Archives for posts with tag: thriller

I am too dumb for Coen Brothers movies and I didn’t need to see Steve Buscemi get stuffed in a wood chipper.

Frances McDormand is great.

Director: Joel & Ethan Coen
Rating: R
Length: 98 minutes
Score: 3/5

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It’s not clear how I managed to avoid seeing this for nearly a decade and a half. It’s dreadful, but in a rather pleasing way (unlike Van Helsing, for instance, of a similar vintage and genre). Underworld seems to act as a bridge between Anne Rice (rock and roll, way too much attention paid to clothes, a rather teenage stab at eroticism) and Stephenie Meyer (war with the werewolves, a blue filter, no personalities whatsoever). Also there’s Michael Sheen!

MV5BMjIxNDExNDEyMV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwODY1OTkxMw@@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_In a heavily blue-filtered city in eastern Europe (?) populated by American doctors but policemen in Mercedes Benzes, a woman starts a voice-over. There’s been a war between Vampyres and Lycans for at least six? fourteen? centuries. For some centuries, since the death of Lucian (Michael Sheen) at the hands of Kraven (Shane Brolly), the Vampyres have been ascendant. Selene (Kate Beckinsale) is a Vampyre assassin or “death-dealer,” and fears they may have done too good a job exterminating the Lycans. Then she will be bored, because she enjoys killing Lycans, because they killed her family. Duh.

But there’s a wrinkle! Lucian is OBVIOUSLY NOT DEAD. And the Lycans are chasing a human called Michael (Scott Speedman) for nefarious purposes of their own! So Selene is not bored. Instead she wakes up a fancy elder Vampyre, Viktor (Bill Nighy), and shenanigans, they ensue.

Sure, Selene is discount Trinity, black vinyl, trenchcoat, and all. One wonders what Scott Speedman is even doing here. But Michael Sheen looks less embarrassed than he did in Twilight, and Bill Nighy is welcome here, or as Davey Jones, or wherever he feels like showing up.

Does the mythology make sense? No, not at all. Is that the problem with the movie? Not even a little bit.

There are four more of these. Hooray!

Stray observations:

  • There are a lot of guns for a monster movie. But! the Vampyres use silver bullets and the Lycans use UV bullets, so it’s cool.
  • Bill Nighy’s Vampyre make-up is apparently water-soluble, which is a problem.
  • Wentworth Miller has hair. It’s weird.

Director: Len Wiseman
Rating: R
Length: 121 minutes
Score: 2/5

This came out in between A Few Good Men and Interview with the Vampire, and that feels about right. And apparently there was a time when you could cast David Strathairn as Tom Cruise’s black sheep of a brother. The early nineties were weird.

Mitch McDeere (Cruise) works his way through Harvard Law by waiting tables. He is married to Abby (Jeanne Tripplehorn), who is from a well-off family and gave up everything to be with him. This comes up a lot but never pays off. Every law firm wants to hire him, but despite Abby’s Stepford heebiejeebies, he takes a job at a small family outfit in Memphis. They assign him Avery Tolar (Gene Hackman) as his mentor.

MV5BMTgxMjM5NDYwM15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwODkzMzk5MDE@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_Abby’s reservations do not go away, and then people start dying in the Caymans, which, in the nineties, was probably the most suspicious place for inconvenient people to die. To stir the pot unnecessarily arrives an FBI agent in the person of a bald Ed Harris. He wants Mitch to help the FBI take down the eponymous Firm, which launders money for the Chicago mob. But this interferes with Mitch’s honest lawyering! Disclosing those documents would violate lawyer-client confidentiality, which sounds less bad than laundering money for a crime family, but I’m not a lawyer, so I could be wrong.

Meanwhile Mitch’s mom lives in a trailer park and his brother is in prison and he hires Eddie Lomax (Gary Busey) to investigate things. Tammy (Holly Hunter) works for Lomax, because of course she does. And everyone is being hunted by a near-albino man.

Obviously this will proceed in the manner which will allow Tom Cruise to set his jaw the most righteously. And apparently everyone just had Mickey Finns lying around all the time back then, and few qualms about using them. Basically, most of the people in this movie play painfully close to type, which works because most of the plot in this movie is a series of painful clichés. I’d cut it slack for being the Casablanca of overwrought legal dramas, thereby exonerating it from the charge of banality, but it’s not that good even if you correct for that.

Director: Sydney Pollack
Rating: R
Length: 154 minutes
Score: 3/5

This resembles the John Buchan short story in very few particulars and is, I’m sure, worse than the Alfred Hitchcock movie I haven’t seen. Moreover, it is chock full of battle-of-the-sexes clichés and heavy on modern-audiences-don’t-know-what-an-oubliette-is exposition. It is, nonetheless, completely charming.

Summer, 1914. Richard Hannay (Rupert Penry-Jones) is a mining engineer back in London from South Africa, and he is full of ennui. Just when he’s about to chuck it in and head back, a man (Eddie Marsan) is killed in his flat, having left Hannay with a notebook in code and a lot of stuff about a German spy ring. Naturally, Hannay is suspected of the murder. He goes on the run, concluding that his best bet at not being hanged is to expose the spy ring. Trains, planes, automobiles, suffragettes…

MV5BMTYyMjcxNDExNF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMzE2MTIwMw@@._V1_UY268_CR4,0,182,268_AL_Victoria Sinclair (Lydia Leonard) falls in his way and is somehow not irritating. She tells him off, withholds information, climbs walls, and generally does everything that such a character usually does, and yet is charmingly spunky rather than hamfistedly shrill. Also they have very good chemistry, even when she calls him a “prehistoric boor” and he calls her an “unhinged hysteric.” We’ve seen it all a thousand times, but here it manages to be amusing instead of hackneyed and lame.

Oh, obviously there are spies, and Patrick Malahide is quietly sinister while David Haig flutters about the place. It’s not, you know, good, but it is deeply enjoyable.

Stray observations:

  • At the beginning Hannay is wearing a white necktie with a godawful white waistcoat and a ventless black jacket. No one has ever worn this combination on purpose, and certainly didn’t in 1914.
  • Patrick Kennedy as Victoria’s brother is so much less unbearable than he is as Carstone in Bleak House or McKechnie in Parade’s End.

Director: James Hawes
Rating: PG or so
Length: 90 minutes
Score: 3/5

So, I’m pretty sure that the impetus behind this film was that Tom Cruise saw a photo of Claus von Stauffenberg and thought, “I am doing humanity a disservice if I do not make a film about this man.” Also maybe felt that his résumé was lacking a movie where he got to thwart Nazis. Of course, he doesn’t actually get to thwart any Nazis. The Valkyrie plot failed, and nobody got to kill Hitler but Hitler, pace Quentin Tarantino.

mv5bmtg3njc2odeyn15bml5banbnxkftztcwntawmzc3na-_v1_ux182_cr00182268_al_Valkyrie is however a pretty good movie.  While Cruise as Stauffenberg gets to do a lot of jaw-jutting moralizing, the logistical problems–not to mention those of spinelessness–are well handled by everyone else.  Eddie Izzard (Fellgiebel) and Tom Wilkinson (Fromm) in particular waver and falter and smoke nervously in very convincing ways. Tom Hollander (Brandt) is as usual excellent in an as usual ungrateful part.

The film’s main strengths are the small things, though. A switchboard operator has to decide whether to put through the communiqué from the Wolf’s Lair or from the coup leaders, and his face eloquently says how far this is above his pay grade. Thomas Kretschmann, handsome as always and filled with ennui as the commander of a home guard division, likewise is never sure whether it’s a drill or whether the sky is falling and he should arrest Goebbels. Stauffenberg’s a.d.c. (Jamie Parker) is welcomed into the office with an offer of risky involvement in high treason and shrugs a yes. You actually watch the movements of the explosive-laden briefcase with some trepidation.

It’s not subtle. Goebbels (Harvey Friedman) and Goering (Gerhard Haase-Hindenberg) are sneering, evil cartoons. Hitler himself (David Bamber) is insufficiently mad for July of 1944, but still just awful. The ominous mass of greatcoats and jackboots hangs over the film. On the other side, Stauffenberg loves his wife, his children, and Jesus. The Stauffenberg children are relentlessly blond and play soldiers to the accompaniment of a phonograph playing Wagner and Tom Cruise’s agonized eyes. When the members of the plot are all rounded up and shot (spoiler alert!), Terence Stamp as Ludwig Beck gloriously observes, on learning that he is to be spared, that he’d like a pistol. For personal reasons.

And just in case you were wondering if it’s as hell-for-leather awesome as Tom Cruise movies usually are: he is blown up not once but twice within the first six minutes and then has to wear an eyepatch.

Director: Bryan Singer
Rating: PG-13
Length: 121 minutes
Score: 4/5

Action movies that don’t go for it are such a disappointment. John Wick is not that kind of disappointment. It’s also very few other kinds of disappointment. This is a film that sets out its stall very early and then follows through completely. If you’re not sold in the first twenty minutes, stop. But if you are, keep going.

In the world of John Wick, contract killers have their own demi-monde, with stylish safe zone hotels and absolute codes of conduct. This may be more or less true; I wouldn’t know. I doubt that their concierges are quite as perfectly anticipatory of guests’ needs. It also seems unlikely that they all have such careful (but various) taste in interior décor: Wick’s house is all cool greys and straight lines, where one of his rivals lives in warm neutrals and rounded cushions. Both are extremely pleasing.

Of course, John Wick (Keanu Reeves) doesn’t want to be a hitman, and has successfully quit. But then his beloved wife dies, and somebody steals his car and kills his dog.

This dog, man. It is a very, very cute puppy, and I think I knew that it would be killed, but I still couldn’t believe it. Even I would probably come out of hitman retirement if he were mine and someone hurt him, and I’m not one of those slightly alarming people who couldn’t give a damn when a person in a movie dies but just can’t watch Marley & Me.

As you’ve surely sussed out, John Wick decides to make a comeback and proceeds to kill everyone. With élan. And extreme prejudice. And often a knife.

Director: Chad Stahelski
Rating: R
Length: 101 minutes
Score: 4/5