Archive for the Thriller Category

The Menu

Posted in Comedy, Horror, Thriller with tags on November 25, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

“Eat the rich.” The expression is a rallying cry against capitalism and class inequality. It’s commonly attributed to Jean Jacques Rousseau, a political philosopher and leading figure in the late 18th century during the French Revolution. However, the idiom has been invoked many times since. The words are never uttered here, but that ethos is all over this movie and is especially apropos, given the account is all about eating. Not literally “people,” as the phrase somewhat humorously implies, but gourmet fare. However, this narrative does not celebrate fine dining. Obsessive foodies, celebrity chefs, and tasting menus will be roasted to the death..and it isn’t pretty.

The Menu is a dark and nasty satire on the art of fine dining. Hawthorn is the name of an elegant restaurant in the Pacific Northwest run by Chef Julian Slowik (Ralph Fiennes). It’s likely a mash-up of many haute cuisine destinations. Director Mark Mylo — best known for his directorial work on TV shows Succession and Shameless — is working from a clever screenplay by Will Tracy and Seth Reichs (The Onion). A visit to Cornelius, a prestigious destination for seafood in Norway, inspired this production. Living in Nothern California, my mind went to The French Laundry, which charged $850 per person at the height of the COVID pandemic. There’s also a more direct geographic comparison of La Isla, the isolated private island in Patagonia of chef Francis Mallman visited by affluent gastro-tourists. There’s no cell coverage or Wi-Fi there either.

Guests travel by boat to a remote island to dine at an exclusive venue where the chef has prepared a lavish multi-course culinary journey with a sinister agenda. That’s the plot in a nutshell. This is a world where the top 1% spend hundreds (even thousands) of dollars on an epicurean experience. The “Breadless Bread Plate” merely features dollops of oil and emulsions on a plate. “The Island” course is a rock with a raw diver scallop carefully adorned with pickled seaweeds and algae using tweezers. These chefs have reduced their craft to an intellectual exercise by taking the joy out of eating. The final insult? The diner is still hungry after their meal of minimalism is all over.

Then there are the 12 chic and shallow elites who have each paid $1250 a head. The guest list includes Nicholas Hoult as Tyler, an obsequious foodie who has watched every episode of Chef’s Table. He worships Julian Slowik. His date is Margot, portrayed by Anya Taylor-Joy. She is different, a cynic, unimpressed with all the highfalutin nonsense. “You’re the customer,” she chides a sycophantic Tyler. “You’re paying him to serve you.” Reed Birney and Judith Light play a wealthy couple whose marital problems are exposed during the service. Janet McTeer is a pompous delight as a powerful food critic. John Leguizamo is a name-dropping has-been actor.

Ultimately, this is a hilarious food film with stylish horror influences. It’s like Saw blended with Jiro Dreams of Sushi. The script mines a smug contempt for establishments that flaunt their farm-to-table practices like a badge of honor. Yet, one should approach the tongue-in-cheek tone with a grain of salt. Despite the semi-serious horror milieu, the atmosphere’s evolving sense of silliness must be embraced to fully enjoy these shenanigans. Airplane! represents the airline industry about as closely as The Menu embodies a high-end restaurant. Time and again, these idiotic victims do not behave like normal people. There are numerous examples, but any patron that would happily pull out their wallet to pay for the experience they get here would have to be either suicidal or certifiably insane. A healthy suspension of disbelief is required. Nevertheless, I still enjoyed this far-fetched parody.

11-22-22

The Wonder

Posted in Drama, Mystery, Thriller with tags on November 21, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Anna O’Donnell (Kíla Lord Cassidy) is an 11-year-old girl in rural Ireland who has allegedly been fasting for four months. She appears perfectly healthy and contends that she survives on “manna from heaven.” The devout townspeople hail it as a miracle, but skepticism arises. Local authorities call upon Elizabeth “Lib” Wright (Florence Pugh). She is an English nurse tasked to simply observe the child to test the veracity of these claims. As a woman of science, she is skeptical. Meanwhile, the all-male town council, which includes the town doctor (Toby Jones) and a priest (Ciarán Hinds), believes in divine intervention. Their disdain for Lib and her opinion is increasingly evident.

I don’t know who the audience is for this film. Believers who want to see a drama that affirms religion and faith will be disappointed because it’s not uplifting. However, it also fails as an exposé on how the desires of a little girl, her parents, and the Catholic Church intertwine. The developments are so deliberate and gradual that it tests the viewer’s patience. The more we learn, the less interesting the narrative becomes. The austerity of the surroundings effectively creates a sinister atmosphere. I’ll concede that. It’s a depressing mood piece but not much else.

The Wonder is a slow, methodical characterization of two people. Director Sebastián Lelio (Gloria, A Fantastic Woman) has achieved critical success with his cinematic portraits of women. Lib, the nurse, is an empathetic person. Anna persists as an enigma. Her behavior will give someone pause. Is she the real deal? The two personalities compel the viewer to keep watching to find out. However, the lethargic pace is plodding, and the resolution is unremarkable. The screenplay is based on the 2016 book of the same name by Emma Donoghue. The author also penned the novel Room, which she adapted into the Oscar-winning movie starring Brie Larson. I “wonder” if Donoghue considers her previous adaptation to be vastly superior…because I do.

11-16-22

Halloween Ends

Posted in Horror, Thriller with tags on October 16, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 2 out of 5.

It all comes down to this. The film that started things back in 1978 is a classic celebrated by critics and audiences alike. There have been so many movies with various timelines in this series. Most are pretty disposable, but any franchise with crowds still demanding entries 44 years later incurs a certain level of respect. Call me crazy, but I think Universal Pictures should’ve dubbed the latest picture what it really is: Halloween the 13th — a winking nod to another well-known horror anthology.

Halloween Ends is technically part three of a modern trilogy following 2018’s Halloween and 2021’s Halloween Kills. This has also been sold as the climactic chapter (note the title) of the entire franchise. That’s a lot of pressure to deliver. Unfortunately, Halloween Ends fails to satisfy either as a follow-up that honors what came before or as a new standalone story.

We expect certain things from a sequel. This entry has very little interest in involving the characters we know. Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) is a minor presence in the narrative, and we don’t see the main villain Michael Myers (James Jude Courtney), for a full third of the chronicle. He takes a backseat to the action once he does. Director David Gordon Green has a different focus. The script he co-wrote with Paul Brad Logan, Chris Bernier, and Danny McBride, introduces an entirely new and rather bland fellow named Corey Cunningham (Rohan Campbell). He’s a teen who accidentally kills a boy (Jaxon Goldenberg) while babysitting in an admittedly promising prologue. Side note: The child was misbehaving. He got his just deserts. Corey is cleared of manslaughter charges but becomes the town pariah. Corey is a sensitive kid, and the local bullies mercilessly harass him. He snaps. Michael Myers understands Corey’s torment and takes him under his wing — like a protégé.

Halloween Ends takes some big swings but ends up striking out. Introducing a brand new outcast as the star is a risk that doesn’t pay off. Corey subsequently gains the affection of Laurie’s granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak). Their romantic entanglement is a major component of this saga. Allyson has been through a lot. Corey is clearly damaged and throwing up all sorts of red flags, so her pursuit of him makes absolutely no sense. Fans who came to see scream queen Jaime Lee Curtis and her nemesis Michael Myers share the screen together will have to wait until the final 20 minutes of this two-hour production. It is predictably violent and ridiculously bloody, so enthusiasts who feast on gore should enjoy that segment at least.

The screenplay attempts to make a grand statement about “the inevitability of evil that exists in the world.” Michael Myers is more than a character here. He’s a symbol. The ongoing weight of Laurie’s guilt and despair is poured into writing a memoir. “Evil doesn’t die. It only changes shape,” she opines. Her introspective voiceover narration is like Chicken Soup for the Soul. These wispy ruminations inject unwarranted and misplaced importance into a slasher flick. The plot of Halloween (1978) could be summed up in three words: “Man kills teens.” It was that simple. It’s not hard, people. I just want to be frightened, and I wasn’t. My pulse didn’t even quicken.

This “final” installment is a sorry excuse to revive a tired franchise that did not merit twelve additions to the original (so far). It may be called Halloween Ends, but I have no doubt some screenwriter will creatively resurrect Michael Myers in another sequel using his DNA or invoking his supernatural spirit. I don’t look forward to that. However, I will end on a positive. Halloween Ends is an honest title because it does indeed genuinely and truly have a definitive end.

10-14-22

Don’t Worry Darling

Posted in Drama, Mystery, Thriller with tags on September 26, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Even before Don’t Worry Darling was theatrically released on September 23, it was subjected to an onslaught of negative publicity. The tabloid shenanigans concerning certain key people were the fodder for rampant gossip. I’m being vague because this is Fast Film Reviews, not The Hollywood Reporter. I only bring it up because I’d bet the farm that the drama behind the scenes is 100x more interesting than the finished product.

The company town of Victory, California, is a traditional community in the 1950s. Husbands go to work while women stay home, do household chores, and socialize. Alice and Jack are a young attractive married couple in love. However, Alice begins to detect cracks in their seemingly idyllic existence. Bunny (director Olivia Wilde) is Alice’s best friend.

So let’s start with the good: The ensemble features an outstanding performance from Florence Pugh, looking radiant in Brigitte Bardot-style tresses. She is another UK actress (like Saoirse Ronan or Millie Bobby Brown) that is more convincing as an American woman than many of her peers. She did it perfectly in Midsommar, and now she’s done it again in another psychological thriller. Also worthy of mention is actor Chris Pine. He’s scary good as the enigmatic Frank — the founder of the “Victory Project.” A job to which the men all report every morning. Their departure in cars en masse is a spectacle. The details of their employment are shrouded in mystery.

I was captivated by the aesthetics. The production design is visually striking as it recreates this picturesque vision of suburban life in America. The cinematography is impressive too. Director of photography Matthew Libatique often partners with filmmaker Darren Aronofsky. Libatique’s effort draws upon his iconic visuals in Requiem for a Dream. Remember the repeated montage involving extreme close-ups of heroin as it cooks, boils, and enters the body? Well, substitute those sequences for bacon, eggs, and sliced toast as Alice makes breakfast every morning.

Ok, so now the bad? The script presents an unimaginative tale that is wholly derivative. Any deep dive into what happens here won’t withstand scrutiny. Why does Jack dance like a puppet for the men? What’s up with the hallucinations that feature choreography à la Busby Berkeley? Why do Bunny’s loyalties suddenly shift on a dime? Why does Frank’s wife (Gemma Chan) do what she does at the climax? Why do the aggressive (and unsexy) sex scenes never progress beyond third base? These are just a few of the questions I had. At least consulting the internet for answers made me feel I wasn’t alone. However, it didn’t resolve my confusion.

It feels like the screenwriters simply watched The Stepford Wives, drank a bottle of whiskey, and then wrote this movie. Ok, so it’s not *exactly* the same thing. (They threw in a little of The Matrix) Yet it’s so similar that the estate of author Ira Levin — who penned the 1972 novel — might be entitled to a cut of the profits. Katie Silberman gets credit for the screenplay based on a story by Carey Van Dyke, Shane Van Dyke, and Silberman. The best scene in the film is a dialogue at a dinner party that includes Alice and Frank while the guests look on. Sadly even the promise of that conversation doesn’t coalesce into anything meaningful. The plot didn’t offer surprises. The “twist” ending is a disappointment, although my predictive abilities remain acute. So no, this flick isn’t worth your time, but don’t worry, darling reader! I saw this, so you don’t have to.

09-22-22

Barbarian 

Posted in Horror, Thriller with tags on September 15, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

The element of surprise is crucial in horror. It’s all about creating a potent shock. Jump scares are an easy way to accomplish this. Even though the ploy is pervasive, it’s a cheap way to earn tension. More creative is when a film manages to surprise with a plot that upends the viewer’s expectations. Barbarian is that movie.

Tess is a documentary researcher who books an Airbnb at 467 Barbary Street in a derelict area of Detroit. The address is mentioned enough times to become a trivia question if this production stands the test of time. I’m optimistic that it will. Tess will be attending a job interview in the morning. She arrives late at night and is disturbed to find someone already staying at the property. The awkward man is memorably portrayed by Bill Skarsgård. The fact that he was Pennywise the Dancing Clown in 2017’s It will only fuel your misgivings. The mix-up is seemingly due to a booking error. She ultimately decides to stay the night, given the lack of other options.

The greatest horror films are built around a compelling lead, and Barbarian has one of the best. Tess is a smart cookie — in the beginning anyway. She takes a picture of Keith’s ID, keeps the bedroom door locked, and refuses to drink the tea he prepared out of her sight. Her later decisions will grow less and less defensible. Keith is an awkward man, but her reservations about him are somewhat calmed when he expresses love for a little-seen documentary on which she worked. They bond over a bottle of wine that he opens in her presence. She becomes relaxed. Think you know where this is going? You’re not even close.

The strength of Barbarian is in the intricate story that mutates and changes. I’ve barely scratched the surface of what happens. The tale will involve an underground passage beneath the home. Filmmaker Wes Craven would be proud. Tess’s bewildering decision to descend into a dark and foreboding basement is a foolish choice that makes no sense coming from a previously intelligent woman. However, this is a genre flick. Stupid decisions must be made to generate scares. A dreadful discovery arises. I must admit that scene is one of the scariest reveals I can recall in recent memory. The anxiety is aided by director of photography Zach Kuperstein whose expert use of lighting and camera angles throughout the film heightens the suspense. Then without warning, the account abruptly flips into a tonally different saga about a cocky actor named AJ Gilbride. Baby-faced Justin Long is playing wildly against type.

Barbarian is a twisty chronicle that manages to weave the decline of Detroit, how ineffective police allow rampant crime to flourish in impoverished areas, and the #MeToo social movement. These disparate elements are creatively united by director Zach Cregger who also wrote the screenplay. Cregger assumes you’ve seen enough horror classics (Psycho, Friday the 13th, Misery) to make easy assumptions that he can overthrow. I do take exception when the “big bad” is such a physically overwhelming entity that it removes all hope that it can be overcome. It’s not all doom and gloom, however. Despite the milieu, it’s highly amusing when AJ is initially excited to discover the additional basement of the home he owns. He chooses to measure the extra square footage without even considering the extreme danger in which he has willingly placed himself.

A talented ensemble aids director Zach Cregger, but Georgina Campbell is the MVP. The actress immediately joins the ranks of those classic scream queens that blend warmth with tenacity. Fellow actresses Janet Leigh, Linda Blair, and Jaime Lee Curtis are part of an elite club. I hesitate to make bold pronouncements that don’t stand the test of time, but her spirited and captivating performance is really that good. The success of Barbarian rests on her impressive achievement.

09-13-22

Day Shift

Posted in Action, Comedy, Science Fiction, Thriller on August 18, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 1.5 out of 5.

In 2005 Jaime Foxx won the Oscar for Best Actor. He hasn’t been nominated since, and Day Shift certainly isn’t going to change that. However, it’s currently the #1 streaming title on Netflix, so that’s something.

Bud Jablonski (Jamie Foxx) is a vampire hunter posing as a pool cleaner who gets an unlikely partner in union rep Seth (Dave Franco). Jaime Foxx portrays a confident, streetwise action hero, and Dave Franco is the intelligent but awkward official with whom he is saddled. We’ve seen the odd couple pairing a million times before. I love those offbeat bonds of the 1980s like 48 hours, Lethal Weapon, and Midnight Run. Despite their differences, we all know that the two will become good friends. It’s the series of comical escapades that entertains. These lay the groundwork for their ultimate meeting of the minds.

Action comedies about mismatched people united in a common cause usually rely on the camaraderie that makes the partnership fun. Apparently, screenwriters Tyler Tice and Shay Hatten skipped the days when those lessons were taught in film writing school. The slapdash script is so emotionally vacant it makes Central Intelligence look like In the Heat of the Night. Jaime Foxx and Dave Franco do their talented best, but the screenplay doesn’t allow them to have chemistry together. The interaction between these two actors is not pleasant. It doesn’t help that Dave Franco is required to vomit often and pee his pants to show his ineptitude in combat. Oh, and let’s be clear, physical confrontations — not intellectual repartee — are the raison d’être of the picture.

The chronicle relies heavily on explosions, blood, knives, machine guns, stabbings, explosions, and neck slicing decapitations featuring disembodied heads. Oops! Did I mention the explosions twice? Well, it bears repeating. Carnage is why this flick exists. Stuntman-turned-director J.J. Perry is making his directorial debut. The arbitrary developments are a disjointed mess. If you enjoy seeing an individual get their arms ripped off and then pummeled with their own limbs, you will treasure at least one scene in the chaos. The wonky special effects in the fight scenes are kind of hilarious, though. Jaime Foxx is kicked and thrown across the room like a rag doll in the climax.

The cast includes a random ensemble of other personalities that distract from the central duo. Perhaps the most engaging is the main villain Audrey San Fernando (Karla Souza), a pretty vampire/real estate agent who works for a high-end firm. Her flashy attitude would be right at home on the reality TV series Selling Sunset. Snoop Dogg pops up as an intimidating but supportive cowboy named Big John Elliott. His appearance is sure to be a particular delight for viewers who were teens in 1993. I must admit I was amused by his lackadaisical presence. Although Bud may have a violent job, the narrative also unconvincingly paints him as a family man. He’s got a beloved daughter (Zion Broadnax) and an estranged wife (Meagan Good). Yet the relationships don’t resonate with even a modicum of genuine emotion. These are accomplished actors instructed to pose as nonentities in a soulless product for streaming consumption. By the end, someone informs us that “vampires don’t pee or poop,” which inspires Bud’s 8-year-old daughter to crudely blurt out, “Does that mean they’re full of sh–?” That kind of language is not to be encouraged from a youngster, but I still answered politely with, “No, but your movie is.”

08-16-22

Bullet Train

Posted in Action, Adventure, Comedy, Thriller with tags on August 5, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Brad Pitt is a movie star. I realize this is not some groundbreaking pronouncement. We’ve known this for a long time. Perhaps as far back as 1991 when he memorably played the handsome young drifter J.D. in Thelma and Louise. He turned that bit role into a star-making performance. The rest is history. Bullet Train has a massive cast, so it would be hard to stand out. Yet every time the quinquagenarian pops up, it’s akin to the zen calm in the eye of a chaotic storm. Sporting unkempt hair, glasses, and a bucket hat compels one character from the UK to quip, “You look like every white homeless man I’ve ever seen.” Seriously? The vagabonds in Great Britain must be really good-looking then. Brad Pitt is the glue that holds this dissonant mish-mash of a film together.

A team of various assassins with incongruous codenames from around the globe are traveling on the Shinkansen. The bullet train takes about two hours and 15 minutes to travel from Tokyo to Kyoto — with frequent 1-minute stops along the way. Ladybug (Brad Pitt) is tasked to steal a briefcase. He’s getting directions from his handler Maria Beetle (Sandra Bullock), an unseen voice on the phone. Little does he know that other cutthroats are onboard to stop him. Let’s see; there’s a pair of hitmen brothers, Tangerine (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and his “twin” Lemon (Brian Tyree Henry), British bad boy The Son (Logan Lerman), innocent-looking schoolgirl The Prince (Joey King) who is not so virtuous, and The Father (Andrew Koji), a troubled patriarch there to seek vengeance upon the individual who pushed his son off a roof. Let’s not forget The Hornet (Zazie Beetz), whose identity is largely secret, and The Wolf (Benito A. Martínez Ocasio, a.k.a. rapper Bad Bunny). He’s angry at whoever poisoned the wine at his wedding. Wow. Now that’s a gross scene I didn’t need to see over and over. Other killers — not on board but part of the narrative — include The Elder (Hiroyuki Sanada) and White Death (Michael Shannon). Oh, and there are a couple of memorable cameos too, but I won’t spoil the surprises.

The recipe for this cocktail of a story is to simply add the ingredients of disparate characters to one location and shake vigorously. Lest you think my encapsulation is dismissive, classics like Die Hard and The Raid got by on the same formula. I haven’t even mentioned that there’s a poisonous snake on the loose and a mysterious pink mascot from a popular children’s show named Momomon. Your mileage may vary, but ultimately, I warmed up to the film’s bonkers mentality. The silly glee in this live-action cartoon is just so zealous. The saga marries lighthearted dialogue with heavy-handed violence. Granted Final Destination treated the idea of death with more compassion. It’s a cynical approach. Director David Leitch worships at the altar of patron saints Quentin Tarantino (Reservoir Dogs) and Guy Ritchie (Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels). Leitch is working from a screenplay by Zak Olkewicz, who adapts the Japanese novel Maria Beetle (published in English as Bullet Train) by Kōtarō Isaka. It’s a difficult juggling act for the filmmaker. He’s trying to keep a lot of balls in the air. Oh yeah, he drops a few. Particularly in the denouement when the action goes literally and figuratively “off the rails.” (sorry, but you knew that line in a movie about a train was going to appear somewhere). Nevertheless, the spectacle is still quite a show.

08-04-22

Vengeance

Posted in Comedy, Mystery, Thriller with tags on August 4, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

The Office is one of the great sitcoms of the 2000s. I state this as fact, not opinion, so perhaps I was more excited than most to hear that “Ryan Howard” made a film. B. J. Novak is best known for his work on the U.S. version of The Office. He also wrote, directed, and produced the sitcom, so he’s had significant experience behind the camera. Vengeance is his feature directorial debut. B. J. Novak also wrote the screenplay and stars.

Ben Manalowitz (B.J. Novak) is a struggling journalist based in New York City who casually dates many women. One night he gets a call from Ty Shaw (Boyd Holbrook), the brother of one of these arbitrary hookups. Aspiring singer Abby (Lio Tipton) has been found dead of an apparent overdose. Believing Ben was her serious boyfriend, Ty heartbreakingly delivers the news. Ben can barely remember who she was. Yet Ty is so distraught that Ben decides to fly to Abilene, TX (where Abby got her name) and attend the funeral. Sensing an opportunity for an exciting podcast, he chooses to stay and probe further into her death. He pitches his investigation to a successful producer back in New York. Eloise (in a compelling performance by Issa Rae) is receptive to the idea.

Vengeance is blessed with a clever script that straddles the line between intelligent satire and flat-out comedy. If you sense a tale about a shallow city slicker from New York who learns that gun-toting Texas are not as backward as he initially thought, you’d be right. However, how those relationships are detailed makes all the difference. The characterizations are beautifully revealed in random asides. An ongoing joke is how Ben frequently uses the phrase “100 percent” to express his “sincere” agreement. When Ty is touched by his use of the word, it’s an affecting moment. Another occurs when Abby’s sister Paris (Isabella Amara) demonstrates that she has read Chekhov, and Ben uncomfortably admits he hasn’t. There are a lot of those revelations.

Vengeance is a movie about the preconceptions and ignorance that outsiders have about people they don’t know. This is not another let’s “laugh-at-the-yokels” affair. BJ Novak’s observations about Texans are nuanced and render them as fully rounded human beings. Abby’s family is a likable clan. The ensemble of actors includes Dove Cameron, Isabella Amara, and J. Smith-Cameron in memorable roles. Ashton Kutcher deserves a special mention as a music producer. Oh sure they value their weapons and extol a love for fast food chain Whataburger that borders on the ridiculous, but the presentation is affectionate. The screenplay upended my expectations many times over.

I can’t say I was on board with every development that happens. I didn’t embrace the biggest surprise. The final act is punctuated by a shocking act of violence that is not earned. It’s as if Quentin Tarantino sabotaged the production. Despite that brief indiscretion into another genre, the story is mostly substance over style. The chronicle ultimately coalesces into a profound comment on culture and society. There is joy in this insightful reflection on humanity. I was delighted, and I think you will be too.

08-02-22

Ambulance 

Posted in Action, Crime, Drama, Thriller with tags on June 15, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

The last song I ever expected to hear in one of Michael Bay’s adrenaline-pumping testosterone-fueled odes to machismo was “Sailing” by Christopher Cross. The 1980 yacht rock classic incongruously pops up when adoptive brothers Danny (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Will Sharp (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) decide to sing it (badly) in a calming moment while driving an ambulance. But these guys aren’t paramedics. No, they’re bank robbers. They’ve hijacked the eponymous vehicle after a heist where they stole $32 million dollars. Oh, and they’ve taken two hostages. They’re transporting a comatose police officer (Jackson White) that Will shot twice. His slowly bleeding state promotes a Blue Lives Matter subplot. There’s also a gorgeous EMT named Cam Thompson (Eiza González). She is the best at what she does in the city of LA. Cam flaunts the beauty of Megan Fox and exudes confidence like Michelle Rodriguez.

Ambulance is essentially one overlong chaotic, cacophonous car chase through the streets of Los Angeles. It’s also the latest blast-a-thon from a director who built his reputation on the genre. When individuals aren’t screaming at each other at the top of their lungs, there’s a car collision with a corresponding explosion to drown out the din of their inane conversation. It’s hilariously overwrought. However, there’s a little room for some characterization in Chris Fedak’s script. Gyllenhaal is a crazy, wide-eyed gun-toting career criminal that behaves as if he solely subsists on a diet of Red Bull and speed. Conversely, Abdul-Mateen’s Will is the level-headed one who foolishly turns to his unhinged brother Danny when his cancer-stricken wife Amy (Moses Ingram) needs money for surgery. Their father was an infamous bank robber too, so apparently, it runs in the family.

Ambulance is yet another indulgent American remake based on a foreign film. Jake Gyllenhaal is fond of starring in English-language reproductions of Danish hits. He was also in The Guilty (2021) and Brothers (2009). Ambulance was an efficient 80-minute picture from Denmark in 2005. In the hands of Michael Bay, it’s a loud distended 136-minute headache. Given the comparatively low $40-million-budget, this production is practically an indie for the director of the Transformers pictures. For example, The Last Knight cost $239 million. Nevertheless, Bay applies that same noisy aesthetic to this character-driven drama. It can be exciting. The chronicle features a breakneck pace and such sheer volume that you might be inclined to forgive the absurdity. However, at over two hours, the dissonance wears out its welcome. There were enough shaky-cam and dizzying drone shots in Roberto De Angelis’ cinematography that had me wanting to call an ambulance about halfway through.

Ambulance is currently streaming on Peacock and available to rent on DVD and Blu-ray.

06-14-22

X

Posted in Horror, Thriller with tags on June 9, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Certain productions evoke an age so perfectly that they feel as if they were made in that decade. It is most admirable that for a significant portion of its runtime, X is a well-mounted period piece. OK so the period is 1979 and the piece surrounds a small crew making an adult movie, but the aesthetic of X is artfully realized. The visual manifestation of the era is off the charts.

The traveling troupe is an eclectic mix of memorable personalities. Mia Goth is starlet Maxine Minx and Wayne is her producer boyfriend. Actor Martin Henderson is doing an amusing impression of Matthew McConaughey as the wannabe mogul. The rest of the troupe includes her fellow actors Bobby-Lynne (Brittany Snow) and Jackson Hole (Scott Mescudi aka Kid Cudi). Aspirational director RJ Nichols (Owen Campbell) thinks he’s creating art, and his innocent but curious girlfriend Lorraine (Jenna Ortega) does not. There’s a simmering feeling of unease that compels us to keep watching.

The group is on a road trip in rural Texas to photograph a new film. They arrive at the remote farm of cantankerous Howard (Stephen Ure) and lusty Pearl (also played by Mia Goth) — a creepy elderly couple. We’re not supposed to notice that both actors are aged with makeup, but the pair look a bit odd. Howard brandishing a shotgun is downright hostile. I would have turned around at this point. Nevertheless, he allows them to stay in the guest house anyway. The ensemble begins secretly recording The Farmer’s Daughters there without their hosts knowing. Ah but there’s a bit of humor lurking in the shadows. You see it turns out X is really a slasher film. Everyone knows that the sexual desire surrounding a porno shoot is exactly the kind of thing that’s going to incur the wrath of a killer.

X remains bloodless for so long, that I forgot it was horror. The vivid atmosphere of the 1970s is pure and the human conversation is surprisingly genuine. I was disappointed when it ultimately devolved into a mass of dead bodies. Writer-director Ti West (The House of the Devil, V/H/S) evokes the backwoods dread of pictures like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and The Hills Have Eyes. This is a sincere homage. He also drapes hackneyed themes onto the narrative. The superficial exploration of aging, mortality, religion, and morality is as effective as a diaphanous shawl in a snowstorm. Honest scares are appreciated though. I’ll admit a hungry alligator provides a potent shock. This should satiate fans of arty slashers. (Is that a thing?) However, I was disheartened by the promise unfulfilled. An evocative setup is consummated by the predictability of the genre. I guess the destruction of human bodies never goes out of style.

X is currently available as a video rental through streaming services (Amazon, Microsoft, Apple TV, FlixFling, etc.) and on DVD, which means it’s $1.99 at a Redbox kiosk.

05-24-22