Archive for the Mystery Category

The Outfit

Posted in Crime, Drama, Mystery with tags on May 12, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

I love a clever title with a double meaning. The Outfit is about an English tailor named Leonard Burling (Mark Rylance) who sews suits, but it also concerns the Chicago Outfit, an organized crime syndicate. The story details one fateful night in the tailor’s life. Okay, so he’s technically a “cutter” because Leonard used to work in London’s Savile Row. It’s 1956 and he runs a neighborhood shop in Chicago controlled by Roy Boyle (Simon Russell Beale), an Irish Mob boss. Roy’s son Ritchie (Dylan O’Brien) and chief enforcer Francis (Johnny Flynn) are Leonard’s best customers but they also use his business as a place to hide dirty money. Oh and his receptionist Mable (Zoey Deutch) also happens to be Ritchie’s girlfriend.

The drama has all the trapping of the stage. The story is set in a single location. A twisty sequence of developments unfolds as the tailor attempts to stay alive by manipulating people with his words. The low-key vibe of the account takes a while to get going. However, things do get more complicated and even bloody. Before the night is over, not everyone will still be alive. A series of discussions propel the plot. Although the climax ultimately relies on a sequence of several actions. The ending could use a little — pardon the pun — tailoring.

The Outfit is an entertaining tale from screenwriter Graham Moore who won an Oscar for The Imitation Game. The dialogue is crisp and witty. A sample exchange:

Richie: [My father was] always stating, “A well-tied tie is the first serious step in life kid”
Leonard: Wilde
Richie: F***ing crazy, right?
Leonard: No, that’s a quote: Oscar Wilde

Screenwriter Graham Moore is making his directorial debut. He expertly builds tension from a unique situation. There’s a rat somewhere in Roy Boyle’s organization and he’s aiming to find out who it is. The centerpiece is a stellar performance from Mark Rylance. He’s a cagey individual but his unassuming nature belies a shrewd personality. A notable alumnus of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, his talent here recalls the work of another graduate of the prestigious school, Anthony Hopkins. I can’t give an actor higher praise than that. Mark Rylance elevates this well-written theater piece into a captivating pressure cooker drama.

05-06-22

Deep Water

Posted in Drama, Mystery, Thriller with tags on March 29, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

A new release starring erstwhile lovers Ben Affleck and Ana de Armas based on a 1957 novel by Patricia Highsmith (Strangers on a Train, The Talented Mr. Ripley) and helmed by provocateur Adrian Lyne would have been a big deal in a previous era. Yet on March 18, this went straight to streaming on Hulu. There’s a reason for that. Adult movie fare isn’t doing so well in theaters at the moment. Oh and frankly, it’s not all that good. But that doesn’t mean it lacks entertainment value.

Director Adrien Lyne earned a flashy reputation in the 80s & 90s for glossy dramas that were sexy and stylish. Flashdance, Fatal Attraction and Indecent Proposal were some of his best known. However, the last time he made a film, was way back in 2002. Unfaithful featured an Oscar-nominated performance by Diane Lane. She was outstanding to be sure, but I also credit Adrien Lyne for being the director in charge of that production. The promise of his first picture in 20 years is something to celebrate. If only it delivered the captivating heights of his previous work.

Deep Water is a limp drama about a couple living in the fictional Louisiana town of Little Wesley. It concerns a husband named Vic Van Allen, (Ben Affleck) in an unconventional marriage to his wife Melinda (Ana de Armas). She has affairs with various men. Instead of sneaking around behind his back, she flaunts them much to his discomfort. It’s the odd back and forth of the feuding twosome that compels your attention. However, the story is a head-scratcher. At first, it appears they’ve agreed to an open marriage. But when Vic threatens the guest (Brendan C. Miller) that Melinda invites to a party, it’s clear Vic isn’t happy with what his wife is doing. Although that doesn’t stop her. It’s implied that perhaps Melinda savors his jealousy. Martin McRae — the last guy that romanced his wife — goes missing and Vic claims to be responsible. Or is he kidding? Melinda is unfazed by the possibility that Vic is a murderer. “I’m the one you kill for.” she coos. It isn’t long before she’s off openly flirting with a different man (Jacob Elordi) and then another (Finn Wittrock).

Deep Water occasionally recalls what made Lyne’s earlier output so irresistible. The milieu is sleek and polished. As photographed by cinematographer Eigil Bryld, the living spaces are exquisitely opulent. They live in a palatial suburban mansion that would be right at home on the pages of Architectural Digest. The bathrooms are the size of a bedroom. A grand pool at the center of a party shimmers with an incandescent glow. The atmosphere is seductive. It hints that something sinister is always brewing. But the attempt to achieve the provocative excitement of his past work goes unfulfilled and an abrupt ending is supremely unsatisfying.

Deep Water is not good. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the mischievous tone that pervades the account. Melinda has this lusty appetite that straddles the line between insatiable and ridiculous. Conversely, Vic inexplicably vacillates between bouts of being enraged and aroused. The developments elicit laughter and campy elements inform the plot. Their precocious six-year-old daughter steals every scene she is in. The suggestion is the dissimilar pair stay together for her sake. Her bratty behavior is an annoying delight. “Alexa, play ‘Old MacDonald’ again” she chirps despite her mother’s protestations. Meanwhile, Vic keeps snails as pets and that’s a bizarre addition to the story. Ben Affleck broods with the same intensity as Nick Dunne, his role in Gone Girl. His character is a most perplexing personality. I could never quite figure out what motivates this highly confused individual. In the absence of a clear motive or credible passion, I simply reveled in the absurdity of it all.

03-25-22

Death on the Nile

Posted in Crime, Drama, Mystery, Thriller with tags on February 15, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Director Kenneth Branagh is having a moment. On February 8th, Belfast was nominated for an impressive 7 Oscars — including Best Picture. The celebrated filmmaker has followed up his movie with the more box office-friendly Death on the Nile. It was the #1 movie in theaters this weekend.

The mystery is of course based on the 1937 novel by Agatha Christie. Kenneth Branagh is not only the director and producer, but he also reprises his role as detective Hercule Poirot. It’s a sequel of sorts to his remake of Murder on the Orient Express, a monetarily successful adaption that came out in 2017. I wasn’t a fan, but I’m happy to report this one is significantly better.

All aboard the S. S. Karnak! This trip down the river Nile is an old-fashioned throwback — in a good way. Where Orient felt tired and stuffy, this is lighthearted and fun. Screenwriter Michael Green (Logan) even gives us a bit of a backstory of Hercule Poirot and why he has that immense mustache. The collection of stars is enjoyable to watch. In any large ensemble, the ability to stand out can be a challenge. Gal Gadot is perhaps the most memorable as a wealthy English heiress but Sophie Okonedo makes an impression as an American Jazz singer. Annette Bening, Russell Brand, Emma Mackey, Ali Faza, Dawn French, and Jennifer Saunders are among the other actors that show up. Note: It would be insipid to list the entire cast so the omission of any actor should not be viewed as a deliberate choice.

This interpretation is the kind of fluffy diversion I enjoy while watching but completely forget about days later. The thing I do remember most is how much CGI is used to make it look like they’re in Egypt. It’s quite obvious this wasn’t filmed on location. Credit goes to VFX Supervisor George Murphy and his team who utilize a London soundstage and an “extravagant” dependence on green screen. That does take away from the authenticity of the experience. The 1978 version of Death on the Nile with Peter Ustinov WAS a production that was famously shot in Egypt. This revision doesn’t top its glorious predecessor for style or opulence. Let’s face it, that’s a major component of these Agatha Christie adaptions. I’ll concede the story moves briskly, however. The chronicle is not a chore to sit through. Thankfully this is just slightly over two hours. In an era where movies hew closer to three hours than two, that’s a welcome surprise. It’s nothing to die for, but still a solid piece of entertainment.

02-10-22

Scream

Posted in Horror, Mystery, Thriller with tags on January 17, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Definitions vary but in Scream, a “requel” is a movie that functions as a sequel to an existing franchise but mimics so much of a previous entry that it verges on being a remake in disguise. Pictures like Mad Max: Fury Road, Jurassic World, Creed, and The Force Awakens are examples of this. Those all coincidentally came out in 2015. Ghostbusters: Afterlife is a recent illustration. As most of these titles show, a requel isn’t necessarily bad. That similarity exists between Scream and…Scream. Of course, Scream is fully aware of this before it apes the plotline of…Scream. Now this is confusing. From here on out, I’ll be adding a 5 to the latest Scream so I can (1) distinguish it from the title of its 26-year-old predecessor and (2) call it out for what it is.

Scream 5 returns to the quiet (?) town of Woodsboro, California. Yet another killer dons the Ghostface mask and begins targeting a group of teenagers. An attack on Tara (Jenna Ortega) compels her estranged older sister Sam (Melissa Barrera) to visit her in the hospital. Tara’s group of young and attractive friends assemble to figure out whodunit. Secrets from the town’s past come to light. That’s it. The plot isn’t going to win any awards. It’s Scream redux. In 1996 Scream became a substantial hit by turning the slasher film inside out. It satirized the clichés of the genre while also exploiting them. But let’s face it, it’s 26 years later and Scream 5 certainly can’t continue doing that.

Scream 5 brings something new to the table. This casts a wider net and considers the current state of sequels whose plot may seem like carbon copies of the original movie. Scream 5 mocks this idea. Then proceeds to do the very same thing by mimicking the developments of Scream but gently tweaking the narrative in meaningful ways. The screenplay is indeed funny and that’s where this installment shines. Even the very title imitates the recent trend of “back to basics” sequels that dispense with numbers like Halloween (2018) and Candyman (2021). This act of self-awareness is a precarious balancing act. There’s a fine line between smug and clever, but luckily screenwriters James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick straddle the line. Scream 5 keeps you entertained with what it has to say.

It’s the spirited new cast that carries the story. The chronicle opens with a recreation of Scream‘s iconic intro when Drew Barrymore as Casey Becker answered the phone. This time however it’s actress Jenna Ortega playing Tara Carpenter. She has a debate about “elevated” horror pictures from directors like Jennifer Kent, Jordan Peele, and Ari Aster with an unknown voice. “I prefer The Babadook,” she says. I feel you, girl. The caller then forces her to play the most stressful trivia game ever before invading her home. Ortega is effective as Tara Carpenter. Even more compelling is actress Melissa Barrera (In the Heights) who portrays her older sister Sam. They enhance the saga because they’re likable. That’s important in a slasher film. I mean it helps when we care the people don’t die, right? “Legacy” characters David Arquette, Neve Campbell, and Courteney Cox are all back to placate longtime followers. They’re appreciated in supporting roles but aren’t essential to the story.

The screenplay also offers a cogent dialogue concerning certain zealous fans — specifically enthusiasts who feel betrayed by franchise installments that don’t adhere to a narrow definition of what constitutes a “good” sequel. Mindy (Jasmin Savoy Brown) recounts how Stab 8 — the meta slasher film series within the Scream universe — forgot everything people loved about the first and undermined the subsequent movies. She is hip to horror tropes like her uncle, Randy Meeks (Jamie Kennedy) in Scream & Scream 2. Her conversations with twin brother Chad (Mason Gooding) are where the script is able to intelligently introduce discussions about the perpetrator of these attacks and toxic online fandom.

Scream is the most meta franchise we have. Yes, I see you Deadpool. For the first time, a Scream movie is not directed by Wes Craven, who sadly passed away in 2015. Directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett honor the spirit of the original while still offering a fresh take. This is the same directorial duo who created the ultraviolent Ready or Not in 2019, so expect blood to spurt and spray more than you’ve ever seen in a Scream film — at least since the first. I didn’t need to see the camera linger on a victim as the knife goes into the side of their neck and pops out the other side. Nor witness the ridiculous number of stabs that one (albeit deserved) fatality gets. With that said, the kills are creatively staged. One murder recreates the shower scene in Psycho but wait a minute…does it? The killer’s whereabouts upends our expectations. Scream 5 pokes fun of the sequel, fandom, and of course the slasher genre. A lot of it will feel familiar and that’s kind of the point. A witty screenplay coupled with a youthful and charismatic cast make this material feel vibrant once again.

01-13-22

Nightmare Alley

Posted in Crime, Drama, Mystery, Thriller with tags on January 4, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 4 out of 5.

“Film noir” is a term used to describe the genre of stylish crime dramas released between 1945 and 1960. Subsequently, “neo-noir” was a loosely defined term created to describe pictures that advanced the same sensibility but came after the classic period. Nightmare Alley is a novel by William Lindsay Gresham published in 1946 and subsequently became a 1947 movie starring Tyrone Power. Now Guillermo del Toro has adapted the same story (with Kim Morgan). Truth be told, my expectations were substantially restrained. I wasn’t a fan of his last release, The Shape of Water. However, color me surprised. I was completely captivated by this adaptation. Some of my favorite neo-noirs of the past 25 years include L.A. Confidential (1997), Match Point (2005), Brick (2005), Drive (2011), and Nightcrawler (2014). Nightmare Alley is an outstanding addition that ranks highly on that list.

The crime drama begins within the shadowy world of a second-rate carnival. Bradley Cooper is perfectly cast as Stan Carlisle, a charismatic man of questionable character. Stan takes a job in a traveling carnival owned by Clem Hoatley (Willem Dafoe). The occupants consist of the usual hustlers, grifters, and various sideshows including the unfortunate circus geek (Paul Anderson). Stan begins working with a clairvoyant act that comprises “Madame Zeena” (Toni Collette) and her husband Pete (David Strathairn). Pete becomes something of a mentor to Stan and begins teaching him the tricks of the trade. These methods incorporate cold reading techniques used to extract information from their marks. However, Pete warns never to use these tricks to put on a “spook show” which means channeling the dead. Meanwhile, Stan is attracted to Molly Cahill (Rooney Mara), a fellow carny whose schtick is to allow electrical charges to run through her body. He makes suggestions that improve her act. They form a connection. Then he proposes they leave the carnival together and start a new routine on the road exploiting the craft he has learned. As his approach becomes more and more sophisticated, Stan enters the pantheon of high society. Things get progressively more complicated from there.

The last time Guillermo del Toro directed a production it won the Oscar for Best Picture. That feat is unlikely to happen again. Nightmare Alley hasn’t been as warmly embraced. However, as far as I’m concerned, this is a far superior work. Guillermo del Toro has built a solid reputation on stories about monsters. Although his latest chronicle doesn’t feature any mythical creatures, it still details monsters of humanity. The story may involve unsavory people but it’s gorgeously filmed by cinematographer Dan Laustsen. At the same time, production designer Tamara Deverell recreates a 1930s carnival with authenticity and style. The tale unfolds with the complexities of a carefully plotted saga helmed by a director who knows exactly what he is doing. Every filmmaking decision informs the account which features an extraordinary ensemble of actors, all of which give performances worthy of acclaim. It’s incredible I’ve gotten this far and haven’t even mentioned Dr. Lilith Ritter, a psychiatrist played by Cate Blanchett. The character is a femme fatale in the most classic tradition. I’ve purposefully kept the specifics of her involvement secret so as not to spoil any of the twists and turns of the narrative. The second Lilith challenges Stan at one of his shows, I was enrapt. Every scene in which she is featured is mesmerizing. Ok so honestly, I was engaged throughout. That is the barometer of an entertaining movie. This also happens to be a work of art.

12-23-21

Last Night in Soho

Posted in Drama, Horror, Mystery, Thriller with tags on October 30, 2021 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

A wistful affection for the past is understandable — even encouraged — at times. Nostalgia for swinging ’60s is a relatable devotion. I happily support any script that has a love for female soloists of the UK. I’m talking about singers like Cilla Black, Petula Clark, and Dusty Springfield, all of whom appear on the soundtrack. This is a saga about one fictional singer named Sandie ( Anya Taylor-Joy). But what if that sentimental yearning for yesteryear were turned on its ear? Perhaps the “good ol’ days” aren’t so rosy. Last Night in Soho is a gripping seed of an idea from director Edgar Wright he considers in a screenplay with Krysty Wilson-Cairn. The concept is a fascinating contemplation for half the narrative …..and then that approach is discarded for — shall we say — less intellectual concerns.

Ellie Turner (Thomasin McKenzie) is a young woman who aspires to be a fashion designer in the modern day. However, she has a fondness for 1960s attire and music. She has been accepted into a fashion school in London. Ellie is excited, and her grandmother Peggy (Rita Tushingham) is rightfully proud. However, gran warns that London is a city of “bad men.” Ellie initially plans to stay in the dorms, but roommate Jocasta (Synnove Karlsen) and her “mean girl” pals are less than welcoming. So Ellie gets a place of her own — a rented room in the flat of Ms. Collins (the legendary Diana Rigg in her final film). That night while in bed under the covers, she is magically transported back to London during the youth-driven cultural revolution. Ellie’s odyssey begins. This phenomenon will happen repeatedly on each subsequent night. She will be changed by these adventures. The past is a thrilling period…until it isn’t.

Ellie’s trips to the sixties are electrifying. There she is transformed into a completely different woman. Her experiences as the more worldly and confident Sandie are pretty captivating at first. They even have a beneficial influence on her in the current day. Ellie’s clothing designs — as well as the way she presents herself (hair, wardrobe) — will become a reflection of these encounters. They have a positive effect. Last Night in Soho gives Director Edgar Wright an excuse to indulge in what he does best. Recreate an age for which he has an obvious connection with style and panache. He then employs a soundtrack that augments his aesthetic. So often these needle drops in movies are tired ditties we’ve heard fifty thousand times. To his credit, not a single tune from the Beatles is referenced. Edgar Wright manages to select well-known chestnuts of the time that haven’t been played to death. At least not to this American reviewer’s ears. I have a penchant for the music of this generation so It’s not often that I am not able to identify every song. This production had me consulting the internet afterward and adding new selections to my existing pop playlist focused on the 1960s. That’s high praise.

Last Night in Soho enthusiastically and skillfully emulates the age with sophistication and verve. Her surroundings are an aural and visual trip that brilliantly captures the excitement of another era. A special shout-out must go to Marcus Rowland’s fantastic production design, the costumes by Odile Dicks-Mireaux, and Chung-hoon Chung’s cinematography. Ellie is captivated and so are we. A dazzling dance on the floor of the Cafe de Paris has Sandie/Ellie being swept off her feet on the floor of the club. The dance intermixes actresses Thomasin Mckenzie and Anya Taylor-Joy with her partner Jack (Matt Smith) and the manipulation is pure cinema. The camera angles and lighting are perfectly in sync to duplicate an era that is beautifully realized. These scenes dazzle the eye. The presentation is astonishing. I was transfixed to the screen. The manifestation is a passionate celebration of the fashion and music of the decade . Halfway through, I seriously believed this was going to be the best movie of the year.

Edgar Wright’s display is a genre mashup-up that ultimately details the despair of a promise unfulfilled. I suppose there are many innovative ways in which the director could have taken this interesting adventure. It turns out that blood-soaked zombie horror is not one of them. I go into most films not knowing anything about them, so this twist came as a shock. I did watch the trailer afterward and discovered it fully acknowledges the descent into horror. Knowing this development can only enhance your experience since it prepares you for the abrupt turn of events the story takes. Nevertheless, it wouldn’t have made what happens more palpable. Unless that is you think Georgy Girl would have been a lot better if only it had an ending like Night of the Living Dead.

10-29-21

Lamb

Posted in Drama, Horror, Mystery, Thriller with tags on October 19, 2021 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Can overanalyzing a movie diminish its enjoyment? I love this question because it acknowledges a simple truth about films we love. Some accounts — while fascinating — don’t stand up to that kind of analysis. Lamb is a captivating picture, but it needn’t be scrutinized. It’s not for everyone, but it was for me. I enjoyed its weirdness.

Director Valdimar Jóhannsson is making his feature-length debut. He co-wrote the screenplay with Sjón, a poet, novelist, and lyricist who frequently collaborates with singer Björk. This folk tale concerns sheepherders in rural Iceland. On a fateful Christmas Eve, one of their sheep has a baby. This lamb is different. The couple has lost a child and perhaps this is why they take extra interest in the animal. The overarching through-line is a tender yarn about a maternal bond. They wrap the animal up, bring her into the house and have it sleep next to them in a crib in the bedroom. They name her Ada. It takes some time before we — the audience — understand what makes this baby unique. Although if you’ve seen the trailer, her deformity will not be a surprise.

The mood is somber and there is little conversation. The actors convey a lot with looks and glances . Actress Noomi Rapace (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo [2009]) imbues María with a steely resolve. Rapace is a Swedish actress but she lived in Iceland for a few years with her family as a child. She is still fluent in the language. Actor Hilmir Snær Guðnason (The Sea) is less famous outside of his native Iceland. As Ingvar, he manages to convey both the stoicism of Gerard Butler and the lighthearted goofiness of John Ritter. I use those references because he suggests both actors in appearance.

Haunting and hypnotic. That’s Lamb in a nutshell. It is a production that heavily relies on atmospherics . Developments unfold rather slowly. There’s a palpable feeling that something sinister is brewing. Like a pot simmering on the stove just on the precipice of a boil. However, there are welcome bits of levity that alleviate the solemnity. Ingvar’s brother Pétur (Björn Hlynur Haraldsson) shows up unannounced to stay for a while. The next morning he is sitting at the breakfast table. When Ana comes to the table, the look on his face is priceless. His response affirms what the audience has been thinking.

Lamb can be challenging. The story is not heavy on plot. Movies that get by on simplicity should be brief. This saga is 14 minutes shy of 2 hours. There are periods where the lack of dialogue and events don’t serve the production. The stretches of silence can almost parody the minimalism of an art-house flick. Then again, I’m convinced the humor is intentional. The visual manifestation of Ana is a weird hybrid of horror and comedy. A chronicle with a slow narrative with little action can often tax the viewer’s patience. Here however the quality has enough provocation to keep the viewer enrapt. There is so much to appreciate here.

10-12-21

No Sudden Move

Posted in Crime, Drama, Mystery with tags on July 28, 2021 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3 out of 5.

It feels like a lifetime ago when Steven Soderbergh first announced his arrival with Sex, Lies, and Videotape. It caused a sensation at the Cannes Film Festival in 1989 when it won the Palme d’Or. It also revolutionized the independent film movement in the early 1990s by making significant money at the box office. The last time Steven Soderbergh directed something that felt like an event was probably Magic Mike in 2012. That was nearly a decade ago, but the auteur has been steadily turning out movies. Some are great (Side Effects) and some are not (The Laundromat).

No Sudden Move is pure Steven Soderbergh. In that sense, it’s a film noir that should delight his most ardent fans but leave everyone else in the cold. It stars past collaborators Don Cheadle (Out of Sight, Ocean’s 11) and Benicio Del Toro (Traffic, Che). Curt and Ronald are two petty criminals each separately hired by Doug (Brendan Fraser) to work together. They are to kidnap low-level executive Matt (David Harbour) and force him to retrieve a document from his boss’ (Hugh Maguire) safe. You won’t know what that piece of paper is until the very end and even then it’s a perfunctory reveal that’s more likely to elicit a shrug than a gasp. That MacGuffin — by definition — was never the point.

It’s all about style and mood. Steven Soderbergh has honed his craft. This is a period piece set in Detroit, Michigan during 1954 that weaves the auto industry and organized crime into a dense account. Apparently, those two worlds have a lot in common. What begins in the rugged streets of Detroit ultimately ends up in the stately board room of a company. The idea that rich and powerful corporations have little regard for the law in their all-consuming desire for money is a most tired subject. Yet it can be the simplistic basis for a very entertaining story.

Simplicity enhances the possibility for depth. Soderbergh has a solid foundation. Unfortunately, each subsequent scene is burdened with more densely written dialogue than the next. The chronicle never gives the audience a chance to ponder what’s happening before additional layers are added. The narrative is weighed down by details. Ed Solomon’s screenplay confuses characters with excitement. Ray Liotta, Jon Hamm, Amy Seimetz, Kieran Culkin, Noah Jupe, Craig Grant, Julia Fox, Frankie Shaw, Bill Duke are all introduced as essential cogs in a complex machine. Not enough? Let’s throw in an uncredited cameo by the director’s most frequently employed actor. The Johnny Depp to his Tim Burton as it were. Soderbergh’s fans already know who I’m talking but I’ll leave his appearance as a surprise to everyone else.

The late great French director François Truffaut once pronounced that clarity is the most important quality in making a picture. No Sudden Move is a heist film. In essence, the saga is simple, but the plot twists and turns through an ever-expanding ensemble. In a tale where shifting alliances are the norm, you can’t be sure of anything. The only thing you can count on is that no one can be trusted. There’s nary a break in the conversation. Wait a minute? Who’s Frank Capelli? Is that Aldrick Watkins? These questions and many others will likely arise. Those key characters are portrayed by actors Ray Liotta and Bill Duke incidentally. Consulting a cast list will prove most helpful. If this were a live performance, I’d rely on a playbill to keep track of all the parts. This is a production that demands your undivided attention with no distractions. As such it would’ve been the perfect choice for a theatrical experience. Sorry. It bypassed theaters and was released on July 1 to HBO Max. This means you will need the right setting to enjoy this movie. I did and that’s why I’m recommending the film.

07-25-21

Fear Street Part Three: 1666

Posted in Drama, Horror, Mystery with tags on July 23, 2021 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3 out of 5.

This follows Fear Street Part Two: 1978

In the concluding entry, our main heroine Deena (Kiana Madeira) has a vision of the events of 1666 from the perspective of Sarah Fier herself. The woman was accused of being a witch and there are glaring parallels between her life and Deanna’s.

Don’t let my 3 stars steer you otherwise. The finale isn’t great and I’m not recommending this unless you’ve watched the other two. However, it feels more like a distinct entity and less of an homage to other, better films. The attention to period detail is still questionable but at least I wasn’t alive in 1666 so I can’t critique its recreation of the era firsthand. However I saw The Witch, a movie that detailed the same era in 2015. This suffers in comparison. It’s disgusting without being even remotely frightening. That criticism could be leveled at the entire production. The lack of scares is frustrating. This is a tawdry drama centered around 90s teens ending a historic ordeal.

Thankfully 1666 is more committed to creating a unique tale. If you’re here for shocks you’ll get that too. A preacher with his eyes gouged out is standing at an altar addressing a congregation of recently murdered kids who also have their eyes missing. A slew of piglets are shown slaughtered after they were eaten by the mother. The 17th century was a dark time apparently. Only the first half is set in 1666 before returning to 1994 to conclude the story. This is where the saga comes full circle and ultimately answers the question of how the town of Shadyside came to be cursed. To that end, it is the most satisfying and a fitting end to the trilogy.

Fear Street‘s 330 minutes would imply some sort of grand epic journey but its episodic narrative never rises above a very shallow presentation. Only in the closing installment does its excessive length seem mildly justified. Given that the distinction between TV and movies is forever being blurred, one wonders if this wouldn’t have worked better as a television series of say 8 episodes of 41 minutes each. Much easier to chew over…and then spit out.

07-19-21

Fear Street Part Two: 1978

Posted in Drama, Horror, Mystery with tags on July 23, 2021 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 2 out of 5.

This follows Fear Street Part One: 1994.

We begin in 1994. Deena (Kiana Madeira) and Josh (Benjamin Flores Jr.) restrain Sam (Olivia Scott Welch), Deena’s girlfriend who is possessed, and track down the mysterious C. Berman (Gillian Jacobs) for help. She is the sole survivor of the 1978 Camp Nightwing massacre. Initially reluctant, Berman allows them inside her home and begins recounting the events of that fateful night. It concerns a “Ziggy” Berman (Sadie Sink) and her older sister and camp counselor Cindy Berman (Emily Rudd). The narrative then flashes back to an earlier time when teens at a summer camp unleash a witch who turns one of the campers into an ax-wielding maniac.

The only thing more single-minded than the witch is the seemingly endless mixtape of songs from the age. In Part One set in the 1990s, the soundtrack is flooded with tunes from that era: Nine Inch Nails, White Zombie, Bush, and others. Part Two relies on the same. Anyone alive in 1978 knows that the Bee Gees, Andy Gibb, Donna Summer, and the Grease soundtrack completely ruled the radio airwaves that year. Their presence was inescapable. Yet instead we hear unconventional artists like The Velvet Underground, the Runaways, and the Buzzcocks. Methinks director Leigh Janiak is imposing her personal musical tastes on a group of 70s teens. This perfectly highlights how Fear Street is inconsistent in presenting authentic period detail. Nevertheless it attempts an ersatz version of the era from a 2021 mindset.

The chronicle draws significantly from Friday the 13th without forging an identity of its own. The bloodshed is graphic, even topping Part One so fans who enjoy seeing people killed will be delighted by the carnage. The ax murders include victims who are stuck in the forehead, their skulls split in half. People are chopped repeatedly, even after they are dead. Luckily no one is particularly likable, so when a character is invariably disposed of, their absence isn’t missed. This is the plot and — despite my conspicuous distaste — it’s slightly better than the first.

Next up: Fear Street Part Three: 1666

07-13-21