Archives for posts with tag: suspense

Grade B

 

A famous writer (played by James Caan) gets into an accident while driving through a blizzard and is rescued by his “number one fan” (chillingly played by Kathy Bates).  With an injured shoulder and badly broken legs, Caan is bedridden and is cared for by Bates, who at first comes off as a guardian angel; but as time passes, she proves herself to be quite the opposite.  Caan utilizes all the imagination of a brilliant writer to find an escape, but it may not be enough to counter Bates’ devious mind.

My most memorable, movie moment of “Misery” was the “hobbling” scene.  No matter how many times I’ve seen it, it still makes me cringe.

Rob Reiner does a good job of directing this Stephen King story.  All the elements of a good suspense tale is here, and Bates’ performance takes this movie to a higher level of quality.

— M

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Grade B-

If you set aside the fact that our military cannot be duped so easily as to believe that the enemy on the radio is a U.S. soldier, you may find this movie very entertaining.

“The Wall” is about a sniper team (Aaron Taylor-Johnson as the spotter, and John Cena as the shooter) who are sent in to investigate the killings of a pipeline crew and their security force by a possible sniper.  Having watched the area for almost one full day, Cena decides the enemy is long gone, and takes a walk toward the killzone.  Cena is soon shot in the stomach, Johnson tries a rescue and gets shot himself; and Johnson takes cover behind one crumbling wall.  With Cena a possible KIA and Johnson’s radio broken from being shot, Johnson is stuck where he is.  If he makes a run for it, the sniper will kill him.  If Johnson stays put, he’ll either bleed out from his wound or die of thirst.  Making matters worse is that the enemy sniper is on the same frequency as Johnson’s and Cena’s radio headsets, setting up a tense, psych warfare that will test Johnson’s will to keep fighting.

My most memorable, movie moment of “The Wall” is the final scene that reveals what happened to the enemy sniper.

“The Wall” is a decent suspense/thriller that is undermined by the writer and director who chose to ignore realism in order to move forward with the story they wanted to tell.  But as I wrote earlier, if you choose to ease up on your critical thinking of the story, “The Wall” will be worthy of your time.

— M

Grade C+

A family of three survives the apocalypse (some type of disease — and that’s really all the information the audience gets) in a large, boarded up house in the woods.  A stranger breaks in looking for water, and the father (played by Joel Edgerton) decides to trade water for some of the stranger’s food.  They apparently bond so well that the stranger and his wife and young child move in Edgerton’s house. For a while they all live happily like a hippie commune until an event brings the possibility of disease within the house, an event that is never fully explained and is one reason why this movie gets a low grade.  From this point on, some of the worst natures of people in times of crisis comes out, mostly from Edgerton; and this is what “It Comes At Night” is truly about, the monstrous nature of people that lie dormant, waiting for the right moment to emerge.

My most memorable, movie moment of “It Comes At Night” is the scene when **SPOILER ALERT** Edgerton is tracking a mother and her young son, finds them, aims his rifle at them and…

The extremely misleading title of “It Comes At Night” will frustrate many viewers because the title and trailers leads us to believe there is a monster out there stalking people at night, which is not the case.  The lack of info on how the disease is transmitted, and several plot holes will further aggravate the viewer, as is proven in the overwhelmingly negative reviews in so many outlets.  But I happen to like this movie’s study in human nature in times of disaster and the question it poses: what price will you pay for survival?

— M

Grade A

Based on the novel by Stephen King, “It” is a story of seven children who are considered outcasts in school, their everyday fears overshadowed by a creature that has awakened, taking the form of a clown (played by Bill Skarsgard).  Summer is supposed to be a time of fun for children.  Not so for the seven outcasts — calling themselves the Losers — who have to fight a war on two fronts: the terrors that most children face; and the supernatural entity that threatens to kill them one at a time unless the Losers Club bands together and takes the fight to the creature.

My most memorable, movie moment of “It” is the scene when the girl member of the Losers is attacked by her father who has been molesting her.  This scene alone makes the movie unfit for young children, and disturbing for most people to watch.

“It” should bring back many childhood memories of those who watch it.  The best of times (summer days of playing, hanging out with friends and teasing each other, first crush on a girl) and the troubling times (being a loner, feeling like a loser, the start of a girl’s period, being bullied, the mental/verbal/sexual abuse that some parents inflict on their children) are vividly and sometimes graphically exposed in “It.”  Although most of the lead actors are children, “It” is meant for adults, and adults will have a great time watching this movie that is horrifying, funny, and very, very well made.

— M

 

 

Grade C

A psychologist (played by Naomi Watts) caring for her catatonic teen, son (Charlie Heaton) who needs 24 hour care faces a snowstorm that can leave them cut off from the rest of the town for a few days.  That wouldn’t be so bad; but there is the possibility of a dead boy haunting Watts.  A boy whom she was treating for anger issues; a boy who may blame Watts for being sent away; a boy who may not have died.  As the storm approaches, Watts’ supernatural experiences become more terrifying (to the character, not so much to the audience).  Is she being tormented by the boy’s angry spirit, or is the boy still alive?  Or is Watts’ guilt over how she handled the boy’s case and how she treated Heaton prior to his accident finally overwhelmed her mind, causing her to lose her sanity a little at a time?

My most memorable, movie moment is the scene when Watts’ friend sees through the computer camera something that reveals what is really going on.

“Shut In” gets a low grade because the main character makes one stupid decision after another throughout most of the movie.  An example: she wants to get out of the house, but the doors and windows are nailed shut.  The windows are flimsy, so what would you do?  For Watts, instead of breaking a  window, she panics and runs around and decides to break a skylight.  If she’s not concerned with making all kinds of noise by breaking a skylight, why not just break one of the ground floor windows and get out in less than five seconds?

“Shut In” would have received a much, much lower grade had it not been for the twist in the third act.  I have to admit, the movie suckered me into thinking one way, and I was pleasantly surprised to find my thinking was erroneous.

My last criticisms of this movie are these: there were too many similarities to “The Shining” during the third act — if you watch this movie and have seen “The Shining,” you’ll see; and the creepiness factor of the bathroom scene (you’ll know which one) is so high it’ll make every woman cringe, unless you’re really, really kinky.

— M

Grade C –

Manny’s Movie Musings: Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman play a couple who stay in a secluded, vacation house who are terrorized by three masked strangers.  With their lines of communication and transportation destroyed, Tyler and Speedman are on their own and must find a way to survive the night.  My most memorable, movie moment of “The Strangers” is the scene when Speedman finally locates a shotgun and shotshells, enough to kill an army of strangers.  But — and here is why this movie gets a low grade — Tyler and Speedman make one stupid move after another.  It’s as if they suddenly got stupid and decided to do everything wrong.  Were the characters that stupid, or was the writer/director not a very good screenwriter?  I choose the latter.  A few well set-up scares saved “The Strangers” from getting a much lower grade.  Yes, Maximus, I was entertained; but not as much as I would have if the director was a skilled screenwriter.

— M

Grade B –

“Saw IV” concentrates on two storylines: what truly motivated Jigsaw (played by Tobin Bell) into putting people into traps; and a cop (played by Lyriq Bent) being tested by Bell to see how far Bent’s obsession will go regarding Bent’s need to save everyone.  While the former is interesting and well played, the latter was forced, with Bent doing many things that were out of character despite the screenwriters trying to justify it with Bent’s emotional problems.

More bloody, heinous traps; more gruesome deaths of victims; more plot twists; more revelations; more mini cassettes with Bell’s altered voice; more frenetic editing and transitions that move the story along rapidly…all leading to more reasons for fans of this series to squirm and laugh and gasp and enjoy the morbid nature of these stories.

My most memorable, movie moment of “Saw IV” is the very detailed, disgusting, and fascinating autopsy scene.  Unless you have a very strong stomach, this is not the time to be eating your hot dogs or chips and salsa.

Four movies in, and the “Saw” movies still have lots of steam.  How far can it go before going stale?  I shall find out soon because I’ll be checking out part V.

— M

Grade B+

Fresh off his indie hit, “The Visit,” writer/director/producer M. Night Shyamalan creates another mega indie hit, “Split.”  James McAvoy plays a seriously troubled man with about 24 different personalities.  Each personality vies for its time “out in the light,” but the more malevolent personalities have taken over, resulting in the kidnapping of three young ladies.

The police have no idea where the girls are, and it will be up to the girls to find a way out of their prison.  Time is quickly running out, because a new personality is coming out of McAvoy, an entity that supposedly has the power to alter McAvoy’s body into one that is monstrous.

My most memorable, movie moment of “Split” is the bonus scene after the end credits, revealing a tie-in with another Shyamalan movie that hints of what his next movie will be.

Shyamalan’s mojo is definitely back, helped by the superb acting of McAvoy and Anya Taylor-Joy, who plays one of the kidnapped girls.  I can’t wait to see Shyamalan’s next movie.

— M

Grade B +

From the mind of comedian Jordan Peele comes “Get Out,” a story of a black man (played by Daniel Kaluuya) who visits his white girlfriend’s (played by Allison Williams) family in the suburbs and slowly finds out that things are very, very off with her family and servants.

Everything is ok at first: the parents are all smiles and greet Kaluuya with hugs; the father mentions how he would have loved to vote for Obama a third time; the father using various slang to show he’s hip and down with the Negroes, etc.  Then Kaluuya notices the odd behavior of the black servants; the thinly veiled, racist remarks of Williams’ drunk brother; plus a weird dream of Kaluuya being hypnotized by Williams’ mother.  And this is just the start of Kaluuya’s long nightmare that will have him fighting for his sanity and life as the full secret of his girlfriend’s family is slowly unraveled.

My most memorable, movie moment is the scene when Kaluuya is told of the family secrets and the heinous plan of what is to be done to him.

“Get Out” is not just a very good suspense/thriller, it is also loaded with social commentary that are insightful, funny, and infuriating.  Examples: a black man’s worry of being caught in a rich, white neighborhood at night; the troubles that black men have to deal with when dating white women; white liberals who are constantly giving examples of how they are not bigots; the physical superiority of black men over white men; the mental superiority of white men over black men; and how trendy it is now to be black, as if the color of skin is some kind of accessory to flaunt.

The subject of race relations is a touchy one, and those who are overly sensitive may want to steer away from this movie.  Everyone else, jump in and watch the movie and have a laugh.  “Get Out” is, after all, a satire.

— M

Grade C +

The very first in a long and successful movie franchise, “Saw” has two extremely unfortunate guys (played by Cary Elwes and Leigh Whannell) chained to pipes in a large, disgusting bathroom.  From hazy memories and clues given to them in the room, they realize that they have been kidnapped by a serial killer named Jigsaw in order to play out a vicious, painful and bloody game in order to escape.  Should the two men refuse to play, there will be severe consequences.

My most memorable, movie moment of “Saw” is the scene when Elwes reaches his breaking point and uses a hacksaw to begin his escape.  Although cringeworthy, it is mild compared to what future “Saw” movies has in store.

“Saw” works because 1) it moves fast thanks to a tight script and frenetic editing that can be annoying most times; 2) there is the mystery of who the serial killer is; and 3) it offers the audience very interesting and sadistic ways to kill the victims.  Weaknesses of “Saw” are: 1) Elwes’ often melodramatic, soap opera-ish acting; and 2) Danny Glover’s cop character who makes one stupid move after another, making me wonder if he had a brain.  Taken as a whole, “Saw” is an entertaining movie for fans of so called “torture porn” horror movies.  Seeing the traps/puzzles alone is worth the price of admission.

— M

Grade B +

One of the best suspense/thriller movies from 2016, “Don’t Breathe” has three teens (Jane Levy playing the main character of the bunch) breaking into the home of a blind man (played by Stephen Lang) to steal a lot of cash that he supposedly has in the house.

It’s supposed to be an easy job for the teen burglars: Lang lives alone in a Detroit neighborhood where almost every house is abandoned (few witnesses); one of the teens has a master key for the burglar alarm that Lang uses; Lang is old, the teens are young and they outnumber him.  But once inside Lang’s home, the young thieves get much more than they planned for when Lang proves to be a very tough and vicious opponent who also harbors some very dark, nasty secrets.

My most memorable, movie moment is the scene when the burglars discover a hidden room in Lang’s basement that reveals a shocking secret.

“Don’t Breathe” has a few, minor shenanigans that most viewers will easily forgive because overall, the entire movie works very well.  It is very suspenseful, the pacing is fast, the acting is good, you’ll want to know what happens to each of the four characters, and there are a few surprises thrown in there that seasoned movie fans should be able to foresee.

— M

Grade C –

Manny’s Movie Musings: Two young sisters tough out a lengthy power outage in a house deep in the woods.  With supplies dwindling, people becoming more feral and desperate, the sisters must make a decision to either ride out the crisis in the relative safety of their home, or make a long, dangerous journey to a place rumored to have some semblance of civilization.   “Into The Forest” is saved from a failing grade had it not been for the great performances of Ellen Page and Evan Rachel Wood (playing the sisters); and the fine cinematography by Daniel Grant.  Many of the decisions the sisters make will just leave you going “huh, what the hell?”  For example: Wood dancing every day for months, using up so many calories, calories that cannot easily be replenished as their food supply is decreasing…instead of going into survival mode, she keeps practicing as if the world will be back to normal any day now, despite 4 or 6 months of no power.  Oh, well, not every movie can have a great script.  My most memorable, movie moment of “Into The Forest” is the scene when Wood, after a traumatic event, refuses to take the last aspirin, telling Page to “save it.”  Page insists Wood take the entire tablet, and Wood says she’ll just take half.  It’s a wonderful and painful scene of the love the sisters have for each other, and how much each is willing to sacrifice for the other.

— M

Grade B +

Based on a true story — in Hollywood speak, that means about 25% is true (and I’m being very generous here) —  “War Dogs” is about two young guys from Miami who sold weapons to the U.S. military despite having no business doing so.  Going after the smaller contracts that are peanuts to the Pentagon but worth hundreds of thousands to the young dudes (played by Jonah Hill and Miles Teller), their rocky, sometimes hilarious and dangerous foray into gun running bring riches and a feeling of invincibility, a combination that can be lethal.

Greed and more greed puts Hill and Teller into the dirtiest realms of their business, where they will be in the crosshairs of gangsters, the U.S. government, and each other.

My most memorable, movie moment is the scene when Hill is trying to buy weed from a bunch of thugs.  After paying, the thugs pretend not to know what Hill is talking about and refuse to give him his drugs.  Hill laughs, calmly walks to his car, removes a submachine-gun from his trunk, and fires off about a dozen rounds in full auto into the air, sending the thugs scurrying away like cockroaches!

“War Dogs” has the same feel as “Pain & Gain” and “The Wolf Of Wall Street.”  The pacing moderately fast, some of the scenes are over the top and outrageous, the tone constantly changes from comedic to serious to scary…overall it has a somewhat hazy, drug-induced, dream quality to it.  This would be a great movie for guys to watch while high on drugs or alcohol.

— M

Grade B

Two brothers (played by Chris Pine and Ben Foster) rob banks in order to make the payments on the family ranch that is about to be foreclosed by a bank.  They need to come up with a certain amount, and then they’ll be done and will no longer have to worry about money — the family ranch has been found to contain a tremendous amount of oil that would provide an income to the owners of about $50,000 a month.  Using multiple vehicles to do their illegal transfer of wealth, Pine and Foster attack the banks early in the morning to minimize resistance and witnesses.  But Foster, an ex-con, has a wild streak; and he may be the one to provide the mistake that a Texas Ranger (played by Jeff Bridges) is depending on to get an edge on apprehending the brothers.

My most memorable, movie moment of “Hell Or High Water” is the scene when Pine and Foster are being chased by armed civilians after the brothers robbed a bank — this takes place in Texas, by the way.  Sick of running, Foster stops his vehicle, grabs a fully automatic assault rifle, and just lights up the vigilantes.  It is an awesome display of firepower from just one rifle and one man who knows how to use it.

“Hell Or High Water” is a good drama/action/suspense movie that will have some people rooting for the bad guys.  The constant reminders of unemployment, billboards of “easy” loans and debt relief to those desperate for money, and of course, what we know of the government’s and big banks’ roles in the great financial collapse a few years ago…it’s easy to want Pine to get away with what he is attempting.  Foster’s character, on the other hand, is different animal.

**SPOILER ALERT** I would have given this movie higher marks, but the shenanigan of Pine getting away with everything he’s done is just too much to let go.  The story offers a detailed but unsatisfying explanation as to why Pine remains free at the end, and it just does not ring true.  With so much damage done, no way the law would allow this to be swept away and be happy to pin it all on Foster.

— M

Grade B –

Manny’s Movie Musings: based on the novel by Stephen King, “Cujo” is about a rabid Saint Bernard who terrorizes a mother (played by Dee Wallace) and her young son (played by Danny Pintauro).  Trapped in a small, Ford Pinto that doesn’t start, Wallace and Pintauro spend several agonizing days in the heat inside their car, unable to escape with Cujo just waiting for them nearby.  No cell phones, no neighbors…if Wallace doesn’t make a desperate attempt to flee or kill Cujo, she and her son will surely die in the car from heat exhaustion and dehydration.  My most memorable, movie moment of “Cujo” is the scene when Wallace has her car door open and trying to take care of Pintauro, and Cujo appears behind her and goes in for the kill.  Although “Cujo” feels at times like a made for tv movie (most of the director’s work is in tv), it is still a good horror/suspense movie that continues to be relevant today with all the reported dog attacks against humans.

— M

Grade B +

Manny’s Movie Musings:  Mexicans illegally crossing into the United States are hunted and killed by a sadistic American (played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and his bloodthirsty dog.   Equipped with a scoped, high-powered rifle, an off-road pickup truck, a well trained dog, and plenty of supplies, Morgan seems to be unstoppable in “Desierto”…until he goes up against two illegals played by Gael Garcia Bernal and Alondra Hidalgo.  Although the movie touches on some current topics in the U.S., “Desierto” is predominantly a story of a psycho taking out mostly innocent people.   My most memorable, movie moment of “Desierto” is **SPOILER ALERT** the scene when Morgan comes upon what Bernal did to his dog.  It was the only time I took pity on Morgan — as evil as Morgan was, he loved his dog; and I know what it’s like to see one’s four-legged friend suffer and die.

— M

Grade B-

Loosely based on the true story of MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) students who counted cards while playing blackjack in casinos.

Jim Sturgess plays an MIT student who is a genius with crunching numbers in his head.  Accepted to Harvard med school, one thing holds him back: lack of money.  Enter Kevin Spacey, a professor who takes Sturgess under his wing and teaches the young man how to count cards while playing blackjack.   Desperate for funds to go to med school, Sturgess joins Spacey and his crew of four MIT students to go to Vegas on a regular basis and win as much as they can from the casinos.  The money comes fast and easy; but someone is always watching, and luck always runs out.

My most memorable, movie moment of “21” is **SPOILER ALERT** the scene when Sturgess finally gets caught by a vicious, casino head of security (played by Larry Fishburne) and has to endure some vigilante justice.

“21” has a few shenanigans, the biggest being: Spacey tells his crew that when they go to casinos, they are to act as if they don’t know each other; yet the five students all go in at the same time, go to bars and clubs and shows together…what the hell?   “21” isn’t for everyone, but for gamblers, this movie should provide a bit of a rush.

— M

Grade B

“The Bourne Legacy” is the 4th “Bourne” movie and the first one that doesn’t have Matt Damon, unless you count pictures of the actor shown in a few scenes for reference.  Taking over the leading role in this movie is Jeremey Renner, playing a super-secret spy working for a super-secret agency within the CIA.  Unfortunately for Renner, he is part of a spy program that produced Jason Bourne (Matt Damon); and since Damon has turned rogue, the CIA fears other agents of the program might also flip out and turn against their handlers.  The super spy programs are torn down, and the super agents are killed off…except for Renner, who barely manages an assassination attempt on his life.

Renner must now evade CIA assassins, which he is very adept at.  His biggest problem are the meds that he has to take on a regular basis so his body doesn’t break down.  This leads him to Rachel Weisz, a doctor whom he has had frequent contact with within the spy program — a doctor who knows too much and is also a target for termination.   Alone, they have no hope of survival — Renner needs his meds and Weisz needs someone to protect her from the assassins and get her “off the grid.”  But together, they might be able to come out of this nightmare alive.

“Legacy” is a good offshoot of the “Bourne” movies, almost as good as the previous three movies.  Where this movie falls short of its predecessors are: 1) the Jason Bourne character is much more likeable; and 2) “Legacy” doesn’t really take off re: intensity and action until about 30 minutes into the movie.

My most memorable, movie moment of “The Bourne Legacy” is the **SPOILER ALERT** scene when Weisz reveals to Renner what his meds do: they enhance his body and mind, essentially making him a superhuman.  This explains how Damon (as Bourne) and Renner can do the amazing things we see them do in these four movies, like beating the hell out of multiple enemies within a matter of seconds.

Fans of the “Bourne” movies will, of course, be disappointed in not having Damon reprise his role.  But this movie is a must-see for “Bourne” fans because it gives more backstory to Jason Bourne and the overall programs that he was tied with; and “Legacy” in and of itself is an entertaining, action flick.

— M

Grade B +

Manny’s Movie Musings: Taking place immediately after the end of “The Bourne Supremacy,” “The Bourne Ultimatum” once again stars Matt Damon as the ex-spy whom the CIA just can’t leave alone.   With the information Damon received in “Supremacy,” he sets out for the U.S. to find out more about who he is and how he came to be the way he is.  Some members of the upper management of the CIA aren’t so happy with Damon being alive and actively seeking information that could bring prison time to said members of CIA upper management, so a standing order to shoot on sight is greenlit on Damon.  But Damon does have two friends in the CIA, possibly giving him all the edge he needs to stay alive and finally unravel the mystery of how he came to be spy.  Director Paul Greengrass ups the ante in this third “Bourne” movie, giving us a faster pacing, more intensity, longer action set pieces, and bigger stakes.  This was a good “end” to the series…if this was truly the end — we know now there were more to come.  My most memorable, movie moment of “The Bourne Ultimatum” is Damon’s fight scene with an assassin named Desh.  As with previous “Bourne” movies, the fights are long, raw and savage, with Damon using household objects to fight and kill his opponents.

— M

Grade B

Manny’s Movie Musings: Matt Damon returns for the second of the “Bourne” movies in “The Bourne Supremacy.”   Living in India with his girlfriend (played by Franka Potente), Damon’s worst fears comes true when he is pursued by a secret agent (Karl Urban).   Believing it is the CIA out to kill him, Damon takes the fight to them, unaware that Urban works for a rich, Russian businessman who wants Damon dead to tie up loose ends that began in the first movie.  Complicating matters is that Urban has framed Damon for the deaths of a few CIA agents.  With two groups out to kill him, Damon not only has to fight to stay alive, he has to figure out why he is being targeted for termination and by who.  Although “Supremacy” has a new director, the feel of the first movie carries over to this one — in other words, if you liked “Identity,” you will like “Supremacy.”  Fast pacing, frenetic action, a likeable hero, and a new revelation of Damon’s past all lead to a very entertaining movie.   My most memorable, movie moment of “The Bourne Supremacy” is the scene when Damon fights another Treadstone agent.   The fight is raw, brutal, and nasty — something “Bourne” fans have come to expect.

— M

Grade B

Manny’s Movie Musings: Matt Damon plays Jason Bourne, a highly trained, U.S. spy whose wounded body is found floating in an ocean by a fishing boat.  With no memory of who he is and what happened to him, he has to piece together how he came to be shot in the back and left for dead; and most importantly, who and what he is.  But Damon must do it fast, as time is running out and the ones he worked for are sending assassins to find him.  “The Bourne Identity” is  top-notch spy movie, filled with action, suspense, and a mystery that is slowly explained as the movie goes on.  Matt Damon is well suited for the role, and with the help of fancy editing, he comes off as a martial arts expert who can quickly dispatch multiple foes in a few seconds.   The movie moves along very fast, making the near two hour running time feel like it’s thirty minutes shorter than it is.  Fast pacing and a likeable hero (Damon) are two big strengths of this movie that fans of spy/thriller/suspense movies should not miss.  My most memorable, movie moment of “The Bourne Identity” is the scene when Damon evades the police with an original Mini car!   Hey, it’s not the car, it’s the driver that counts.

— M

Grade C+

Manny’s Movie Musings: a quirky, mystery/suspense/thriller/comedy that stars Morgana O’Reilly as a criminal under house arrest — her mom’s house!  Angry that she has to be in her estranged mother’s and stepfather’s old, creepy house, O’Reilly sulks and grunts, eats like a pig, drinks like a sailor, and contributes nothing to the family.  But as memories come back of a ghost that supposedly haunts the large house, O’Reilly starts to see and hear things that will make her a true believer.  Working with her parents and her parole officer, O’Reilly will try to solve the mystery of the ghost and what it wants from her.  My most memorable, movie moment of “Housebound”: O’Reilly sitting on a toilet peeing, and we hear her urine streaming into the toilet water.  She hears a noise…her peeing stops; noise stops…she continues to pee; another weird noise near the bathroom…she stops peeing; the weird noise disappears, and we hear her peeing again.  Toilet humor, literally!

— M

Grade A

The most horrifying movie I’ve seen in years comes not from Hollywood, but from Canada, and a low-budget production at that.

“The Witch” is a story set in the 1600s in America.  A family (Ralph Ineson as the father, Anya Taylor-Joy as the eldest daughter, the two main characters) is banished from their community because of Ineson’s strict adherence to the Bible.   They start a new life deep into the wilderness, but an evil lurks within the woods near their home.  One tragedy after another falls upon the family, and their frustrations slowly make them turn on each other until witchcraft is uttered and harsh words escalate into violence.

To be clear, when I say this movie is horrifying, I am not talking about the cheap scares one finds in so many movies…you know, when a creature jumps out at the same time extremely loud music is played.  Any idiot with a cellphone camera can do that.  “The Witch” is masterfully directed in the old-school way (a minimalist approach, if you will, where the camera is set up and kept still, and the actors are left to simply give brilliant performances).  A simple but very creepy score compounds the tension and fear, turning a shot of something that normally can be considered beautiful (such as a wide shot of the woods) into something dreadful.  Watch this movie alone in the dark, and I promise you will feel an evil presence lurking behind you for most of the movie.

My most memorable, movie moment of “The Witch” is the scene when Joy, after being teased and frustrated by her younger sister, grabs and tells her sister that she (Joy) is the true witch of the woods.  That Joy made a pact with the devil, and if the younger sister doesn’t behave, Joy will kill her and eat her pink flesh.  Oh, boy!  You know that conversation is going to come out some day.

Fans of typical horror fare may want to skip “The Witch.”  Unfortunately, many people have been force-fed garbage horror to the point where that is what they are used to; and when they finally watch a well-made horror movie, they are bored and say the movie sucks because they want to see the monster over and over again and get shocked by “jump scares.”  But fans of true horror movies, you should not miss “The Witch.”  A bit of a caveat: this movie is hard to understand because of the actors’ accents and their use of old English.  But pay attention and you’ll get it; and you will be treated to a rare piece of true artwork in filmmaking.

— M

B+

A sci-fi/suspense/thriller that has so many twists and turns, it’ll keep you guessing at the truth all the way to the end.

Mary Elizabeth Winstead plays a woman who wakes up after a car accident only to find herself chained and cuffed to a pipe in a sparse room.  Her captor, creepily played by John Goodman, tells her that there was some kind of attack against the U.S., possibly by Russians, maybe terrorists, maybe Martians.  The air supposedly has been poisoned, and they would need to stay in his doomsday bunker for maybe a year or two for the poisons to dissipate.

Not being a moron, Winstead doubts what she is being told, and her face shows that she thinks she’s going to be a sex slave to this crazed, fat man, or worse, maybe she’s going to be in some type of “Saw” situation.  But then she meets another man — played by John Gallagher Jr. — who is also in the bunker.  Gallagher confirms to Winstead that he saw some type of flash in the air, and then he rushed to Goodman’s bunker and fought his way in so that he could survive.  But Winstead still has her doubts.  She has no idea who these two country boys are, and Goodman’s disturbing behavior — such as flipping out over the slightest thing — makes Winstead even more guarded.

Was there an attack that wiped out a good chunk of the U.S. and left the air poisoned?  Is Goodman lying so he can have a pretty woman stay in his bunker with his fat, creepy self?  Is Gallagher lying also, and possibly partners with Goodman to keep Winstead from leaving the bunker?

One thing Winstead will be sure of as time goes by: the threat inside the bunker is as dangerous as the real or imaginary threat outside.

One of my memorable moments of this movie is the scene when Winstead and Gallagher look at a photo of a girl who is supposed to be Goodman’s daughter.  I’ll leave it at that.

My most memorable, movie moment of “10 Cloverfield Lane” is the scene at the end when Winstead sees absolute proof of what is really going on.  Again, I’ll leave it at that.

“10 Cloverfield Lane” is a much better movie than I had hoped for.  It has a heroine who is not your typical, damsel in distress — Winstead’s character is mentally tough and very resourceful.  The movie is unpredictable, the tension remains high for the majority of the story, and the acting is top notch.

Yes, Maximus, I was surprised to be so entertained by this movie.

— M

Grade A

A tale of the future when society breaks down after a natural resource is depleted.  Food becomes scarce, the population rapidly diminishes, and those few who survive live a bleak existence where everything has to be fought for.

Martin McCann plays a man living alone in a small cabin in a forest.  He has a little garden that provides enough food for one person, a double-barreled shotgun with only two shells, and empty cans attached to a string as an intruder alarm.  Wake up, wash, garden, chop wood, walk the perimeter, cook, eat, sleep, repeat…until one day, when two women (Mia Goth and Olwen Fouere, playing daughter and mother, respectively) come upon his cabin asking for food.  The women try to barter jewelry and pumpkin seeds for food, but McCann refuses.  Fouere offers Goth for sex, and McCann accepts.

A very uneasy and temporary truce is struck between McCann and the women who want to stay in return for helping with the garden and Goth continuing to have sex with McCann; but even with the extra help, there still won’t be enough food for three people.  Using all her skills, Goth convinces McCann to let her and her mom stay a bit longer.  As McCann lets his guard down a little, Goth and Fouere plot to disarm and kill their host, but the mother/daughter  forget that there are other threats in the forest, both tangible and intangible.

My most memorable, movie moment of “The Survivalist” is the scene when McCann is about to urinate on soil to fertilize it; but instead he fixates on a picture of a woman and starts masturbating!

The scene mentioned above is the only funny part of the movie, which is dark, depressing, and surprisingly a bit hopeful.  “The Survivalist” is a rarity in the movie business: a very low-budget, post-apocalyptic movie that packs a hell of an emotional punch that you will feel long after the end credits stop.

— M

Grade A

Brie Larson plays a woman who was kidnapped by a man and kept in a small “Room” for seven years.   She is there with her five-year-old son (Jacob Tremblay), a product of her repeated rape.  To shield her son’s mind from the brutal truth of their situation, Larson tells Tremblay that there isn’t much of the world to see outside of their room.  The boy is told that outside, there is nothing but space; and that their captor — nicknamed Old Nick — is a guy who brings in things they need (clothes, food, toothpaste, etc.) by means of magic.

Shortly after the boy’s fifth birthday, Tremblay’s curiosity of the captor/rapist leads to violence against Larson at the hands of Old Nick.  The time has come for Larson to reveal their true situation to Tremblay in order to get him on board to make an escape attempt, but it is too much for the the five-year-old to process, and therefore he doesn’t accept it.  Crushed, Larson weeps with the thought of many more years of captivity and rape.  How long can this go on before Old Nick tires of them both and just leaves them in the room to die?  And then…Tremblay starts asking Larson about the world, and if what he sees on t.v. is real or fake.  The mother piques her son’s interest enough for him to want to take part in escaping their room.  A risky plan is hatched, one that can lead to both mother and son being killed if things go wrong.

One of my memorable, movie moments of “Room” is **SPOILER ALERT** the scene when Old Nick carries the supposedly dead body of Tremblay out of the room to bury in the woods.  Larson is left behind, her face a mix of emotions: so far her plan worked; but what if Old Nick becomes wise to the trick and kills her son; maybe the son will escape but not know how to send help to the mother, leaving Larson a bleak existence of living alone in the room for the rest of her life.

My most memorable, movie moment of “Room” is **SPOILER ALERT** the scene when Larson is asked by a reporter if it ever occurred to Larson to ask Old Nick to take her son to a hospital when he was a baby, so that he can be found and taken care of and be free.  Larson is stunned, and offers an explanation of her decision to keep Tremblay with her.  It is an understandable explanation, given her situation; but the reporter presses Larson, asking her if that was the best decision for her son’s welfare.  Of course, we know the answer is no; and judging from Larson’s face, she also comes to the same conclusion.

The first 1/3 of “Room” takes place inside a small shed where Larson and Tremblay are imprisoned.  That the audience can be riveted for 45 minutes with two characters — plus a third who shows up intermittently — in a setting smaller than the size of an average living room is a testament to the talents of the actors, director, writer and editor.  Short on money but loaded with quality and talent, “Room” deserves your time and attention.

— M

Grade A

Part comedy, part drama, part suspense and part horror — unless you don’t think being unemployed and homeless is horrifying — “The Big Short” is an eye-opening, crazy ride into the world of financial markets and how the world economy collapsed in 2008/2009.

A handful of traders and investors (played by Steve Carell, Christian Bale, and Ryan Gosling, to name a few) have found serious flaws in the U.S. housing market that would cause it to collapse and take the entire U.S. economy — and those of other countries — down with it.  They decide to go “short” (basically a bet that prices will fall) against the housing market.  These men are laughed at and ridiculed by the rest of the traders/investors/banks who take the opposite bet; but eventually the financial apocalypse that so few had the vision to see — and the balls to take advantage of — will come, bringing such a wide swath of destruction that the effects are still felt by the entire world as I write this.

One of my memorable moments of this movie is the scene when Gosling is trying to do business with Carell to take a large, short position on the housing market.  Carell and his guys ask for the math on Gosling’s findings.  Gosling points to a young, Asian guy and tells Carell and his crew that the Asian guy is his math specialist!  “Look at his face, look at his eyes,” Gosling says.  Ha ha!   Yes, it was a racist comment; but it was also funny as hell.  I’m Asian, and I laughed my ass off — and even if I wasn’t Asian, I’d still laugh my ass off.  Don’t be so sensitive…the world isn’t here to tiptoe around your feelings.

My most memorable, movie moment of “The Big Short” is the scene when Carell is in a restaurant asking a manager of a CDO fund (Collateralized Debt Obligation, which is a financial instrument that was filled with garbage a few years prior to the financial collapse of 2008/2009) what he does and what is in his CDO fund and who the manager really works for.   This scene quickly sums up the high level of greed and callousness in the financial markets that helped usher in all that pain for hundreds of millions of workers all throughout the world.   This scene is infuriating to watch.

For those not at all knowledgeable about the financial markets, “The Big Short” can be confusing despite a few segments where celebrities — playing themselves — explain things in a more simplified form.   But this will be easily understandable by all: there were a lot of shenanigans going on in the U.S. government, the ratings agencies, the traders/investors/brokers, real estate companies, banks, investment banks, and last but definitely not least, the numerous people who took out housing loans who had no idea what they were getting into.

Bottom line: whether you’re into stocks or bonds or currencies or commodities, it’s gambling.  Know exactly what you’re getting into.

— M

 

Grade B

You’ve heard of the saying “truth is stranger than fiction?”  In general, that’s a load of b.s.  What truth can compare with “Star Wars” or “The Lord Of The Rings?”  But in the case of “Moby Dick” and the true story from which Herman Melville based his novel on, the truth was much stranger — and horrifying — than fiction.

“In The Heart Of The Sea” tells the harrowing, true tale of the sailors of the Essex, a whaling ship from Massachusetts that was hit and sunk by a Sperm Whale.  The crew to was forced to use their small, whaling boats as lifeboats; and they crammed as much supplies as they could salvage from the sinking Essex.   Hundreds of miles from the nearest mainland, their supplies didn’t last long; and, ironically, fish was not readily available in the part of the ocean that they were in.  Thirst and hunger would turn the survivors to the only food source available: each other.

One of my memorable, movie moments is the scene when the crew of the Essex hunts its first whale.  Chris Hemsworth, playing the First Mate, harpoons the giant creature and takes Hemsworth and his men on a “Nantucket sleigh ride.”  The whale swims deep into the sea, desperate to escape the men who are trying to kill it.  Running out of oxygen, wounded from the harpoon, and tired from the struggle, the whale surfaces and Hemsworth makes the killing blow.  The whale spouts up blood and soon dies.  The men rejoice at their first kill…but Hemsworth isn’t so pleased with having to kill this majestic creature.  It’s his job, yes, and he needs the money to take care of his family (a wife and baby on the way); but he knows what he does isn’t completely justified.

My most memorable, movie moment of “In The Heart Of The Sea” is the scene when Hemsworth’s whaling boat has its first casualty: a sailor who has died from exposure, starvation, and thirst.  The other survivors are about to throw the body into the ocean; but Hemsworth has other ideas.  He tells his men that “No right-minded sailor discards what might yet save him.”

At first the sailors only eat the ones who have died.  But when the bodies have been consumed and the survivors were still out in the ocean, they begin to draw lots to decide who would be killed so that the others may live.  “ITHOTS” doesn’t delve too deeply into the cannibalism parts of the movie, rather it concentrates on the relationships of the sailors among themselves and their general fight for survival; and in the capable hands of director Ron Howard, it does that very well.

One bit of fact about the true story of the men of the Essex that I don’t recall was put into the movie: after the ship was sunk, the captain wanted to head for some islands that he knew they could get to before their provisions ran out; but his men scared him off with tales of cannibals in those islands.

— M

Natalie Dormer plays a woman with an identical, twin sister who has suicidal tendencies.  One night she has a dream that her sister, who is in Japan, is in trouble.  After making inquiries with the local authorities, Dormer is told her sister went to the infamous Aokigahara forest where people go to commit suicide.  The missing sister has not been seen for days, and it is presumed that she had killed herself.  Dormer doesn’t believe her sister is dead because she still senses that she is alive, and so she travels to Japan…and that’s when the nightmare starts.

With the reluctant help of a local tour guide — apparently, the haunted forest is a tourist attraction — and an Australian visitor/travel writer (played by Taylor Kinney), Dormer goes off the safe path and searches for her missing sister deep in “The Forest.”  She is warned many times by locals to stay on the safe path as there are angry spirits in the forest, and if she has sadness in her heart — which she does — the spirits will use it to trick her into seeing and hearing things that may lead her to kill herself!

Not believing the locals’ warnings, Dorman presses on with her search and finds her sister’s tent, but no sister.  Night is about to fall, and Dorman is warned repeatedly by her companions to leave the forest and come back in the morning.  Refusing to leave because Dorman has come so far and she believes she is close to finding her twin, Dorman chooses to stay in her sister’s campsite.  Kinney, wanting to help and somewhat enamored by Dorman, decides to stay with Dorman.  The look that the local guide gives the two white people is priceless!  He tells them to stay put and he’ll be back at first light.  The guide leaves, and for the next 24 hours, Dorman will be in a fight for her sanity and life.

My most memorable, movie moment of “The Forest” is the scene when Dorman is in a dark hallway, and the dim lights are flickering on and off.  At the far end of the hallway, there is movement, and whatever it is slowly comes closer with each flicker of the lights.  The first 2/3 of this scene is great — in fact I would say it was masterfully executed.  But the director and writer resorted to ending this scene with a cheap scare.  What could have been a great scene has been demoted to a good one.

Another memorable moment of “The Forest” is the scene when Dormer looks at a stream in the forest and sees a body floating from right to left, going in the direction of the water flow.  Seconds  later she sees the direction of the water reverse, going from left to right.  Is she imagining things, or are these strange visions really happening?

Bottom line, “The Forest” is a decent horror movie, filled with cheap thrills and two or three genuinely scary moments. It’s like a burger with “the works”: lots of flavor, some nuance and subtlety can be discerned, but no one will ever mistake it for fine dining.

— M

“Sicario” takes us into the brutal world of Mexican drug cartels, their infiltration into the United States, and America’s response to this threat, legal and illegal.   This is a dark, twisted version of “Alice In Wonderland,” and could be titled “Alice The FBI Agent in Cartel Land.”

Emily Blunt is “Alice The FBI Agent” who volunteers to work with an inter-agency team to bring down high-ranking members of a Mexican, drug cartel that have set up shop in the U.S.  Josh Brolin is the secretive “Cheshire Cat” who leads the team — he grins and smirks often, but behind those smiling eyes is a cold-blooded soldier who will carry out his orders any way he can.  More shadowy than Brolin is Benicio Del Toro, the “Mad Hatter” who has an “appointment” with the leader of the Mexican cartel so he can fulfill his own agenda, whatever that may be.  Blunt can, at any time, remove herself from the inter-agency team and go home; but she wants to know how deep the rabbit hole goes and what is at the end of it despite the risks to her career, her sanity, and her life.

At the top of the list for my memorable, movie moments of “Sicario” is the part when Blunt and her teammates have an upper-echelon cartel member in their possession and they are on their way back to the U.S. border.  Traffic at the checkpoint is a nightmare and the area has become a parking lot.  The Americans know they are in a good spot for an ambush by the drug dealers, and within seconds they spot two cars loaded with serious looking Mexicans carrying an assortment of guns.

Taking the number two spot for my memorable moments of this movie is the scene when Blunt’s team crossed over into Mexico in their black SUVs, and moments later they are escorted by a dozen Mexican police vehicles manned by fully armored cops carrying heavy weapons.  Blunt takes all this in with widened eyes which grow more fearful when she spots naked, headless bodies of men hanging from a trestle, presumably victims of the cartels.

It’s rare for a movie to keep up a high level of intensity through most of the story, but “Sicario” does just that.  There are many “critics” out there who are secretly paid by movie studios to use phrases like “grabs you and won’t let go until the end” in their reviews.  Well, “Sicario” does just that: it grabs your attention from the first shot to the last.  I was very entertained, Maximus!

— M

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