Archive for the Thriller Category

Under the Skin

Posted in Drama, Science Fiction, Thriller with tags on April 13, 2014 by Mark Hobin

Under the Skin photo starrating-4andahalfstars.jpgA mysterious young woman drives a van along the Scottish Highlands picking up men. She almost preys on these unassuming blokes, ostensibly for sexual encounters. The conversation always begins with a flirtatious air, an exchange whereby the seductress probes into their lives. Where are you going? Do you have a family? Are you single? A hitchhiker, a clubgoer, a surfer, each male selected is unattached and alone, lured into her van by their own choice where she takes them back to her place. What has the beginnings of an erotic thriller, a woman who adopts a passive demeanor for predatory purposes, transforms into something much different – a surprising chronicle that draws on horror, thriller and sci-fi.

This is an atmospheric mood piece. The narrative drifts at a meditative pace. The woman’s behavior is presented as a series of repetitive actions. The script meanders often without words. There is no explanation, no back-story and little dialogue. The woman rarely talks except in her introductions to the men she meets on the streets of Scotland. I’m told these conversations were unscripted with non-professional actors. An early shot shows the woman shopping, picking out clothes to wear in a store. Hidden cameras were used to film with the locals unaware until after the scene was finished. They certainly have a realistic feel. At times, the visuals are so static and the action so trance-inducing, the picture teeters on the brink of monotony. Forgive me for being vague, but the less details you know, the better. I walked into the theater knowing absolutely nothing other than that Scarlet Johansson was the star. My advice, don’t read any reviews (other than this one). Allow the surprising developments to be discovered as you watch with an unspoiled perspective.

The story isn’t challenging to follow but it does challenge the viewer. Director Jonathan Glazer initially made a name for himself in music videos, notably with Jamiroquai‘s “Virtual Insanity” which won the 1996 MTV Video of the Year award. Glazer isn’t a prolific director with only 3 full length features to his credit. These include both the widely praised Sexy Beast (2000) and the widely panned Birth (2004). The latter was disturbing but in an audacious way. I quite enjoyed its creepiness which shares stylistic similarities and themes with Under the Skin. The work of director Nicolas Roeg is an obvious influence. First-time UK composer Mica Levi’s experimental music score brilliantly adds to the growing tension. The whole production defies convention. Jonathan Glazer is a master craftsman when it comes to assembling a work of art.

There is a quiet beauty in telling a languid story that merely relies on the humanity of real life. Scarlett Johansson disguised in a short wig of jet black hair and pale skin sort of physically recalls silent film star Pola Negri but with a blank slate personality that makes her character oddly unsettling. For most of the muted solitude of the tale, we the audience must infer what the woman is thinking. The events are deceptively spare but in reality a lot of themes are addressed. It’s a meditation that comes to a head when our protagonist ultimately suffers an existential crisis of sorts. The drama explores human emotion in the interactions regarding an enigmatic seducer of various men. Her scenes with actor Adam Pearson are particularly memorable. As she interacts with each individual, their personalities expose aspects of the human condition. In doing so, the picture brilliantly demonstrates the qualities that make human beings so wonderful and what also makes them monsters.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Posted in Action, Adventure, Superhero, Thriller with tags on April 6, 2014 by Mark Hobin

Captain America: The Winter Soldier photo starrating-3andahalfstars.jpgCaptain America: The Winter Soldier is the 9th installment in the series of superhero films, independently produced by Marvel Studios. The series has been dubbed the Marvel Cinematic Universe with its own acronym MCU. There are in fact different phases designed to apparently conquer the movie world (and your wallet). We’re currently in Phase 2 which will culminate with Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015). I’m only mentioning all this because some people take this stuff with a very straight face. The deeper we get into these franchises, the more they demand that you’ve see the others. I’ve seen everything but even my eyes begin to glaze over when actors start tossing around names and organizations like we’re in the middle of a history lesson. I’m just here to watch a fun flick and I’m happy to say that this is indeed an enjoyable picture. The Avengers and Iron Man are better, but it ranks in the top half of the 9 entries thus far.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier picks up two years after the events of The Avengers (2012). Following a lot of exposition that extends this movie 16 minutes past the 2 hour sweet spot, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) entrusts Steve Rogers / Captain America (Chris Evans) with a hard drive containing sensitive information. When he refuses to hand it over to senior S.H.I.E.L.D. official Alexander Pierce.(Robert Redford), Steve is branded an enemy of the very organization he once served. A superhuman agent codenamed the Winter Soldier does Secretary Pierce’s bidding. The Winter Soldier’s identity is a secret so no details on him. Helping Steve get to the bottom things are fellow S.H.I.E.L.D. member Natasha Romanoff / Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Sam Wilson / Falcon (Anthony Mackie). They’re both quite good. Scarlett Johansson fetchingly straddles the line between friend and flirt. Anthony Mackie has genuine camaraderie with Chris Evans as Steve’s buddy who he meets while jogging. The three of them joining forces makes this feel sort of like an Avengers movie.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is an entertaining spy thriller. The story includes lots of rousing action sequences . The hand to hand combat scenes draw heavily from martial arts films in the best possible way. The pace is efficient with a narrative that doesn’t disappoint fans looking for excitement featuring people they already know and love. There’s enough human interaction to satisfy those who savor a little character development in their superhero flicks. Occasionally the overly complex story takes itself a bit too seriously. I welcome the humor of Thor. Fan boys will appreciate the reverence, but anyone unfamiliar with the Avengers universe might not be as captivated. Thankfully the tone shines with the occasional witty quips where everyone in the production can simply lighten up.

P.S. Given Marvel’s history, I shouldn’t have to point out that there are mid-credits and post-credits stingers that you should probably stick around for. That is unless that extra large Coke you drank is playing havoc with your bladder.

Enemy

Posted in Drama, Mystery, Thriller with tags on March 29, 2014 by Mark Hobin

Enemy photo starrating-4andahalfstars.jpg“Chaos is order yet undeciphered.”

So begins Enemy, Denis Villeneuve’s confusingly twisty but oh-so-stylish ode to David Lynch. The brew is a head trip of a cocktail that goes down deliciously smooth but will no doubt disorient you for days afterwards. Imbiber beware! It’s a refreshingly tight 90 minutes but has enough style to populate 2 additional movies directed by the likes of Stanley Kubrick and David Cronenberg. Its visually stark set design, champagne-hued color palette, cinematography, and score make watching every minute of this little perplexity a cineaste’s delight. By the end, however, I really didn’t know what I had actually witnessed. This will irritate some and enchant others. If you haven’t guessed by now, I happily claim to be a member of the latter group. I totally dug the film.

Enemy was adapted by Javier Gullón from José Saramago’s 2002 novel The Double. Jake Gyllenhaal stars as Adam Bell, a mild mannered history professor. One day a colleague recommends a movie, which he subsequently rents from a video store soon after. Do those still exist? While watching late at night he notices an anonymous extra in the background that looks eerily like himself. Pausing the frames reveals a similarity that appears identical. Fascinated, he researches the actor and learns his pseudonym is Daniel St. Claire (real name Anthony). The curiosity becomes an obsession as Adam rents the performer’s other films. Next he finds out where Anthony lives. Then Adam uncovers his phone number and calls his home. Anthony’s wife Helen (Sarah Gadon) answers and mistakes Adam’s voice for her own husband’s. And that is only the beginning.

The whole production has this unrelenting feeling of dread. There’s something sinister looming you can’t quite put your finger on. Enemy plays with the conventions of doppelgangers. Adam Bell is the humdrum one, emotionally distant with his girlfriend (Mélanie Laurent). He teaches history with languid enthusiasm to college students.  Anthony St. Claire on the other hand is more confident. He’s an actor who rides a motorcycle. His wife is expecting. For some reason his existence proves unsettling to Adam’s identity. The atmosphere instills Adam’s discovery with a sense of alarm. The narrative grows more fascinating with each new development.

Director Dennis Villeneuve worked with Jake Gyllenhaal on 2013’s Prisoners. That was a solid Hollywood studio picture, but this little independent is far better because it’s so bizarrely original and unexpected. The Canadian filmmaker knows how to exploit Gyllenhaal’s strengths. Jake gives two powerfully nuanced performances here, each one masterful in their own right. It’s a complicated balancing act because both guys must look identical in every way, yet remain two separate people. Even the physical similarities between the women in their respective lives are uncannily alike as well. An inquiring mind can be a dangerous thing. Adam’s visit to his mother (Isabella Rossellini) provides hazy details to an individuality that feels increasingly threatened. Bits and pieces of evidence of various sorts are offered up to the audience to help formulate an explanation as to what exactly is going on – that opening scene in a nightclub, for example.   You might think you’ve already guessed how it ends. Let me tell you, you aren’t even close.

Non-Stop

Posted in Action, Mystery, Thriller with tags on March 2, 2014 by Mark Hobin

Non-Stop photo starrating-3andahalfstars.jpgIn the grand tradition of aviation movies like Red Eye and Flightplan comes Non-Stop. Star Liam Neeson is clearly in his comfort zone playing, what else, a badass. Okay so he’s in fact a U.S. Federal Air Marshal. But Bill Marks has a past. His daughter died when she was 8 and his wife has since divorced him. He’s an alcoholic AND he smokes too. These days smoking cigarettes is pretty much the same thing as shooting up heroin as far as the cinema is concerned. So we’re already wary of him. He even duct tapes the vents in the airplane lavoratory so he can light up without tripping the smoke detectors. Yet he gives us reason to care. Liam Neeson is incredibly charismatic as the lead character. Let’s face it. Taken and Unknown have given the actor enough practice where he can now play a tough, but likable, ultra-cool mofo in his sleep. And I got to hand it to the guy.  He’s in his 60s and he’s carved a nice little niche in these action roles where others have failed at this age.  Sorry Arnold.

Speaking of Unknown, Non-Stop reunites the star with the same director, Jaume Collet-Serra. I like the director’s style. He’s a dependable type that knows how to keep the chronicle moving so we are never bored (or reflect on the plausibility of what is happening). Most of the picture takes place in the tiny cramped, quarters of an airline cabin and you could hardly pick a more tense environment in our post 9/11 world.  Midway on a transatlantic flight from New York City to London, Marks begins receiving cryptic text message on his personal phone. The anonymous intruder demands $150 million dollars to be transferred into a secure account or a passenger will die every 20 minutes.

The screenwriters have stockpiled the trip with a sampling of cultural identities and temperaments to make the guessing game a bit more confusing. Every time someone gives a dirty look (and there are a lot), we’re meant to think, “It’s him! It’s him! It’s totally him!” The shifting blame of who’s responsible is fairly effective.  Neeson is surrounded by an engaging cast. I was surprised to see Lupita Nyong’o as a flight attendant . This year’s Supporting Actress Oscar winner took the part after filming 12 Years a Slave but before her performance was received with universal acclaim. Her generic role here allows her to utter maybe 3 lines. I suspect she can say goodbye to being cast in this fashion from now on.

As developments happen, and the evidence starts to pile up, Bill Marks himself appears to be culprit. That secure account for example? It’s in his own name. Is this all an elaborate set up to make him appear guilty or is he indeed the villain. Without giving anything away, I was convinced I knew “whodunit” only to be proven wrong in the end. That’s not because this is a smartly written, coherent mystery, but because the story doesn’t really play fair with the audience. It obscures information it doesn’t want you to have, then throws in red herrings that cloud the truth even further. Given that a substantial amount of time involves him receiving text messages from the extortionist, you’d think that all he’d have to do is merely watch the passengers to see who keeps texting him. He actually attempts to do this at one point, but apparently he isn’t thorough enough because it leads to absolutely nothing. I’m being overly critical however. I don’t want to give the impression that I wasn’t entertained. I was, immensely in fact. This is a nifty little thriller that will captivate your attention for most of its running time. It’s very enjoyable. It’s just that by the end when everything is made known, you kind of feel betrayed. The reveal doesn’t really equal the sum total of the clues that we’ve seen. But eh I liked it anyway.

Pompeii

Posted in Action, Adventure, Drama, Thriller with tags on February 19, 2014 by Mark Hobin

Pompeii photo starrating-3stars.jpgThe studio pitch for Pompeii must have gone something like this, “People loved Dante’s Peak and they loved Gladiator, so why not combine the two?” It speaks to general mood that this story doesn’t unfold as something fresh and original. It feels like a dusted off script from some sword and sandal relic from the 1960s. You know the kind, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad or Jason and the Argonauts are examples. They featured great special effects by Ray Harryhausen. No one would ever raise them up as great art, however they were rousing adventures that were fitfully entertaining. Pompeii is very much in the same tradition.

Director Paul W.S. Anderson is best known as the director of Resident Evil and the husband of Milla Jovovich whom he met while directing her in that movie. He also helmed Mortal Kombat which was a nifty little flick that combined martial arts and fantasy. He can be a dependable talent.  It was a monetary triumph back in 1995. Though he’s never been a director that gets critical acclaim. Much of that is deserved. But he shouldn’t be held accountable for past transgressions. He gets a lot of things right here.

The first part, the gladiator section, is set in 79 A.D where we meet our hero, Milo (Kit Harington), a slave. As a child, he witnessed his parents’ slaughter by Romans who demolished his entire Celtic village. Now an adult, he is in the company of a lot of other slaves that are being taken to the city of Pompeii by the Roman Empire. Unless they had 24 Hour Fitness in ancient Rome, they’re more physically fit than anyone in that era ought to be. Milo sports curly locks and a smoldering stare but with a dim bulb personality that doesn’t feel the need to speak much.

Then there’s the romance which is de rigueur in these stories. Emily Browning plays the daughter of a wealthy businessman and his wife, Aurelia. Kudos to Carrie-Anne Moss who manages to get second billing for her cameo. She does speak once, maybe twice? I can’t remember. Anyway Emily Browning’s chemistry with Kit Harrington is not particularly moving but if you‘re here for the romance, you probably didn‘t take note of the size of the volcano on the movie poster. Poor Browning has had one success in the beginning of her career (Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events) and hasn’t had a hit since. That’s not going to change with this film. The beautifully blank Cassia admires the young slave for his horse whispering skills. Milo and Cassia “meet-cute” occurs when he humanely kills a horse with his bare hands to ease its suffering. It’s a moment where Cassia looks so moved she just might faint. “I can’t believe he had the strength to do that,” Cassia breathlessly tells her gal pal later on. “Didn’t you see his muscles?” her friend replies. Oh but Cassia apparently meant his strength of character. You decide if exchanges like that are enjoyable funny or roll-your-eyes silly.

If I’m being more critical than my star rating suggests, you misunderstand the weight of my objections. The supporting casting is really good. The face of the evil Roman empire is embodied by Senator Corvis, a hissable villain portrayed by Kiefer Sutherland. He’s the only one who seems in on the joke and he chews scenery like Jon Voight in Anaconda. Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje commands the focus of every scene in which he’s present. As Bridgageous, a fellow slave, the two are meant to be rivals. They’re destined to face off in the arena, but when Bridgageous saves Milo from a fellow slave who tries to stab him, we know it’s only a matter of time before these two ultimately join forces.

Pompeii is good old fashioned nonsense. The story is refreshingly simple and uncluttered with superfluities. Completely unencumbered by anything deep or pretentious, it’s the occasional cheese that makes this experience fun. I actually wished there was more. Milo’s moral dilemma is initially conceived as a revenge tale but clearly the gods are not happy with Rome either and the narrative slowly turns into a disaster flick. I chuckled every time rumbling shots of Mount Vesuvius were randomly inserted amongst the action.  These sonic reminders of the mountain percolating in the background pop up occasionally. “Remember me? “ the mountain seems to ask. “Well I just might have something to say a little later.“ The climax is exciting and when the ASH hole blows its top, the spectacle is appropriately impressive. Before that happens, however, we get some nicely staged action sequences in the arena. There’s slashed throats, stabbings, and enough deaths that might have earned an R, but the spirited battles are surprisingly bloodless. The PG-13 rating makes sense for a lively production a teen audience shouldn’t be denied the right to see. Pompeii is by no means a great film, but it isn’t horrible either. It kind of exists in that realm and that’s how I appreciated it.

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit

Posted in Action, Thriller with tags on January 19, 2014 by Mark Hobin

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit photo starrating-3stars.jpgThe fifth in the Jack Ryan series, stars Chris Pine as a financial analyst who studies market patterns that would indicate terrorist activity. Um ok. Action thriller is different from other entries in that the plot is not based on a pre-existing book by Tom Clancy. That gives the screenwriters carte blanche to do what they want with the narrative. The irony is this spy picture is thoroughly by-the-numbers with very little to distinguish itself from others of its ilk.  In other words, the James Bond and Jason Bourne franchises have nothing to worry about.

The cast is far too good for the average script. Actor Chris Pine makes for a handsome, but bland, Jack Ryan. He’s not as charismatic as Captain Kirk in the Star Trek reboot. Kevin Costner underplays nicely as his CIA handler – a part James Earl Jones and Morgan Freeman have exemplified in previous installments. Kenneth Branagh who also directs, saves the plum role of “the villain” for himself. He does a nifty Russian accent as Viktor Cherevin. I am a big Keira Knightley fan and her presence in this was initially greeted as a blessing. The sad thing is, she really isn’t given much to do. Essentially reduced to playing “female love interest” her talents are kind of wasted here. Her bit is more deserving of some rising starlet than an Oscar nominated actress of Knightley’s caliber. She still shines brightest in period costume dramas.

With that said, I will somewhat contradict myself when I contend that the best moment in the entire film involves her. The scene occurs when Viktor takes Jack and his fiancée Cathy Muller to dinner at a fancy restaurant. Cathy demands her husband-to-be walk off his drunken stupor after the couple feign a lovers’ spat. “This is geopolitics, not couples therapy.” Now Cathy must keep Viktor occupied in conversation by charming him. Apparently he has a weakness for women with odd American accents. Meanwhile, this allows Jack to infiltrate Viktor’s office so he can download his computer files. The segment includes a thrilling level of tension sorely missing from the rest of the movie.

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is an efficient, serviceable thriller. A decent watch, but it’s not essential viewing. Our hero is hired as a covert operative on Wall Street. While there the undercover CIA agent unearths a nefarious foreign plot to shatter the U.S. economy. Making the Russians the baddies is a refreshing retro throwback to Cold War movies from 1985–1991. The production is polished. The story is stylish, well photographed and speeds by in a brief 105 minutes. The tale is entertaining enough, but it’s pretty formulaic nonetheless. Perhaps the highest praise I can bestow the film is that it’s an improvement over the character’s last appearance, The Sum of All Fears in 2002.

Gravity

Posted in Drama, Science Fiction, Thriller with tags on October 6, 2013 by Mark Hobin

Gravity photo starrating-4stars.jpgGravity is 2013’s most visually impressive feature. Right from the beginning, director Alfonso Cuarón seizes attention with jaw dropping views of the cosmos. Astronauts lazily float in space suits while the big glowing blue sphere of Earth looms in the background. Only the sounds of human breathing and electronic blips of communication can be heard. The spectacle is akin to actually floating in space along with our protagonist. There is a feeling of paralysis, of dizziness and weightlessness simply from the cinematography. It’s a dreamy experience. The production’s greatest triumph is that it puts you there, in the moment, and the effect is exhilarating. Let me be clear. This movie absolutely positively demands to be seen in a cinema on a huge screen, preferably on the largest IMAX available. 3D doesn’t hurt either. Yes, I have admittedly not cared for 3D technology in the past. Indeed 99% of the time it is a cash grab to jack up ticket prices to gouge the viewer for more money. Gravity is that rare exception that justifies the format.

The plot is simple. The Explorer shuttle is on a mission. Veteran astronaut Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) and scientist turned astronaut Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) are on a spacewalk to repair the Hubble Space Telescope. Elsewhere at that second Russia has deliberately destroyed one of its own defunct spy satellites. The resulting debris hurtles through the universe towards our pioneers. The shrapnel hits their shuttle disabling everything leaving Kowalski and Stone stranded. That’s the story.

Sandra Bullock and George Clooney essentially portray versions of themselves. Clooney is a confident flirt who audibly plays country music inside his spacesuit. He is a raconteur regaling everyone with his stories. The visuals are so mind-blowing, occasionally I kind of wish he would stop telling anecdotes over the gorgeous scene. Bullock in contrast is sensitive and nervous – unsure of this foreign atmosphere. She’s disarming. We identify with her immediately because she is us. She is the story’s sentimental heart. With the effects vying for our interest, her performance is extraordinary because she captivates our concern. The eye popping displays become secondary when she’s speaking.  We focus on her. It’s a remarkable achievement given the environment.

There are occasions where the director’s hand is evident. A single solitary tear cascades down Bullock’s cheek as a glistening globule and into the crowd watching with 3D glasses. At one point, Bullock strips off her astronaut suit revealing her amazingly toned body. She pauses in the fetal position like an embryo in the safe cocoon of her spaceship. The back-story she volunteers involving her daughter, comes across like a shortcut to emotional profundity. Although it doesn’t attempt the same philosophical depth, Gravity clearly owes a visual debt to 2001: A Space Odyssey. It’s in very good company – one of the few instances where space exploration is so tangible as to make us feel as if we’ve honestly been to the outer limits.

Alfonso Cuarón does a virtually flawless job in creating a you-are-there moment in space. Through cinematography, the actor’s movements and special effects, the genuine sensation of weightlessness is achieved better than in any film since, well since ever. Edits are few and far between. More prolonged camera takes do wonders at lulling the audience into a state of euphoria. There’s no sound in outer space, so even explosions are silent. There is a score however and the musical crescendos underscore major events. Sumptuous and beautiful, Gravity frequently makes you lose your breath due to the majesty that hypnotically unfolds before us. Space itself is the antagonist. It is a thrill ride with the human drama of survival at its center. Gravity is an awe inspiring picture and a potent reminder why it still remains preferable to see a film in a theater than on an iPod.

Prisoners

Posted in Crime, Drama, Thriller with tags on September 22, 2013 by Mark Hobin

Prisoners photo starrating-3andahalfstars.jpgPrisoners is a tale of a grief-stricken father that decides to take the law into his own hands when his 6 year old daughter goes missing. Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) and his wife (Maria Bello) are enjoying a Thanksgiving dinner at their neighbors, who have a 6 year old daughter as well. After dinner the two girls go outside the home to play but they do not return. With their children missing, this leads them to Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) who has never had an unsolved case. Suspects are questioned, leads are followed and the trail runs cold.

Prisoners has been marketed as a thriller with Hugh Jackman as the angry father at the center. He is key, but there is a dual protagonist with Jake Gyllenhaal as the beleaguered detective attempting to figure out a difficult case. Jackman is competent in expressing Dover’s rage borne out of anger and frustration. He is a rough-hewn Christian survivalist who works as a carpenter with various materials at his disposal. Despite the fact that few would follow down the same dark path, his vigilante methods are somewhat understandable given what he has endured. He’s certainly effective at engendering our sympathy as the devastated father out for revenge. However the real surprise here is Jake Gyllenhaal. He perfectly embodies the kind of world weary, but stern personality of a policeman. He’s exceptional and his focus provides a ray of hope throughout the oppressive milieu. To say that Prisoners is dour is an understatement. This is every parents worst nightmare. The subject is decidedly grim and the production has visuals to match. Cinematographer Roger Deakins complements the depressing atmosphere of a cold Pennsylvania winter. The bleak rain-soaked suburb is highlighted by a palette of washed out blues and grays that enhances the drama unfolding on screen.

Prisoners is a nifty bit of writing that genuinely grabs the audience’s curiosity. By slowly releasing tidbits of information, we assemble the puzzle as the principals do on screen. There is definite interest in trying to decipher the “whodunit” mystery. This is Canadian film director Denis Villanueva’s (Incendies) rendering of an original script by Aaron Guzikowski. He does a good job. One vignette that begins with Jake Gyllenhaal trailing Hugh Jackman’s footsteps is masterfully composed. Indeed the most compelling moments are not boffo set pieces but well acted interplays between key people. Though a discovery involving some snakes is pretty memorable. If I have a quibble it’s that the plot is overly focused on revenge but then that thread doesn‘t yield a satisfying denouement. Perhaps the filmmakers were afraid to imply that torture gets results. Plus the 153 minute running time could’ve been tightened up a bit. We probably didn’t need so many scenes of angry Hugh Jackman. Overall Villanueva does a brilliant job of presenting the procedural story in such a way that we might be able to piece things together ourselves. Although I must admit I personally didn’t solve the answer before it was revealed. Prisoners isn’t perfect, but Guzikowski’s screenplay is intelligent, credible and engaging. That begets a recommendation in my book.

Insidious: Chapter 2

Posted in Horror, Thriller with tags on September 15, 2013 by Mark Hobin

Insidious: Chapter 2 photo starrating-1andahalfstars.jpgLet me start by saying that Insidious Chapter 2 isn’t debased by the torture-porn muck of graphic gore and violence. It still attempts to scare through an eerie mood. For that, I applaud it. However, that is the last positive thing I will say about this movie.

Insidious Chapter 2 assumes you’ve seen the first entry. The chronicle picks up right where the previous one ended without explanation. Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne are back as the parents, along with Ty Simpkins as their son who sees dead people. It’s nice to see characters we remember, but the workaday script doesn’t take the time to imbue any of them with a personality. These people are ciphers. They aren’t interesting individuals anymore, just bodies reading lines to advance an impenetrable plot.

From a narrative standpoint, Insidious Chapter 2 makes the mistake of thinking we required additional explication to the first film. Insidious was an effective chiller with a refreshingly simple plot. In contrast, Chapter 2 is unnecessarily complicated. Apparently Josh (Patrick Wilson), the father in the first film had a history with seeing an evil spirit as a child too. In that respect, Insidious Chapter 2 is structured very much like the Paranormal Activity pictures with embellishments that complicate the basic plot. Not unexpected since Oren Peli produced both. Apparently there’s a valid reason why the Lambert family is so connected to the spirit world. Thank goodness. Who needs scares? I wanted gratuitous exposition. (Sarcasm)

The most surprising thing regarding Insidious Chapter 2 is the shocking lack of scares. A musical baby walker goes off by itself, an unknown woman dressed in white walks by in the background. Does that make your blood run cold? If so, you might be the audience for this hokum. As things escalate in their home, Josh’s wife and mother confront him with what they’ve seen, but he continues to suppress that anything is wrong. Later we get a dreary séance where they try to contact a paranormal investigator who has passed on. They roll letter dice and the scene is shot with all the excitement of watching paint dry. LOOK! The letters N and O are next to each other. She’s speaking to us!! This ultimately leads them to a hospital where there’s more turgid back-story concerning a man who committed suicide, whose house they visit, where they find newspaper clippings that point to supplementary details involving a dark dimension that exists parallel to our world. There’s even a twisted mother there who wanted her son to be a girl. Great shades of Psycho! None of this is particularly compelling or scary. It’s merely a needlessly complex subterfuge to hide a thoroughly convoluted story. Chapter 2 frequently invokes the respectable name of part 1 and in the process cheapens the value of the original by over-explaining its mysteries. This actually causes the viewer to re-evaluate its merits. If this is only chapter 2, I shudder to think how many more volumes this poorly written book has.

You’re Next

Posted in Horror, Thriller with tags on August 27, 2013 by Mark Hobin

You're Next photo starrating-halfstar.jpgThere’s really no point in reviewing You’re Next for fans of this kind of thing. The reasons why I disliked, no HATED it, aren’t going to matter to devotees of slasher films. If you want to satiate your bloodlust, regardless of plot, script, sense, character development or standards, then You’re Next should fit the bill nicely. It’s a contrivance knowingly designed for an audience that wants to see people murdered and voice their approval/disapproval of what’s happening on screen at the top of their lungs in a crowded theater for the entire film. I won’t hold that against it, but that perfectly describes my cinema experience.

You’re Next is a lazily made product that doesn’t hold up to intellectual scrutiny. Our story concerns a wealthy married couple celebrating their 35th wedding anniversary in an isolated mansion in the woods with their kids and respective plus ones. Naturally the estate in the woods is in some remote area. Doesn‘t anyone ever vacation in the city anymore? It gets more idiotic. Assassins start shooting people from outside the cabin with crossbows. Was a catapult not available? The killers wear silly animal masks with tiny slits for eyes. They are impossible to see out of and therefore should give all the victims a distinct advantage in a fight. It doesn‘t (with one exception). The body count begins to escalate. Idiots blissfully enter dark rooms even though they know there are psychopaths roaming the house. Mom is taken upstairs and left to lie alone in a bedroom where strange noises were heard. Why continue to stay inside the house when it’s obvious the lunatics are inside? Because this movie is stupid, was the only answer I could come up with.

I’ve never been a fan of torture. I don’t take delight in observing people die and I don’t relish in the physical pain of others. I’m not a sadist so therefore I didn’t enjoy You’re Next. But it’s only a movie! This stuff isn’t real! It’s just make believe! True, but I still question the entertainment value in stomaching pretend carnage that, let’s face it, looks exactly like the real thing. If nothing else, the filmmakers know how to stage a realistic kill. After enduring one graphic murder after another in vivid detail, you’ll swear you’re watching a snuff film. At least this miserable lot are repellent. Their back and forth bickering is irritating. That makes their ultimate demise less painful to endure I suppose. Many cheered in my theater when the matriarch was massacred, her dead body left lying on the bed. Then they laughed with glee as the girlfriend suggests that would be a perfect place and time to indulge in some intimate hanky panky. You’re Next represents the nadir in popcorn entertainment.

Wait Until Dark, The Desperate Hours (1955), Funny Games (1997), Panic Room. The home invasion thriller has been handled before in much more interesting ways. You’re Next debuted at the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival then sat around collecting dust for 2 years. Now it has been foisted on the public during the traditional end-of-the-summer dumpage. It feels even more old and outdated. It should’ve just stayed wedged between whatever moldy crevice it had been shelved into. This is an unnecessary film. We’ve made so many strides in horror in the last 5 years, that this just feels like some dated relic from a bygone era. Start with 10 people, then mutilate in gory detail. The instructions are repeated ad nauseum until one is left standing. There is some surprise as to who this is and how it occurs, but after watching 9 nitwits sliced, diced, cut, chopped and shot, do you really even care?

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