Archive for the ‘Thriller’ 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


Searching for perfect beach her mother always talked about, she finds herself in a place seeming like paradise. Getting out into the water, she meets a couple of other surfers. While hesitant about hanging out with them, she ends up surfing the entire day together. They decide to head back in while she stays out in the water to catch one more wave. Getting distracted for just a few moments, she is surprised when a great white shark attacks her out of nowhere. Finding the closest refuge possible, she looks in the distance and can see the shore but no way to get through the terror lurking in the water.

Strength & Resiliency: While there are scenes toward the beginning of the film that show off the beauty of Blake Lively, it was undeniable that she made for an extremely willful and focused survivor. Story elements provided some background into her medical school experience and history working through her mother’s cancer treatments, but her on-the-fly thinking truly served her character well while she fought off her predator and her numerous injuries.

Decency & Retribution: As Nancy was stuck out in the water during low tide, there were several opportunities she had to signal for help. While some fell on deaf ears, others caught the attention of her potential saviors. The drunk man on the beach was clearly a big question mark. While Nancy was not sure he was able to understand what she wanted him to do, she was hopeful when he ended up by her belongings and her phone. The other surfers missed her when she initially realized she was stuck, but they saw her when they returned the next day. The only person to truly try to help her was the young boy who found the GoPro on the beach. The others were compensated for their failure to help her.

Sexism & Internet Trolls: One of the challenging pieces of the release of this film has been the online criticism about the image of Lively in a bikini and projecting that this is a film lacking in actual substance. First of all, it is film about survival in the midst of enjoying a surfing experience. Bikinis are part of beachwear. Regardless of the clothing and the fitness of Lively, only a small portion of the film even gives a sense of that sexuality. The focus is on survival and resiliency. It is on outwitting a giant predator. While it may not be the most original or innovative story, it is extremely engaging nonetheless.

Final Verdict: Survival was the name of the game. Facing off against an enormous beast created a significant conflict and engaging fight for one’s life. The shark may feel a little less than realistic, but the injuries Nancy experiences looked lifelike.

Dan’s Rating: 3.0/5

Having gone into hiding after their big heist of Arthur Tressler, the Four Horsemen are itching to get back into the spotlight. Daniel Atlas had been getting particularly edgy about following Dylan Rhodes and his plan to follow The Eye. When Octa announces that they are releasing a new tech program that threatens people’s privacy, the Horsemen jump to action to expose the tech giant. The trick is on them, as they are interrupted during the middle of their show and captured at the command of Walter Mabry, an incredibly wealthy businessman in hiding. He forces the team to steal a high-tech computer chip for him, while Dylan tries to track his Horsemen down.

New Horseman: With Isla Fisher not returning for the sequel, the executives cast Lizzy Caplan as the new member of the team, Lula. While some of the same tropes were used with her style of magic and source of eye candy for the big screen, her character was given a better sense of character. Isla was not much of a counter to anyone on the team in the first film. She just was there. Lizzy was imbedded into the comedy and served as a counter to Jesse Eisenberg and interest for Dave Franco. Her actual use of magic was a little more subdued than her teammates, but that leads into the next element.

Slight of Hand…Slightly: While the tricks are somewhat bigger in the second film compared to the first one, there is also a lot of telegraphing as the consistent message is about elements like 3-card monty and slight of hand. This not only applies to the tricks but also the character connections and big reveals at the end of the long game. The big names are back and the introduction of more backstory for Dylan Rhodes meant there would be a rounding out of a backstory to explain why and how Dylan got involved with the Horsemen. Too bad it was not nearly as complicated as it appeared.

Now Here’s the Reveal: One of the things that this sequel does that the original did not is reveal how much of the magic is performed. The unfortunate side effect was that it diminished the impressiveness of the tricks. Particularly toward the end, the whole final act was a series of tricks that included a clear set of explanations for how they pulled almost all of them off, but some smaller tricks in the middle of the action seem to simply be movie magic rather than real magical illusions.

Final Verdict: For all of the things one could criticize about this film, it is entertaining to watch how the characters are tricked into a trap and have to trick their way out. It may be easy to decipher how they get into and out of their messes, but the film does have at least a few small tricks up its sleeves.

Dan’s Rating: 2.5/5

As the host of a major stock market program, Lee Gates boasts all sorts of claims on the air. Sometimes, he calls locks for major opportunities to buy or sell. His advice is not always accurate, but one particular tip bankrupted one of his viewers and left him desperate for answers. When Kyle Budwell sneaks into the middle of a program and fits Lee with a bomb vest while holding the host at gunpoint, time seems to stop and the world begins to watch the incident as it unfolds. The longer Lee remains in the crosshairs, the more questions seem to pop up about the questionable practices and situation over at IBIS.

Star Power Goes to the Small Screen: Bringing together George Clooney (Lee Gates) and Julia Roberts (Patty Finn) immediately made for opportunity for a great film. Clooney projected his big personality in a perfect match as the host of a money management show similar to Mad Money. Julia tends to play more metered characters at times, and she served as the voice of reason during an extremely tense situation. Jack O’Connell (Kyle Budwell) also seems like a star on the rise, playing a character at the end of his rope.

An Issue of Pride v. Desperation: For Lee, his program was less about truly digging into the truth of the market trends and incidents but rather focusing on simply trying to make finances more interesting. As a man of wealth, he took little concern for what his advice actually meant for his viewers. When Kyle showed up and created the sense of panic, it knocked Lee off of his vantage point and forced him to think about the significance of his televised guidance. At times, his conversation with Kyle and his gimmicks were more about protecting his chance of survival. Once the questions seemed to get exponentially greater, Lee’s purpose shifted from survival to curiosity and he actually started to feel for his captor.

Questionable Corporate Practices: Kyle’s whole reason for entering into his dangerous hostage situation was related to his major money loss after betting on IBIS. He attacked Lee first because he saw his best opportunity to get both Lee and IBIS CEO Walt Camby in the same room was through Money Monster. As time passed and questions began to be asked, it became clear that something shady was happening surrounding the company’s $800 million glitch. To make matters worse, Walt decided to cancel at the last minute and then could not be found by the producers of the show or even the people within his own company.

Final Verdict: While the film simplifies corporate corruption and plays a little too much to the Mad Money-style antics, it still has a few humorous moments at the start to intensify the beginning of the standoff. While the hostage situation is a little pedestrian, there are some truly enjoyable dramatic moments and twists to make this a very entertaining film.

Dan’s Rating: 3.0/5

Stepping into a shift managing a drone over Kenya, pilots Steve Watts and Carrie Gershon get tied up in a mission to monitor terrorist activity. Colonel Katherine Powell gets intel that the #2, #4, and #5 people on the East African terrorist list have been spotted and are meeting in a small village in Kenya. While the mission starts off as an attempt to capture their suspects, the problem escalates when they find that the meeting involves suiting up two suicide bombers. As they prepare to transition from a capture to kill objective, they struggle with the efficacy of releasing the hellfire missile from the drone compared to the potential collateral damage to the village.

New Stage of Combat: While the mission took place in Kenya, the majority of the operatives were safely away from danger. The pilots of the drone were sitting in a trailer in Las Vegas. The commanding officer and lieutenant general were operating from two different locations in England. The one operative inside the village was in danger of being found out at any moment. Combat in a new age means that massive damage and loss of life can happen from great distances, but the ethics of whether to engage or not is called into question.

Collateral Damage: One of the most important elements of the ethical dilemma in this film was related to the loss of one life to save hundreds. As the mission changes from a capture to a kill objective, the decision to push the button hinged on Watts noticing a young girl selling bread outside of the meeting compound. While the colonel was ready to release the missile regardless of approval from above, Watts and the other military officials involved engaged in the debate to ensure the safety of the child while following through on their desired mission.

Intensity Away from the Battlefield: Considering the nature of this story, the drama exists as much in the war rooms as on the streets in Kenya. Helen Mirren was icy but exact in her role as the colonel. As she navigated the pressures of collateral damage, she also stayed focused on the goal. Aaron Paul typically plays the brash, out of control protagonist, but he stepped back in this role to be the voice of reason, even challenging superiors to help save the life of the little girl. Alan Rickman presented a stalwart demeanor as he mediated between the military forces in one of his final roles.

Final Verdict: While the action is limited, the story is intense. The horrors of war were told from both a battlefield on the ground and in the war room, making from a dramatic debate of life and safety. This is definitely worth the watch.

Dan’s Rating: 4.0/5

As the threats of the Cold War continue to increase, American government agencies converge on and capture a suspected spy, Rudolph Abel. While in custody, James B. Donovan is contacted to step in as his council. while hesitant, he decides to do the right thing by the law, knowing that he has an uphill climb ahead of him. After going to trial, James was able to avoid the death penalty but Rudolph was sentenced to a number of years in federal prison. While the trial may have been over in the US, Francis Gary Powers gets captured after his plane is shot down by the Soviets and American student Frederic Pryor is taken into custody while studying European economics in Berlin. James is called upon again to step forward, being asked to negotiate the return of Powers regardless of the outcome for Pryor.

Service to One’s Country: While Rudolph may have been identified as a spy and was known to have been engaging in spy-like activities, he put up no real resistance to his capture. While he refused to share any secrets or details of his activities, he also did not seem to impede the investigation in any other fashion. Staying true to supporting his home nation, he kept his secrets from the US government. This was something that James was able to identify in his client, as he tried to reclassify the image the American legal system had of the detainee and convey that through the negotiations with the representatives of Germany and the Soviet Union. In a similar fashion, Powers withholds any secrets about his activities and the plane that was shot down.

Nations in Conflict with their People: One of the most impactful scenes of the film occurred at the moment of the exchange. As James and Rudolph are waiting for the actual switch to occur, it dawns on James that Rudolph may not be welcomed back so openly when he is received by his country’s representatives. Rudolph, in his low-toned way, dismisses any real concern over his potential treatment for getting caught but acknowledges that the way he is received will determine his fate. While he eventually was able to reunite with his family, there was a clear sense of worry James had for Rudolph when he was not embraced upon his reunion and was rather just escorted to the back of a vehicle.

Dishonor in the Court: Two of the biggest obstacles during this time were the image of communism and the fear of the Cold War. The American public lived in a state of judgment and fear rather than search for the truth. While Rudolph was not truly innocent, he still had certain rights which should have been respected, such as due process and a fair trial. During the proceedings, it was clear that the judge had no interest in listening to any of the claims James made about the provision and gathering of evidence. While he was more open to hearing details about the actual sentencing, it was clear that the American public was less concerned with the law as opposed to punishment for what they chose not to understand. James’s family was victimized as their home was attacked and their family ridiculed for James defending someone in response to his pursuit of justice. This was mirrored in his attempts to save both detainees in Berlin while the US government showed no interested in Pryor’s release.

Final Verdict: This true story was dramatic and well-acted. Mark Rylance was particularly entertaining to watch as he provided depth to an extremely stoic character. Even knowing the outcome of the exchange did not diminish the excitement of watching the story unfold. This was definitely one of the stronger films of 2015.

Dan’s Rating: 4.5/5

revenantOut on a task to collect pelts for sale back to his people, Captain Andrew Henry’s crew gets attacked by the Arikara tribe. Losing most of his men in the escape, they are left to hide their haul and get back to the safety of their outpost to wait out the winter storms. During the return, Hugh Glass is attacked by a bear and near death. The group attempts to carry him back but chooses to leave a small group behind to watch for his recovery or seemingly eventual death. John Fitzgerald hangs back with the other two volunteers, including Glass’s half-Native American son. When Fitzgerald gets tired of waiting for Glass’s condition to take a turn in either direction, his desperation leaves Glass half-buried in a ditch and his son left for dead. Struggling to fight for life, Hugh must find the strength to recover from the bear attack, make it back to the outpost, and enact his revenge on Fitzgerald.

Beautiful Cinematography: If there is one thing that this film has over nearly every other film of 2015, it is the cinematography. The landscapes are vast, bleak, and haunting. Watching the film, you can feel the chill of the deep winter and the threats of both the wildlife and the competing groups of survivors. The bleakness takes things to an extra level that Winter’s Bone had similarly attempted to achieve.

Minimal Dialogue, Maximum Acting: With lead actors Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy, there was certainly the potential for some truly gripping conflict. The conflict definitely existed, but there were very few actual lines acted by DiCaprio. Instead, the bulk of his role was to display the harshness of the bleak winter and the dangerous terrain. He convincingly carries the burden of his injuries and the dangers of the world around him. More interesting was the performance by Tom Hardy. It almost had the feeling of Bane from The Dark Knight Rises, but it also carried the more appropriate feeling of the film’s time and environment.

Long and Deep Works…Part of the Time: The action and drama in this film are intense but not consistently displayed on-screen. When there are moments like the bear attack or the initial conflict with the Arikara, the battles are beautifully choreographed. In between those moments, there are long, drawn out scenes for travel that are reminiscent of The Lord of the Rings traveling through Middle Earth. There is certainly more drama with the battling against injury, but there are also very quiet moments which could have been cut significantly shorter to the same effect.

Final Verdict: While this clearly seems like a true Oscar winner, it is likely a bit overrated based on simply completing a checklist of what Oscar voters want to see. Even so, the cinematography is fantastic and the concept is certainly something that is not nearly as common in the current film landscape.

Dan’s Rating: 3.5/5