Posts tagged "Thriller"

“Outer Banks” – Binge-worthy episodic teen series

April 13th, 2020 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Outer Banks” – Binge-worthy episodic teen series”

This is a case of “slip and fall” as I’m diverging from movies and accidentally slipping into and have fallen for the Netflix series, “Outer Banks.”

Growing up in a small summer tourism town, I went back in time as I watched the cliques of kids drawing lines in the sand, never mixing. The series takes place in the Outer Banks of North Carolina, or the OBX as they refer to it, comprised of two groups of people–the haves and the have-nots. Their terms, the poor kids live “in the cut” and are called Pogues and the wealthy country club kids are the Kooks. It is this delineation that plagues each group as they attempt to make their final days of summer “epic.”

WATCH THE TRAILER

The story revolves around John B. (Chase Stokes), his missing father, and a sunken treasure ship from more than a century ago called The Royal Merchant. John B. and his friends, all misfits in their own unique ways, band together to support John B. in continuing the research his father started. Of course, this leads to murder, mystery, and mayhem far beyond the simple jealous antics of teen angst. Well, there’s plenty of that as well.

“Outer Banks” is a lot of fun, even if you can predict what’s going to happen as the characters are fun to get to know. There’s the hot-headed boy JJ (Rudy Pankow) who has a lot of family issues, Pope (Jonathan Davies), the bright boy who is counting on a scholarship to get himself out of “the cut,” and Kiara (Madison Bailey), the intelligent, caring, environmentalist Kook who went to the dark side to hang out with this group of Pogues. Balancing out this group are the condescending rich kids Sarah (Madelyn Cline), Topper (Austin North) and Rafe (Drew Starkey). The two polar opposite groups have plenty of issues to confront and are not limited to just social class.

What makes this even more fun is the chemistry among these kids. They’re engaging and invite you to care about them and their situation. Their friendships test the limits as they focus on an end goal and jump through more hurdles than you can imagine. And there’s plenty of really bad guys in this show. Their stereotypical portrayal would be comical if there wasn’t the blood and brutality, but like most kids’ movies and television, there’s no mistaking who the bad guys are! It’s a lot of over-the-top character portrayals, but who cares? The actors make you believe they really are in these situations and you can’t wait to see what happens next.

“Outer Banks” has been my go-to series while I run on the treadmill. I owe a big thank you to Netflix for helping me attain my exercise goals each day and for providing a series I look forward to. My only warning is that even though this is a teenager-centric series, there’s a lot of drug use. As my 25 year-old daughter said, “Why does Hollywood think every high school kid should be portrayed with this kind of access to drugs and alcohol?” And as a mom, that was music to my ears!

“Vivarium” A chillingly twisted and smart “Twilight Zone” type of movie

April 2nd, 2020 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Vivarium” A chillingly twisted and smart “Twilight Zone” type of movie”

Fans of Rod Serling’s “Twilight Zone” rejoice! “Vivarium” will sate that craving for that odd, twisted, sci-fi story. Jesse Eisenberg and Imogen Poots star as Tom and Gemma in this thriller as a young couple on a quest for the perfect house to purchase in a seller’s market. What they find is a home that “has all you need and all you’d want” but it will plunge them both into a nightmare they could have never dreamed. This is a smart, chilling, and captivating film that orchestrates psychological dilemmas that are eerily relevant to our sequestered lifestyle today.

WATCH THE TRAILER HERE

The opening scene is straight out of National Geographic as a mother bird is off to find food for its newborns, but a cuckoo comes along and shoves the babes out of their nest and takes it over, only to be fed by this unwitting and unrelated “mother.” And this is the first foreshadowing of much more to come. We cut to a cheerful scene as Gemma, an elementary school teacher, helps the children act as trees with the wind blowing and then wildly swing their “branches” to replicate a storm…another glimpse into the future. Gemma and Tom, a landscape maintenance man, head to a real estate office where a peculiar man named Martin (Jonathan Aris) convinces them to check out the homes in Yonder…it’s not too far and it’s not too close.” Gemma, not wanting to be rude, agrees to check it out. Driving into a development where the green identical houses line the street, Martin’s odd mannerisms as he shows Gemma and Tom the home rise to the surface a bit more and then he disappears. And try as they might to leave this place, all the roads lead back to number 9; their place.

It’s not until a cardboard box with a baby boy inside with instructions to “raise the child and be released” that they realize they are in a dire situation. The boy, or “it” as Tom will only refer to him, grows at an exponential rate, but he’s just as odd as Martin and even creepier! His uncanny ability to mimic Tom and Gemma give us a glimpse into what’s been going on over the last 98 days during which time Boy as gone from infancy to pre-teen. The emotional turmoil is unraveling them at their seems and the strangeness increases exponentially. There are so many great surprises and twists and turns that punctuate our own psychological needs in this film as it explores gender roles, expectations, and programming. Colors and sounds play an important role in this film as well, both aspects of living that make it complete for most.

This ensemble cast is exceptional. Poots and Eisenberg balance one another perfectly as the happy yet familiar couple who are thrust into not only living together but parenting unwillingly. Their love is certainly tested and as they devolve and evolve in this situation, it is genuine and believable. Neither Poots nor Eisenberg is afraid to show their unattractive side for these roles, but it is their interaction with Boy (Senan Jennings) that is mind-blowing. We watch Poots portray Gemma as a sweet teacher who loves children morph into a child-hating mother figure…perhaps Boy represents the cuckoo bird in the beginning. Jennings is incredible, taking on such a nuance-heavy character. I’m sure he’s a very sweet boy, but this kid gave me the creeps immediately! His body language, facial movements, and speech cadence and style all contributed to a performance that sends chills down your spine.

Lorcan Finnegan and Garret Shanley co-wrote this twisty narrative, placing a heavy load on three main characters and all three of them rise to the occasion. Finnegan directs “Vivarium” (look up the meaning of the word for more clarity), with absolute precision. There can be no errors from his chair or the entire feel of the film is lost. As a fan of Serling’s “Twilight Zone” especially Billy sending people to “the field,” “Vivarium” has exactly the same eerie and chilling notes.

Check out “Vivarium” on all major streaming platforms including Amazon and iTunes for only $6.99. It’ll raise a lot of conversation points!

4 Stars

Tye Sheridan shines in “The Night Clerk”

February 22nd, 2020 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on “Tye Sheridan shines in “The Night Clerk””

Bart (Tye Sheridan) is an unusual boy, living in his mother’s basement, dining alone while she does the same just a floor above. His atypical characteristics don’t stop there, but it’s not until he goes to his job as a night clerk at a hotel that we witness just how different he is and why. Bart, rigging up video surveillance systems in several rooms, places beautiful women in each. His motives aren’t what you think, but he unwittingly witnesses a murder. Unsure of how to process what he’s seen, Bart digs himself a deeper hole as the police become involved.

WATCH THE TRAILER HERE

There are several stories taking place at the same time in “The Night Clerk.” The first is a race against the clock to clear Bart’s name. The second is a love story, but it’s the third story that adds a twist to the first two. Bart is on the spectrum of autism. His voyeuristic tendencies aren’t malicious. In fact, he uses this technique to help him learn and rehearse interactions allowing him to sound more “normal” in situations. It is his strained relationship with his mother (Helen Hunt) that gives us the additional information we need to better understand Bart and the story to come.

Following the murder, another guest checks in, Andrea (Ana de Armas). In an effort to protect her from her predecessor’s fate, Bart shares his deepest secrets. In return, Andrea’s kindness and understanding of Bart is misinterpreted which elicits emotions and reactions that are at best confusing to him. His black and white world has been flooded with color that he is ill-equipped to process.

Writing a story where the main character has Asperger’s Syndrome is no easy task. The dialogue and Sheridan’s performance carry the load of success for “The Night Clerk.” The perfectly placed conversations between Bart and Andrea gives us great insight into what being on the spectrum means. He sees and processes information differently, but his need to love and be loved is exactly like anyone else’s. Sheridan’s portrayal of this seemingly emotionally flat character connects us to him to not only understand him but to also care about him.

“The Night Clerk” also uniquely sets up situations which allow us to see the world through Bart’s eyes. Gaining that specific knowledge base, we are in tune with Bart and when he makes those awkward and sometimes very dangerous wrong decisions we understand why he’s doing it. And as the cops, lead by Detective Espada (John Leguizamo), close in on the prime suspect, the intensity increases as we only want Bart to be safe, but with his communication style and inabilities, it’s a tension-filled final act.

Although “The Night Clerk” is a crime thriller at the core, its branches spread much wider as we walk in another’s shoes, gaining understanding and empathy. Sheridan’s deft portrayal of someone “on the spectrum” takes us into an interior world previously unknown to us and by the end of the film, we have emotionally connected with him. When a film can open our eyes and our hearts to perhaps be more compassionate to others while it entertains us with a uniquely suspenseful story, it’s a film worth seeing.

3 1/2 stars

“The Gentlemen” is pure fun

January 30th, 2020 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““The Gentlemen” is pure fun”

We start this tall tale, “The Gentlemen,” with a “pint and a pickled egg” and the strange word combinations, analogies and euphemisms continue throughout this sly action crime thriller written and directed by Guy Ritchie. With his signature style splashed lovingly throughout the film, like the blood that splatters across a table after a hit, Ritchie creates a complicated, sometimes convoluted but necessarily so, storyline that keeps you on your toes and even if you think you’ve guessed the ending, you’ll be blown away by how you got there.

Michael Pearson aka Mickey (Matthew McConaughey) is a street smart, high-volume and high class weed grower and dealer. His entrepreneurial skills, honed at a young age across the pond, allowed him to climb the social and financial ladder, but not without enemies who are always trying to knock this king off his throne. We meet Mickey at what appears to be close to the end of the film, but then thanks to Fletcher’s (Hugh Grant) storytelling to Mickey’s right hand man, Ray (Charlie Hunnam), we begin to meet the vast number of characters as he recounts the events of the last several weeks. And with the precision of a scalpel, Ritchie neatly intertwines every character’s story.

Fletcher is a part of the lower class attempting to rise and we see this with his different English accent and his less than fashionable attire. He’s slimy, but maybe, just maybe, he’s one up on the elite thugs. He seems to be everywhere and to know everything as he attempts to extort Ray for millions of British pounds, threatening to reveal all these luscious details he has painstakingly gathered. As Fletcher reveals his knowledge of the events over several expensive glasses of Glenfiddich, told in proper writing style as he points out our main protagonist and how stories should be told—old school—we find that Mickey may not have covered all his bases and the cast of characters may not survive the finale.

“The Gentlemen” is a good old-fashioned story told with more style than Tom Ford. The pace is fast which not just encourages you to pay close attention, it demands it. The layers of this complex story are peeled away, layer by layer, revealing only what Ritchie wants you to see, making sure he is at least one step ahead of you. The cuts or as the character “Fletcher” refers to them as “smash cuts” thrust you into the next scene and we begin to piece the puzzle together until the core is revealed. This is pure fun.

McConaughey’s Mickey is our main character, but the entire narrative is driven by Grant’s performance as Fletcher. Changing his accent to fit the bill and finding the subtleties required to become this sleezy character, Grant shines as the host of the story, finding all the right beats to create an engagingly repulsive character. McConaughey’s performance doesn’t push the envelope although it is a believable one as the charming, whip-smart king of the proverbial forest. Henry Golding gives us an intimidating tough guy persona that ultimately allows you to despise him and that’s a tough feat. Hunnam’s performance as the calm, cool, and collected “Ray” is the glue that binds it all together, but it is the initially unrecognizable Colin Farrell as “Coach” that will shock and make you laugh aloud as you support his tenacity and integrity even amidst some unfathomable acts.

“The Gentlemen” isn’t for the faint of heart. It is a crime and action flick so there’s a bit of violence and blood, but it is all a part of the story, driving the plot forward. And Ritchie doesn’t give us one character who’s above board, but that’s ok because we find the best of the worst and connect with them. With quick dialogue and narration which is a stylistically perfect choice paired with Ritchie’s quick editing and unique visual interjections we laugh aloud at the preposterous situations. Ritchie even finds a way to squeeze in gun and drug law issues, too.

There’s also great attention to detail in this film from set design to costuming which punctuates the class and type of characters in the story. Standing out in this is Coach and his cohorts, the choreographed hip hop dancers/fighters all dressed in plaid who bring an element of humor to what would have been just a group of thugs. It’s these little surprises throughout the overall feel of the film and that’s fun.

Guy Ritchie doesn’t disappoint in “The Gentlemen.” Great action, smart dialogue and story development give way to a suspenseful, oftentimes humorous, old-fashioned thriller that will keep you engaged and entertained.

3 1/2 Stars

“Knives Out” is an ingeniously funny and smart whodunit movie

November 24th, 2019 Posted by Film Festivals, Review 0 thoughts on ““Knives Out” is an ingeniously funny and smart whodunit movie”

Writer and director Rian Johnson changes gears from “Star Wars: Episode VIII-The Last Jedi” to his newest film “Knives Out,” an ingenious, whip-smart comedic thriller with an incredible all-star cast. This old-fashioned “who-dunnit” crime story takes us on a ride of mystery, intrigue, and puzzle-solving while laughing the entire time. This is a standout film of the year.

WATCH THE TRAILER HERE

Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) is the family’s patriarch having made his fortune writing murder mysteries. Coincidentally, the old man dies in his palatial mansion and his family, focused on the inheritance and not shedding a tear, are stopped short of the treasure chest as the famed Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) suspects foul play. This, of course, would change the cause of death from suicide to murder and now puts each and every family member under the microscope as suspects.

Oh, what a family this is! Timing the release perfectly for Thanksgiving, you’ll find that your own family isn’t quite so dysfunctional after watching this one. Johnson covers all his family relationship bases with an ex-wife, a trust fund, shallow grandson named Ransom (Chris Evans), a controlling daughter, Linda (Jamie Lee Curtis), and Valley Girl Joni (Toni Collette) as well as the disappointing son Walt (Michael Shannon). There are plenty of in-law issues beginning with Richard Drysdale (Don Johnson) and strange grandchildren. We even have the Keystone Cops lead by Lieutenant Elliott (LaKeith Stanfield).

It’s evident from the beginning that we are in for a rip-roaring good time as the interrogation begins. Flashing between each of the suspects, a lone man slouches off in the corner at a piano, intermittently hitting a single key. Confusingly funny, the subjects make comments as to this man’s presence. We see the tangled web of deceit has been spun perfectly and now the players are all accounted for. The story then takes us back in time using a non-linear storytelling technique to put the pieces of the puzzle in proper order to solve the mystery of who killed Harlan Thrombey…or was it a suicide?

“Knives Out” keeps you on your toes with its clever unveiling of clues while distracting you with these bizarre and over-the-top characters who all have a motive or two. Collette and Evans take on roles and perform like you’ve never seen them before adding to the unexpected twists and turns as well as the hilarity. Johnson’s genius writing is always a step ahead of you, never putting all the pieces of the puzzle together until he wants you to.

The film, in all is jocularity, actually finds a way to address a common theme of movies this year: the haves versus the have-nots. Of course, with this wealthy family comes the topic of entitlement and work ethics, but these heavier subjects are all boiling well beneath the surface, fostering the hilarious situations and consequences.

While all the characters and performances are uniquely strong, the commonality among them is the actors truly seem to be having fun, elevating their performances to the highest level. Plummer just gets better and better, showing audiences that he truly can take any role and bring it to its ultimate potential. His character of “Harlan” is smart and strong with great wisdom and verve all delivered with a knowing twinkle in his eye. Each actor’s character gets a moment in the spotlight, allowing us to know who they truly are and what drives them. Two surprising performances come from Craig as he stuns us with his comedic timing. It’s a dry humor, the writing creating a strange interaction to make us laugh, but it it Craig’s interpretation and presentation that adds just the right touch. And then there’s Evans who certainly doesn’t come off as Capt. America. He’s a narcissistic, entitled, blue blood who is despicably condescending—but all of these attributes are presented in unexpectedly delightful ways.

Another surprise is a relatively unknown actor who has a lead in this film, Ana de Armas who portrays Marta Cabrera, the nurse and caregiver for Harlan. Her storyline stitches all the characters together while the social issue of immigration plays every so perfectly into this narrative. de Armas’ performance hits all the right notes as she invites us to walk in her shoes. She’s remarkably engaging, honing her ability to connect with the audience no matter her circumstances.

As you can see, there is one enjoyable and entertaining surprise after another. Its fast pace never lets you catch your breath as you happily try to see the full picture, but alas, Johnson is the driver of that car and you’ll get there when he wants you to. To find such an entertaining murder mystery with the feel of a film from days gone by is an absolute treasure. This incredibly smart and funny film with standout performances from actors who are having as much fun as the viewer is sure to be tops on not just critics’ lists, but yours as well.

4/4 stars

“Wale” Uses social perceptions to create intense and powerful thriller

January 10th, 2019 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Wale” Uses social perceptions to create intense and powerful thriller”

First-time writer and director Barnaby Blackburn gives us “Wale, the story of a teen who made mistakes in is short life, paid for his crime, and is now on a better path as he attempts to start a business. Wale’s (Raphel Famotibe) first customer, O’Brian (Jamie Sives) will change Wale’s life forever.

Wale (Famotibe) appears to be a typical kid now, but his criminal record and time in juvenile lock up is a part that he wanted and was ready to put behind him. Living with his mother (Clare Perkins), we gain not only an understanding of his past, but also connect with this young man who wants nothing more than to make his mother proud and earn a living honestly. As he goes to the street market to advertise his skills as an auto mechanic, he bumps into O’Brian (Sives) who just happens to be in need of Wale’s services. Inviting the young man to his home, he treats him like a friend, and trusts him with his high-end car which has a “problem.”

In this short film, there is a constant feeling of impending doom even as Wale’s positivity attempts to shine through. His personality allows the viewer to forgive his transgressions and we root for him to succeed, but there is something off with O’Brian. The skilled writing creates this distrust in him, but we just can’t put our finger on what’s wrong until it’s too late. We discover the problem just as Wale does and gasp, never expecting to learn what we now know.

The story becomes a harrowing one, eliciting our own breathing to become shallow and our hearts to race as we put ourselves in Wale’s shoes. Each and every scene is an unexpected one, layering the tension to a point of explosion. These surprises don’t stop until the very end where Blackburn fades out.

“Wale” is one of the most riveting and intellectually stimulating short films this year. Creating viable circumstances while integrating social dynamics and stereotypes into the story generates plausibility. And Blackburn never allows you to see more than he wants you to, giving the film that incredible tension and stress.

Wale’s ensemble cast is comprised of two main characters who shine in their roles. Without giving too much away, Sives is extraordinary as we watch the subtlety of his performance and we discover his true self. Famotibe is equally skilled in his performance, portraying a young man with a second chance in life who is dealt a horrifying hand. His realistic reactions drive the story, never too much and never too little. It’s true perfection in a performance.

“Wale” is a short film that has the power of a feature, bringing to light societal prejudices while capturing an intriguing story. Blackburn’s writing and direction lay the firm foundation upon which his actors beautifully bring his words and tale to life. To think this is Blackburn’s first film is exciting as he has a grand future ahead of him.

4 Stars

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