Tag Archives: thriller

Mother!

I wonder if I’ve reviewed a Darren Aronofsky movie before? I know I’ve seen one, so… oh, hey, I could check![1] And, there it is. Black Swan. Which a) I liked quite a bit, and b) I successfully predicted Natalie Portman’s best actress Oscar for that one. Go me!

To get it out of the way: Jennifer Lawrence is not going to win an Oscar for Mother! This is not a slam on her acting ability in general (which in fact is long since demonstrably solid), nor her performance here; it’s just not the kind of movie that I expect to be an Academy darling. It’s also not the kind of movie I can say virtually anything about. Here’s the blurb from imdb: “A couple’s relationship is tested when uninvited guests arrive at their home, disrupting their tranquil existence.”

That is an incredibly accurate description of the movie, that leaves aside the… I was going to say rising tension, but it’s more like ratcheting dread. A thing I thought during the first half of the movie that I still agree with now: Lawrence is basically portraying an introvert’s hell.

The surreality grows on a logarithmic scale (which to be fair is certainly a similarity to Black Swan), and I think I have no way to predict who might or might not like this movie. Me: it was nothing like what I expected, and I think its writer/director is entirely too impressed with it, but all the same, I thought it had its charms. (For one thing, both Lawrence and Javier Bardem were solid leads, despite what I said earlier about acting awards, and Michelle Pfeiffer was nearly perfect.) Mary, on the other hand, loathed it. So, y’know. Watch at your own risk?

Super annoying-to-me coda to this review: I saw the movie on Wednesday night, in a moderately exclusive Alamo Drafthouse preview showing. And then I’ve been so busy working that I couldn’t review it until post-release. Which is at least only today, instead of a week ago like usual. But: argh!

[1] Okay, inside baseball: yes, I realized I could check before I typed that faux realization, BUT, I realized it after I asked the question. So that counts, right?

The Shallows

The Shallows is a straight up woman vs. nature tension movie. One sentence premise that fills an hour and a half of breath-holding and making the same motions the actor is making, as thought it would help her. Remember Frozen? The one that’s not a Disney movie, I mean, where the kids are out skiing and they get trapped on the ski lift at the end of the weekend and have to figure out how to survive the weather or the fall with no help coming? This is like that more or less, but with surfing instead of skiing and with, er, different challenges.

It’s definitely a what you see is what you get kind of flick, and would be moreso if I had not avoided a really obvious one word spoiler just to prove I could. Not a bad way to spend a Sunday afternoon, though obviously I should be playing video games instead. Still, gave me a chance to listen to the Blues Brothers soundtrack while writing this, so I guess it’s not a bad trade.

(I’m not kidding about that doing stuff for the imperiled character thing, by the way. I was saying for her in Spanish the things she was yelling in English, as though my lesson would help her learn anything or let the people she was yelling at comprehend any better. You know, as you do.)

A Cure for Wellness

A thing I’ve learned from movie-watching is to not go on vacation in Europe. I mean, remember Hostel? Or the second Hostel?

A Cure for Wellness, to be fair, is not about idiot backpacking teens with Eurorail passes. In fact, what it reminded me of for the first half hour or so was Dracula. (The book, I mean.) There’s this guy, probably not named Jonathan Harker, who is sent by his investment firm into the Swiss Alps to retrieve the company CEO from a health spa thingy, except it’s in a castle at the top of a mountain overlooking a subtly wrong village, and, okay, once he gets there the comparison mostly falls apart; after all, instead of an empty husk of a castle with a gothic warlord in a red dinner gown and the most elaborate updo of, I’m prepared to say, all time, it really is a health spa thingy. Or maybe a sanitarium? Or maybe a hospital? It’s fair to say that basically everyone there is getting treatments, no matter whether the issue is a nervous breakdown or a broken femur or just a couple weeks of downtime in a spa.

Also included: history lessons, vitamins, catacombs, a nubile ingenue, and eels. There is a plot, and it’s not a bad plot. It is not, I would posit, two and a half hours worth of plot? But that’s okay! The movie is not here for plot. It’s here for atmosphere, and it’s been a good long time since I’ve seen a horror movie with this much atmosphere. So, yeah. Check it out.

 

John Wick: Chapter 2

I don’t remember thinking John Wick was going to be amazing. It was just an action movie that looked pretty cool, y’know? But then I saw it, and the purity of motive and clarity of purpose have stuck with me ever since. So, when they told there was going to be a sequel? Damn right I’m gonna see it!

Which I have, and apparently on opening weekend to judge by the crowds. So, okay, cool. This means they will make back their budget and do chapter 3, which is fine, because I want to see that too. Still, that’s not what I’m here to talk about, so let’s get to it.

The thing about Chapter 2 is… all actions have consequences. Since this is a movie about the consequences of the original, of course the purity has dried up. See, there’s this guy who helped Wick get out of the game, before the events of the first movie. And now that he’s apparently back in, said guy decides to call in the favor. The thing about an organized criminal underworld, with its declared neutral spaces and its own economy and its codified rules about favors owed, is you know whatever the favor is? It’s not going to be pure. It’s going to be complicated and messy, and that mess is going to get on you. Which I like to think is why Wick retired in the first place. He finally found a chance for thing to be clean and orderly, and he took it.

Not anymore, is my point. This is not to say I didn’t like it. It was stylized and hilarious in the same ways the first one was[1], and I care enough about what happens to John Wick to look very much forward to another sequel. (And I have some good ideas about how that sequel will go, let me tell you.) I just cannot say that I liked it as well as the first one; that, I would recommend to anyone who is okay with the genre. This, I would recommend to people who really liked the first one, but would not bother to talk about it otherwise. Y’know?

[1] Only, seeing it in a full theater made me realize that mostly people do not think these movies are as funny as they are. I wonder which of us is wrong.

Don’t Breathe

MV5BMTg5ODA3MDkyMF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMjU5MzczOTE@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,674,1000_AL_Often, I am loath to say that you should go into a movie not knowing anything, especially if it is a genre film. Once you warn people not to know anything, it’s a short jump to “there must be a big twist!” and an even shorter jump to “oh, I know what the twist is, sigh.” Luckily, the nature of the one line synopsis of Don’t Breathe and its particular horror genre[1] conspire to make it possible for me to get away with ignoring my own advice.

So, in one two lines: a girl, her thuggish boyfriend, and the nice guy who wants to take her away from all this have formed an intimate crime ring, committing small-time burglaries in and around a Detroit that has not yet gotten the memo that Detroit is being rebuilt. They think they’ve found one last big score, enough to actually take [them] away from all this, in the form of a blind veteran sitting on top of a huge lawsuit settlement; except, this being a horror movie, it is inevitable that something will go wrong. There, that gets you through the first ten minutes and into the meat of the story.

It’s impossible not to think of It Follows[3], and equally impossible not to wonder if Michigan is trying to make itself a horror film production mecca or instead is really frustrated that nobody is taking their attempts to rebuild Detroit seriously, and they keep taking advantage of what urban decay remains, instead. Plus, thinking about things like that acts a pressure valve, because remember the ratcheting tension I mentioned in the footnote? This is one hell of a movie, and you might find yourself in need of occasional relief.

There is a feminist angle to the movie that I wish I could talk about without it being a massive spoiler, but it is, and I can’t. I mean, unless someone were to ask me about it in person or in the comments here, because those are fair game for spoilers.

[1] I quibble with the advertising here, though. This is definitely a thriller type movie way more than horror. Horror movies are a) usually supernatural in nature or at the minimum obsessed with a high body count and b) regularly break tension with jokes or misleads[2]. Thrillers, contrariwise, are allowed to ratchet the tension tighter and tighter with no obligation towards a release before someone (audience or cast, doesn’t often matter which) breaks.
[2] Like the cat in the cabinet. Whew, it was just a cat! You know the one I mean.
[3] Without bothering to compare plots, you should know that while the score for Don’t Breathe isn’t even in the same league, the sound editing is amazing; it won’t get an Oscar nod, but it might deserve one.

Horns

MV5BMTQ2Nzk5NzIxMF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNTM2NTc5MjE@._V1__SX1859_SY893_Mary picked Horns for movie night, a film about which I knew very little. Basically, just an image in my head (not dissimilar to the one in front of you) of Daniel Radcliffe with some, y’know, horns growing out of his forehead. It turned out to be pretty interesting, though! Mainly by that I mean that its philosophical / religious underpinnings were thought-provoking. If your very presence brought out people’s darkest secrets and basest impulses, who would you hang out with? Who would you avoid?

Unfortunately, the actual story above said underpinnings was not really worth holding up. What started as a moody murder and identity mystery quickly lost track of itself in an admittedly compelling relationship history, and by the time it found its way back, all of the moodiness had been lost in a generic anti-feminist fist fight between two guys over the fate of a dead girl.

It’s too bad, though. The principle actors were solid, and I think there’s a really excellent movie buried in the premise. This just wasn’t that movie.

Limitless

MV5BMTY3NjczNzc5Nl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMzA2MzQyNA@@._V1__SX1859_SY893_I kind of wanted to see Limitless a good long time ago, because of how I like Bradley Cooper and the plot seemed cool in a wish-fulfillment kind of way, but I never did. Then recently CBS released a show about it, which I did watch, and it turned out a) to be good (and more importantly, fun) but also b) a sequel to the movie rather than a reimagining of it. So at that point, I had to watch it. Which I have!

And, yeah. Wish fulfillment is the name of the game. You just take this pill, and suddenly you can remember everything you’ve ever seen or learned, not to mention how easy it becomes to learn new things and make new connections. And the downsides are… well, fairly minimal.[1] From there, high stakes cats and mice, criminal enterprises, stock markets, genius books that capture the public imagination: you know, the kinds of things people would do if they had, er, limitless potential.

Recommended to people who like brain wish-fulfillment or Bradley Cooper. Not recommended to people who like Wars on Drugs. Oh, and the show is definitely better, if for some reason you feel a need to choose between them.

[1] There are more realistic downsides in the show, which is early on often a remake of the movie after all, but smarter.

Spectre

MV5BODgyODc1Njg0NV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMjM4NDA2MzE@._V1__SX1859_SY893_I was speaking with friends on the internet last week about how the Friday the 13th series of movies from the ’80s has an emergent continuity. That is to say, there was nobody with an overarching vision of how the series would turn out, or for that matter how many movies there would be or on what schedule. Nevertheless, each new film built on the last, keeping track of what had gone before and incrementally advancing the gestalt image of Jason Voorhees that is now a part of the shared cultural experience.

Spectre is the, what, fifth James Bond movie since the series was rebooted? No, fourth I see. I know that the first two went in sequence, and then apparently in my head the third one contained two movies? Which makes it sound bad, but I did not and retrospectively do not find it to be so. It contains guns, explosions, chases, hot chicks, and vodka martinis. Which is to say, yep, James Bond movie. But it definitely has the same emergent continuity that I had observed earlier that week, elsewhere. (Because I saw it opening weekend and still took this long. Sigh.) Maybe it was a writer taking advantage, or maybe it was actually planned all along; all I know is it did not feel cheap or unearned when it happened. Is that because I know about SPECTRE from the previous continuity? It could be, but I’m a fan of the series and so I don’t mind if that’s why.

Lastly: Christoph Waltz of recent Tarantino fame continues to impress mightily.

+1

MV5BMTQwOTA5Mzc3Ml5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwOTkxODAxMDE@._V1__SX1859_SY893_Before telling you that you definitely want to avoid +1[1], I should at least try to explain what happens in it. So, the first layer of the onion is that it’s one of those high school / early college break-up movies where the boy and the girl have some kind of valid or contrived misunderstanding, and then the one who isn’t pissed tries to make up with the one who is at a big, raunchy teen movie house party, while various secondary stories play out and roadblocks keep appearing to prevent the inevitable reconciliation.

The complicating factor is some kind of space-spawned electrical disturbance that resets time weirdly. So, like, the first one jumps everything backward about 20 minutes, and you have the people who already lived through those 20 minutes and the people from 20 minutes ago, now both existing at the same time. (Not occupying the same space, because the vast majority of partygoers end up in different locations right before the jump, which is convenient I guess?) Then the same thing happens again, but the backward jump is only like 10 minutes the next time, and so forth. Inexplicably, there are never more than two sets of people, but whatever, go with it. Poorly thought out consequences is not why you want to avoid this movie.

Honestly, the background stories all kind of worked. The nerdy girl’s search for peace, the rowdy best friend’s search for a hot chick to bang, the big group’s reaction to the weird happenings going on around them mostly unnoticed, each of these stories plays out in novel or at least believable ways, which is more than you can say for most teen house party movies. But the main story about the boy trying to reconcile with his wronged ex-girlfriend? It starts off in the exact formulaic way you would expect, with him using found knowledge from the time rewind to get his reconciliation speech just right. And then it gets seriously a whole lot worse, without any kind of ultimate consequence or useful lesson.

Long story short: I want to kick this movie in the nuts. And then I want a time loop to jump back 20 minutes, so I can kick it in nuts again at about 19:30, and then the other me kicks it again immediately afterwards.

[1] Because you should avoid it, I’m not going to be shy about the spoilers. If for some reason you think I’m wrong and you want to see it anyway, probably don’t read this review? Also, make sure you’re good on blood pressure meds.

Project Almanac

MV5BMjIyOTYxMjM0Ml5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMTE2NTI3MzE@._V1__SX1859_SY847_Did you ever see The Butterfly Effect? The one with Kelso from the 70s Show, right before he turned into Ashton Kutcher? If not, definitely watch that instead. But if you have, it’s probably been quite a while, and you may be ready to walk that territory again. Project Almanac is an MTV movie about a bunch of high school students who find themselves via quirks of causality in possession of the ability to time travel.

Then, they use it to do the kinds of things high school students as envisioned by MTV would do (pass chemistry, go to Lollapalooza, you know), until, inevitably, things start to go wrong. Which is what the movie is really about.

I liked it well enough, probably because of how much I liked the other movie in the first place? I assume it was meant to be neither an indictment nor a non-judgmental representation of how high school popularity works, but instead accidentally represented and indicted that process. And from a time travel logistics perspective, well, I had issues. They used and tossed out causality pretty much at whim, which is annoying simply because time travel logic needs to be internally consistent. Pick your method, but then stay there. That’s all I ask.

Like I said, the only reason to watch this is if you can’t watch the Butterfly Effect for the first time instead. Not because Project Almanac was bad; it wasn’t. It just wasn’t nearly good enough.