Archive for the ‘ Suspense ’ Category

Nightcrawler

A sick and disturbing movie that is also often funny and enlightening, Nightcrawler has a lot of elements working in its favor. It’s thrilling, has great acting, is about something, and keeps you wondering and waiting to see what will happen next. It delivers on its promises, gives us an intriguing premise and cast, and while it wears out its welcome a few minutes before the end, is enthralling for the vast majority of its running time.

The film centers on Louis Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal), someone whom we first see as a simple thief. He’s driven and hard-working, and also a bit too … up front about himself and his intentions. But he’s also very smart. One day, while driving along the freeway, he notices a car crash. He pulls over and watches freelancers with cameras. He’s told that this team isn’t looking to hire anyone, but decides to try this job on his own. He steals a bike, sells it to a pawn shop, buys a camcorder and police radio, and begins filming horrific scenes. He sells the tapes to news director, Nina (Rene Russo).

This goes on for some time, and most of the film consists of following Louis — along with his sidekick, Rick (Riz Ahmed), to various crimes, at which point both men will film it and then sell the tape to Nina. But as we progress, we see that the crimes are escalating, and that Louis starts to manipulate them in order to get a better shot. Maybe that’s just moving a picture frame next to a bullet hole, or maybe it’s moving a dead body so the wide shot catches everything.

Exactly how far will Louis Bloom go? That’s the question that we ask ourselves as Nightcrawler plays. I mean, Louis initially comes off as a little odd, but is he a full-blown sociopath? Well, you’ll find the answer to that when you watch Nightcrawler. It’s quite the thrill to see it all work itself out. Louis is a compelling anti-hero, someone you love to hate, or hate to love, or some other cliché like that, and watching him work is as enjoyable as watching anyone who’s insanely good at their job. It’s like watching art. And since you’re watching a movie, you are watching art. Clever film.

Nightcrawler is also interested at examining the way that television news functions, particularly when it comes to the morality of showing violent and disturbing images, or what the stations will do in order to get the highest ratings. It’s not a flat condemnation, but … actually, I mostly is. But, then, you’re watching a violent and twisted movie for much the same reason. So, I guess it works, doesn’t it? Now don’t you feel bad?

The film is suitably creepy, just like its main character. But it’s also assured of what it’s doing, is smarter than your average thriller, and looks quite good while doing it. It’s been directed by Dan Gilroy, who has never before directed a feature film, but has written the screenplay for a few — most notably, The Bourne Legacy — and clearly understands what makes a movie work. Now, if we could tighten up the pacing a little bit, cut the film down by 10-15 minutes, we’d have an even better product.

Still, it’s all very much watchable because of how good everything is, and because of how compelling Jake Gyllenhaal is in the lead role. It’s hard to call him unhinged in the role, since he’s a calculating individual, but some of his facial expressions will remind you a lot of someone like Patrick Batemen — except that he’s in a much better movie, of course. Gyllenhaal hasn’t played a character quite like this one before, and his performance in Nightcrawler will wind up standing as one of his best performances when his career is all said and done.

Nightcrawler is all at once a film with a lot on its mind, a way to say it, and a filmmaker behind the camera who knows how to captivate and creep out an audience. What results is an interesting, complicated ride whose plot seems basic at first but whose success lies in the details and in the performance of Jack Gyllenhaal. It’s a creepy thrill ride of a movie that goes on for about 10 minutes too long, but otherwise is enthralling and well worth seeing.

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The Scribbler

While it’s unlikely to find itself high on the totem pole of graphic novel/comic book adaptations, The Scribbler is a pretty fun movie filled with ideas and thoughts that … it ultimately doesn’t really do a whole lot with, but whatever. It talks a lot about conformity and mental illness — and the treatment thereof — but then settles all of its problems with a stylized but otherwise not terribly impressive action scene. It’s just weird enough to work.

Our protagonist is Suki (Katie Cassidy), someone who suffers from multiple personality disorder, and also probably schizophrenia. She’s finally “recovered” enough to be released into a halfway house, which here is a large apartment building. How is she being treated? Well, she gets hooked up to a machine and undergoes a procedure known as “The Siamese Burn.” The process fries part of her brain and cuts down on the number of personalities she has. I think she began the film with a dozen, and by the time the plot really kicks into action, she’s down to 6. It works, but sometimes leaves her waking up days later, having no idea what her body did — controlled by one of the personalities — during that time.

And, believe it or not, as soon as she moves into this building, people start committing suicide. Well, they do so at a higher rate than before — and the rate before was 36%, so you can only imagine how frequently people are jumping to their deaths. And all of the suicides happen after Suki used her machine and had no idea what’s happening. Most of The Scribbler takes place during a police interrogation, during which time a cop (Michael Imperioli) and a psychiatrist (Eliza Dushku) listen to Suki tell them her version of the events.

Essentially what The Scribbler boils down to is Suki trying to solve this mystery, while also finding out that there’s the potential that this machine might fry her real personality and leave one of the “other” ones. The film at times ponders exactly what a “real” personality even is, and raises questions regarding identity and sanity. It … kind of answers some of them, I guess.

What The Scribbler does do is keep us intrigued for almost its entire running time. For most of the film, it really does look like it’s one of Suki’s identities that’s doing the murders, and watching her internal struggle with this is compelling. Sometimes we get to hear her multiple personalities in the form of overlapping voiceovers. It’s weird but it’s also interesting, and you want to see how it all plans on playing out.

The film has been shot with a stylized aesthetic, done partly to capture the look of the comic book, but also probably for budget reasons. You shoot something a certain way, and you can get away with financial shortcomings. As a result, The Scribbler doesn’t often look cheap, save for when it tries to use a great deal of special effects, which mostly show up near the end in that aforementioned action scene. There’s a bit of weird technology before that, but it’s mostly done practically and looks good.

It’s surprising the quality of cast the filmmakers attracted to this project. The good acting certainly helps the film. Katie Cassidy in the leading role was a good decision. She plays a fractured individual really well. In supporting roles, we have Michelle Trachtenberg, Eliza Dushku, Michael Imperioli, Billy Campbell, Garret Dillahunt, Sasha Grey, and Kunal Nayyar. That’s not a cast to laugh at. These are (mostly) accomplished actors who may not all be household names — if any of them are — but are good in small roles in this film.

The Scribbler ultimately doesn’t take full advantage of its premise — it raises a lot of questions and mentions a lot of topics that it doesn’t really want to answer or fully explore — but it’s a stylish adaptation of a graphic novel that is certainly worth watching if you’re a fan of the original work, of graphic novels in general, or just want to see a different take on the “is he/she crazy?” genre. It’s weird, and I’m sure some people will outright hate it, but I had a lot of fun with The Scribbler.

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Stonehearst Asylum

Perhaps it’s the involvement of Ben Kingsley, or the fact that it’s set in a mental asylum, but Stonehearst Asylum bought back memories of Shutter Island, which if you’ll recall was a great film. Stonehearst Asylum isn’t of the same quality, but it’s still quite an enjoyable movie, assuming you don’t look for anything deeper within its walls. If you sit back and enjoy its Gothic aesthetic, creepy atmosphere, and fun cast of characters, you’ll have a good time.

Our lead is Dr. Edward Newgate (Jim Sturgess), a graduate from Oxford who specializes in treatment of the clinically insane. He’s decided to go to Stonehearst Asylum to gain practical experience. He’s greeted less than warmly by the superintendent, Finn (David Thewlis), but after inside he meets the head doctor, Silas Lamb (Kingsley), and things get off to a better start. Silas has unconventional methods to treating his patients — basically because he doesn’t do a whole lot of treatment at all. He lets them free roam, plays into their delusions, and even lets them dine with the staff. He believes that making them happy is better than making them miserable, even if the latter has a better chance of treating them.

Newgate finds himself transfixed on a certain patient, Eliza Graves (Kate Beckinsale), whom we’d already seen in our film’s first scene, during which she was shown by a professor (Brendan Gleeson) as having symptoms that are triggered by physical contact. She bit her husband’s ear off, after all. Newgate seems convinced that she’s relatively normal, and even goes so far as to make advances toward her.

Anything more would be telling. There’s an early twist which I’ll go ahead and say falls into spoiler territory, even though it does change the entire film from that point on. Let’s just say that the asylum’s hierarchy isn’t exactly as I’ve described, and there’s a certain saying about role reversals in asylums that very well might apply. By the way, even if you think I’ve given it all away, it doesn’t matter; the film isn’t about the twist, and knowing it is only part of the fun.

What it is about is its wonderful atmosphere, beautiful aesthetic, constant tension, and … a quest that I can’t say any more about. Oh, and it might, possibly, make you think about the way that we treat — or treated, given that the film is set right around the year 1900 — the mentally ill. But, mostly, it’s about wandering around this asylum, feeling a little scared while doing so, and just enjoying your time with the people and the setting.

You may not be surprised to learn that a movie like this one is based on the Edgar Allan Poe short story “The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether.” It’s not identical in plot or anything, but if you’ve read and enjoyed the story, you’ll want to check out the film to see how the adaptation plays to you. And, if you see the movie, I’d say there’s a good chance you’ll want to go back and read the source material (again). I know that it gave me that sort of desire.

Stonehearst Asylum has a very compelling group of actors to watch, some of them playing insane people — to varying degrees, of course. It’s too bad none of them have to ever show any emotional depth. The characters are too underwritten to have things like feelings; they act in service of the plot, or in proving a point, not because they’re people with feeling and emotions. Still, Jim Sturgess is a reliably charming lead, Ben Kingsley can play any role of sophistication, and Kate Beckinsale … is beautiful and therefore works as an object of the protagonist’s desire.

Stonehearst Asylum doesn’t have a lot going on beneath its skin, but it’ll be able to get under yours thanks to its wonderful cast, Gothic aesthetic, and occasionally creepy atmosphere. Will it terrify you? Probably not, but it has a few moments of horror and it generates a constant stream of suspense. It has a couple of surprising revelations, good performances, and, hey — at least it isn’t another movie about a serial killer murdering teenagers. Or is it? (No, it’s not.)

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John Wick

You know how some people play video games they have played a dozen times or more, just trying to breeze through in the least amount of time and in the most efficient way possible? The video game players call them “speed runs,” and John Wick very much felt like that’s what I was watching, just with more style, better acting, more humor, a better idea of what world we are living in, and less tedium. But, still, our hero feels a lot like the protagonist in a speed run of the latest first-person shooter.

John Wick (Keanu Reeves) is a retired hitman whose wife dies of some unnamed disease almost the very first scene of the film. A day later, he receives a dog in the mail, with a sweet letter from his wife telling him that, since he can’t love her anymore, he should love this dog. It’s a very cute dog. But, before you know it, some Russian gangsters have broken into his house, killed the dog, and stolen his incredibly nice Mustang — don’t ask me to tell you what it is beyond “a Mustang,” since my knowledge of cars is exactly null.

So, John decides to take revenge. The main perpetrator was Iosef (Alfie Allen), who is the son of a big-time criminal, Viggo (Michael Nyqvist). Viggo and John used to be partners, but John manages to get out of the business, and there’s not a lot of ill-will between them. But Viggo knows that John was the best of the best, and that his son will most likely die. In addition to a whole host of nameless guards — who serve as cannon fodder — he enlists the help of two other hitmen to try to take out John: Ms. Perkins (Adrianne Palicki), and Marcus (Willem Dafoe).

Most of John Wick consists of our hero walking into a place and promptly shooting the dozen or so Russians that are there before getting a clue as to where his target will be. Rinse and repeat about five times, and you have John Wick. When Viggo told his son — and the audience — that John was the very best, “the man you hire to kill the Boogeyman,” he wasn’t joking. John is playing on easy mode.

Watching John progress through these action scenes is a visceral joy. He does it with such grace, style, easy, and efficiency that you can’t help but love watching him go about it. These scenes are so wonderfully choreographed and performed that they do make John seem like the coolest hitman you’ve ever seen. He seems to know exactly where everyone will be at any given moment, and a couple of body shots of a headshot later, and he’s already moved onto the next target. It’s incredibly entertaining.

I figured this would get boring, but it doesn’t. The action scenes aren’t all the same, which helps. They take place in a few different locations, and consists of a little more than just random gunfights. But the film also manages to create intrigue into its world, which was a nice added touch. There’s a whole code by which these characters live, including having a hotel designated just for hitmen, under which no business can be conducted. Even though John’s been retired for several years, everyone knows him and lets him go about his business. John Wick gives us these details in short bursts that seem unimportant at the time, but you piece them together and start to realize just how well this world was thought out.

It’s surprising how many laugh-out-loud moments are contained within John Wick, but there are a number of them. Perhaps the funniest parts come from single-word responses. Not one-liners, but one-worders — which should become a thing, by the way. A simple “oh” can go a long way, which is something you’ll find out with this film.

John Wick is a very enjoyable action movie. It has wonderful action scenes that are filled with flair and are choreographed and performed wonderfully by the cast. It’s surprisingly funny, too, and contains some impressive world-building, which is a nice added touch. John Wick isn’t a deep character, and Keanu Reeves acting is hit-or-miss, but he certainly does well with the action scenes. This is a dark and exhilarating action movie, and if you’re a fan of action, this isn’t one to miss.

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Disturbing Behavior

Being the new kid in a small town isn’t the easiest experience on the best of days. Everyone else already knows each other; you stand out from the crowd without so much as saying a word. Now imagine being the new kid in a town where the most prominent faction — the Blue Ribbons — are all perfect angels. Except that they might actually be pure evil, and that you are the only person who will be able to stop them. Such is the life of Steve (James Marsden), who begins Disturbing Behavior moving to Cradle Bay, a coastal town.

Steve immediately befriends some outcasts. Gavin (Nick Stahl) is a stoner. U.V. (Chad E. Donella) is also a stoner. Rachel (Katie Holmes) is “the girl.” She’s friends with the stoners so she’s probably also a stoner. A rundown of the cliques and factions occurs, and we’re shown the Blue Ribbons, and how perfect they are, even if something doesn’t seem right about them. It’s like they’re too perfect, and also people sometimes wind up dead. Former outcasts are met by Blue Ribbons and instantly “converted.” It’s almost as if mind control is being used…

More and more people start becoming Blue Ribbons until it’s eventually time to do something about it. So, Steve and co. have to both uncover just exactly what’s going on with the Blue Ribbons, and then put a stop to them. That is assuming, of course, that something is actually wrong with them. I wouldn’t want to give that away, now, would I? Wait. Of course I would. Something is definitely wrong with them. We wouldn’t have a movie if there wasn’t.

In theory, Disturbing Behavior is supposed to be a horror movie, or perhaps a semi-scary thriller. It is neither. There are no scares or thrills to be found. There is also no character development, good acting, competent dialogue, or anything beyond a kind of interesting premise. I’m not sure what someone is supposed to get out of Disturbing Behavior but it’s something that I wasn’t able to find. From almost start to finish, there was nothing to enjoy about this production. It was dull and dumb.

There are barely enough ideas here to make a feature film. Disturbing Behavior runs just over 80 minutes and about half of that probably could have been trimmed. The film’s director is David Nutter, whose greatest prior success was probably directing some X-Files episodes. At 44 minutes long, Disturbing Behavior probably would have been more successful. It would play well on the small screen, too. Consumed with commercial breaks and all, it would distract for an hour of TV while you wait for the next sports game to come on, or right before bed.

But as a feature film? It’s just not good. The standards are raised when you’re asking your audience to pay ten bucks or however much to view your product, and when it’s not even as good as a mystery TV show they could watch for free, you’ve got some problems. The only reason to watch Disturbing Behavior is if it’s on late-night cable and you can’t sleep. Chances are that it’ll put you right to sleep. Writing about it now is giving me just that sensation.

There’s a good chance that the film was made quickly and cheaply, done when the actors had some free time over a couple of weeks just to try to turn a quick profit. You know those comedy films that show up every now and then that look like buddy hang-out projects? Same kind of thing, except I have no idea if the actors here are friends in real life. I do know that they’re bland and don’t show any acting talent in this film, but I don’t know if that’s a fair indication. I don’t know how easy it would be to show enthusiasm for this project.

Disturbing Behavior probably had a decent idea for a movie buried somewhere within it, but that premise doesn’t shine through in the finished product. This is a dull, drab, and dumb movie with very few, if any, redeeming qualities. It’s not scary, it’s not thrilling, it doesn’t make you think, it doesn’t make you feel, and it won’t make you appreciate a single aspect about it. There are TV shows with better episodes that require half the time and none of the financial investment (assuming you have cable). Watch one of those instead.

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