" recommendation to even "plan" to "lay into" this flick, if at all. The Spanish Prisoner (1997)
My thing with David Mamet films is that, while by and large well written, they are just so damn STIFF. As if they're intended for the stage. Which isn't too terribly difficult to understand, given Mamet's pedigree as a world-class playwright. This confounding exasperation is once again the core detraction with the 1997 Mamet vehicle "The Spanish Prisoner".
Admittedly, Campbell Scott performs yeoman's duty in an effort to pump some life into his role as a stool pigeon corporate inventor getting royally hosed in a complex con job. And the story does manage to at last pick up the pace about half way into the proceedings. But Mamet never does allow the narrative, nor his actors, to fully cut loose with unrestrained abandon and make "Prisoner" the kind of compelling suspense thriller it could well have shaped up to be. Instead we get an all too limp version of what Mamet likely intended to be a Hitchcockian classic.
Sorry, Sir Alfred. Certainly no offense intended.After (2012)
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". 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. Tell No One (2006)
It's kinna hard to imagine that you won't find something to like about the first-rate French crime thriller "Tell No One". Unless you're allergic to subtitles, that is.
François Cluze (gosh this guy resembles a younger day Dustin Hoffman) delivers a strong lead performance in a "who-done-it-to-whom" that grabs you right from the get-go and then keeps you deeply immersed in suspense and mystery straight through to the "happy" ending. And to be clear, in the aftermath of all the tumult and mayhem that has come before it, it is a joyful resolution only in the most relative of terms.
Even for the French. Mystery Road (2013)
"Mystery Road" looked like a pretty good ride to me. I've always been attracted to stories set in sparsely populated, largely remote environs, with dialogue delivered in similarly sparing fashion. This well crafted "Who done it?" situated in a town stuck out in the middle of the Australian Outback nowhere definitely fits the bill.
Aaron Pedersen is excellent as Jay Swan, a lone wolf police detective struggling to track down the animals who've been slaying the wayward teenage girls left to the wild dogs that prowl the fringes of this desolate and depressed outpost. Swan's job is made all the more complicated by virtue of the fact that he is a half breed mix of the downtrodden native aborigine and the exploitative white man. Neither group exactly extends him a warm welcome.
The final scenes of "Road" inspire us to believe that this emotionally lost law man may have at last found his purpose in life. It is a tentative place he has arrived at to be sure. And yet it is one with plenty of wide open spaces for hope to grow. And perhaps, even against this bleak and brutal backdrop, to flourish. Speed (1994)
Among a select group perched at the apex of the food chain of suspense thriller rampages. "Speed" holds up as well today as it did back when it first introduced us to unlikely substitute bus driver heroine Sandra Bullock in the mid '90's. Dennis Hopper delivers his bonkers best as a mad bomber. And while Keanu Reeves seems to know only one gear for acting (neutral), he still makes for one of the most bad-ass action heroes ever to stud up the screen.
Just keep 'er over "50", big guy! Gone Girl (2014)
Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike create a contemptible couple trapped in a marriage from which it appears there is no escape in the sinister thriller "Gone Girl". You are snatched and hurled headlong into this seriously sordid story right from it's opening mesmerizing moments. And then held positively spellbound for the film's nearly two and a half hours duration as the balance of power in this profoundly perverse pairing shifts by way of the most macabre and demented deeds imaginable.
Director David Fincher (working with an ominously creepy music score spearheaded by Nine Inch Nails front man Trent Reznor) does a glorious job of extracting the relentless tone of anxiety and dread from Gillian Flynn's best-selling novel and splattering it all over the screen in one of the most magnificent mind-screwing psycho chillers to the bone ever fashioned. Into the Storm (2014)
In the end, Pike has diabolically delivered a dangerously demented dame whose mind and soul are without a shadow of a doubt, "Gone Girl".
Okay. The special effects in the attack of the monster tornados flick "Into the Storm" absolutely had to be kick ass. Or the movie would have been a miserable lost cause. Good news is...they did. Thanks to several BATTALIONSof "Visual Effects" twister techies.
Toss in the notch above passable acting and this one, while it may not "blow you away", is by and large well worth your time to "twist the night away". The Maze Runner (2014)
"The Maze Runner" leaps on an ever crowding bandwagon of flicks based upon a series of YA books. Their common denominator, and it would seem soul purpose, being the victimization, vilification and vanquishing of teenage boys and girls in an actual or damn near age of the apocalypse.
Count me as one of the apparently few among us who is neither impressed nor enthralled. But certainly don't let that bother ya, fans. The sequel is just around the bend.
I'm gonna remain on the road less traveled here if you don't mind. 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?
The Conspiracy (2012)
Did not know what to expect with "The Conspiracy". It looked intriguing. So I gave it a shot. I'm really glad I did.
This Canadian made "mockumentary" at times seems like the actual thing, other times goes a little too far over the top, but overall manages to maintain it's momentum while ably building tension throughout.
You may, as I did, find yourself laughing at the fanatical main subject of the two young filmmakers. And then snickering some more at those who share his on-the-surface paranoid perspectives. But in the end, it may be we who derisively dismiss at whom the last laugh is targeted.
God, let's hope not. Deadfall (2012)
A kick ass stable of actors (Sissy Spacek, Kris Kristofferson, Eric Bana among them) in not nearly as kick ass a thriller. The story never manages to build at nearly the hellacious rate of the ever-burgeoning body count.
Despite being mostly a misfire, "Deadfall" will likely have enough going on over the duration to keep you from falling into a dead sleep.Amber Alert (2012)
And here we have yet another entry in the seemingly limitless line of found-footage flicks. "Amber Alert" focuses for far
too long on the inanely incessant babble of two 20-something friends that is at once overwrought, repetitive and downright aggravating.
If you can make it to the end, the closing minutes of this semi-thriller pay off with a stunningly shocking ending you will likely not see coming. Literally
, as much of it is played out in pitch blackness.
Alas, the teenage kid who operates the camera comes across as the most cogent of these "reality" characters. From the back seat of a car, where he's perched for most of the proceedings, the youngster sums it up simply when he asks, "Why would anyone want to watch this?"
Okay, one more thing. I just gotta comment on the closing credits. First of all, did co-star/co-producer Summer Bellessa's entire family have a hand in the making of this movie or what? And what up with the "Special Thanks" to iconic rocker Eddie Vedder? While I don't recall hearing any Pearl Jam in the film, it would be damn near impossible to take notice of anything above the constant clucking of the two motor-mouths in "Amber Alert". Locke (2014)
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. Brake (2012)
Another in a growing trend toward vanity projects Exec Produced by guys who came to fame first as actors. This time around, "Brake" belongs to Stephen Dorff, who occupies the majority of screen time portraying a CIA agent held hostage in the trunk of a car driven by terrorists in search of the President's secret bunker.
I like Dorff. And I liked this shoestring budget and still not shoddy quality film. The stunner of an ending will shock you as a film fan.
But more unsettling is how it may disturb you as an American. Devil's Pass (2013)
If you don't find "found footage" flicks fascinating, you will not like it. If you don't dig dallying for an eternity for all hell to break loose (and it most certainly does) then you will not like it. But if these attributes appeal to you, you may want to take this totally trippy teleporting trek through the deliriously diabolical "Devil's Pass".
It's well a worthwhile way to while away some time killing some night. After all, as we know, "idle hands are the devil's workshop."Headhunters (2011)
Leave it to those crafty Norwegians to fashion a film furnishing the beholder with everything from jelly that works as a transmitter to a guy getting gunned down before a live internet audience to the poor fellow on the run from a killer while all the while covered from face to feet in feces. No kidding.
Director Morten Tyldum keeps the pace of "Headhunters" by and large brisk as he coaches his cast of capable actors through a deluge of darkly daffy scenes, while at the same time never shying away from the out-and-out grim.
If you're hunting for a thriller with a mega-dose of the oddball, I'm issuing a head's up for this one.Blood (2012)
The 2012 BBC Crime Thriller "Blood" is genuinely first rate in it's acting, pacing, plot and striking photography of the Wirral Peninsula of northwest England.
The film's ultimate thrust that blood is thicker than water is practically guaranteed to make a literal and symbolic impression upon you. Swerve (2011)
Not a lot of new Australian Outback ground broken here in this well-worn tale of drugs, money and murder from Down Under.
However, see if you agree with me on this: The psycho cop looks like a buffed-out Quentin Tarantino, the strong, silent type guy resembles Kirk Cameron ("Growing Pains") and the fetching femme fatale puts one in the alluring mind of Jessica Biel.
Other than these little anomalies, you can pretty much turn away from "Swerve".Secret Window (2004)
Johnny Depp is at turns funny, wacko and downright harrowing (and even sports braces, to boot) in 2004's suspenser "Secret Window". And in the coo coo crazy department, co-star John Turturro gives Depp a wicked run for his money.
Based on a diabolic Steven King novella, Depp plays a top-selling cum struggling writer who dives headlong into a months-long nervous breakdown after confronting his wife (the fetching Maria Bello, whose talents are largely wasted here) in a flea bag motel bed with another guy (smarmily played by Timothy Hutton).
Depp's character begins and ends the film by telling us that in every story "the only thing that matters is the ending". When peering through the "Secret Window", you may well think you've solved this creepy mystery about two-thirds of the way through the proceedings or so. But as the final credits abruptly roll before your startled eyes, chances are you're not even on the same page.
So to speak.Match Point (2005)
"Match Point" gives us a treatise on the fickle nature of luck, Woody Allen style, puncutuated by a scintilatingly smoldering peformance from the shapely siren Scarlett Johansson. The story's sinister outcome will leave you to ponder if the variety of luck reaped by Jonathan Rhys Meyers social-climber character is ultimately good or bad.
Could have done without the scratchy vintage operatic music score, but it did succeed in establishing an effectively ominous tone to the increasingly unsettling proceedings.
Woody's still got a way with spinning a compelling yarn. And aren't we the lucky ones to be on the receiving end of his seemingly ceaseless and vividly creative vision?Gravity (2013)
The gravity of the situation.
The utter lack of gravity in outer space.
These themes are vividly explored in mind-blowing and bending fashion in the out of this world dramatic sci-fi thriller "Gravity".
Supernova stars Sandra Bullock and George Clooney each generate shining performances amidst an ongoing onslaught of spectacular special effects, largely the vision of Visual Effects Supervisor Tim Webber and Director of Photography Emmanuel Lubezki. Music Composer Steven Price masterfully provides not so much a soundtrack as an unrelenting undercurrent of sound and noise that is as tension-building as it is anxiously atmospheric.
In the end, accomplished veteran film maker Alfonso Cuarón (who co-wrote the script with his son Jonás) delivers a film designed to astound us as well as inspire reflection on our place in a vast and awesome Universe.
Messages Deleted (2009)
"Messages Deleted" is a passable suspense thriller delivered from, and having a bit of fun at the expense of, the craft of screen writing.
Matthew Lillard does a credible job as the hero (oops, make that protagonist) in this who-done-it-and-why serial murder mystery. The beautiful and talented Deborah Kara Unger lends a touch of class to the proceedings as a hard boiled cop, while fellow Canadian actress Gina Holden is fine (real fine) as a creepy hottie.
"Messages Deleted" will likely keep you focused for an hour and a half. And then you're probably okay to erase. 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".
"Wrecked" is a vanity project for Adrien Brody.
He occupies practically every moment of screen time, much of it in extreme
And Brody apparently largely footed the bill, as well, as he is one of the film's Executive Producers.
The good news for me is that I am a fan of the gifted actor. And the good news for all is that Brody does one helluva job in this character study of a man hurled headlong into desperate circumstances that will forever change his life. If he makes it out alive, that is.
I most highly recommend that you get "Wrecked" to find out. Exam (2009)
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.Frozen Ground (2013)
Nicolas Cage and John Cusack are marquis actors.
Each shine in "Frozen Ground", a fact-based crime drama from first-time feature Writer/Director Scott Walker that not as many will see as each of these screen veterans have generally become accustomed to.
Both gentlemen knew this going in.
Which, to me, makes watching this movie all the more satisfying.
Their impressive performances are born primarily from the innate aspiration to express their considerable gifts, and not merely to drive box office revenue. Cage is at the top of his craft as Jack Halcombe, an Alaska State Trooper doggedly pursuing one of the state's most notorious serial murderers, Robert Hansen, during the early 1980's. Cusack takes his portrayal of the demented killer to a deeply dark and disturbing place in an absolutely harrowing turn. Vanessa Hudgens is heartbreaking as a teenage prostitute runaway from a nightmarish broken home. Cindy Paulson was a miraculous survivor of one of Hansen's vicious assaults. Hudgens's depiction of the raw strength and inimitable spirit Paulson summoned to help bring this monster to justice will remain with you long after this chilling thriller is "case closed".A Perfect Getaway (2009)
Apollo 18 (2011)
"A Perfect Getaway" does a practically perfect job of making you believe one reality, when in reality what you thought you believed winds up making you look the fool in the end. Make sense? Git outta he-uh! But trust me, it will.
There's also lots of creepiness and scares to spare along the winding way to sorting it all out in this not-by-the-numbers creative thriller.
Did you know that Apollo 17 was not the last manned mission to the moon? You didn't? That's because it was.
However, "Apollo 18" speculates what may have happened if the American lunar landing program had continued for one more top secret flight blasting off in the dead of night in 1973. And let's just say that what the three man crew finds awaiting them on the "big ball of cheese in space" is NOT what they had bargained for when they signed up for the trip.The Missing (2003)
New Mexico. 1885. Desolate. Hostile. Unforgiving. And that's just how Director Ron Howard serves up the stark setting and times to us in "The Missing."
Ostensibly this is the tale of a pioneer doctor and mother (Cate Blanchett in a grueling performance), her daughter and her estranged father (Tommy Lee Jones in a riveting role-he's there somewhere under all that hair) searching for her eldest daughter, who has been kidnapped by Apache sex slave traders. What it really is about is the forging of "the missing" bond between father and daughter and mother and daughter, and summed up in large part by Jones's climactic revelation, "Sometimes a man has to protect his family from himself."
Howard pulls no punches in depicting the savagery of the stark land and those who inhabited it during this still practically lawless era. This is far and away the acclaimed director's most brutal and bloody production, and several scenes are really difficult to watch all the way through.
And while I'm of the opinion that there are very few movies that can justify the over two hours running time of "The Missing", I'm willing to cut some slack in this case, as much of the extra screen time is occupied by the rugged yet breathtaking entirely on-location New Mexico wilderness scenery.
Side Effects (2013)
"Side Effects" is a hard charging, well constructed thriller set against the backdrop of Big Pharma and one of that industry's favorite bed partners, the medical practice of psychiatry.
As a drug rep for the past 15 years, I will clue you in that this is how it's done, folks; pay docs for prescriptions under the guise of "clinical patient trials". Not that a practitioner doesn't write a "script" for what they genuinely believe will best help their patient, if they choose to write anything at all. But there certainly is a reason that most of us are familiar with the phrase "conflict of interest".
I absolutely can not believe that so many actual brand name anti-depressants, such as Zoloft and Celexa, were mentioned and shown in "Side Effects". And most failed to do the job in this flick, which makes it all the more peculiar. But then again, I suppose it substantiates another expression we've come to know, "Any publicity is good publicity."
In terms of the film's primary actors, Jude Law as a psychiatrist victimized by an elaborate law suit scam and Catherine Zeta-Jones as one of Law's professional piers, so chillingly calculating she would drive you to the point of instability if you weren't there already, are both very good in their roles. "Side Effects" other two main characters, Rooney Mara and Channing Tatum, just don't do much for me. However, both are fine as a young married couple, each with their own serious issues. I was actually more impressed with Vinessa Shaw's performance as Law's beleaguered wife than with those of either one of these "up and coming stars". Argo (2012)
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.
The Ides of March (2011)