Tag Archives: Thriller

Movie Review: October Gale (2014)

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Rating: C+/ If a strange man shows up in your house with a gunshot wound and a half-baked story, trust him unreservedly. He couldn’t possibly be a serial killer or a rapist, could he?

I don’t care what anybody says, Tim Roth makes any movie about 100% times better. His loquacious villain makes this movie, well, watchable. Patricia Clarkson is a wonderful actress, but even she can’t save October Gale from the gutter. Here she plays Helen, a recent widow who goes to her summer home for the first time after the death of her husband (played in flashbacks by Callum Keith Rennie.) Continue reading Movie Review: October Gale (2014)

Movie Review: The Hateful Eight (2015)

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Rating: C+/ Well, you certainly can’t accuse Quentin Tarantino of false advertising. These eight characters are, in fact, hateful. And then some. Let me just preface this review by saying I love Tarantino’s movies. Usually. But his latest effort, The Hateful Eight, stands as one of his weakest so far. Usually, we can follow Tarantino into the craziest plots, the nuttiest situations that he conjures up before us. His movies are self-indulgent as fuck, films derived from films derived from other films, but that matters to us not one whit. The man has a gift; for dialogue, for characters, for pitch-black, twisted humor that is as prevalent in his films as the ubiquitous big twist in a M. Night Shyamalan flick. Continue reading Movie Review: The Hateful Eight (2015)

Movie Review: Locke (2013)

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Rating: B/ Tom Hardy, in a car. Driving. For an hour and a half. Who knew such a movie would be watchable, let alone oddly compelling? Construction foreman Ivan Locke (Hardy) is in a bit of a bind. The woman he recently had an affair with (whose voice on Locke’s speaker phone is provided by Olivia Colman) is carrying his baby and has just gone into premature labor, triggering some complications with the birth. So Ivan, feeling responsible (and rightfully so) for the woman’s situation, drops his important construction job the next morning and the opportunity to watch a big football game with his two adolescent sons (voiced by Tom Holland and Bill Milner) to be with her for the event. Ivan’s lover’s needy and vulnerable, his wife (voiced by Ruth Wilson) wants to hang his philandering balls out to dry, and the job site’s a mess without him. Determined to do the right thing for once, Ivan juggles his responsibilities via phone calls as he makes his way to witness the birth of his illegitimate child. Continue reading Movie Review: Locke (2013)

Movie Review: Bronson (2008)

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Rating: B/ Charlie Bronson (Tom Hardy) is a guy who loves to kick the shit out of people. It’s as simple as that, this film carefully avoids wrapping Charlie’s derangement into a neat package or coming up with pat psychiatric explanation for his crazy out of control behavior. As far as we know, Bronson was never molested, beaten with a belt, or locked in a cupboard. Born Michael Peterson to average comfortably middle-class parents (Amanda Burton and Andrew Forbes), Charlie (who picked the moniker from the name of the Death Wish star with the help of his uncle (Hugh Ross,) the proprietor of a sleazy nightclub) just really loves to fight. In fact, he’s famous for it, dubbed ‘Britain’s Most Violent Prisoner’ for his unhinged savagery. Continue reading Movie Review: Bronson (2008)

Movie Review: Apartment Zero (1988)

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Rating: B/  Colin Firth is an infinitely watchable lead. I have yet to see him give a performance I didn’t care for. Apartment Zero is one of his earlier roles, in which he plays a kind of Norman Bates incarnate, a uptight, somewhat simpering young man named Adrian DeLuc who is utterly disinterested in other people but endlessly fascinated by the old black-and-white films. Continue reading Movie Review: Apartment Zero (1988)

Movie Review: Dark Places (2015)

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Rating: B-/ Flaws aside, I don’t think this movie is as bad as the critics say. Sure, the characters are fairly unlikable and the plot twist doesn’t hold up to close scrutiny, but I was invested throughout the entire film in what was going to happen next (which is strange, since the lead character actually kind of annoyed me.) Plus, I love Charlize Theron, no matter what kind of fucked-up head case she’s playing (take the Oscar-winning crime drama Monster, for example. ) Continue reading Movie Review: Dark Places (2015)

Movie Review: The Drop (2014)

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Rating: B+/  In this drama based on Dennis Lehane’s short story Animal Rescue, Tom Hardy plays Bob, a quiet guy with a dark past who works as a bartender and tries to stay out of trouble. In the process of avoiding the temptations of a life of crime, he meets a girl (Noomi Rapace) with her share of bugs in her attic and reluctantly adopts an abused pit bull puppy. But when the girl’s boyfriend (Matthias Schoenaerts) starts pushing Bob to his limit and some mob money gets stolen from Bob’s boss’ (James Gandolfini)’s bar, Bob reveals his capacity for animalistic savagery that lingers behind his mild exterior. Continue reading Movie Review: The Drop (2014)

Film Discussion: Spider (2002)

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Rating: A-/ ***Warning- This is more of a comprehensive discussion of the film Spider than a actual review. Spoilers should be expected.*** First off, I adore Ralph Fiennes. I really just love the guy. I think he’s one of the best (if not actually the best) actors of today. I just rediscovered the greatness of Cronenberg’s psychoanalytic thriller Spider, I’m going to use this opportunity to talk about why I think Spider was one of Fiennes’ best performances and one of his most daring film endeavors. I’m also going to discuss what made Spider so great and look at the layers of meaning the psychology of this film provides. Let this be my last warning; this is going to be a spoiler laden post. If you haven’t seen this film yet and want to, avoid this review like the plague. Thank you.

When we first meet Spider (Ralph Fiennes) as he gets off a train, he seems very small and vulnerable, one of society’s undisputed outcasts. Nicotine-stained fingers, raggedy old coat, stubbly, bewildered face- he looks like he wishes he cold just sink into the ground and disappear. We can also see clear as day that not all is right with him psychologically, as he continually mutters incomprehensibly to himself (turn on your subtitles!) and doesn’t seem totally cognizant of his surroundings. He’s definitely out of his element, and rightfully so- Spider has just been released from an insane asylum that he was committed to since childhood, and is being placed in the care of Mrs. Wilkinson (Lynn Redgrave,) a crusty old woman who owns a halfway house for the mentally disturbed.

The house could use a spruce-up and Mrs. Wilkinson could use some work on her bedside manner. She treats the patients like naughty children who constantly need to be berated and told off. Spider begins reexamining events that placed him in the care of the state by becoming an ‘observer’ of his childhood, following his boy self around the familiar streets of his youth and sitting in on conversations between people that occurred at that time, and some that didn’t. This is where the brilliance of this movie lies, for as soon as we are introduced to his parents (Miranda Richardson and Gabriel Byrne) we are immediately placed in the shoes of an unreliable narrator. While his mum is long-suffering, beautiful, and kind, his father Bill is a philandering alcoholic and all around jerk who Spider competes with for the affections of his mother.

In a series of events that young Spider couldn’t possibly have been present for, we find that Dad is screwing a local floozy named Yvonne (also played by Miranda Richardson) and that they kill Spider’s saintly mother when she catches them making it in the garden shed. These scenes, and the subsequent scenes where Yvonne takes Mrs. Cleg’s place as Spider’s new ‘mother,’ are ludicrously over-the-top and almost cartoonish in nature. Juxtaposed with the hyperrealistic scenes where Spider himself is present, these parts seem to make no sense unless you take them at face value- that Spider is making them up. That they came out of the mind of a naive, inexperienced, and mentally ill man who has spent most of his life in an institution.

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Yvonne (despite being played by the same actress who played the mother) is slutty, coarse, and rendered with make-up and costume design to be actually fairly unattractive. The infinitely well-meaning Mrs. Cleg is superior in every way to this common street whore; of this Spider is convinced. So he sets out to murder Yvonne by turning the gas stove on as she sleeps, only to find he has murdered his mother and ‘Yvonne’ as he knows her never existed. Yes, maybe he was jokingly flashed by a woman similar to his incarnation of Yvonne (in fact, ‘Flashing Yvonne’ is played a by a whole different actress than Richardson, Allison Egan) and his mind did the rest of the work. Building upon this event he created the ultimate harlot, the woman who would stand by as his dad killed his mom and insist he call her ‘mother.’

So what do I think? I think Spider’s oh-so-virtuous mother became alcoholic and bitter, creating ‘Yvonne’ in his mind and causing him to believe that his dad murdered his mom and replaced her with an uncaring, promiscuous duplicate. Spider obviously has the hots for his mom on some subconscious level, brushing her hair and watching her put on make-up adoringly and eyeing her as she tries on a slinky nightgown. She became boozy and hard due to her marital problems with her husband and his love of going to the Dog and Beggar and drinking. Someone had to be blamed, and the issue had to be put in more black-and-white terms so Spider could understand it.

There’s only one thing about this movie that confuses me, and that’s the scene where Spider’s in a restaurant looking at a picture of a green Yorkshire field. Suddenly he’s standing in a field identical to the one in the picture,  hanging out with a couple of old men who don’t particularly seem to have their mental faculties. I think that he met the men at the asylum (I believe one of these guys was the one wielding a piece of broken glass in the flashback.) He imagined them in a grassy field and used some of the dialogue he had heard from them in the scenario. I’m also very curious whether Spider realized what he had done to his mother (he does refrain from braining Mrs. Wilkinson, who he imagines as Yvonne, with a hammer) or whether the big reveal was just a tip-off to the audience and Spider is as lost as ever.

I don’t think it should be surprising to you that Ralph Fiennes is incredible in this movie. He shows a gift for portraying debilitating mental illness with a nuanced sleight of hand that is not generally present in these kinds of performances. So that’s it. I’ve explained why I think Spider is one of the more complex psychological thrillers I’ve seen in my life, and I’ve offered some explanation to the meaning of the events presented in this movie. Liked this discussion? Have any thoughts? Want me to write another like it? Stop by and tell me in the comments!

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Sicario (2015)

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Rating- A+/ Buckle your seat belts, because this ride gets pretty crazy. Denis Villeneuve’s Sicario is a unrelentingly bleak and fascinating film about a subject I know nothing about, Mexican Drug Cartels. The only stuff I know about Cartels I learned from the television shows Breaking Bad and The Bridge, so don’t expect me to know a lot about the authenticity of this film. But my dad is a cop who hates cop shows, and he was totally fucking psyched about getting us to watch this. Anyway, there’s hardly a dull moment in Sicario, it’ll get your heart pounding and your adrenaline going, and although it’s a bit too character-driven to be described as an ‘action movie’ (not in the same vein as say, Transformers,) it’ll have your attention every moment of it’s duration. And some of that time you’ll literally be holding your breath in suspense (as cliche as that sounds.)

This is a film where things go from bad to worse. Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) is a by-the-books FBI agent who specializes in kidnapping scenarios. After a raid goes badly awry, Kate is approached by the CIA and offered a job she knows nothing about. Eager to get back at the people who are responsible for the massacre of her teammates but sad to leave her partner and best friend Reggie (Daniel Kaluuya) (How refreshing to see a storyline featuring male-and-female besties that doesn’t devolve into a predictable romantic scenario!,) Kate travels by plane to Mexico, and is told by her superiors she is going to El Paso. Turns out, she’s not, she’s going to Juarez, the most corrupt city in Latin America, where there are literally mutilated bodies hanging from bridges in broad daylight. Shit. She’s going to need to ask for paid vacation time in the near future. Six months in Oahu won’t be nearly enough to get those images out of your head.

Kate is accompanied by an an chilled-out agent named Matt (Josh Brolin) who seems to be doing his best Jeffrey ‘the Dude’ Leboswki impression, and the mysterious Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro,) who doesn’t seem to be working for any one organization as much as his own twisted agenda. In the process of taking down a cartel led by the ruthless Fausto Alarcon (Julio Cadillo,) Kate goes in way over her head, falling down a kind of rabbit hole of violence and corruption.

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Kate’s story is interspersed with the plotline of Silvio (Maximiliano Hernández,) a Juarez cop who is similarly digging himself into an awfully big hole, but for different reasons. Despite what he might or might not have done, Silvio will break your heart as he makes one bad decision after another in the attempt to fully provide for his wife and son. His corruption and eventual undoing is juxtaposed with the other characters’ deep moral ambiguity and bad decision making throughout. There’s a lot of grey area here, and the characters range from the flawed, to the evil, to the downright dastardly and hold some of this complexity on both sides.

Sicario feels very raw and realistic, especially for an American movie, which seem to usually feel more sitcomish or fake than their overseas counterparts. The movie doesn’t show a whole ton of violence on screen but is gut-wrenchingly effective when it does, capturing the viewer’s imagination in scenes of implied torture and child murder. Kudos to whole cast from the biggest stars to the fairly obscure secondary players. Together they create a world of intrigue and chaos, and most of all, of unflinching realism. This is not a movie where the good guys go in guns-a-firing and save the day while dropping the occasional shitty one-liner. I’m not entirely sure there are any good guys, at least not in the typical sense. There is, however, a whole lot of devastation and emotional damage on the part of the people who have to deal with this crap- every day. To see the awful side of humanity on a regular basis is enough to make anyone go a little crazy, but these guys- particularly the dead-eyed Alejandro- go above and beyond the call of duty in terms of nuttiness.

Combining excellent foreshadowing  and script writing with a astonishingly chilling score, Sicario is a thriller with brains- I know, pick your disbelieving jaws off the floor- that provides no easy answers or platitudes about the drug war in Mexico or the infinite potential for darkness within the human condition. I’m not exaggerating when I saw this movie might contain the best ensemble cast of the year. The players give it all they’ve got, and the results are nothing less than harrowing. And this from the person who thought the directors’ earlier effort, Prisoners, was mindbogglingly overrated. I guess you don’t know exactly what to expect of a filmmaker until you’ve seen them at their best.

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Ex Machina (2015)

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Many films have been made about the perils of man trying to play God, but Ex Machina actually delivers on provoking thought and discussion from it’s audience. In a time when science fiction thrillers are the proverbial dime a dozen but most don’t do more than provide mild entertainment for 80+ minutes, Ex Machina is a breath of fresh air, a piece of science fiction so uncannily real and creepy it is likely to get under your skin and stay there.

There’s a concept called the ‘Uncanny Valley,’ which suggest A.I. will actually become more and not less unsettling if they are designed and programmed to closely resemble human beings. But in a world where advanced A.I. is possible, who should you fear more; the robots or their hubristic creators? Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) is a bit of a nerd and an all-around good guy who happens to be extremely intelligent. When the organization he works for, a internet search engine company called Blue Book, holds a drawing to choose a lucky employee to get the meet the head honcho and brains behind the operation, Caleb can hardly believe his good fortune.

Being a genius doesn’t necessarily come equipped with an abundance of kindness or humility, that’s never been truer than it is for Blue Book’s former kid prodigy, Nathan (Oscar Isaac.) Nathan is an narcissist, an alcoholic, and a man who reaches a mentally ill level of creepy and ratchets up that creepiness a notch every minute you’re in the room with him. He is, however, a mastermind at coding, hacking, and, as it turns out, building shapely female robots. When Caleb meets Ava (Alicia Vikander,)  a beautiful cyborg with a sweet and innocent manner, it’s fascination at first sight. Nathan wants Caleb to perform the Turing Test on Ava to discover if she’s equal to a human being in her level of empathy and cognitive responses, but what happens to Ava if she fails?

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If you like smart science fiction that actually incorporates science and philosophy in it’s story and challenges you to think about the ideas it’s presenting, this movie is for you. After being introduced to three compelling characters with their own individual (and sometimes frustratingly ambiguous) motivations and needs, we are forced to ask the question; which of these people is innocent? Who has the most humanity? Who is telling the truth? Who is full of shit? If Ava is not as innocent as she initially appears, does that make her less human or all too human? Which is a scarier concept?

Where does ownership end and violation begin in Nathan’s abuse of his robots? They’re his creations, but does that mean they should have to suffer at his hands? You give life to something, but then you mistreat it, and thus abuse your power. It’s a story as old as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, but writer/director Alex Garland breathes new life into the concept, basing it off an idea he had as a boy. It’s easy to think of this as the anti-Chappie (and I was one of the few that actually liked Chappie!) because while that film handles the idea of a scientist creating artificial intelligence and the ensuing complications with the subtlety of a sledgehammer, Ex Machina is silk-smooth and insinuating when it comes to it’s themes.

The plot points are never applied with too much force, and it should come as no surprise to you that all the actors are extraordinary in their roles. Gorgeous cinematography when the movie dares to venture outside of Nathan’s expansive pad juxtaposes the mechanical, the manufactured, and the ‘fake’ with staggering scenic beauty. Can one be as real as the other? Ex Machina will grab your attention until the last scene.

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