Tag Archives: thrillers

Kidnap

If you’ve ever seen the film Taken and thought: this is cool and all, but I wish Liam Neeson was a soccer mom. Or, if you’ve ever seen Tom Hardy in Locke and thought: I like movies about people driving, but couldn’t there also be a child’s life at stake? Well, stop yer yammering, I’ve got something really exciting for you. Mind you, Kidnap is only exciting for those very specific individuals who put their hands up earlier. For everyone else, this is a generic movie at best.

Halle Berry plays the soccer mom who takes her eyes off her son for just one itty bitty minute and POOF! – he disappears. Only his kidnappers are just barely proficient so Halle Berry actually sees her son being stuffed into the back of a stranger’s car, and like Kidnap-movie-Halle-Berryany angry mama bear she takes off on a parking lot tear, totally prepared to outrun the car if only she can, but of course she can’t. So she hops behind the wheel of her trusty mini van and the world’s slowest, most meandering, and good lord most repetitive chase begins.

Halle Berry doesn’t have her cell phone so her only means of contacting the outside world for help is to drive erratically and hope that a cop will notice that something’s amiss. She’s pretty sure that every other missing child just wasn’t loved enough by his or her parents so she’s going to break the mold by putting the law into her own hands, which are white-knuckled on the steering wheel for a good 80% of the movie.

Halle Berry is good, even when she’s spouting cringe-worthy lines from a tired, uninterested script, she’s nothing short of panicky, breathless, desperate.  Her character goes through quite an ordeal as you can imagine, but the film’s 84 minutes feel like an ordeal for the audience as well. We must endure hardships together. But since you have a choice, let me help you make the informed decision: Kidnap is derivative, predictable, and horribly cliched. The only positive thing I have to say is I was grateful not to find the story encumbered by secondary roles, subplots, or a character development. The movie stays true to its one-word title. And then they beat you over the head with it.

Advertisements

You Get Me

If you ever wondered what Fatal Attraction would have been like populated with people you didn’t like in high school, have I got a treat for you. Well, not a treat exactly. You still won’t like it. But at least it’ll be partially your fault.

Tyler and Alison are high school sweethearts who are “taking it slow.” They attend a Bella1party one fine summer’s even where Tyler finds out that Alison has a slutty past and his adolescent jealousy rears its ugly head and they break up. Sexy Holly is there to help his penis though this difficult time. They share a steamy weekend together, but the minute Alison extends an olive branch, Tyler runs back into her welcoming arms. No harm done.

Except Holly shows up in school with them on Monday morning, and she infiltrates their clique. Suddenly Tyler’s revenge sex doesn’t seem like such a good idea! What if she tells Alison? And, perhaps more importantly, what if she goes on a murderous rampage?

Because she kind of does. She’s a bit deranged and stalky and decides that if Alison is what stands between her and Tyler, well, the only thing that makes sense is to mow Alison down, plus any bystanders for good measure. Note to Tyler: the hot ones are always batshit crazy.

The movie plays out even more ludicrously than this sounds, trust me. It’s predictable as shit and can’t even manage to plagiarize other movies correctly, “updating” the Fatal Attraction premise with texting and social media, which is a really cool and a great idea, SAID NO ONE EVER. The result is a psychological thriller weak on the psychological AND on the thriller – but pretty strong when it comes to cars no one would ever let a teenager drive, and high school students with suspiciously buff bodies. And don’t get me started on these little dumbshits never calling the police. If you ask me, the body count was far too low. They all deserved slow deaths. I was unsatisfied.

Shut In

Mary (Naomi Watts) is a single mother caring for her severely disabled stepson, Stephen (Charlie Heaton), alone in their home ever since her husband passed. Her work as a child psychologist supports them but she’s finding it hard to keep up since Stephen is her whole life but is really only an empty shell.

Meanwhile, Mary is preoccupied with a young patient, Tom (Jacob Tremblay). He’s deaf and her work with him has gone slowly but just as she believes progress is being made, shut1his case worker is yanking him away to yet another group home. Tom has bounced around in the foster care system and Mary’s compassion is inflamed. Tom runs away one wintry night, and the fact that he seems to have run to her home briefly for refuge preys on her imagination. As the days go by and a powerful winter storm pummels them, townspeople give Tom up for dead but Mary becomes haunted by his ghost.

Virtually alone in an old house save for her vegetative stepson, Mary’s nightmares become our nightmares. Is this movie heart-pounding? It was for me. I don’t watch scary movies very often but was drawn to this for the cast, and Naomi Watts does not disappoint. But even a relative novice to the genre such as myself can feel what a retread this script is; there’s nothing new or original here, and the fear factor dips because of its obviousness.

Some beautiful cinematography helps establish a sense of isolation here, but it’s largely useless when the script goes for weak jump-scares and ignores what should have been lush with psychological horror instead. I kept thinking of this movie as “the one with Vera Farmiga” which it is not – but it is an awful lot like the one that is, and many others besides. If you have a hankering for white-lady-haunted-by-child-ghost, well, here it is. Again. But I bet you could do better.

SXSW: Us And Them

Danny is mad as hell and he’s not going to take it anymore. He’s not as eloquent as Howard Beale, but he IS galvanized into action. Angry about the iniquities between the haves and the have nots, Danny decides to kick start a revolution by live-streaming an attack on a member of the 1%.

Danny (Jack Roth, son of Tim) picks Conrad (Tim Bentinck) as his target, a wealthy banker he holds hostage alongside his wife and daughter in their McMansion. Danny and his pals hope to inspire\terrify the elite into making change, forcing Conrad to choose between his wife and daughter. Whether or not this is a good idea, it certainly doesn’t go as planned. Danny’s co-conspirators are a little less “big picture” than he’d hoped, and Conrad refuses to play the game. The anger and frustration are palpable from both sides, raw with hard edges, everyone’s values questionable.

The truth is, Danny is just as prejudiced against ‘them’ as they are against him. No one has the moral upper hand. Who do you root for then, as this thriller spirals out of control? Writer-director Joe Martin taps into the heart of outsider politics but muddies the water with unsympathetic characters. It’s also reductive, filtering the conflict only through the class system in Britain, working class vs wealth. Primarily played as a dark comedy, some of the flashbacks weaken the punch lines.  I can’t say I was ever truly on board with this one. The pacing is weird, sometimes frenetic, sometimes quite sedentary. But it’s the mixed messaging that’s most disappointing. This movie loses its thread and rejects its own cause. When you finally make it to the end you may just find yourself rooting for the wanker with the garden spade, and that’s not an enviable position for anyone.

Side Effects

Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara) is trying very hard to be happy. Her husband (Channing Tatum) is newly released from prison and they can resume their lives together. But happiness isn’t coming easy: Emily is depressed, and suicidal. She begins seeing a new doctor side-effects-A032_C011_0101LT_rgb1(Jude Law) who prescribes an anti-depressant called Ablixa. Ablixa’s causing some strange side effects though. Worrisome side effects. Violent side effects.

Side Effects is a smart, well-crafted thriller by Steven Soderbergh. He’s heavily influenced by Adrian Lyne’s Fatal Attraction and hits all the right marks for a taut, twisty little thing. He’s not big on making a statement about pharmaceuticals or psychiatry or mental illness, any of which might have been appropriate.

I forgot how much I liked this movie. It was supposedly Soderbergh’s last, 37B68FB400000578-3766104-image-a-41_1472601500752and it seemed one he could be proud to go out on. TV stuff notwithstanding. But now, at the ripe old age of 53, he’s “come out of retirement” to do Logan Lucky, the new Daniel Craig\Sebastian Stan\Channing Tatum\Katherine Heigl\Adam Driver\Hilary Swank Nascar-heist movie.

But back to Side Effects. The first half is about guilt and mental health: how they interact in a doctor’s office, and in a court of law. The second half is a little more Alfred Hitchcock than Adrian Lyne. Things come unglued. The second half is less successful than the first but a fun, b4b4cec15c78289caf1c4442df99b616engrossing watch. The anxiety is ratcheted up expertly, with Soderbergh always in control. Rooney Mara is a terrific actress and she coasts ably over any rough terrain. Catherine Zeta-Jones and Jude Law keep up. Soderbergh stays at the top of his game as well – true, he circumnavigates truth and exploration in favour of entertainment, but it’s forgivable. It’s always forgivable when it’s this fun to watch.

The Girl on the Train

I felt such an affinity for Rachel, the main character in The Girl on a Train, that it was easy for me to love Paula Hawkins’ novel. Partly, it’s because I’ve woken up with a hangover more times than I’d care to admit with an instinct to immediately check my email, text, and call history to see if I need to apologizing to anyone. But, just as important, I love people watching and especially enjoy speculating about the lives of strangers.

So Rachel (played in the film by Emily Blunt) wakes up from a night of drinking to find that her favourite stranger to watch (Haley Bennett) has gone missing and she may have seen something that could help find her. If only she can remember what it is. As the story unfolds, her behavior is frequently frustrating and not always easy to empathize with but I’d be lying if I said that she didn’t feel completely real to me. A great protagonist is really all you need to make even the simplest murder mystery seem gripping and, told from Rachel’s point of view, I found this one nearly impossible to put down.

The best film adaptations are able to identify what worked best from their source material and build a story around those elements that suits the medium. Because the film version of The Girl on the Train is a shitty adaptation, director Tate Taylor and screenwriter Erin Cressida Wilson try to pack in as many of the events of the book as possible without seeming to give any thought to how well the structure would play on screen. Neither seem interested in Rachel’s state of mind.

These may seem like the typical “the book was better” complaints but I can’t imagine the movie would impress anyone who hasn’t read the book either. Considering the popularity of the novel, the roll that Emily Blunt has been on lately, and the fact that just two movies ago Tate Taylor directed a Best Picture nominee (The Help), The Girl on the Train feels surprisingly TV-movieish. For a book that was marketed as an edge-of-your-seat thriller, its film is curiously boring, talky, and whiny.

The good news, as you may have heard, is that Blunt is terrific. She makes Rachel a lot easier to sympathize with even when her actions risk making her unlikeable. She plays the various levels of drunkenness quite well. But her efforts are wasted in a boring, lazily structured movie.

Nerve

No one’s more surprised than I am that I liked this movie. It received mixed reviews and I’m normally allergic to anything young adult, but for some reason, I enjoyed this movie. I’m assuming it’s because I’m much younger and hipper than my driver’s license would have you believe. Sure I don’t take selfies or speak emoji or know what “on fleek” means. I don’t constantly change my Instagram picture because I don’t have Instagram on my “new” (a year old) phone and I forgot my password anyway. I don’t bicycle ironically or wear nonprescription glasses or use a “lip kit.” I’m not saying I’m 17. But maybe a mature 21?

roberts-franco-a-scene-for-movie-nerve-05Nerve is about cool young kids who no doubt do all of the above. Emma Roberts plays Vee, the wallflower of her group of friends until she’s suddenly motivated to be bold, and signs up to play a new online game called Nerve.

The movie seems a little prescient now that Pokemon Go has swept the world off its feet. Nerve, however, is a little more intense than chasing Pikachu around a park. It basically consists of players and watchers. Players are fed increasingly difficult dares by popular vote of the watchers. The dares are good for cash, but ultimately it’s the number of watchers you attract, and your willingness\ability to hang in the game in the face of ever-escalating dares. Every dare has to be recorded live on your phone, and people anonymously peep. Vee’s first dare is to kiss a stranger for 5 seconds, and she does. It’s heart-pounding fun, exhilarating for a normally shy young woman. She’s proven her point: she’s not so boring after all. She’s ready to go home except the stranger she kissed is Ian (Dave Franco) and it turns out he’s playing too. Attracted and intrigued, they stick together long enough for the watchers to think of them as a couple and to start doubling up on their dares.

As you might have guessed, Nerve gets out of hand. How could daring teenagers to do stupid shit for money ever go wrong? And the movie takes some wrong turns too. The themes quickly become a little too on-the-nose. Teenagers are sheep. People do cruel things while hiding behind the anonymity of the Internet. Culturally we have become accustomed to witnessing the world through the filter of our phones. When shit goes down, half the bystanders will be taping, but how many will intervene?

Stylistically though, this movie is kind of beautiful. It looks sharp. And the pacing is excellent. hqdefaultThe directors do a good job of pulling us into the action and the thrills are in fact thrilling, doled out at decent intervals. And I quite liked the soundtrack, although I have no idea who any of the artists are.  The characters, unfortunately, are not quite on fleek. They’re pretty reliant on some very broad stereotypes: nerd\slut\dreamboat\jock\hacker\ wallflower.

The movie also suffers when it asks us to take one giant suspension of disbelief. The game is played on your phone. Players are constantly recording. BUT NOBODY’S PHONE EVER DIES. I call bullshit. I also don’t want to be around the morning after when everybody’s parents are hit with INSANE roaming bills.

But Nerve is a cool concept for a film and well-executed. It’s meant for a younger demographic but I think you fuddy-duddies will manage to decode its youth-speak. Just remember that by the time you finish reading this post, “on fleek” will be old news. “Snatched” is the new “fleek.” As in: SnatchedDave Franco, your short-sleeved dress shirt and skinny tie combo is SNATCHED. And if you really mean it, you add “boots” to the end, for emphasis. As in: Emma Roberts, your Wu-Tang rap skillz is dope BOOTS. And if you super duper admire something, you say “Goals AF” (AF = as fuck). As in: Dave Franco hanging over New York City on one arm? GOALS AF. “Stan” is the new word for superfan. I’m assuming it comes from Eminem’s song Stan about his crazed letter-writing fan, but since that song is roughly the same age as the characters in this movie, I could be wrong. You could call me a Stan if I’m geeking out about how much I love Meryl Streep in Florence Foster Jenkins, or you could say I’m stanning on her. And finally, you need to know about OTP. OTP is One True Pairing, as in, the couple you’re super emotionally invested in and would be devastated to learn they broke up. Like Jim & Pam. Or Pacey & Joey. Monica & Chandler. Luke & Lorelai. Zack & Kelly. Goddamn I’m old AF.

Anyway. The take away here is that this is not a terrible movie. It’s superficial but fun, a perfect Netflix and chill opportunity (technically I think if a guy asks you to Netflix and chill, he’s not planning on watching any movie, but let’s take this one at face value for now). And also feel you should remember that I am young and cool and snatched or something. You can take notes, but do not get caught reading them by anyone born 1990 or later. You’ll thank me someday. Boots.

 

 

 

Let us know who you’re stanning on these days, and who your OTP is.

 

The Unseen

A mother calls a father, concerned. Teen-aged daughter Eva is acting strange: grades suck, dropping out of sports, hanging out instead of applying to college. Bob hasn’t seen her in a while but sends checks. His ex-wife Darlene (Camille Sullivan) thinks it’s time he re-involves himself.

It sounds like the makings of a family drama, but wait: a flicker. Of something strange. unseen_(4)Mysterious. Maybe a little…creepy? In an unguarded moment Bob (Aden Young) shows us his secret. Under layers of clothes and bandages, his flesh is disappearing.

In this modern retelling of The Invisible Man, it’s clear that Bob is suffering –  the physical pain leaving an ugly grimace on his face, the mental anguish evident in his isolated, tattered little life. His body’s disintegration mimics that of his family. Both  leave him feeling raw. But when his daughter Eva (Julia Sarah Stone) goes missing, Bob will do anything to find her, even it means partnering with criminals to finance the trip, even if it means exposing the closely-guarded secret of his descent into invisibility.

This is writer-director Geoff Redknap’s first feature film, but if anyone can handle this gritty horror thriller, it’s him. He’s best known for his special makeup effects work onunseen2 TV’s The X-Files, The Flash, and Fear The Walking Dead, and in movies like Watchmen, Deadpool, Warcraft, and the upcoming Star Trek Beyond, but that’s just a fraction of his IMDB credits. The list is so long and impressive that you might wonder where he found the time to make this move into writing and directing, but it’s clear that movies are his passion.

The Unseen is a tensely edited thriller with a sci-fi medical twist. Redknap’s makeup FX background puts the horror back into horrific; Bob’s wounds are bloody disgusting, almost gleefully so. But this movie doesn’t coast on gore alone – in fact, it’s got a solid story, is compellingly shot by cinematographer Stephen Maier, and is well-acted by the gruff Young. You don’t often see a debut feature so self-assured but Redknap’s arrival as both writer and director make it certain that this may be his first, but it won’t be his last.

 

Blow Out

Two college students are riding the bus together in Ottawa. One says to the other “I had to read Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in French class this week and I was so bored because I couldn’t understand a single word. The only word I understood was ‘narcotique’ and I was like ‘Oh, that’s cool at least. They’re doing drugs'”. Her friend replies “Are you sure it wasn’t ‘narcotic’? Like ‘You’re so narcotic’?”

This is one of many conversations I couldn’t help overhearing between strangers that I’ll probably always remember. I’ve got a million of ’em. I like watching people, listening to them, and speculating about them. Like that guy who used to mysteriously sit and wait in our office’s reception area every morning an hour before we actually opened. What his deal was we’ll now never know but Jay and I sure did toss around a lot of ideas.

Rear Window

I’m coming off as a little creepy I’m sure but I really don’t think I’m alone here. Don’t you ever wonder about the people you see ride the bus with you every day or the girl who serves you your Starbucks every morning? It can’t just be me and Rachel, the obsessive alcoholic who carefully observes the young couple living in a house that her train passes every morning in Girl on a Train, one of my favourite books lately. She starts to think of them as the perfect couple and even makes up names for them. Eventually, of course, she starts looking too closely and, after seeing something she shouldn’t have, winds up badly beaten up and in way over her head.girl on the train

I thought of this when watching Blow Out today, Brian De Palma’s 1981 thriller that this post started out as a review of. In the film, John Travolta plays a sound effects guy who goes to the park in the middle of the night to record some wind. He can’t help taking advantage of his powerful recording equipment to listen in on a conversation between two lovers. Before he knows it, he’s witnessed himself a murder. A lot of De Palma’s style hasn’t aged well and it would be hard to get away with making Nancy Allen’s female lead so insultingly dumb if it were made today but I realized, while watching it, that I like movies about people watching people (Coppola’s The Conversation, for instance, or The Lives of Others). They’re a useful reminder that if you keep watching you may Blow Outsee something you wish you hadn’t.

That’s why Rear Window is quite possibly my favourite Hitchcock. James Stewart is in his apartment recovering from a leg injury with little to do but stare out his window and observe his neighbors from across the street. He too thinks he’s witnessed himself a murder, putting himself in some jeopardy. Of course the cops don’t believe him, nor did they believe Travolta or Rachel. Because people who watch people are weird and are unreliable witnesses.

This is what the movies are there for. To remind people like me that eavesdropping- like skinny dipping, ripping off the mob, getting inolved with a woman who you can’t take your eyes off of but who smells like trouble, asking “what could go wrong?”, investigating a suspiscious noise, and showering in a motel room- can be a lot of fun but it can also get you killed.

’71

'71

I only had time for one movie during our week of having my picture taken with beloved movie characters, visiting famous movie locations, and riding movie-themed attractions. I had been wanting to see ’71 since its screening at TIFF last year and when my brother bought the DVD at LA’s Amoeba Music (my new favourite place), I finally had my chance.

Set mostly over one eventful night in 1971 Belfast, ’71 tells the story of a new recruit to the British army (Jack O’Connell, from Starred Up and Unbroken) who is left behind by his unit during a conflict with angry Irish Catholic Nationalists.  The film follows the soldier’s fight to stay alive in hostile territory while injured and scared shitless which sets off a bloody chain of events with far-reaching consequences.

First-time director Yann Demange takes no violent act for granted and is careful to acknowledge the personal and political cost of every punch thrown, every bullet fired, and every bomb that goes off. There are a lot of interested parties here and Demange shows compassion to members of each group. It’s refreshing and admirable even when the increasingly complex narrative eventually loses some momentum with a heavy-handed finale.

’71 works best as a thriller. When Demange is reminding us of the very real danger that the soldier finds himself in. Violence is used sparingly and usually following an extended build-up of tensionHand-held cameras masterfully capture foot chases through apartment complexes, sides streets, and back alleys. it doesn’t hurt that O’Connell is up for the challenge. There’s not a trace of old school heroism with this guy as he limps through Belfast with genuine fear in his eyes.

This film may not be perfect but it is a very good one. Good enough to take a 99-minute break from my vacation.