Posts Tagged ‘thriller’


Eagle Eye Has Tunnel Vision

January 30, 2009

EAGLE EYE (2008)
d. D.J. Caruso 

Executive Producer Steven Spielberg and director DJ Caruso muscle in on Jerry Bruckheimer and Tony Scott territory with this techno-thriller involving a Kafka-esque persecution of Copy Cabana boy Shia LaBeouf and single-mother Michelle Monaghan as they are “activated” in scenes reminiscent of The Matrix into Jason Bourne-style American homeland security terrorists. It’s Disturbia taken out of the next door neighbor’s yard and moved to the entire country.

The conceit here that American privacy has been handed over to the government and that we are subject to the whims of technology and identity theft feeds our paranoia and distrust of power out of control that would make many conspiracy theorists and Luddites feel justified in their beliefs.

After a somewhat surprisingly slack first act where the world of hi-tech “smart” warfare is introduced and we get to know our leads, the film takes off on a thrilling cross-country chase from Chicago to our nation’s capitol where the plot threads lead our hapless protagonists to confront Aria (voiced by an uncredited Julianne Moore), a super smart self-aware computer that seems to be the love child of HAL and Mother, and the progenitor of VICKI and SkyNet, who has taken it upon herself to act in the nation’s best interests and decides to assassinate the President and others in top Cabinet positions.

Shia proves to be capable and charismatic in the lead, and Michelle is adequate and able to keep up. Less convincing is the hyperreal use of technology in this world and Aria’s reach — from remote control cranes gone amok to the ability to down power lines (though being able to listen in on a conversation by analyzing the sound waves vibrating the coffee in a mug is pretty cool). And even less convincing is how Shia and Michelle are able to survive and avoid capture.

Other name actors fill out the rest of the cast — Rosario Dawson, hot and convincing as an Air Force officer who is investigating Shia’s twin brother’s connections to Aria; Billy Bob Thornton, ornery as ever as the Fed hot on the trail of the two victims; and Michael Chiklis as the Secretary of Defense who barely registers a presence.

Overall, the action sequences are well-staged and provide a modicum of thrills, but the main conceit of omnipresent and omniscient technology collapses under its own weight as it escalates from plausible to ridiculous. If not for the presence of Shia and Michelle to ground some of the high concepts, this film would have been less watchable.

**1/2 stars.


When Bad Times Get Worse — The Strangers

January 11, 2009

d. Bryan Bertino

A very effective thriller/horror movie in the vein of Straw Dogs about a couple terrorized by three masked individuals in an isolated summer home that starts really strong, but a number of missteps on the way and the film goes off the rails that by the conclusion I was left feeling empty and sour.

The One On The Right Is The Cutest

The One On The Right Is The Cutest

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High Level Spy Shit — The Coen Brothers’ Burn After Reading

December 27, 2008

d. Joel & Ethan Coen

The Coens return to comedy a year after their intense thriller No Country For Old Men with a movie that also marks a return of many themes and character-types seen throughout their work.

Burn After Reading’s basic premise revolves around a disgraced Washington analyst (John Malkovich) who, while undergoing a divorce (from Tilda Swinton), has his memoirs and financials on disc end up in the laps of two gym managers (Frances McDormand and Brad Pitt) who mistakenly believe that it is high-level spy shit. The double pun here concerns the burning of information onto the disc as well as a reference to the book Burn Before Reading, which was about CIA goings-on.

A large part of the fun of the movie is witnessing how the errors of judgement and farce pile up in typical Coen fashion until the last act is a dazzling maze of twists and turns all predicated on mistaken identities and the idiotic choices made by people way in over their heads.

Frances McDormand brings in a brilliant performance as one of the gym managers who, prisoner to her desire for plastic surgery, decides to use the disc as an opportunity for a blackmail scheme. Her character is an amazing study in how everyday people can think they are in control when in reality they are anything but.

Her actions, based on her greed and self-absorption — to the point of idiocy, are a theme constantly explored in the  Coens’ films. They of course always spell disaster for several characters. It’s something we see from Jerry Lundegaard in Fargo to the barber in The Man Who Wasn’t There  to even The Ladykillers.

For example, she unwittingly sends Brad Pitt to his doom by having him break into Malkovich’s house in order to get more information they can use to supply to the Russians. Part of the humour is that her espionage skills all seem to have been culled from an antiquated idea of spy-politics during the Cold War. Even the Russians are baffled by her actions.

Another character whose world falls apart in the Coens’ hands is George Clooney’s. He is cheating on his wife with Tilda Swinton, and, because of his womanizing ways, ends up crossing paths with McDormand. But what sinks him is an event that blindsides him and reveals his inadequacies and mortality. From that point, his paranoia takes over.

It’s all done humorously and with the classic Coen irony that allows us to finger-point and laugh without feeling as if we are implicating ourselves even as we identify with these characters.

Despite the heady and mesmerizing last act where all the jigsaw pieces fall into place with expert handling, the feeling of having been there done that does linger, and I was somewhat disappointed in Brad Pitt’s antics this time around, though his character’s final scene is tense and horrifying.

Overall, a fine effort by the Coens, but not the best. Perhaps on par with The Man Who Wasn’t There in its finely crafted execution and the sense of spiraling dread it creates, but not enough to blow my expectations out of the water.

**1/2 stars.


“The Whole Place Is A Kill Zone” — Two-Minute Warning

December 21, 2008

d. Larry Peerce

Thank the 70s for providing us with many great thrillers and disaster movies. Peerce’s Two-Minute Warning combines the two to provide a tense nail-biter that , even if the outcome is never in doubt, makes for a great movie.

Snipers Get the Best Seats

Snipers Get the Best Seats

Like a number of disaster movies at the time, this film is chock full of star presence. Charlton Heston plays the police chief who becomes embroiled in a lone sniper’s assassination plot that involves the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and the championship game between LA and Baltimore. Heston’s dilemma is how to catch this sniper who has 90,000 potential victims under his scope. The setting serves as a great backdrop against which the other stars’ stories unfold.

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“The Murderer Left The Knife… There.” — What Have You Done To Solange?

December 6, 2008

d. Massimo Dallamano 

This lurid giallo serves up the sexy and the suspense in a well-balanced manner, making for an above-average, if misogynistic thriller about the murders of attractive young women.

Do Not Try This At Home

Do Not Try This At Home

Set in England, a teacher ,who is cheating on his wife with one of his students, becomes the prime suspect of a series of murders of students at the school where he works. All the victims are attractive, nubile young women; all of them are usually stabbed viciously in their vaginas. One in particular is run through the bikini-area by a scythe. Yikes!

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Revenge Is A Dish Best Served… Glamorous! — Murder On The Orient Express

November 27, 2008

d. Sidney Lumet 

Yet another whodunnit adapted from an Agatha Christie mystery starring that irascible Belgian, Herecule Poirot (Albert Finney). This time set on the famous intercontinental steam train, Detective Poirot must solve the murder of a wealthy man on the snowbound train before it is set free and the report made to the Yugoslavian police who will take over the case.

Like Death On The Nile, this film is chock full o’ stars — a somewhat higher caliber of stars, many hailing from classic Hollywood. You’ve got a gorgeous collection of leading ladies, starting with Lauren Bacall, and then you have Ingrid Bergman, Jacqueline Bisset and Vanessa Redgrave. On the men’s side you have Martin Balsam, John Gielgud, Anthony Perkins, Michael York and Sean Connery. It’s amazing to see such talent in an ensemble getting brief scenes in which to have their moments and in longer scenes where they are gathered together to just listen as Albert Finney runs through a ten minute dialogue explaining the solution to the murder!

The mystery does not suffer under the mountainous amounts of dialogue being shoveled into our ears, though it can be a challenge to keep up when the relationships between each character becomes resolved. Still, Finney’s performance really shines here even if his Poirot is less warm than Ustinov’s interpretation, and more irascible.

The stars on-screen are not the only objects that dazzle. The sets are all very lavish, and the cinematography impressive. There is an amazing tracking shot down the length of the train in its berth that ends on the front lights being turned on. The music score is also very lush and timeless, avoiding the need to pin the movie down to its 30s setting.

If anything, the opening sequence detailing the kidnap and death plot of Daisy Armstrong (stripped directly from the real-life Lindbergh case) may be overwhelming and confusing because a ton of information gets heaped up-front.

All in all, Sidney Lumet does a great job balancing each actor, giving them their moments, and keeping the proceedings brisk even if the dialogue threatens to grind everything to a halt, much like the stalled train stuck in the snowbanks.

*** stars.


Something Is Happening And You Don’t Know What It Is… : M. Night Shyamalan’s The Happening

November 20, 2008

d. M. Night Shyamalan

Not the turkey I was led to expect by all the negative reviews, The Happening is a slow-burning, moody eco-thriller with many memorable and visceral scenes and some decent performances all around.

One of Many Memorable Images

One of Many Memorable Images

The movie tells the story of an unexplained rash of suicides in the North Eastern region of the U.S., and as the survivors, including an elementary science teacher (Mark Wahlberg) and his wife (Zooey Deschanel), make their way out of the infected zone, the possibility of the deaths being the result of a terrorist action become less and less likely.

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Mind-Numbing — Patrick

October 27, 2008

PATRICK (1978)
d. Richard Franklin 

The 70s was a hot-bed for psychic power movies, and unfortunately Patrick comes in at the low end of the totem pole. It’s not entirely horrible, it’s just that it feels overly familiar and I feel that I’ve seen better in similar films.

Patrick is introduced in a scene where he “overhears” a woman and her lover making sweet love and then sharing a bath; in a rage/fit of jealousy, he throws an electric heater into the tub killing the lovers, but not before the woman is revealed to be his mother.

Cut to some time later when a newly employed nurse (Susan Penhaligon) who is to take care of the title character, now in an open-eyed coma. While the staff has given up on Patrick as brain-dead, she believes him to still be aware, and creates a form of communication that involves his spitting once for “yes” and twice for “no”.

When strange incidents occur and when characters who have wronged our nurse protagonist start getting killed off, it’s no secret who is responsible.

The cast on a whole is rather bland in this one despite the almost 80s hairstyles which are rather fun to witness, and despite the ravings of Robert Helpmann’s (from The Red Shoes and Tales of Hoffmann) head doctor — who at one point munches down some frog intestines — and the stern mother-superior attitude of the head matron (Julia Blake) who ends up a crispy critter.

The effects are very low-budget, the thrills minimal and obvious, and the villain/heavy is immobile. Perhaps the only neat thing was when the nurse and Patrick communicate via typewriter.

In any case, not the best psychic thriller out there (Carrie and The Fury still top my list). And I would stick to director Richard Franklin’s later effort, Psycho II.

* star.

With the release of the Saw V, I try and catch up with a review of Saw IV, though my expectations are quite low since I haven’t enjoyed the series at all so far. That’s my caveat.


The Wright Stuff

September 22, 2008

d. Tibor Takács

Ah, Jenny Wright. I wish we could have more movies with you in it. Arguably the best thing of the horror pic I, Madman, it’s unfortunate that this appears to be her only leading role where she carries the film, though we’ll always have her performances in Near Dark, The World According to Garp and The Wall.

Wishing The Movie Were Better

Wishing For Better Roles

The movie crosses familiar territory with Jenny Wright as a used bookseller who experiences murders that eerily mirror the events in the novels she is reading. The plot of fiction becoming reality has been seen before and recycled most recently in The Number 23, and in both cases it comes off a little tired despite some flourishes here and there. Here the culprit is a crazed writer who died but has come back to life through Jenny’s discovery of his novels. For some reason he has sliced many of his facial features off and kills people in order to replace his missing parts as well as impress Jenny’s character. Perhaps candy and flowers are too cliche.

While the plot seems overly familiar and stale, many of the secondary characters are actually quite interesting. Jenny’s boyfriend, a police investigator, manages to pull off the tough job of remaining sympathetic despite his denial of Jenny’s claims about the murderer which usually comes off as a convenient plot contrivance in which no one believes or listens to the protagonist. The only character who suffers from the film’s plot limitations is the murderer. It is implied that the writer may have used alchemy to imbue his spirit into the fiction, but it is never explored beyond “he was crazy.” It is also taken for granted the flimsy reasons for the writer’s motivation to slice people up.

The only other bright spot in this film, besides Jenny Wright, is the cinematography. There is one shot in particular that impressed me. Towards the end when the writer/murderer is pushed out a window, he explodes into a thousand pages blown away in the wind. Very cool visual. If only the rest of the film displayed this imagination.

I just found out that the actor who played the “Madman” of the title was none other than Randall William Cook; not only did he act in this film, but did the special effects. He is most notable for having recently worked on The Lord of the Rings trilogy!