Archive for the ‘ Suspense ’ Category

White Bird in a Blizzard

Kat (Shailene Woodley) was 17 when her mother disappeared. We’re told this, what, three times over White Bird in a Blizzard? It’s at least twice. But, yes, her mother, Eve (Eva Green), disappears and is never seen from again, except in Kat’s dreams and nightmares. Oh, and in flashbacks, which comprise much of the film. I’m guessing we see so much of her because they hired a name actor to play the character.

How does the film play out? Well, mostly we just follow Kat as she goes about her business. She eventually goes to college, and returns home over a break to catch up with her father (Christopher Meloni), her old boyfriend (Shiloh Fernandez), and the detective (Thomas Jane) who was supposed to be looking for her mother, but wound up having an affair with her instead. Oh, and Kat also has friends (Gabourey Sidibe and Mark Indelicato), with whom she gossips and drinks.

Saying much more beyond that would be telling. It really does just follow Kat around for a while. During this time, we watch her grow up a little bit, learn that young adults need to separate themselves from their parents — living or dead, missing or right there — and … very little else. There’s a half-baked mystery plot involving Eve and where she might have gone, as well as a “twist” ending, which really isn’t a twist at all, and in fact should only come as a surprise to one of the film’s characters, but mostly it revels in just watching its lead. We enjoy that the most, too.

What’s the point of it all? Is White Bird in a Blizzard a critique of less-than-modern — it’s set in the late ’80s and early ’90s — suburbia? Is it just a coming-of-age story? You watch it all, enjoy a good chunk of it, and then reflect back and struggle think of what the whole point was. It doesn’t work as a mystery-thriller, its characters aren’t particularly deep, and there’s very little driving it forward. So, what makes it work? The dreamlike wonder with which it approaches its subject matter? The naturalistic dialogue? Director Gregg Araki’s approach to filmmaking?

Maybe it’s a little of all of that, in addition to good acting. Even if the characters aren’t particularly deep — only Kat gets any sense of characterization beyond the superficial — the acting is still very solid. If Shailene Woodley keeps turning in performances like she has here — and in other, kind of similar roles like The Fault in Our Stars and The Spectacular Now — she’s going to draw even more comparisons to Jennifer Lawrence, who many are currently saying is the best young actress working.

Meanwhile, Eva Green commands the screen as well as she ever as in a small but vital role. She’s quickly becoming one of those must-see actors, the type who are watchable in anything. Christopher Meloni’s intentionally subdued performance works well, especially in the few scenes he shares with his fiery wife or daughter. Gabourey Sidibe and Mark Indelicato are good in supporting roles, essentially existing to let Woodley play off for a few moments. And Thomas Jane is … actually kind of forgettable in his role.

The film is based on the novel of the same name, written by Laura Kasischke, and is said to be a relatively close adaptation, albeit with a different ending. If you’re a fan of the book, then you should check out the movie. It won’t offend you — at least, not because it’s a poor adaptation. It might offend you with some of its dialogue or content, but, then, it has been made by Gregg Araki. He wouldn’t be doing his job if you weren’t at least a tad bit uncomfortable while watching it.

White Bird in a Blizzard isn’t going to make you think too hard or care too much, but for the 90 minutes it’s on-screen, it’ll entertain. It’ll be an uncomfortable watch, at times, but also a moderately engaging one. The small moments are better than the big picture; the acting and the dialogue make them more enjoyable than the central mystery. Shailene Woodley is great in the lead, most of the supporting cast members do the best with what they’re given, and you’re not going to have a dull time with this movie.


Time Lapse

Time Lapse is a film that didn’t quite seem to be aware of what to do with itself after establishing its initial idea for a premise. It’s a really good premise, one which allowed it to at least initially seem intriguing. But that good faith only lasts about an hour, after which you have to wonder how the film is going to end. It didn’t seem too sure, itself, so it kind of whimpers out instead of building toward something thrilling and dramatic.

Primarily a three-person film set in just two buildings — but mostly one room — Time Lapse is about these individuals finding out that their neighbor across the way, who has mysteriously vanished, invented a camera that, every night at 8:00 P.M., takes a photograph 24 hours into the future. The three people: Finn (Matt O’Leary), the painter; Callie (Danielle Panabaker), Finn’s girlfriend; and Jasper (George Finn), the gambler. Oh, and they also discover their neighbor’s dead body, but decide that reporting that would be silly.

Their initial idea is that the neighbor died because he tried to alter the future. As long as they do exactly what’s shown on each photograph, precisely at 8:00, then they’ll be fine. They can even try to use it for financial gain. Post up the next day’s race results and gamble their way to riches. Well, that’s Jasper’s idea. The photographs also show Finn’s paintings, and since he’s been in a bit of a creative rut, he uses that as inspiration. What Callie gets out of this is anyone’s guess. She’s mostly just there for the ride.

Eventually, though, things take a turn for the worst. The camera starts spitting out images that aren’t the most pleasant. Callie cheats on Finn. Ivan (Jason Spisak), the bookie, shows up. Finn’s paintings get less detailed and look like they’re done in a rush. What’s going on, well, you’ll have to watch Time Lapse to really find out, since I’m not going to spoil it, although it takes a few different turns and explanations right near its conclusion, so I’m not sure if I even could spoil it.

It gets confusing and too complex. I know that time travel stories often do, but that’s not really an excuse. There’s a lengthy explanation by one of the characters at the end, and it’s just … it’s not necessary. It’s another twist for the sake of it, and the film already had a couple of those. It really didn’t seem like Time Lapse had a set direction. It was just hoping to find something, and when an idea came up, it was thrown into the screenplay and used until another idea was thought of.

The result is a film that doesn’t have a lot of weight to it. Things can flip on a dime, and that can often mean that some events that happened before cease to really matter. There’s a whole “cheating” thing thrown in, but because the next photo showed something else — something worse — it’s barely ever brought up, even with how important it seemed to be in the moment. Once the camera shows one bad thing, it never shows another nice one. It’s too much, and too scatterbrained.

I’ve said a lot of not-exactly-positive things about Time Lapse, but the truth of the matter is that, despite its flaws, it’s also kind of fun. The premise does buy it quite a lot of good will, and even though very little of it matters outside of the moment, it’s still somewhat tense and thrilling as it’s happening. And, I mean, I did want to know how it would wind up ending, even if it wasn’t particularly sure, either. What’ll happen to these people? More importantly, what’ll happen to the camera? I was intrigued and often thrilled. And confused.

Time Lapse starts out with a great premise but before too long gets distracted and goes in every which direction. It eventually wants to make sense of it all, but it doesn’t. It’s scatterbrained and goes out with less of a bang and more of a whimper. And yet, it’s fairly engaging, usually thrilling — and that premise buys it a lot of good will. It works in the moment, even if you might get tired of what it has to offer before it ends. A 90-minute cut might prevent that. And a script re-write. But it’s too late for that, unless we re-wind time.


God’s Slave

In 1994, there were bombings that took place in Buenos Aires. God’s Slave is inspired by those bombings. It follows two different people, one on each side of the, uh, law, I guess, and essentially involves a race. Will the good guy find the bad guy before he can blow himself up? Or, that’s what it initially looks like. I’ll explain.

One of our leads is Ahmed (Mohammed Alkhaldi), someone whose parents were murdered when he was just a boy, so he was taken in by some Islamic terrorists and told to go into hiding under a fake name. He can start a family, work as a doctor, and so on. But when they call — when it’s “his time” — he needs to be ready to carry out the mission for which God has chosen him. Most of the film takes place in 1994, which is when that phone call finally arrives. He’s taken from his home in Venezuela to Argentina, along with a couple of other people, and then they sit around and wait for the time to come.

The second lead is David (Vando Villamil), one of the main people in an Israeli intelligence office. His job is to prevent terrorist attacks. He remembers every single person who has been involved in suicide bombings, because that’s how hard he studies them. Yes, he’s a little obsessed, because as a child, he, too, experienced loss. His brother was killed in a suicide bombing. So, he’s made it his life’s goal to stop any and all terrorists. That’s a noble goal, even if it alienates himself from his family, who are scared by the entire situation.

It seems, initially, that everything is clear-cut. The good guy is obviously good, the bad guy is bad, and they’re going to clash and then one of them will win. But it’s not quite as simple as that. Well, maybe it is from David’s perspective, but not from Ahmed’s. He’s a more complex person than terrorists are usually painted. He has thoughts, feelings, and genuinely loves his life. He doesn’t know if he wants to go through with this. He’s devoted to God, yes, but he’s also devoted to his wife, whom he told he’d see in a week. And his children. Oh, his children! Can he do this?

Maybe this is why we never get films from the perspective of the terrorist, especially not in North America. The government wants to paint them as 100% evil, when in reality, they’re likely people who have second thoughts, and were brainwashed at a young age. But you don’t want people to think that way. You don’t want to show them the complexity of the situation, or how they’ll sit around, play cards, and joke around like normal people.

That depth is perhaps the only real reason to watch God’s Slave. It’s not anywhere near as intense of thrilling as its rapid cutting and sense of urgency wants it to appear, and while the religious aspect gives its characters shape, they’re otherwise uninteresting. You’re here just to see a criticism of religious extremism, and also maybe to see some stuff blow up, assuming you’re an awful person. I’m kidding. But you do get to see things blow up. At least, a few things. There are explosions, anyway.

Both of our leads are good. Mohammed Alkhaldi portrays the more morally complex character, and really does a great job at making the choice of whether or not he’s going to blow himself up in the name of God a tough one. Vando Villamil exists more as a calming presence; he’s someone who knows what he needs to do from the first moment, even if the film sometimes criticizes him for it. Bad acting could have ruined the film — as it often can — because we’d be making light of the situation thanks to the actors. But everyone is super serious and pretty good.

If you ever wanted to see a movie from the perspective of a suicide bomber — and for some reason didn’t see Uwe Boll’s Postal, which has a couple of scenes accomplishing many of the same goals that this film does — then God’s Slave is a film you should watch. It focuses on creating characters whose religion chooses their actions, but they’re not quite sure if they want to go through with those, because the consequences they have are less than ideal. It’s interesting, but it’s not anywhere near as thrilling or exciting as it wants to be.


Jewel Fools

Full disclosure: I’ve know the person who scored Jewel Fools since elementary school, and while we don’t really speak anymore — we were never particularly close, but for a while I would have considered him a friend — I still feel like, in the interest of being fair, you be made aware of that. We wouldn’t want things like ethics to be brought up, would we?

Jewel Fools is very much like every crime movie involving a MacGuffin. A thing exists, some criminals want the thing, and the heroes need the thing for reason X. So, they fight over it until one of them wins and gets to keep the thing. People die, guns are fired, and there aren’t any true surprises until the very end. Sometimes there’s character growth and sometimes there’s comedy, but you’re rarely going to be shocked at the direction that it takes along the way. And that’s fine. Formula exists because it works. If it didn’t, the formula wouldn’t be there. Funny how that works, isn’t it?

The film’s lead is Denis (Praneet Akilla), who lives with his best friends, Chad (Jian Choo) and Huey (David Schnetkamp), and his girlfriend of four years, Aly (Azra Lallany). Aly heads off on a trip to Vancouver, and Denis finally comes to the realization that, perhaps, it might be a good idea to marry her. He’s given a multi-million dollar ring from his grandmother — that his grandfather stole right before disappearing forever — and he’s got a wonderful plan to propose. The problem? A group of thieves steal his car and get the ring. What’s a guy going to do?

Well, the three guys go steal the ring back. But then bigger, far more dangerous criminals decide they want the ring, so now Denis and his pals have legitimate danger on their tails. This comes in the form of Byron (Chengis Javeri), an Englishman whose grandfather was the one from whom the ring was initially stolen. So, really, he has as much claim to it as Denis, but this is a story about keeping the ring so that he can propose, essentially proving to himself that he’s worthy of a girl like Aly.

It’s a pretty generic crime movie. You’ve seen it before. It has a good sense of humor, which helps, but these movies can make you laugh, too. Here’s the reason it gets talked about at all: it’s a film from Calgary — my hometown — that was made for approximately $3,000. And, yes, for that budget it is impressive. For indie productions, you have to take into account how much it cost. For that amount of money, it is ambitious and actually quite impressive. That it got made at all is something at which you have to marvel.

And yet, here’s where I struggle. For those who have no affiliation with Calgary or the filmmakers, what reason do you have to watch this movie? There are a ton of good amateur films online. But people don’t watch them because they could see the same movie with better acting, effects, cinematography, etc. That’s not to say that these films are bad — they’re often not, and I think Jewel Fools is overall pretty fun — but in comparison to a Hollywood movie, they’re not going to look particularly great.

Back to Jewel Fools, it’s too long, has some very mediocre supporting acting — although Praneet Akilla was strong in the lead role — and … actually has a surprise or two to offer you. It’s consistently funny, the effects aren’t terrible, and I can definitely appreciate all of the hard work that went into its creation. No, you don’t have much reason to watch it, especially if you aren’t from Calgary, but if you want to see a pretty good ultra low-budget crime movie, it might be one to check out.

Jewel Fools is a film I feel very mixed on. The lead actor was good, the jokes were consistently funny, and it does contain a couple of surprises (and local references, like Calgary’s weather) which will amuse those who won’t expect them. But it’s as generic as generic comes, wears out its welcome at 110 minutes, and has some bad supporting work. If you don’t have any affiliation with the filmmakers or the city of Calgary, you’re not likely to check it out, but if you do, you’ll have a decent amount of fun with it, and you’ll definitely be able to appreciate the work that was put into it.



Well, I can’t say I’ve ever seen a film quite like Hogtown. I don’t know if I’d ever want to see another one, either. It’s not that Hogtown is bad, uninteresting, or unenjoyable. It’s simply difficult to watch, keep everything clear in your head, and I guess just follow. It’s tiring. You have to work hard to engage with this film and to connect some of the dots. It also involves a lot of reading, because “show, don’t tell” doesn’t exist if you’re making an arthouse film — if you don’t want it to, that is.

Ostensibly, the film is about the search for a man, Ambrose Greenaway (Jay Disney), who disappears. He recently sold his chain of theaters for $1 million, which is a lot of money given that Hogtown takes place in 1919. The “lead,” if you can call him that, is a black detective (Herman Wilkins). I mention he’s black because, well, I’m sure you know all about 1919 in America. Let’s just say that racial tensions were pretty high at the time, so a black man in that sort of position isn’t exactly a common thing.

There are a ton of characters in Hogtown. The film’s website boats over 70, and I believe that. Some of them are based on real people — Ambrose Geenaway is based on Ambrose Small, for example — while some of them are fictional versions of real people, like Ernest Hemingway (Alexander Sharon) or Sherwood Anderson (Marco Garcia). It’s a lot to keep track of, as I said earlier, and some of them dart in and out of the film like … like they’re playing darts, okay? I’m tired. This film took a lot out of me. Never you mind how long after watching it I’m writing this review.

There are lots of characters and more than a couple of narrative paths, and it’s all done in an artistic style that gives its director, Daniel Nearing, a lot of freedom, but can often leave the audience in the dark — sometimes literally, since 99% of Hogtown is filmed in black and white. The film plays with editing, with cinematography, with breaking the fourth wall, with a mix of still photos and live-action, with superimposition, and with about as many film techniques as exist. You can’t blame the filmmakers for being lazy.

There’s also a lot of text on-screen. The film does have subtitled scenes — there are entire segments dominated by languages other than English — but that’s not what I’m talking about. Often times character motivations, back stories, and superfluous information is relayed to us through text. Characters don’t show us this; we find out because the film flat-out states “THIS IS INFORMATION FOR YOU TO READ.”

The film contains a full orchestral score, which is fantastic on its own and helps make some of the images more powerful — especially when it is conspicuously missing, which makes you pay even more attention. It’s like when someone on the radio takes a long, dramatic pause. You start wondering if the radio shut off or broke, and you tune in very intently to whatever is said next, instead of just following along with the background noise.

Hogtown is also quite beautifully filmed, even if it contains so much editing that you often don’t get to see all of the shots for a long enough time to truly appreciate them. I wonder how many individual shots there were in this film. It runs for almost two hours, and probably has double the number of shots when compared with the average film. Maybe more. Or maybe it just felt like that was the case, even if it isn’t. There’s so much going on that this is the mode your brain enters. In fact, the film could probably consist primarily of long takes and I’d still feel this way.

Containing more characters, plots, and film editing techniques than three other films combined, Hogtown is certainly a different type of film. It’s been shot primarily in black and white, it looks and acts unlike almost any other film you can see, and it’s a difficult film to watch, simply because you have to focus so hard and pay so much attention to what’s going on. It exists for very few people. But for those who have exhausted themselves on detective movies, this is one that does something fresh with the genre.