Tag Archives: thriller

Cop Car (2015)

2 Sep

“This is our cop car!” ten-year-old Harrison (Hays Wellford) yells, as he and his best friend Travis (James Freedson-Jackson), take off with a newly carjacked police vehicle. The aptly-titled film Cop Car follows these two boys as they begin their rebellious journey by committing grand theft auto in a midwest rural town. Of course, the local Sheriff  Kretzer (a wonderful Kevin Bacon) isn’t game to just let a couple of hoodlums escape with his car, especially when it contains important contraband connected with a crime of Kretzer’s own doing…

Directed by Jon Watts and co-written by Watts and Chris D. Ford, Cop Car starts out as standard teenage, lighthearted fare. The first opening lines feature Harrison and Wellford alone in a wheatfield spewing a string of curse words for the sheer thrill of it. Boys will be boys after all. As the film slowly starts to shed light on the repercussions of messing with law enforcement, it becomes obvious to the children, and to the audience, that things have gotten WAY out of control. This is when the film thematically exhausts itself, as it tries too hard to straddle the lines between 1) exploiting the jokes and fun of having a pair of innocent kids take on the cops, and 2) showing just how serious (read: deadly) the situation has become.  It’s a tough line to straddle, and there are moments in the film (like when the children try to figure out how to handle a police pistol, for example) where I wasn’t sure if I should be laughing or terrified.  It’s all fun and games until someone gets shot.

Story-wise though, there is enough going on to make up for the film’s self-confusion. Watts and Ford have written a fairly solid film, especially in its latter half. And the execution – from the cinematography to the editing to the action scenes – is equally solid. In a film like this though, the children obviously take in the spotlight. Wellford and Freedson-Jackson make an adorable on screen presence, but unfortunately their lack of acting experience shines right through. Of course child actors are usually tricky, and make for an easy critical targets when discussing performances, but in a film like Cop Car, so much is weighing on the kids and it’s absolutely critical to have believable young actors who can pull the whole thing off. Unfortunately, that’s not the case here.

The vast majority of Cop Car however, is as entertaining as its premise would suggest. Watts cleverly weaves multiple storylines and points of view together to create a fulfilling and suspenseful narrative, complete with an incredible third act. Some of the scenes are flat out brilliant (the final 5 minutes might be one of the best cinematic moments of the year), but others feel mismatched and inconsistent. Clocking in at a nice and neat 86 minutes doesn’t give me too much to complain about.

Bottom Line: Missed opportunities and bland child acting zap Cop Car of it’s potential, making the film a bit of an inconsistent – but always enjoyable – mixed bag. 

 

Rating: 6/10 

The Recipe: Coen Bros + Home Alone (1990) + Young Anakin from The Phantom Menace 

Cut Bank (2015)

24 Apr

“Hi! Welcome to Cut Bank, Montana – where the Rockies meet the plains!” exclaims Cassandra (Teresa Palmer) as she rehearses for her Miss Cut Bank Pageant trial video. The town, nicknamed “The coldest spot in the nation” has all the makings of your typical small town. There’s the local hermit Derby Milton (Michael Stuhlbarg), Sheriff Vogel (John Malkovich), who heads the local law enforcement, Big Stan (Billy Bob Thornton), and Georgie Wits (Bruce Dern) the neighborhood mailman. Dwayne, (Liam Hemsworth) our protagonist, dreams of leaving the sleepy town in favor of moving to Butte, or maybe even California. He gets his big break when he stumbles across a murder (Cut Bank’s first on record), and has the chance to exchange evidence of the crime for a large sum of money. This particular murder may or may not be connected with a larger conspiracy however, and Dwayne soon learns that some of Cut Bank’s inhabitants aren’t as friendly as they appear.

Directed by Mark Shakman, Cut Bank has major ambition to being a grade-A crime thriller. The main issue here is with its execution. While the pulpy story overflows with Coen-style writing tropes, the script unfortunately is sub-par and riddled with plot holes. Though it boasts an ensemble cast most of the performances here are passable and borderline campy. And yet despite its flaws, Cut Bank somehow makes for some engaging and immersive viewing.  Though it relies heavily on delivered exposition, the story still manages to be unpredictable, and at times genuinely suspenseful.  Shakman clearly knows what genre he is in, and he plays to the plot’s strengths.  If we were to go back to the TV days before The Wire, then Cut Bank would play out like one of the best dramatic episodes of all time. But this is 2015, and while surely not an innovator in the crime genre, Cut Bank is still a very solid, entertaining, and worthwhile experience.

Bottom Line: Cut Bank is saturated with pulp and borderline camp at times, but yet most importantly, it brings enough thrills to be satisfying.

Rating: 7/10 

Film Recipe: Fargo (1996) + The Counsellor (2013) 

 

True Story (2015 Sundance)

11 Feb

Longtime comedy duo James Franco and Jonah Hill bust out their dramatic skills in the Brad Pitt-produced True Story, a film about the grey areas between truth, journalism and fiction writing. Loosely based off the real-life events of American journalist Michael Finkel (played here by Jonah Hill), a New York Times reporter who comes accross the story of his life when confronted with Christian Longo (James Franco), a man accused of killing his wife and children and then using Michael’s identity while in custody. Michael, who is under his own charges of falsifying a recent story, becomes amused at why an alleged murderer would use his name, decides to investigate the story and ends up writing a book about the case in order to build credibility back to his journalistic name.

True Story documents Michael and Christian’s odd relationship as they get to know each other over a series of face-to-face interviews. What follows is a series of interactions that sets up a psychological game of cat-and-mouse for our two protagonists. While Michael strives to get to the Truth of what really happened, Christian is always one step ahead of the game, paying his own set of cards from inside his jail cell. Weather or not Christian actually killed his family or weather he was framed becomes the focal point of the film, and the main mystery which propels the drama forward. Felicity Jones plays Jill, Michael’s wife, and her involvement in the case, and in the life of Christian, intensifies as the film progresses.

What would be great material for someone like David Fincher or Roman Polanski to direct tragically falls short under the hands of director Rupert Goold. Mostly known for his theatre work, True Story is Goold’s first feature and it shows. The moments of possible tension in the story are tragically played down which all  adds up to a series of missed opportunities. The film is also much tamer that I would have guessed (I wouldn’t be surprised if it received a PG-13) and its tendency to play things safe and lean towards a minimalistic adaptation of a crime backfires.  The interactions and performances of Hill, Jones, and Franco however, are superb and True Story proves that the comedic duo can hold their own dramatically.

Bottom Line: Despite its missteps, True Story is definitely worth a watch as it greatly showcases Hill and Franco’s versatile talent.

Rating 6/10

Similar to: The Ghost Writer (2010), State of Play (2009), A Most Wanted Man (2014) 

White God (2015 Sundance)

10 Feb

It’s a dog-eat-dog world.

Set in inner-city Budapest, White God tells the story of Lili (Zsofia Psotta) trying to reunite with her lovable dog Hagen after he is cruelly abandoned and left for the local pound. It’s a familiar set up that has been done a zillion times before, but never quite like this.  You get bits of a coming-of-age story, family drama, black comedy, and even apocalyptic horror mixed in. On paper, this film would spell disaster, but somehow it all works and adds up to an emotionally draining but immensely satisfying experience.

The film opens with a surreal sequence featuring Lili pedaling downtown being chased by hundreds of stray dogs. Avoiding any hint of CGI and instead relying on real animals, director Kornel Mundruczo shot on set with literally hundreds dogs and the result is absolutely incredible. I can only imagine what sort of logistical nightmare the film set must have been, and it’s a cinematic miracle that any usable footage was collected at all. By expertly blending various tonal shifts, Mundruczo commands the action in every continuing scene. Though the film swaps perspectives after the first act, we get an incredible sense of Lili’s and Hagen’s emotional states through the clever camerawork and production design. Weather alongside Lili at a club or following Hagen into an abandoned construction site, the audience is completely captivated.

Later on, the film gets a bit lengthy and White God would be better served with a quick edit. Patience pays off however during the film’s last act, where Hagen returns to the action as a blood-thirsty killer seeking vengeance. It’s here where the film really picks things up, and the audience is treated with a greatly entertaining and horrific finish.

Bottom Line: While it’s certainly not for everyone (kids and animal lovers might be best suited elsewhere) White God is an incredibly engaging viewing experience with the best canine cast to ever be featured in cinema.

Rating 7/10 

Similar to: The Birds (1963), Let The Right One In (2008), The Kid With A Bike (2011) 

Gone Girl (2014)

3 Oct

Gone Girl is all about the art of deception, particularly the disguises we show to one another under the guise of romance.

In the film, the lives of bittersweet lovers Amy and Nick Dunne (played expertly by Rosamund Pike and Ben Affleck) get turned upside down when Amy suddenly goes missing, on a day that also conveniently coincides with their 5th anniversary. Based on the best-selling novel by Gillian Flynn, the film closely follows the build-up and aftermath of Amy’s disappearance. Did she leave because she was increasingly feeling restricted by Nick’s controlling and authoritative personality? Did he hide her away so he could be closer with his family? Does he have the nerve to kill her? The film takes it time giving us answers, instead focusing on building a sinister atmosphere that culminates up until the disturbing moment of revelation. Along the way, veteran auteur David Fincher constantly plays his audience like a piano. Over the last decade or so, Fincher has made a name for himself by creating rich, textual story-driven film adaptations; he is at the top of his game here doing what he does best.

The mystery genre has become so conventionalized that audiences often find a predictable, safe-space. Here, Fincher intends to drag his audience out of that space, and he effectively does so through his pinpoint direction and storytelling skills. Gone Girl features some of the year’s best performances too. Rosamund Pike is by far the stand-out; her careful and meticulous acting gives us tremendous insight as her character evolves with each on-screen revelation.

It’s a fascinating, complex film that digs deep into the cynical truth of any relationship: the fact that we often hide things – from the world, our loved ones, and even ourselves – in order to save face and stay within our comfort zone. Despite a miscast Neil Patrick Harris, and ending that feels too hopeful to be satisfying, Gone Girl marks a high note in Fincher’s filmography, and will surely spark conversation long after the credits roll.

 

Screen Shot 2014-10-03 at 12.37.45 AM

 

Blue Ruin (2014)

28 Apr

Not all revenge thrillers are created equal.  Some, like the recently released Blue Ruin, are told with enough knowledge and understanding of the genre so well, they are able to redefine it.

The film focuses on Dwight, a Beach-bum drifter who spends his days rummaging through trash and sleeping in his car. He soon realizes that the person responsible for murdering his parents will soon be released from jail, ensuring that Dwight must now kill or be killed. The film takes several dark turns along it’s path, with most of them putting our protagonist in terribly violent situations. There is an overarching sense of dread in the film, which is occasionally interrupted by short bits of well-executed humor. It’s bold, suspenseful filmmaking with rich and engaging characters and enough twists to make multiple viewings a necessity.  Simply put, Blue Ruin is easily one of the best films of its kind and will stand out among the genre for years to come.

 

 

 

Rating: 9/10 

Similar to: No Country for Old Men, Drive, Animal Kingdom 

The Place Beyond the Pines (2013)

8 May

If you are wondering what the best movie in theaters is right now, I would recommend Place Beyond the Pines. The film is really a compilation of three mini-stories that cover over 15 years of father-son relationships. Bradley Cooper is great. Ryan Gosling might be even better. Sometimes the movie’s ending feels like it’s never going to come, but I was so absorbed in the story I didn’t want it it to. When the credits finally do roll up, I felt like I had taken an emotional roller coaster ride that lasts over 2 hours. This film is epic.

8/10 stars

Similar to: Traffic, Heat, Lord of War