Archive for the Thriller Category

Possessor

Posted in Drama, Horror, Science Fiction, Thriller with tags on October 22, 2020 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 1 out of 5.

Possessor is brutal. This is horror with the mischievous intent to disturb. I’m not surprised. It’s precisely what I would expect from the son of David Cronenberg. Brandon’s last effort was Antiviral which came out almost a decade ago in 2012. His belated follow-up concerns the degeneration of the human mind. It honors repellent gore at the expense of a compelling plot. Visually it’s a stunner though. Brandon Cronenberg includes all of the superficial affectations that make his father’s work fascinating, but he forgets the fact that story and character development matter too.

Plotwise there isn’t a lot to discuss. Tasya Vos (Andrea Riseborough) is a “possessor.” She works as a contract killer whose consciousness is implanted into the body of a person close to the target in order to carry out an assassination. She receives her orders from Girder (Jennifer Jason Leigh), a relentless boss without any moral qualms whatsoever. Tasya is instructed to kill billionaire John Parse (Sean Bean). To do so, she is embedded into the psyche of Colin Tate (Christopher Abbott), the boyfriend of John’s daughter, Ava (Tuppence Middleton). Despite Andrea Riseborough’s top billing, it is Christopher Abbott who occupies the bulk of the narrative. He’s a handsome fellow with a wooden personality that never displays any more than the bare minimum required to convey a human being. If he had been revealed to be a robot at the end, his impassivity would’ve made perfect sense.

Possessor isn’t a complicated film. The saga details a murder gone wrong. Yet a science fiction milieu has been grafted onto a simplistic outline that travels at a snail’s pace. The futuristic cyberpunk vibe elevates the atmosphere into something far more convoluted than the facade. I’m not saying the concept couldn’t have inspired something great. Christopher Nolan took the notion and made Inception — one of the greatest films of the past 10 years. Give the idea to the progeny of a famous filmmaker and you get lots of macabre ways to creatively kill people. As the body count grows, it’s apparent that Cronenberg is more interested in making people uncomfortable than telling an appealing story. This is a thoroughly repellent production that cruelly assaults the viewer without engaging our emotions. At least Karim Hussain’s cinematography imbues the carnage with an elegant sheen. It’s a testament to its style that this film has garnered some very positive reviews from the cognoscenti. I want substance however, and stomach-churning violence doesn’t qualify.

09-01-20

Tenet

Posted in Action, Drama, Science Fiction, Thriller on October 5, 2020 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

I feel I must acknowledge right from the beginning that Tenet was supposed to be the movie that would “save” cinema by inspiring people back into theaters. It didn’t. There was reason to think it would flourish. 10 years ago, the thematically similar Inception made nearly $300 million in the U.S. alone. Unfortunately, Tenet isn’t anywhere near as good. Don’t get me wrong. I liked the film and honestly, it was a success everywhere else in the world. Its poor showing at the U.S. box office has a lot more to do with the fact that many markets, including the two largest (New York, Los Angeles) weren’t even open when it was released on September 3.

In retrospect, a talky and confusing spy thriller from the creative imagination of Christopher Nolan wasn’t the best choice to welcome people back into theaters. There are those who will demand the astonishing visuals must be seen on the biggest screen available. They are indeed breathtaking. However, I’m here to say that this feature will probably find its greatest victory at home where viewers can pause and re-rewind to their heart’s content to fully comprehend Christopher Nolan’s impenetrable screenplay. Audiences have also complained that the dialogue can be hard to hear. I didn’t have a problem with it but closed captioning will be a godsend for those who feel this way. Now let’s discuss the story.

A CIA agent (John David Washington) is recruited by an organization from the future called Tenet to save the world. A Russian oligarch named Andrei Sator (Kenneth Branagh) is dying. He wants to use a device called an Algorithm which allows him to alter time. His doomsday plan is to invert the universe and have humanity die with him. The CIA officer contacts Andrei’s estranged wife Kat Barton (Elizabeth Debicki) to aid him in his task. Also assisting the “Protagonist” (he’s not given a name) is Neil (Robert Pattinson), his handler in the mission. Of course that’s simplifying things considerably. The plot isn’t straightforward, but that’s all you need to know. This is the mind of Christopher Nolan where he complicates the notion of time travel with a facility called a Turnstile that uses red and blue rooms to invert and revert a traveler’s path. Whatever.

Nolan is obsessed with time. I submit Memento, Inception, and Interstellar as exhibits A, B, and C. It’s his fetish, and Tenet furthers that obsession. He would rather articulate how time travel could occur with verbose specificity and then manipulate that idea even further to the point of nonsense. He exploits that theorem as an excuse to create nifty setpieces where multiple timelines exist concurrently. Time is moving ahead in one chronology and reversed in another simultaneously right before our eyes. I’d argue that the mechanism of time travel never holds up intellectually. Once you accept that principle, the easier it will be to champion any movie that employs that concept.

Suspend your desire to understand the baffling exposition. Simply delight in the sheer scale of the extravaganza that is presented. You will be satisfied. There are spectacles created within this environment that are too beautiful to dismiss. A shootout at the opera, a fistfight in a hallway, a plane crash at an airport, a reverse car chase, and the climax when the protagonist is inverted and he goes back in time while another team is advancing forward. It is is a vivid action display that is easily the most thrilling sequence of the year. Buildings collapsing, coming back together, and exploding again is a sight I won’t soon forget. The action is highlighted by the type of blasting soundscape of a score we’ve come to expect in a Nolan production. Ludwig Göransson’s music reverberates with bass to thrillingly punctuate the action. Does the chronicle make coherent sense? No, but I enjoy Tenet for the same reasons I appreciate the 1946 adaptation of Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep. It’s not about rationalizing every plot detail or understanding the dense narrative. It’s about the manifestation of spectacular style that could only triumph within the world of cinema.

09-29-20

The Devil All the Time

Posted in Crime, Drama, Thriller with tags on September 20, 2020 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 2 out of 5.

I don’t mince words. In that spirit, I was going to head off my review with a tried and true denunciation: The Devil All the Time is “a sadistic slog.” Then I discovered a fellow critic had already used that epithet. Somehow a “vicious venture” or “fiendish fable” doesn’t sound quite as catchy. Regardless. They all fit. This is a thoroughly unpleasant movie. A southern gothic tale concerning various characters and their crimes is set in rural Ohio and West Virginia after WWII. Dark and brutal is the atmosphere at hand. Are these people depraved? Welp. Let’s just say that the individuals detailed here make the Georgia souls living in the wilderness of Deliverance seem sophisticated by comparison.

Because I am fair, I will start with the good. The production has the aura of quality. It promotes a talented all-star cast including Tom Holland, Robert Pattinson, Jason Clarke, and Sebastian Stan. Tom Holland plays Arvin, a local from the provincial town of Knockemstiff, Ohio. Arvin is a little boy (Michael Banks Repeta) at the beginning of the story and the closest thing to what might pass for a hero. He attempts to make things right although his actions are so very violent. I’m not sure if I should be applauding his behavior. Actress Riley Keough is effective too. She plays an outright criminal but there’s some shading to her role. She’s conflicted at least. There are a lot of personalities. The intricate ensemble converges in a myriad of interesting ways throughout the saga. The production features nice cinematography. Ok, that is where the compliments end.

The bad news is that this chronicle simply wallows in unpleasantness. These are wicked people doing really immoral things. The narrative frequently weaves religion into the framework in order to give cursory weight to this tale. As you probably have guessed by now, we’re not dealing with pious believers. These are the hypocrites that abuse faith in order to further their perverse agendas. The viewer is confronted with a lot of dreadful moments. An evildoer (Harry Melling) slays his poor wife (Mia Wasikowska) with a screwdriver in the name of religion. A false preacher (Robert Pattinson) preys on innocent underage girls. Another couple (Jason Clarke, Riley Keough) are serial killers who film their murders. Then there’s the father (Bill Skarsgård) of a little boy (Michael Banks Repeta) who believes sacrificing the family dog will save his wife who is dying from cancer. I won’t delve into the sordid details but a cross is involved. Ya know it’s an odd thing . I’ve noticed you can kill any number of humans and the audience won’t bat an eye. Kill a dog and you’ve committed the ultimate sin. You’ll witness that atrocity in a most heinous way. You have been warned.

May God have mercy on the makers of this production. Director Antonio Campos’ (Christine) adaptation of Donald Ray Pollock’s novel is — to borrow a hackneyed phrase — misery porn. I’m not the first to level that criticism upon this wretched drama and I surely won’t be the last. Screenwriters Antonio Campos and his brother Paulo subscribe to the belief that there is nothing worse on this earth than a hypocritical religious zealot. The account reminds you of this fact time and again until the immorality is drummed into your skull to the point you can’t bear the degradation any longer. The deeds portrayed echo in a hollow chamber of superficial developments. I didn’t get an overall objective to all this depravity other than to emphasize that there is evil in the world. Sometimes powerful images can underscore deep themes but here it is a cheap and easy way to merely shock. Unless you’re tempted by the visual depiction of human suffering with no redeeming social value, skip this.

09-16-20

Unhinged

Posted in Drama, Thriller with tags on August 20, 2020 by Mark Hobin

UnhingedSTARS3It’s too early to say, but this might be the turning point where critics determine Russell Crowe’s career changed.  I must say, it’s rather interesting to see an Oscar winner (Gladiator) doing such an unabashedly B-movie.  Crowe was clearly doing prestige pictures in 2012 when he starred as Javert in Les Misérables.  I also consider recent roles in Boy Erased and True History of the Kelly Gang as reputable productions.  However, this is a step in a decidedly different direction.  It happens to the best of them. Bette Davis — one of the greatest actresses who ever lived — succumbed to playing exaggerated personalities too.  To be fair her impressive career spanned six decades.  She accomplished the feat by taking such parts beginning in the 1960s.  Now hold up.  I’m not saying this is anywhere even close to the high camp art of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? or even The NannyUnhinged is absolutely ridiculous, but wickedly unwarranted acts pervade the film and if if you have the right mindset, it can be entertaining.

Rachel Hunter (Caren Pistorius) is a divorced, single mother living in New Orleans.  One day while driving her 15-year-old son (Gabriel Bateman) to school she finds herself stuck behind a pickup truck.  It fails to move after the light has turned green.  She waits then honks the horn.  Not a “courtesy tap” mind you, but a full-on loud and steady beep.  Uh-oh.  Big mistake.  Soon after, the driver of the truck, Tom Cooper (Russell Crowe) pulls up alongside her and demands an apology.  She refuses and a road rage influenced game of cat-and-mouse ensues.

Revenge of the angry-white-male is a role perfectly tailored to Russell Crowe.  He relishes the deranged misanthrope with unbridled gusto.  Each cell conversation he places to Rachel leads to more misery.  This occurs over and over again.  These calls are a development that knowingly winks at the audience.  Director Derrick Borte (American Dreamer) exploits the genuine temperament of the star.  The notoriously short-tempered actor was famously charged with assault for throwing a phone at a hotel employee back in 2005.  Here he figuratively wields a mobile device as if it were a weapon.  Sometimes, art imitates life.

Unhinged isn’t an intelligent movie.  Tom is most certainly the villain and Rachel is the innocent victim.  However, she makes a lot of bad decisions.  Many times throughout I asked myself, why doesn’t Rachel just___________? (Fill in the blank with something a sensible person would do).  There are so many things that could’ve put an end to the unbelievable sequence of events.  Simply not answering one of Tom’s sadistic phone calls would have been a good start.  Her initial choice to press that button on the steering wheel is key.  Screenwriter Carl Ellsworth seems to warn viewers about the dangers of angering another driver.  Whenever this veered toward a cautionary tale, the more absurd the chronicle seemed.  There’s a pivotal moment where the narrative is no longer framed as a saga about a psycho on the loose, but as a plea to limit the use of your car horn.  Those are the kinds of preposterous asides that had me amused.  You can’t take this story seriously.  Nevertheless, it’s very intense and compelling.  As a vehicle (get it?) to set your heart rate racing, it’s pretty effective.

08-18-20

She Dies Tomorrow

Posted in Drama, Horror, Thriller with tags on August 1, 2020 by Mark Hobin

she_dies_tomorrowSTARS1.5Not one feature in 2020 was inspired by the COVID‑19 pandemic.  After all, movies this year were made well before our current situation.  Oh, I’m sure at some point in the future a ton of releases will be directly influenced by our dystopian state of affairs.  Nevertheless, that hasn’t stopped us critics to carelessly reinterpret everything as a metaphor for Coronavirus disease.  This is the umpteenth film to be analyzed this way.  That may help make it seem more of the moment, but it also serves to emphasize that the narrative is extremely weak.  The constant threat of death we have faced over the past year coupled with state-mandated restrictions and economic shutdowns are so much worse than anything these entitled individuals have to endure.  Their life is a blissful utopia by comparison.

So a woman named Amy (Kate Lyn Sheil) thinks she’s going to die tomorrow.  Amy expresses these feelings to her friend Jane (Jane Adams), who thinks she’s crazy at first.  Then Jane too thinks she’s going to die.  Jane likewise confides this to her brother Jason (Chris Messina) and his friends at a birthday party he’s throwing for his wife Susan (Katie Aselton).  Like a virus, soon they too are consumed by the same feeling.  This continues.  That’s the story.

Some readers may notice a similar preoccupation with how death spreads with esteemed titles like The Ring and It Follows. Those films are infinitely more interesting.  She Dies Tomorrow is burdened with a very low budget aesthetic.  The focus shifts from one character to another so we are introduced to several sullen types.  The personalities all suffer from an overwhelming sense of ennui and are largely depressing.  Everyone acts in a very naturalistic style without any concern for advancing the plot.  Knowledgeable fans may recognize actors Chris Messina, Josh Lucas, and Michelle Rodriguez who all appear in brief cameos, so I guess director Amy Seimetz must have called in a few favors.

Given the fact that not much of anything happens, conversation and mood are the whole point.  These are successful souls agonizing over a self-centered existential crisis.  People whine about insignificant problems they have intellectually created within their minds.  These thoughts have caused Amy to drink.  She also has just moved into a new home.  Poor thing!  She replays an oppressive version of Mozart’s “Lacrimosa (Reprise)” by Mondo Boys on a record player.  Yes, a vinyl record so she’s a privileged hipster.  She plays it over and over again to the point of irritation.  The characters mumble their dialogue.  Much of the script feels improvised.  Hallucinogenic flashing lights and overbearing sound design attempt to add interest.  Unfortunately, while the idea of death escalates, there’s no explanation as to why any of this is happening.  No resolution either.  Inexplicably, critical reaction has been positive.  I was completely bored by the entire affair.  When I wasn’t disinterested, I was slightly amused.  At times the production is so ostentatiously experimental, it borders on parody.   Despite the laughs, the experience was mostly tedious.

07-22-20

The Rental

Posted in Horror, Thriller with tags on July 30, 2020 by Mark Hobin

rentalSTARS4You’ll reconsider the next time you decide to stay at an Airbnb after watching The Rental.  I mean when you think about it, moving into a stranger’s abode, even if only for a few days, is awkward.  It’s an intimate experience that requires trust.  This portrait presents insidious behaviors I may never shake.  But isn’t that what effective horror does?  Introduce fears that now haunt you.  I mean Hitchcock made the simple act of taking a shower scary.  2020 has had no shortage of horror films and wouldn’t ya know it.  This is a review for yet another.  Don’t write this off as an average release from the genre.  This one is quite good.

Our tale concerns two couples vacationing together for a weekend.  There’s Charlie (Dan Stevens) and his wife Michelle (Alison Brie) and then there’s Josh (Jeremy Allen White) and his girlfriend Mina (Sheila Vand). Josh and Charlie are brothers.  Mina and Charlie are business partners.  It sounds a little convoluted but as developments unfold, the relationships feel organic.  The connections help explain the familiarity that everyone has with each other.

The “rental” of the title refers to a glorious ocean view estate along the Oregon Coast.  The property is available to rent for anyone looking to get away.  Well, actually Mina’s application to lodge there is denied until Charlie’s is approved.  Did the fact that her full name is Mina Mohammadi have anything to do with that?  The group wonders.  That’s the first, but certainly not the last, disconcerting situation our foursome encounters.  Josh insists on bringing his bulldog even though there is a distinct no-pets rule.  That doesn’t bode well either.  Upon arrival at the house, they meet their host, a good ol’ boy named Taylor (Toby Huss).  The creepy passive-aggressive conversation they have with him has unsettling undercurrents that set the tone for their stay.

The Rental is the directorial debut from actor Dave Franco (21 Jump Street, Now You See Me) and it is a surprisingly assured and accomplished effort.  Beautifully filmed, effectively acted, and well-plotted ….up to a point.  This horror saga is an efficient 88 minutes.  I dare say the first two-thirds had me thinking this was more of a psychological thriller along the lines of something Hitchcock might do.  A lot of the credit must also go to the king of mumblecore Joe Swanberg (Drinking Buddies) who brings his talent for natural dialogue to the screenplay he co-wrote with Dave Franco.  An interesting schism is introduced after a disagreement arises over whether to take recreational drugs that first evening.

The cracks that exist within their respective relationships underscore the subsequent events.  College dropout Josh has already expressed reservations that he feels he isn’t good enough for wildly successful tech entrepreneur Mina.  These thoughts weigh on his mind.  Co-workers Charlie and Mina are back at the mansion dealing with a hangover from the previous night.  Meanwhile, Josh and Michelle have a deep discussion while the two are out walking together in the woods that same morning.  Josh drops some revelations.  Michelle begins to doubt Charlie’s faithfulness after being confronted with a disturbing pattern in his past relationships.

The Rental holds a brilliant set-up that could have gone any number of ways.  I must tread lightly for fear of spoilers but the uneasy feelings are further compounded by a shocking discovery they make on the property they are renting.  Unfortunately, the end isn’t — shall we say — as intellectually sophisticated as the beginning.  In fact, the narrative devolves into a completely different film.  I admit I enjoyed both of them.  What ultimately happens is still exciting.  Just a wee bit anticlimactic after the impressive setup I relished before.

The Old Guard

Posted in Action, Adventure, Fantasy, Thriller with tags on July 20, 2020 by Mark Hobin

old_guardSTARS3The Old Guard isn’t winning any Oscars but that doesn’t mean it isn’t enjoyable.  I am a movie critic, not a film “snob”.  Of course, that word means different things to different people.  For some, a snob will actually scorn blatant Oscar bait so I probably shouldn’t get too bogged down in labels.  I only contest that I have a love for many types of flicks even when I critique a release for its obvious flaws.  Critics rightfully want to champion works that promote character development but movies that simply indulge on a purely visceral level are often negated.

There was an era (the 1980s) that genre films of this type routinely succeeded and the perspective changed.  An action-packed screenplay could also support interesting characters that kept us on the edge of our seats. First Blood (1982), The Terminator (1984), Die Hard (1988) and Point Break (1991) are just a few examples of what I’m talking about.  The passage of time has only cemented these thrilling classics in the pantheon.  It’s easy to defend these endeavors as cinematic touchstones now but it wasn’t in the age they came out.  The Old Guard seeks to delight that same audience.  This production doesn’t come anywhere close to achieving the heights of those aforementioned titles but there is a glimmer here of what made them great.

The chronicle concerns an impressive team of soldiers for hire that goes on a revenge mission.  The difference is that these mercenaries are immortal.  Charlize Theron plays Andy also known as Andromache of Scythia.  She’s a centuries-old leader of a band of warriors and she’s perfectly cast.  Theron exhibited a desire for such projects when she did Æon Flux 15 years ago but it’s really only been in the last 5 years that she has presented herself as a serious action star.  Mad Max: Fury Road, Atomic Blonde, The Fate of the Furious, and now this.  Theron’s unflinching portrayal is one of the high points.

I crave a story.  These roles are difficult because they’re largely defined by fight choreography and not the depth of nuance in the acting department.  In fact, the ability to show little to no emotion is usually desired.  That’s exactly what Andy is — a killing machine with a consistently grave demeanor.  She barely comes across as human. Showing more character development is a woman named Nile Freeman played by KiKi Layne (If Beale Street Could Talk) who was a former US Marine who discovers she is an immortal as well.  Her journey as a new addition to the team is emotionally compelling.  The appealing cast also includes actors Matthias Schoenaerts and Chiwetel Ejiofor.  Their presence, as well as others, ensures the audience is treated to a captivating ensemble of personalities.

The Old Guard is actually adapted from a graphic novel so if you suffer from what I call “comic-book movie fatigue” this may not be your cup of tea.   It can be a bit formulaic but the fight sequences are indeed dynamic.  Director Gina Prince-Bythewood has only helmed three films since her directorial debut Love & Basketball in 2000.  The Secret Life of Bees (2008), and Beyond the Lights (2014) followed.  Each work is satisfying.  The Old Guard is a big hit on Netflix so perhaps this will be the moment that finally catapults a career that spans two decades.  It has a fantastical superhero element to it.  Given the silliness of the premise, I would’ve appreciated a little more humor though.  Why so serious?  Nevertheless, if you’re looking to be entertained for 125 minutes, this should fit the bill.

07-13-20

Shirley

Posted in Biography, Drama, Thriller with tags on July 3, 2020 by Mark Hobin

shirleySTARS2It’s now considered a classic, but when Shirley Jackson’s short story The Lottery was originally published in the New Yorker back in 1948 it was extremely controversial. Readers called it “outrageous,” “gruesome,” and “utterly pointless”. Most people were confused by the fable. In a similar fashion, this movie appears to seek the same reaction from viewers.  Shirley unfolds like one of her tales.

Shirley is a completely fictionalized biography of the acclaimed American writer.  Shirley Jackson was an actual person.  The author is well known for horror and mystery.  The Lottery became one of the most frequently anthologized short stories in English.  It’s essentially mandatory reading in the U.S. curriculum so chances are you were forced to read it in school.  That’s not a dig. I agree it’s an effective composition that evokes dread, but * full disclosure * my introduction to it was involuntary.   Another work of hers includes The Haunting of Hill House which has been adapted to film in both 1963 and again in 1999.

Shirley, however, isn’t really about anything that concerns those contributions.  Actually, the facts of this story are a humorous detail.  The movie, directed by Josephine Decker, is adapted by Sarah Gubbins from the novel of the same name by Susan Scarf Merrell.  In what I assume was an innovative attempt to make the career of Shirley Jackson more interesting, her life and that of her husband Stanley Hyman (Michael Stuhlbarg) has been reimagined.  Jackson is suffering from depression, unable to write.  She rarely leaves her bedroom.  Stanley invites a couple — Rose (Odessa Young) and Fred (Logan Lerman) — to come to live with them in North Bennington to help out.  This situation inspires Jackson to write a book.  There is some validity.  Shirley was a married author who released a novel called Hangsaman.  The screenplay fictitiously envisions that piece was inspired by this arrangement.  However, the rest of the narrative including the very existence of this couple is made up.  I’m all for creative license, but why in this case?  Was the truth even more dreary?  If the writers had been a slave to authenticity perhaps there might be some excuse for the banality of this tale. Yet this is a complete fabrication where the writer could have created any number of scenarios in which to delight the audience.  The fabrication they chose didn’t do it for me.

Shirley is such a bizarre film because it seems to eschew the basic qualities that make a captivating picture.  The central protagonist isn’t likable, it moves at a snail’s pace and nothing particularly exciting happens.  Elisabeth Moss conspicuously goes the actorly route by sporting unkempt hair and a pair of unflattering spectacles.  How closely her behavior matches the real author is not something I am qualified to review.   I know what I find entertaining, however, and this ain’t it.  I’ll concede that Moss is good.  She perfectly affects a decidedly unique personality so her achievement is effective on that level.  A devotee of the author could easily imagine that the actual woman might be a dark person.  However, in this portrait, she isn’t a subject that you’d want to construct an entire production around.

An amusing addendum.  I recognize that Shirley Jackson’s most famous work was originally published in the New Yorker in 1948.  That esteemed magazine was a pioneer in giving the author significant attention.  The periodical could well be considered her very first fan.  That “weekly” publication (47 times annually) still exists and continues to review films as well.  Their numerical assessment of this movie?  40/100 according to Metacritic.com.  Ouch! And I thought I was being harsh.

06-09-20

7500

Posted in Action, Drama, Thriller with tags on June 30, 2020 by Mark Hobin

sevenfivezerozero_ver2STARS2.5Airborne thriller concerns the hijacking of a plane by Islamic terrorists.  Add this to the growing list in the aviation genre that includes movies like Airport, Alive, and Final Destination.  This is definitely one selection that will never become a part of your  in-flight entertainment.  Count your blessings.   That’s a good thing in this case.  The narrative is efficient in the extreme as the drama ultimately becomes a two-hander between one pilot (Joseph Gordon Levitt) and one terrorist named Vedat (Omid Memar).

Our central protagonist is Tobias, an American co-pilot on a flight traveling from Berlin to Paris.  A small group of Islamic extremists — and I’ll clarify, I counted 3 — attempt to take over the aircraft.  Their weapons of choice are shards of broken glass.  Writer-director Patrick Vollrath was previously nominated for an Oscar in 2016 for his live-action short Everything Will Be Okay.  He makes his feature directorial debut with this economical drama.  That’s a nice way of saying the entire picture is completely set in one room — the cockpit of a plane.   To say this drama is claustrophobic would be an understatement.

7500 creates a harrowing scenario so there is tension but it’s unpleasant without being engaging.  All of the exciting moments occur in the first half.  The hijackers make demands.  People are threatened.  The navigator is conflicted.  Then our attention begins to wane as Vollrath seems to repeat the cycle with more of the same.  Joseph Gordon Levitt does his best with substandard material.   However, the characters are superficially detailed.  I mean they’re people so we care because they represent human life but the screenplay is unable to afford them any depth.  They aren’t relatable or interesting.  Director Paul Greengrass tackled very similar material in an infinitely better way with United 93.  My recommendation is to watch it instead if you haven’t seen that far superior film already.   You would do best to skip this….unless you happen to be a Joseph Gordon-Levitt completist.

06-20-20

The Vast of Night

Posted in Drama, Fantasy, Mystery, Science Fiction, Thriller with tags on June 1, 2020 by Mark Hobin

vast_of_night_ver2STARS3The camera slowly enters a black and white TV set.  We overhear a familiar-sounding narration and are presented with opening titles that recall Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone.  The narrative gradually morphs into color.  It mostly stays this way, but every so often it turns black and white again as an affectionate reminder of the homage.  Director Andrew Patterson retro ode recreates a 1950s mood that concerns a mysterious sound that bewilders two teens.  There’s switchboard operator Fay Crocker (Sierra McCormick) and the comparatively more worldly DJ Everett Sloan (Jake Horowitz) at local station WOTW.  The Vast of Night is set in the small town of Cayuga, New Mexico and it’s certainly an impeccably fashioned period piece.  The portrait has been lovingly put together.  Although I’m surprised no one associated with this production realized that call letters for radio stations west of the Mississippi begin with a ‘K’.

The Vast of Night has a beguiling approach.  All of the events take place after dark.  The initial dialogue is delivered at a breakneck pace and it can be hard to follow at first.  During the first 30 minutes, the meandering introduction felt especially unfocused.  Stick with it though because this is superfluous exposition.  The proper story doesn’t even begin until half an hour later when Fay hears a bizarre audio frequency coming through the electronic circuits.  She forwards the intonations to Everett who plays it on the air.  The strange humming noise is identified by a disabled veteran named Billy (Bruce Davis).  The phone caller conveys his experiences in an extended auditory sequence.  Later on, the duo travels to meet an elderly woman named Mabel Blanche (Gail Cronauer).  She too recounts her experiences with the same sonic vibrations in another static shot.  Her verbose monologue is a long-winded sequence that may test the patience of most viewers.

The Vast of Night is a gloomy drama built solely around an enigmatic reverberation.  Evidence suggests a conspiracy theory involving a military experiment.  Most of what makes this saga compelling is its commitment to a B movie atmosphere.  However — save for a few showy unbroken tracking shots — the assemblage is not particularly cinematic. The film is regrettably centered entirely around the recollections of two loquacious individuals: Billy and then Mabel. Their lengthy monologues would be perfect vignettes for a popular radio program. That is before TV became the dominant entertainment medium in the 1950s. The interludes are not the most visually captivating. Some have labeled this release science-fiction but honestly, this extremely low budget tale is more mystery than anything else. It isn’t until the final 10 minutes that the feature ultimately succumbs to a spectacle that deems it as sci-fi. It’s unquestionably a powerful ending to a protracted buildup but its effectiveness also serves to underscore another insight. It’s at that moment we the audience suspect the film’s lo-fi aesthetic was more due to a lack of finances than art.

05-29-20