Tag Archives: thriller

Those Who Wish Me Dead

Warner Bros.’ simultaneous release schedule between theaters and HBOMax is good for seeing new movies and not getting Covid, as everyone knows. But what you may not know is that it’s also good for seeing movies that you would have never quite convinced yourself to make it to the theater to see, and then have forgotten to look for by the time they finally released to a streaming service.

The upshot of this is that, while aspirationally looking for a movie showing in a theater that we might go see on a date night soon, I spotted Those Who Wish Me Dead. Which looked pretty interesting, but not “find a babysitter and pick a theater and make an evening of it” interesting. Except… simultaneous release!

It turns out that a movie about people on the run because they know the key details of a nebulous conspiracy that goes you can probably guess how near the top, who run into guilt-stricken Montanan fire watchers named Angelina Jolie and also her survivalist pals just as paid assassins and a giant fire are closing in, is interesting enough to put the kid to bed, pop some popcorn, and turn on the TV.

After having watched the movie, I stand by that assessment, but I’m not going to claim that it skyrocketed past the threshold I have described. I do not regret my time, in other words, but I am also not going to start proselytizing here. It was fine, plus a brief bout of entirely gratuitous lightning, which was in no way necessary to the plot.

Later

Cart before the horse time: surprise! I liked the new Stephen King book.

Later is, as the title mildly hints, a book about the way the present informs (or to be more precise reframes) the past. Which I found to be a clever composition, since everyone and their brother will tell you about how the past informs the present, while the other direction is not half so well-trodden of a theme. It is also a terribly modern coming of age story, which is also a crime story (not a spoiler, since the publishing company is Hard Case Crime), which is also a horror story (not a spoiler, because the narrator not-quite smugly informs the reader of this in the opening moments of the book).

That King manages to juggle all of these to good effect is a testament to the timelessness of his own voice (or to the fact that I’m old enough to not notice how out of touch he is) and to the fact that he has long since transcended mere genre concerns. But mostly it’s a testament to the fact that his ability to spin a good yarn is undiminished. After all, you can mash together as many types of stories into one yarn as you want to, if you spin it well enough.

Also, it is uncharacteristically short, so I’m glad he can still do that.

Run (2020)

Hulu still makes movies. Which is sad, because any time I watch a movie on another service besides Shudder, I feel a little unfaithful to the cause? Moreso when it’s not Netflix. I cannot justify any part of this, I should be clear.

On the bright side, it’s not like an Amazon movie, where it’s terrible[1]! This particular ironically titled film is about a mother and daughter on the cusp of nest exit. The plot twist to this situation is that the daughter is home-schooled and almost entirely homebound, due to a number of ongoing medical conditions, including, as the text fades at the beginning of the movie helpfully point out, asthma, heart arrhythmia, a weird rash thingy that probably also had a medical name attached, and of course paralysis of the legs, causing her to be wheelchair-bound, which means, as the text fades also helpfully point out, that she cannot walk or run.

Due to genre conventions, this is not an inspirational story about overcoming adversity, so I will dispense with the idea that talking about the [extremely] broad strokes of what happens in a thriller count as spoilers. And anyway, it is mostly bog standard fodder for the genre, elevated in two or three ways.

One: the performances are solid, both by the girl, who I understand to be a first time credited actress, and by Sarah Paulson, who thanks to American Horror Story is maybe in danger of being typecast? But her face really is made for this kind of movie, with sharp, haunting features. Two: It does an excellent job of portraying in a realistic way how damn quickly a house of cards can fall apart, once someone has a realization that the house is in fact built of cards. And, Or Three: this is a rare example of an antagonistic film where both of the main characters are female; and in fact two out of the three secondary characters are as well. (It’s a sparse cast, which was the right way to go.)

Anyway: worthwhile if you’re into this kind of thing, probably not elevated enough above its origins to be worthwhile if you’re not.

[1] Note: I have probably not watched an Amazon original movie, and am not talking about those. They just have a catalog of truly awful dreck that had to find a home somewhere, right? (Plus, I’m glad they do, despite myself.)

Bushwick (2017)

I’ve been to New York City once, in the late ’90s before things got “cleaned up”, whatever that means. So I saw Central Park when it was scary, and based on the looks I got in my giant cloak, apparently I was the scary person in the park. Which is okay. And I saw all the peepshow spots on what I have to assume some 20 years later was 42nd Street. The posters in the windows say “a quarter”, but you cannot get into those places for a quarter. Which is false advertising, but “cleaning them up” for false advertising seems a little harsh. About the only other thing I did was, because I was young and foolish, go to the Hard Rock Café. I’m cooler now than I was then, in most ways.

Nevertheless, I have a point to make with all of this, which is that despite my well-traveled worldliness as documented just now, most everything that I know about New York City, I know from Marvel comics. And a place Marvel has never put a spotlight on, at least as of winter/spring 1985, is the Bushwick neighborhood in Brooklyn. So this is definitely a sort of “today I learned” moment, for values of today equal to a couple of days ago.

Anyway, Bushwick is a neighborhood kind of story, in which blonde grad student Lucy emerges from the subway into a war zone. Why are there black helicopters and commandos everywhere, blowing things up and shooting people? Between the targeted violence and the random opportunism, can she make it the few blocks to her grandmother’s house? Will Dave Bautista save her? Will she save him?

The funny thing is, this comes across as a high octane pulse-pounder, when really it’s a quiet portrait of two people just trying to get along in a quiet portrait of an urban neighborhood that Mayor Rudy forgot to “clean up”, except that the quiet introspective moments that fill the portrait are punctuated by explosions and gunfire. I can see why this is a movie that would make fans of exactly no genres happy, but for me, it was a very rare kind of mash-up, and I dug it.

Strip Club Massacre

Amazon Prime Video is where bad movies go to die, I have concluded. I mean, it has good movies as well, there are definitely movies there you’ve heard of that are fine. But when you’ve never heard of a movie on Netflix, it still might turn out well. When you’ve never heard of a movie on Shudder, the odds are nevertheless stacked heavily in its favor. When you’ve never heard of a movie on Amazon, you end up watching Night Club Massacre.

It’s not that it was badly shot, although it was. It’s not that the sound editing was abysmal, which it also was. (Actually, the sound editing might have been the worst part after all, but I’ll pretend like it isn’t to get to the next sentence.) It’s that it didn’t know what it wanted to be. From what odds and ends of the dialogue I could actually hear, it started as the story of a twenty-something woman fallen on economic and relationship hard times who finds herself a cocktail waitress at a strip club, watching the dancers make all the money she wants to be making. Then in the middle third it pivots to terrible people doing terrible things for no discernible reason except to show how terrible they are, even though in any rational world they wouldn’t get away with the terrible things they had done. Then, there’s like 20 minutes of events justifying revenge, followed by revenge.

I like a good revenge flick! I just wish they hadn’t taken so long to decide that’s what it was. (Well, and the part where I like a good revenge flick might still have been an issue.)

The good news here is, it’s not the worst movie I’ve ever seen.

Lizzie (2018)

If you’re like me, all you really know about Lizzie Borden is the rhyme about the many whacks she gave her parents, and that it was an axe murder. This week, I learned that it was her stepmother, and also that she was not found guilty of the crime, which I think speaks to the importance of the court of public opinion.

Anyway, all of that has changed, thanks to Lizzie, on Shudder.

Well, okay, none of that has changed. The things I know now that I didn’t know then are just about identical. But I definitely have insight into someone’s idea of how it could have happened, which is a combination ill will between Lizzie and the folks over what her place in society and in the family should be, coupled with a spendthrift uncle set to be named trustee of the inheritance in the will and a psychosexual triangle between Lizzie, her father, and the recently hired Irish maid. So, the odds of all three of those things having happened are pretty low, and that’s even assuming she really did the murders in the first place, which: beats me!

Anyway, for my money, if I’m going to watch a lesbian family murder thriller, it will always be Heavenly Creatures. Which is not to say that this was bad; it’s just that if you’re going to make a one-note movie, you have to make the best one of that note, or else what’s the point?

Revenge (2017)

Another entry from the over a year old now back of my list of Shudder movies[1]. Revenge is one of those movies in which a lady been done wrong by almost always some dudes rather than a dude, in a very specific way that benefits from a trigger warning in these more enlightened days. Later, she takes, uh, revenge[2] on them.

And there’s really not a ton more to say. It’s a pretty good example of what it is, and alternates between being genuinely tense, genuinely disturbing, excessively gory, and over the top silly. You wouldn’t that that would be a thing in this subgenre, but between the burn scar transfer and the circular house chase… Maybe they were going for slickly stylish, which is a thing some action movies do these days. (This is occasionally an action movie, though it’s mostly a tense thriller.)

[1] Sidebar: A thing I hate about tech patents is that it means most streaming services, unless they had a vanishingly rare novel idea or have enough money to pay someone, are forced to have really terrible watchlist organization, when they’re even allowed to have watchlists at all.
[2] Usually the title of a movie with this plot is not so on the nose. I Spit on Your Grave, for obvious example.

El Cadáver de Anna Fritz

You know those movies where people make one or two bad decisions, and things spiral irretrievably out of control?

The Corpse of Anna Fritz is just such a movie. See, there’s this really popular young actress, and she dies at a party. Later, a morgue attendant lets his truly douchetastic friends know that her body has arrived at his hospital, and they of course want to see her. Once they do, well, mistakes are made, and then that spiralling out of control thing happens.

It’s difficult to say anything else, because spoilers for the journey really removes any need for this movie to exist, and everything vague I can think of to add is either too clever by half or unintentionally offensive to myself, and therefore probably others. Possibly both at once.

I will say, although this has probably already been covered in paragraph two despite my vagueness toward the end, that if you don’t like things that are disturbing, this is not for you.

Hotel Artemis

Exciting times: I saw a preview movie and can write a review that will actually be of potential use[1]. Also, this was kind of a roller coaster, so that’s cool.

See, first I saw previews for Hotel Artemis, and they were the broadly correct kind of preview that revealed very little. So, I saw art deco hallways and decor, several highly stylized characters, and without much else to hang my hat on, I was reminded of Bioshock and therefore wanted a movie that was a layered mystery with lots of weird twists and turns. Then, I got an offer on a free sneak preview for said movie, and I jumped on it. Good so far, right?!

Then, right after I bought the tickets, I saw a longer preview that made it clear this was in fact a crime movie with John Wick planes and angles, and I was immediately strongly disappointed. Not because I hate crime movies, but because I definitely wanted the original thing a whole lot more. Still, though, a preview is a preview, so there I was.

And then you know what happened? The stylized characters were all solidly worthwhile, especially Jodie Foster as the nurse. And the social commentary as setting was, well, painful, but that what’s happens when dystopia stops looking like just a place to visit. Basically, it’s that I like slice of life stories with small numbers of characters set over a small number of hours, when the slice of life is one I will not actually experience. In this case, it’s a vignette in the lives of people who have memberships to a small emergency room (with strict rules) for criminals, so there’s a place to go when things go south. And boy, do they ever.

Thanks, preview ticket!

[1] Since the movie comes out on Friday, and it is only Tuesday afternoon.

Red Sparrow

I want to talk about the fact that the last three movies I’ve seen theatrically[1] have touched on the action genre and had female leads, but I’m not certain Red Sparrow is the movie best suited as a capstone to that rare achievement. Because Jennifer Lawrence’s dancer[2] turned honeypot spy is explicitly free of any kind of agency. I mean, that is what the film is about, start to finish.

Please don’t take that as spoilers; it’s theme. (It’s not even revealed theme, it has been hammered home before the end of the first act.) Within that framework is a taut spy thriller full of head fakes and direction changes that could as easily be set in 1988 as 2018, save only some pieces of technology that indicate one direction over another.

So if you like that kind of movie, it’s a fine example of the genre, and I enjoyed the roller coaster; plus it’s nice that it doesn’t feel too modern, considering Russian spycraft and its effect on modernity. If you don’t like this kind of movie, it does not rise above its type. But that’s okay! It fills a niche I hadn’t visited in quite a while, and fills it well.

Also: if you want to pretend that the character’s name is Natasha Romanov, I do not believe that hurts the film one whit, so go to town. But it is guaranteed that Marvel could never have made this movie.

[1] without going out of my way to make it happen, is a key aspect of why that matters.
[2] A thing that impressed me is, they took an entire other take on the psychological thriller genre and compressed it down into ten minutes when it would easily have supported an entire move all on its own. This is a dense one!