Tag Archive for 'Thriller'

Odd Thomas

Odd Thomas (8/29/15) Netflix (2013 ***) Written and directed by Stephen Sommers, based on the novel by Dean R. Koontz, starring Anton Yelchin, Addison Timlin and Willem Dafoe. A psychic short-order cook knows something really bad is going to happen in his small town, just not quite what. I have no real explanation for it, but I’ve been meaning to read Dean Koontz’ novel of the same name for several years now, but had never gotten around to it. I’m sure that’s based almost entirely on reading the back of the paperback in an airport book store at some time far in the past. Based on that interest, when I saw Odd Thomas listed on Netflix I decided to give it a shot, not knowing much about it. According to Wikipedia, the film got a theatrical release, but everything about it screams: “made-for-TV-movie-intended-as-a-series-pilot.” It is very strange tonally. I know I tend to write in my reviews about tone a great deal, but I was surprised by not only how light its tone was, but also the choices made in its premise. Some examples: The main character is a generally well-adjusted young man who not only has a girlfriend but also a good working relationship with the local police. While I don’t think I can give it a strong recommendation, and I found it predictable at times, it was still a mildly entertaining watch.


Disturbia (8/26/15) Cinemax (2007 **1/2) Directed by D.J. Caruso, starring Shia LaBeouf, David Morse, Carrie-Anne Moss and Sarah Roemer. When an angsty teenager spends his summer under house arrest, his voyeuristic proclivities lead him face-to-face with a serial killer. I was vaguely aware of this film when it was released eight years ago, yet never quite got around to watching it until now. Clearly intended as a tribute to one of Hitchcock’s greatest films, Rear Window (1954), it didn’t quite land for me. Then again, how could it? Watching the credits, I found it interesting that its Executive Producer was Ivan Reitman, then again maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised. It worked reasonably well as a thriller (if you could turn a blind eye to a few lapses in narrative logic), but never really connected with me. As for why, I think I might have to play the generational card on this one: I didn’t really relate to the main characters and would love to know if audience members who were in their teens and twenties when the film was released had more they could relate to.


Robocop (8/25/15) Netflix (2014 ***) Directed by José Padilha, starring Joel Kinnaman, Gary Oldman, Michael Keaton, Jackie Earle Haley and Samuel L. Jackson. When the only honest cop in the corrupt Detroit police department gets blown up in his driveway, a robotics company gives him a second chance to clean up the city. I enjoyed this remake more than I expected, mostly because I expected almost zero from it. The film was cast with always-nice-to-see faces in major roles, but I wish they’d cast a more interesting and/or familiar lead. This attempted franchise reboot also tinkered with the original premise, and in particular with the basics of the main character and his relationship with his family. This very much altered the story dynamics in a way that may have been an attempt at a more relatable central character, but resulted in a weaker story overall. The other major questionable decision was to tone down the original series R-rated content to PG-13 level, in the hopes of producing a series with wider appeal. Not surprisingly, it did not result in a better film. However, ignoring that, the new version of Robocop was still mildly entertaining, with a couple of juicy Easter eggs thrown in as well.

A.I. Artificial Intelligence

A.I. Artificial Intelligence (8/22/15) HBO (2001 ***1/4) Directed by Steven Spielberg, based on the short story “Supertoys Last All Summer Long” by Brian Aldiss, starring Haley Joel Osment, Jude Law, Frances O’Connor, Sam Robards and William Hurt. The parents of a young boy in a coma open their home — and possibly their hearts — to an incredible simulation of a scientist’s dead son. I remember seeing this film when it was first released, and my takeaway at the time was that it started out feeling like one of Spielberg’s best films… but then it took a turn and became something very disappointing. Nearly 15 years later, I can see it with somewhat fresh eyes and lowered expectations. The film divides itself into three distinct parts, the latter two of which are separated by… let’s just say a significant time span. Each of those parts has its own tone, and the jarring shift between the first and second parts was by design. I also appreciate more that Spielberg undertook one hell of a risk by taking up the deceased Stanley Kubrick’s final film and seeing it through to completion. Finally, I would like to give a shout-out to my former PDI co-workers who worked on the effects for A.I. (I did not.) Somewhere in our cupboard I still have a commemorative souvenir glass from the project.

True Detective, Season 2

True Detective, Season 2 (8/19/15) HBO (2015 ***) Created by Nic Pizzolatto, starring Vince Vaughn, Colin Farrell, Rachel McAdams, Taylor Kitsch and Kelly Reilly. 8 episodes, originally aired 6/21/15 – 8/9/15. Three police officers with several tons of psychological baggage between them team up with a mob boss on the rocks to solve a bizarre murder. In other words: “Forget it, Jake. It’s Vinci, California.” I was generally aware that this season was critically lambasted for various reasons, and so I scrambled to watch the series shortly after it had aired while doing my best to avoid spoilers. When I first heard Vince Vaughn had been cast in the second season I wondered if it indicated a significant tonal shift. But no, the dark tone of the first season carried into the second, unrelated storyline, and I personally found Vaughn’s intense, often bloody, performance to be my favorite part of the show. As for the critics, I still haven’t gone back to see what their main beefs were, though Entertainment Weekly referred to the season as “crappy.” Maybe the ultimate problem was one of variety: All the main characters were tortured souls, and for different reasons, but taken as a whole it seemed like the same repetitive chord being played on the piano.


Devil (8/16/15) Netflix (2010 ***) Directed by John Erick Dowdle, based on a story by M. Night Shyamalan, starring Chris Messina, Logan Marshall-Green, Jenny O’Hara, Bojana Novakovic, Bokeem Woodbine and Geoffrey Arend. A mechanic, an old woman, a young woman, a security guard and a salesman are trapped in the elevator of a Philadelphia office building, and one of them is… Satan!!! I don’t usually watch horror movies, mainly because my wife has zero interest in them. And so, with her spending a month in Germany I’m doing a little Netflix experimentation. When I read the audacious premise and saw M. Night’s name associated with this film (and the fact that the running length was only 80 minutes), I knew I’d picked a winner. Hell, I just wondered how they would establish the story! I’ve got to say that while Devil isn’t an especially nuanced or brilliant film, I wasn’t bored. In some ways it reminded me a bit of an extra-long episode of The Twilight Zone. Or better still, Rod Serling’s Night Gallery. Of course the fun of the film really boils down to its “who done it?” premise. Who in the elevator is secretly Beelzebub? I’ll never tell.

Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation

Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation (8/1/15) Glendale Pacific 18 (2015 ***) Directed by Christopher McQuarrie, starring Tom Cruise, Rebecca Ferguson, Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames and Alec Baldwin. When congress shuts down their funding, Ethan Hunt and the members of the IMF (Impossible Mission Force) take matters into their own hands to protect the world from… The Syndicate. Much of the media blitz surrounding the release of this film focused on Tom Cruise doing his own stunt work hanging onto the side of an A400m Airbus as it took off. This sequence occurs early in the film and was definitely a high point. Generally I enjoy “set piece to set piece”-structured action films like this one, and at a certain point while watching a chase scene through the streets of Casablanca I thought “Ethan Hunt is basically just James Bond.” While enjoyable enough in a Saturday matinee kind of way, I didn’t love Rogue Nation, nor did I really like it as much as its Brad Bird-directed predecessor, Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol (2011).

Gone Girl

Gone Girl (7/29/15) Norwegian Airlines: OSL -> LAX (2014 ***) Directed by David Fincher, based on the novel by Gillian Flynn, starring Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Neil Patrick Harris and Tyler Perry. When a woman disappears under suspicious circumstances, all clues point toward her husband being an unsympathetic killer. I’d been aware of this film since before its release, and deliberately tried to steer clear of plot spoilers, though it was impossible not to know that it included at least one twist, and possibly more than one. I won’t give anything away, though. Yes, the film has twists, turns and reversals of fortune, but it’s not just a who-done-it. Gone Girl is also a critique of our contemporary society in which “Nancy Grace-style “conviction in the media” has become the norm. While that held my interest to a point, the film has a running time of 149 minutes, which may have been perfectly suited for my transatlantic flight, but also felt long. Finally, as much as I “loves me some NPH,” I have to question David Fincher’s wisdom of casting Neil Patrick Harris in this film. While I’m sure there are those who would disagree, his presence added a tonal note that was just wrong for the story.


Interstellar (7/29/15) Norwegian Airlines: OSL -> LAX (2014 ***1/4) Directed by Christopher Nolan, starring Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, John Lithgow, Matt Damon and Michael Caine. On a planet seemingly set on the hostile rejection of its human inhabitants, mankind’s only hope may exist on the other side of a conveniently-placed wormhole. While I avoided spoilers, I had heard mixed things about this movie. In particular I’d heard things like “I liked the first half.” or “I enjoyed it up to a certain point…” This film is what would be considered for the silver screen as hard-core science fiction. One of the fundamental things it asks of its audience is an understanding of relativistic physics and what that means in terms of time passage at different frames of reference. Put simply, you must accept the ramifications of spending too much time around black holes. While I refrain from being specific enough to give anything away, I will say the film contains a sequence that — while I understood what was happening — was just abstract enough that it nearly lost me as an audience member. However, I will ultimately judge Interstellar by how it affected me emotionally, and I did find it to be emotionally satisfying overall.


Spy (6/6/15) Glendale Americana (2015 ***1/2) Written and directed by Paul Feig, starring Melissa McCarthy, Jude Law, Jason Statham and Allison Janney. A CIA analyst is thrust into the field, where she must adopt multiple undercover identities to thwart a fiendish nuclear plot. This film was thoroughly enjoyable, and Melissa McCarthy did a fantastic job, re-teamed with Bridesmaids (2011) director Paul Feig. Given the premise, it would have been so easy for the film to go in the direction of Austin Powers, but it never did, and even with all the laugh-out-loud moments it had, it never lost its grounding in reality. The level of mortal danger to the characters always felt quite real. One of the smart decisions I very much appreciated was that McCarthy’s true character was sweet and somewhat naive to the ways of the world, yet through her cover identities, she was able to curse like a sailor or, in this case, on par with her foul-mouthed fellow-operative played by Statham. Another thing I loved from a high-level bearing was that Jude Law and Jason Statham were essentially playing two different versions (Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig, respectively) of James Bond.