Archive for the ‘Mystery’ Category

Chris and Rose are a young couple heading to the countryside to spend a weekend with Rose’s parents. Along the way, their car is struck by a deer and creating an awkward encounter with the local police. After getting to the house, Rose’s father appears open and a little too comfortable with Chris’s race. Rose’s family clearly lives a life of leisure, but it strikes him that the groundskeeper and the housekeeper are both black. He also gets surprised by the planned garden party the day after their arrival and starts to notice something significantly wrong with his situation.

Definitely Not Post-Racial: Starting in the first scene at the apartment, there was a sense that the mixed race relationship was going to be a theme of the film. Though it was a brief setup, the scene with the officer dove just a bit deeper into the conversation. While Chris chose to not pick a fight and just follow orders, Rose took it upon herself to push the officer near a breaking point. They both got to walk away with a warning about fixing the headlight, but the result could have been different if he had spoken up. This theme continued when they got to the house with the appropriation of black culture and questioning of Chris’s natural qualities.

More of a Thriller than a Horror Film: While this can easily be classified as a horror movie, there was more mystery and suspense rather than gore and jump scares. The care staff had creepy elements to them and there were a few moments with strategic sound effects or eerie music, but I spent more time trying to figure out what the twist about the Armitage family actually was and why the flash from a camera would cause a person to break like Andrew King.

Surprising Acting and Storytelling: While there is a tendency for horror films to be either one-dimensional or focused specifically on the twist, this one dabbled in discussions of race and privilege while blending those themes into the more classic horror/thriller elements. The lighting kept things dark and ominous at times, but Chris broke most horror tropes reserved for black characters and found a way to see through the smoke and mirrors and fight back at the right moments.

Final Verdict: Get Out is one of the best horror films in years. It has a small bit of the comedy from other films like The Cabin in the Woods with some much more depth and intensity than the rest of the crowd. Plus, Rod the TSA stole every scene he was in.

Dan’s Rating: 4.5/5

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Attempting to beat a blizzard on the way to Red Rock, a stagecoach is stopped on its path when Major Marquis Warren requests for assistance heading the same direction as a fellow bounty hunter looking to collect on a few bounties. Though hesitant, John “the Hangman” Ruth agrees to let him join the trip and agrees to help protect each other’s rewards. Before making it to their resting point, they come across the supposed new sheriff of Red Rock stuck out in the blizzard on foot. They agree to take him in as well and proceed onward to Minnie’s Haberdashery.  Upon arrival, there are several men already inside and Minnie is nowhere to be found. Suspicions start to run high as nobody appears to be who them claim.

Tarantino’s Intensity through Cinematography: While he is best known for a violence-laden style of storytelling, Tarantino has continued to claim that filming on 70mm provides a unique and detailed experience not provided by most films. It was clear that cinematography was a focus in this film, as the blizzard conditions and the single location of the haberdashery were gorgeously harsh and covered in detail. While his direction complemented his strong storytelling nature, there was also a bit too much lingering in these details that it somewhat took away from his actual story.

Complex Characters, Slowly Revealed: One of Tarantino’s other staples happens to be his deep character development. It can take an entire movie to understand the true backstory and personality of even a lead character, but this film takes that to a higher level. All the way until the end of the film, Major Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) and Sheriff Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins) remain a bit of a mystery. With a story covered in lies and deceit, it is no surprise that the only character who appears to be clearly who they say they are is John Ruth (Kurt Russell), the bounty hunter.

The dialogue and character development were certainly intriguing, but the way the storytelling was dragged out felt like it could have presented the same detail in nearly a hour’s less time. One could say that the audience is trying to work out the details at the same time as the characters, but it still felt like it was dragged out. There certainly were a few surprises, including the ones involving Bob (Demian Bichir), Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth), and Joe Gage (Michael Madsen). It just felt like characters had to keep repeating things out loud for exaggerated dramatic effect.

Final Verdict: Between some engaging visuals and creative character development, there is much to appreciate about this film. The 2 hour 4o minute run time is not one of those things. Tarantino still continues to fill the need for people to mix that character development with some exaggeration gratuitous violence. I can definitely give some credit to Jennifer Jason Leigh for her gritty performance and ability to hold her own against such a strong male cast.

Dan’s Rating: 3.5/5

MV5BMTk0MDQ3MzAzOV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNzU1NzE3MjE@._V1_SX640_SY720_It is their fifth wedding anniversary and Nick Dunne feels less interested in celebrating than attempting to get some stress off of his back. Returning home after a trip to see his sister at the bar, he finds his house has been broken into and his wife is missing. When the police arrive and investigate the scene, they bring Nick in for questioning. He begins to realize that they might suspect foul play and he could be the primary suspect. Searching for his own answers and getting a lawyer onboard, Nick begins to fight for his innocence as the evidence seems to pile up against him. The question is…where is Amazing Amy? Even though Nick begins to look guiltier by the second, is all really as it seems? Is she really dead?

Review: Based on the best-selling novel, David Fincher looked to capitalize on previous success with the thriller genre. While the theme on the surface was simply a quest to answer what happened to Amy Dunne, it was actually only half of the story. While the mid-story twist (though not a secret to readers of the novel) was certainly an enjoyable one, the storytelling and the overall acting felt a little flat. The one exception was Rosamund Pike (Amy Dunne), as her level of intrigue only grew with each maniacal move toward framing her husband. This was a breakout role for her, getting the chance to be featured as a woman going from innocent victim to secret schemer and murderer. Hers was the only performance truly identified as exceptional.

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As the story goes, viewers may actually get annoyed or frustrated with the arc. With the first half including an angry Ben Affleck (Nick Dunne) and an untrusting Kim Dickens (Detective Rhonda Boney), the second half features a very eerie Neil Patrick Harris (Desi Collings) and a tolerable Tyler Perry (Tanner Bolt). With Nick first fighting to find Amy and then for his innocence, Affleck did a decent job at portraying the frustration with seeing the world turn against him and of a man more concerned with his image than uncovering the truth of the ordeal. When he finally realized what really happened, he simply fell into a helpless state. This ending may have been the most frustrating thing, particularly since almost all of Nick’s wrongdoings had been aired out already.

For Amy, her story was intriguing, but it was also a little too farfetched that one woman could deceive so many people without making a single mistake. The way the film ended left a bitter taste and an uneasy feeling that the story was still missing some other element to provide a better sense of closure.

Dan’s Rating: 3.0/5

oldboy_ver2Trying to land a new contract for his agency, advertising professional Joe Doucett fails to land the contract after taking his interest in his associate’s partner too far. After getting drunk and wandering the streets, he collapses and vanishes. Waking up in a small room, he discovers that he is in some sort of solitary confinement with no sense of why or how he ended up there. Whoever has imprisioned him has gone to great lengths to keep him alive but also under control. The television begins to broadcast news reports about his involvement in the murder of his wife and his subsequent disappearance. Obsessed with trying to survive for his daughter, he eventually finds a way to escape and goes on a tear to find Mia and enact his revenge. Armed with his list and a new friend, he begins to hunt the people who imprisoned him, only to discover that his imprisonment and release was much more complicated than he could have guessed.

Starring: Josh Brolin (Joe Doucett), Elizabeth Olsen (Marie Sebastian), Sharlto Copley (Adrian/The Stranger), Samuel L. Jackson (Chaney), Michael Imperioli (Chucky), Pom Klementieff (Haeng-Bok), James Ransone (Dr. Tom Mebly), Max Casella (James Prestley), Linda Emond (Edwina Burke), Elvis Nolasco (Cortez)

Starting off as a rather brash and unlikable character, Brolin brought a certain misguided natural to his role. While his character seemed to find a way to go on a methodical rampage, he seemed to be able to find his order through the confinement over the 20 years. Olsen appeared to be a very kind and caring individual, though easily misguided and unclear with the conclusion of the film. Copley was quite the villain, with just the right amount of obsession to make his plan an intriguing story. Jackson portrayed his trademark brutish and over-the-top nature.

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Adapted from the original 2003 South Korean film, Spike Lee’s version pitted a hapless advertising agent against a vengeful conspirator set on completing an eye-for-a-eye mission in as painful a way as possible. Joe’s abduction was one that seemed to have no sense or purpose, other than to destroy his life. Spending 20 years locked away, he believed that he discovered a way to escape but seemed to not realize that his getaway was part of a grander plan set forth by Adrian. Having suffered an experience of incest and witnessing the murder/suicide of the rest of his family for a rumor spread by Joe during college, Adrian was able to manipulate Joe into a path that would allow him to experience nearly the same fate that he had befallen.

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The film is one that maintained a dark and dangerous tone throughout while also including a lot of violence and gore. Once released from his imprisonment, the film depicted the rampage of Joe with the use of a hammer and a knife to Chaney’s neck. The aggression in Joe’s demeanor was clear, as was the transformation once he discovered the truth behind his imprisonment and subsequent release. Adrian’s story was tragic and brought a certain sense of compassion for his situation, even though it was not revealed until near the end of the story. While these events were intriguing, the character development was so minimal and rushed that it felt like there was something significant missing. Joe just seemed like an alcoholic who mysteriously was able to kick it and become fit in a montage and Chaney felt like his involvement in the plan was weakly supported by the plot.

Oldboy is a movie that seemed to mirror a lot of the elements of the original but lacked the depth and connectedness needed to be a stronger adaptation.

Dan’s Rating: 2.0/5

non-stop-movie-poster-378x600Air Marshal Bill Marks is a man struggling with a fractured past. Taking a drink before boarding a flight to London, he observes the chaos of the terminal and eventually takes his seat on the plane. Meeting the woman sitting next to him, Jen Summers helps him cope with the takeoff. Once airborne, Bill begins to receive texts on his secure air marshal network from a man claiming to kill passengers every 20 minutes unless $150 million is wired to the provided account. He suspects the other air marshal but is surprised to learn that he knows nothing of the threatening texts. Enlisting the assistance of Jen, one of the flight attendants, and the pilots, Bill begins his mission to stop the terrorist before anyone dies or worse. Unfortunately, his mission will be tougher than he thinks, as he is suddenly suspected of being involved in the terrorist plot.

Starring: Liam Neeson (Bill Marks), Julianne Moore (Jen Summers), Scoot McNairy (Tom Bowen), Michelle Dockery (Nancy), Nate Parker (Zack White), Corey Stoll (Austin Reilly), Lupita Nyong’o (Gwen), Omar Metwally (Dr. Fahim Nasir), Jason Butler Harner (Kyle Rice), Shea Whigham (Agent Marenick), Corey Hawkins (Travis Mitchell), Quinn McColgan (Becca)

Liam entered this film ready to take action like many of his previous roles. He held a strong sense of command, even in his moments of uncertainty. While there was an expectation that Moore would eventually break down into tears, she surprisingly gives a balanced performance with a few moments of intensity toward Neeson. Dockery was an interesting case study, as her character seemed to struggle the most with the conflict but also follow Neeson’s command. The rest of the passengers combined to create the sense of mystery of who was leading the terrorist charge.

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Having previously worked with Neeson on Unknown, Jaume Collet-Serra looked to create terror in an enclosed, inescapable space. The terrorist plot that Bill had to uncover was one that was well planned and multiple steps ahead. While he was chasing down the person who was sending him the texts, he was unaware that he was being manipulated to help the terrorists with their plot. As each set of 20 minutes passed, Bill unknowingly helped execute another passenger, either by his own hands or in response to his actions. Later on during the flight, he was unaware that his realizations regarding the extent of the danger to the plane were putting the terrorists closer to their inevitable conclusion. To his benefit, the terrorists were not all on the same page, so he had an opening to make a heroic recovery.

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The suspense of the film was high from start to finish. Although Bill’s challenges were a little unclear at the beginning, the alcoholism and smoking addiction were quite clear and would be plot points later in the film. The texts helped to set the scenes, but they also caused Bill to react in specific ways to try and reduce the threat. When he suspected his co-air marshal, they found themselves in a brawl in the bathroom. When the cabin took a sharp course change, it left the passengers in a mess and the pilot terminated in the chaos.Once he had the realization about their awareness, he still struggled to take them down. It ended up being a bit of luck to attempt to save the passengers.

The film is high-energy and clever in the way that it presents this challenge at tens of thousands of feet in the air. The beginning and the motives for the terrorists were a bit rushed, but this film will keep viewers on the edge of their seats regardless.

Dan’s Rating: 3.5/5

oblivion-posterAfter a war with the alien Scavs that left the Earth decimated, the remaining human survivors have retreated to a space station called Tet and a colony on Titan (one of Saturn’s moons). Left on Earth to observe and support the mineral extraction of the remaining ocean water, Jack Harper and Victoria have only two more weeks of observation before they are set to join the colony. When there are two drones reported down, Jack goes to repair them. He finds the first and completes the repair, but the second one leads him to a signal set by the Scavs. Barely escaping with his life, he goes on a search the following day to find the missing drone but actually takes some time to get an escape at his secret cabin. An object crashing through the atmosphere captures the attention of both Jack and Victoria, but the discovery of the crash site reveals much more about their situation.

Starring: Tom Cruise (Jack Harper), Andrea Riseborough (Victoria), Morgan Freeman (Beech), Olga Kurylenko (Julia), Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Sykes), Zoe Bell (Kara), Melissa Leo (Sally)

Much of the film is dominated by the combination of Cruise, Riseborough and Kurylenko. Cruise has a similar sense about his character as many of his previous action films. He phases from oblivious to determined fairly well, but there are some strange moments where his emotional changes do not seem to match the scene transitions and context. Riseborough plays her character to a solid consistency, while Kurylenko has a slight imbalance to hers. Freeman also joins the group in a supporting role, but did not add much to the overall presentation.

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Joseph Kosinki’s film was based on an unpublished graphic novel by the same name. Jack and Victoria were survivors of a war that caused the remaining humans to flee Earth and try to establish life elsewhere, only to later discover that everything they know is false. The Scavs were not the aliens they thought they knew. The drones were not programmed to protect them and the mission to help humanity. They were not even who they thought they were. This discovery caused Jack to decide to side with the resistance group aiming to destroy the Tet, believing that the space station is the source of their plight.

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The movie highlighted the grim setting on Earth post-war, but the tone killed some of the momentum of the story. An imbalance between the scenes of discovery and realization and the ones to fill out the story ended up creating a number of lulls that dulled out the action sequences. As mentioned previously, the acting was also imbalanced save for a handful of more dramatic moments. There also seemed to be a lack of solid understanding and consistency between the time elapsed between major events and the development of the clones and infrastructure of the Tet system on Earth. Why was there a need for the ocean water and why specifically Earth? There were celestial bodies where Tet could have mined their need for H2O without the need for war.

The film had some interesting elements and a richly developed environment, but the story lacked consistency and significance to make this a true blockbuster.

Dan’s Rating: 2.5/5

BRANDED-POSTER_510Early in his career, advertising guru Misha is experiencing much success. He can figure out the best ways to cause his company’s partnerships extend their profits through targeted and successful marketing. When he meets Abby, he decides to split from longtime friend, Bob, and develop his own company while working on a new television Extreme Cosmetica. Everything looks like it is going to be a huge success until Bob chases after Misha’s success and the focal point of their show does not wake up from the anesthesia. Broken and woeful, Misha escapes to the countryside. Several years later, Abby finds the lonely man and happens upon him at the moment of a breakthrough. Attending to the ritual of sacrificing the red calf, Misha’s eyes are opened to the hidden world of brands and their affect on the world around him. Determined to bring down the marketing industry, he sets out to develop a campaign to destroy them all.

Starring: Ed Stoppard (Misha Galkin), Leelee Sobieski (Abby Gibbons), Jeffrey Tambor (Bob Gibbons), Max von Sydow (Joseph Pascal), Ingeborga Dapkunaite (Dubcek), Andrey Kaykov (Pavel), Jamie Bradshaw (Mr. Johnson), Ulyana Lapteva (Veronika), Oleg Akulich (Ivanov)

Mostly focusing around the insanity of a man confused by his profession, Stoppard made for a believable visionary who could not seem to get his thoughts reigned in. His insanity was really one of the only bright parts to this film. Tambor simply came off as an executive jerk, though that was the point of the film. Sobieski was a decent partner for Stoppard but does not add too much to the film. When confronted with Stoppard’s crazier scenes, she seemed to have very stunted emotional reactions. Sydow’s character also seemed somewhat pompous and underdeveloped.

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Jamie Bradshaw’s and Aleksandr Dulerayn’s film looked to make a statement about the power and abuse of marketing on today’s society. The scene for the film was not set too far off in the future so as to make the development of a brand-obssessed populous (not unlike today) believable. The premise of the film surrounding a man chosen to see the hidden world of marketing by a power greater than himself was a bit “trippy” even though the point was to show how the supernatural can sometimes make a visionary appear like a maniac. By sacrificing the red calf, Misha allowed himself to see weird creatures that clung to people and buildings that represented the automated desires feeding the larger brand-oriented creatures. Having finally realized the dangers of marketing, he used his marketing skills to take out the unhealthy brands one by one, though he was not going to go unnoticed by the government and the confused but angry populous.

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While avoiding the use of any actual brand names, it was clear what the writers and directors were going for when they showed which brands were dangerous to people. On the board in Misha’s office, there was a list that included company names that represented real brands like McDonalds, Apple, Microsoft, Johnson & Johnson, Coca-Cola, Burger King, Samsung and more. Even though it can be difficult to figure out some of the connections, it was clear that every industry was under attack in this film. The problem with this film was that this message was lost behind how dark and freaky the whole concept was presented. There was no widespread appeal for a film that used blob-like monsters to represent major company brands, when the cast was also not A-list and whole presentation seemed a bit droll.

While the film failed to take off, there are some redeeming qualities, mostly in the message of the dangers of brand loyalty and obsession. Without a more compelling, connected presentation and stronger acting, this one will simply stay faded in the background of other politically-themed movies.

Dan’s Rating: 2.0/5