Category Archives: Suspense

Black Book (2007)

Does it never end?

– Ellis de Vries

Cinebanter did a show on Paul Verhoeven’s Black Book back in 2007. I thought they were talking about the Brittany Murphy movie, Little Black Book. I didn’t know that much about the film except that it’s German, has Nazis in it. I thought it was that movie that set off the YouTube meme with Hitler reacting to dumb shit, but that was Downfall. I need to see it. Anyway, back to the movie, I really enjoyed the movie.

A young Jewish woman named Rachel Steinn (Carice van Houten) is hiding out at a family barn in Nazi occupied Holland. A bomber blows up the home when she is swimming at a nearby lake. A young man, Rob (Michiel Huisman) helps her escape from the Germans to a hide out spot.

They think that they are safe when a dark figure tracks them down, Van Gein (Peter Blok) to warn them that the Gestapo will find them if they do not go into hiding. Rachel realizes that the man is part of the Dutch Resistance. They want to be a part of the resistance. Rachel needs money from her family’s attorney, W.B. Smaal (Dolf de Vries) to smuggle into liberated territory with her family.

When the family is reunited, there is an ambush by SS officers who kill every one aboard except Rachel would dives into the lake to safety. Bent on revenge, Rachel going by the name of Ellis de Vries joins the Dutch Resistance lead by Gerben Kuipers (Derek de Lint) with his son, Tim (Ronald Armbrust), Hans (Thom Hoffman), Kees (Frank Lammers), Joop (Matthias Schoenaerts), Maarten (Xander Straat) and Theo (Johnny de Mol).

After months of working at the soup kitchen the Resistance is based in, she has the chance to infiltrate the Gestapo high command by posing as a former singer wanting to take a secretary job to Ludwig Müntze (Sebastian Koch). She has to seduce the secrets out of him. Soon, she realizes that the line between professional and personal blur as she has to make a choice of which side is she on.

This movie is based on true events. I don’t know how much of it actually happened, but it seems like the movie was trying to hard to be compelling with endless amounts of twists and turns. It was like the same way Crash did for me. It had to deal with people who you thought were good turn out to be bad and vice versa. The movie was over two and half hours long. It was too much for me.

I did enjoy the actors especially Carice van Houten as the heroine. She reminded of Christina Aguilera in her “Ain’t No Other Man” phase. It was nice to see Sebastian, Thom and Carice smolder on-screen.

Judgment: A woman scorned story that needed to trim the plot twist fat.

Rating: 7.5/10

The Ghost Writer (2010)

Forty thousand years of human language, and there’s no word to describe our relationship. It was doomed.

– The Ghost

I was interested in seeing Roman Polanki’s, “The Ghost Writer“. I wasn’t because of his arrest in Switzerland when the movie was in post-production. The movie came out in the film wasteland of the first three months of the year from the previous Oscar season the upcoming summer movie season. It was stuck in the middle with Shutter Island. I think that it was shafted in my opinion.

Based on the book “The Ghost” by Robert Harris, it deals with the death of a previous ghost writer that was supposed to penned former British Prime Minister Adam Lang’s (Pierce Brosnan) memoirs. Another ghost writer is summoned (Ewan McGregor) to finish what the previous ghost writer started.

This Ghost doesn’t know anything about politics, but the people interviewing him for the position: his friend, Rick Ricardelli (Jon Bernthal), Roy (Tim Peerce), Sidney Kroll (Timothy Hutton) and Jon Maddox (Jim Belushi) think that he would give the perfect outsider looking in perspective the manuscript needs to be a bestseller. He is hired for a month-long assignment that will get him $250,000.

The Ghost learns that Lang has a dirty past of transporting terror suspects to a secret location and torture them. He wonders if he is getting in too deep right out of the gate. He goes against his gut to travel from London to New England where Lang’s vacation house is located.

Arriving The Ghost meets Lang’s loyal secretary, Amelia Bly (Kim Cattrall) who shows him around the compound. She has him sign a confidentiality agreement before seeing the manuscript which is not allowed to be removed from the premises.

Meeting Lang and his long-suffering wife, Ruth (Olivia Williams), The Ghost wants to know why the previous ghost writer under such mysterious circumstances. The more he gets into the mystery, the more he realizes that it’s not just another writing assignment to him.

I have seen a number of political thrillers and yes, the movie have the clichéd reveals and twists, but there were some parts of the mystery that had me in bated breath. It was intriguing watching everything unfold the way that it did. I thought the unsung hero of the his movie is Olivia Williams. She should have gotten more attention for her nuanced performance as Lang’s wife.

Judgment: It was an enjoyable ride that I wouldn’t mind taking again.

Rating: 8.5/10

127 Hours (2010)

You know, I’ve been thinking. Everything is… just comes together. It’s me. I chose this. I chose all this. This rock… this rock has been waiting for me my entire life. It’s entire life, ever since it was a bit of meteorite a million, billion years ago. In space. It’s been waiting, to come here. Right, right here. I’ve been moving towards it my entire life. The minute I was born, every breath that I’ve taken, every action has been leading me to this crack on the out surface.

Aron Ralston

After I was puzzled by the massive success of Danny Boyle’s last directorial effort, Slumbog Shit-in-there, I wanted to see if he could redeem himself with the 219th Film of All-Time on IMDb, 127 Hours. It recently received six Oscar nominations including Best Picture, Best Actor and Best Adapted Screenplay. I was happy that the movie expanded this weekend that I could finally watch it. It is a fantastic film.

Best Actor nominee James Franco plays Aron Ralston who penned the book “Between a Rock and a Hard Place” after his ordeal. The setting takes place  in April 2003 where Aron is hiking in Moab, Utah where he slips trying to climb Blue John Canyon where he gets his right forearm crush beneath a boulder. As the title suggests, Aron is stuck in the canyon for almost a week with little food and water.

Aron tries in vain to remove the rock from sheer brute strength. Survival mode kicks in where Aron tries to chip away at the rock with a cheap pocketknife that eventually dulls it. As the hours drag on, Aron has to deal with the brutal elements of extreme hot and cold, malnutrition, dehydration and having the sense of claustrophobia. Feeling a sense of his impending doom, Aron uses his video recorder to document his harrowing journey to break free.

Slowly, his mind beings to drift away to his parents played by Treat Williams and Kate Burton, not being in his sister, Sonja’s wedding (Lizzy Caplan), recalling his fling with Rana (Clémence Poésy) and having a chance meeting with lost hikers, Kristi (Kate Mara) and Megan (Amber Tamblyn). Soon, Aron has to make a choice between killing a part of himself or killing his whole self.

I have never been so physically moved with a movie that would make me weak in the knees. That’s what this film has made me feel afterwards. It’s no surprise that there is an arm-cutting sense in this movie. I thought that it would more gruesome than it actually was. It was a brief bit of horror on-screen. The film actually made me want to throw up. That has never happened with a gory horror movie. That has to say something about Danny Boyle’s way of directing. His fernetic pace actually work here where Aron is slipping into a claustrophobic madness.

Judgment:  My faith is restored for Danny Boyle. Case closed.

Rating:  *****

Black Swan (2010)

I just want to be perfect.

– Nina Sayers

The genesis of the #119 Movie of All Time on IMDB, Black Swan stemmed from a jettisoned storyline from Darren Aronofsky’s last movie, The Wrestler. It was intended to be a story about an over the hill wrestler and fading ballerina. Aronofsky wanted to explore the psyche of a ballerina further in this movie.

Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) is a featured dancer in the American Ballet Company in New York City. Her overprotective mother, Erica (Barbara Hershey) gave up her dreams of being a prima ballerina to have Nina. She wants Nina to succeed in ways that she could not.

Headmaster Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel) is auditioning potential dancers for his stripped down version of the classic ballet, “Swan Lake” to open up the season. The original Swan Queen, Beth MacIntyre (Winona Ryder) is forced into an early retirement, because she is not drawing the crowds like she used to. She is embittered by this drastic action.

Seeing her chance to be the principal dancer, Nina tries out for the Swan Queen and almost loses the part due to her frigid, perfectionist style of dancing. Thomas seeing the potential in Nina when he forces himself upon her and gives her the part.

Nina’s ambition for being the best Swan Queen that ever was is consuming her when she thinks a rival dancer from San Francisco, Lily (Mila Kunis) is trying to steal her part and her life. Her paranoia over Lily, the pressures of her mother, the criticism of Thomas and the part almost consumes her as she thinks that old habits of scratching are rearing their ugly head again.

Aronofsky has a way of setting the mood of the film with a device that he did in his last film with having the camera being behind the main actor. Like the audience is falling her, going on her journey to madness. I don’t know if the notice that the color palette was mostly black and white to represent the light and the dark, good and evil, etc. I would not think that a movie about a ballerina would be Aronofsky’s plate, but I would impressed by the result.

I did find some faults with the film. It mainly deals with the supporting actresses in this film, Hershey, Ryder and Kunis. I know that Hershey wanted to be the overbearing, neurotic mother, but the scene in the kitchen with the cake. Yeah. I don’t believe for a second that Ryder would be on point in her life. Her only emotions were inebriation or anger. Nothing in between. The problem that I had with Kunis was that I didn’t believe that her character would be a rival for Natalie’s character at all. I also had an issue with the camerawork in the up-close dance sequences. It felt so jerky and weird that I could not get into the dance on an emotional level.

Judgment: It is a graceful retelling of obsession, jealousy and destruction.

Rating: ****1/2

Chloe (2010)

This business transaction, which is what this was, is over!

– Catherine Stewart

I have heard of Atom Egoyan’s latest movie, Chloe earlier this year when I saw the trailer for it. I wanted to see the movie, but it never came around my area. When it finally came out on DVD, I had to end my Julianne Moore bender with one of her latest movies. I knew that the basic premise of the movie was taken from a 2003 French film called Nathalie… This movie tried to be Fatal Attraction, but failed miserably.

A marriage that seems to be in disrepair when the wife, Catherine Stewart (Julianne Moore) is suspecting that her college professor husband, David (Liam Neeson) is cheating. She comes up with this because he misses his flight to come home from a guest lecture on his birthday. The next morning when he finally does come home, he tells her that he would be working late.

Her suspect ions grows when David accidentally leaves his phone behind and it rings. Curious, Catherine checks the phone to see a suspicious email from a woman thanking her husband for the good time last night. She is devastated and tries to put on a brave face to keep up the charade. Catherine meets up with a young beautiful call girl named Chloe (Amanda Seyfried) who she has seen coming out of the hotel across the street from her OB-GYN office. She hires Chloe to try to seduce her husband and see what he would respond.

After the first meeting with David, Chloe reports back to Catherine about going to David’s favorite lunch spot. Chloe pretends to be David’s type, a student that is studying language. She tried her feminine wiles on David, but he was just friendly, nothing more.

Catherine is not convinced that David was not incapable of going further. She asks Chloe to go a little further with her husband and she would pay her. After the next meeting, Chloe say that David and her went on lunch date where he asked her to kiss him. Catherine’s suspicions are confirmed and doesn’t want to involve Chloe in their lives anymore. Chloe has another motives to involve herself in both of their lives.

I understand that Egoyan wanted to make a movie about longing and desire, but then it descends into another woman scorned movie that we have seen a billion times. The movie felt vapid. Devoid of any kind of depth of the subject. The biggest selling point of the movie is the pivotal sex scene. It certainly was titillating, but I thought it was tacked on. I understand that Catherine was having a thrill on the lurid details Chloe told about the trysts with David, but it was like a romance novel nightmare.

Judgment: It’s a movie with cheap twists and turns and leaves you unsatisfied.

Rating: **

Laura (1944)

Love is eternal. It has been the strongest motivation for human actions throughout history. Love is stronger than life. It reaches beyond the dark shadow of death.

– Waldo Lydecker

I was flipping through the channels one night and I found that Otto Preminger’s movie, Laura was about to start. I believe that I saw some parts of the ending of this movie in passing before. This movie was nominated for five Oscars and won for Best Black & White Cinematography. Seeing that I was mostly disappointed with the movies that were released this year, I wanted to see a classic movie to cleanse my palate of the dreck.

This film noir is about a young woman named Laura Hunt (Gene Tierney) that was murdered in her apartment. This movie deals with the aftermath when Det. Lt. Mark McPherson (Dana Andrews) interviews an acquaintance of the victim, columnist Waldo Lydecker (Clifton Webb) who is writing his column while soaking in the tub. Lydecker is one step ahead of him that he types out his alibi when Laura was murdered.

McPherson is going to interview potential suspects and Lydecker comes along on his day. First, the duo meets Ann Treadwell (Judith Anderson) who is Laura’s aunt. They talk about her whereabouts during the time of her murder. She has some sort of attraction to Laura’s fiancé, Shelby Carpenter (Vincent Price). McPherson wants to know if she has a motive to bump her off.

There is also a possibly that the fiancé wanted to kill Laura in order to marry Ann. McPherson wants the two men to go Laura’s apartment to find the key for the country house that she was about to go to when she was killed. Carpenter’s story starts to show cracks when he planted the key in her apartment. McPherson decides to gather more evidence.

During a dinner conversation with Lydecker, Lydecker recounts the day that he met the plucky Laura while at lunch, who wanted to show him her ad mock-up to get a write up in his column. Their relationship starts as Laura’s career in advertising picks up. There is more affection on Lydecker’s side of the relationship. He feels threatened by Shelby Carpenter, who swoops in to steal Laura away. Waldo is cast aside as Laura and Shelby relationship continues. Waldo tries to dissuade Laura into marrying Shelby by telling her that he might be having an affair with a model at Laura’s company, Diane Redfern.

McPherson begins to put the pieces together when he is spending more time over at Laura’s apartment. He rifles through her personal things to read her letters from Waldo or her diary to find clues about who could have killed her. All the stories that have been repeated back at McPherson; he realizes that he has fallen in love with her.

I love the character of Waldo Lydecker. He is quick on his feet with the witty quips toward different characters. I thought the movie was a little bit melodramatic with some of the acting of the maid, Bessie (Dorothy Adams) and some of Shelby turned me off. The ending of the movie was satisfying even though I figured out who did it from the beginning.

Judgment: If you want to see a frothy whodunit, I would recommend this movie.

Rating: ***1/2

Shutter Island (2010)

I wonder, is it better to live like a monster, or die a good man?

– Teddy Daniels

Martin Scorsese’s latest movie Shutter Island, which stands as the 197th movie on the Top 250 of All-Time on IMDb, has been getting a bad rap since its studio, Paramount decide to move the release date of the movie from October 2009 to February 2010, because it couldn’t afford the Oscar campaign for the picture. I call bullshit on that. This could mean certain death for a film not being remember a whole year from now. This is the fourth collaboration of Scorsese and lead actor Leonardo DiCaprio. Even though the movie is highly predictable, I still enjoyed the majority of the ride.

Based on the novel by Dennis Lehane, former WWII soldier/U.S. Marshal Teddy Daniels (DiCaprio) and his new partner Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo) travel by boat to Shutter Island, which is a home of Ashcliffe, the prison for the criminally insane. They are met by Deputy Marshal McPherson (John Carroll Lynch) who them that they have to surrender their firearms. They take a tour of the complex which has separate wards for men, women prisoners and an old Civil War era, Building C that houses the most dangerous criminals.

The team meets the head psychiatrist of the institution; Dr. Cawley (Ben Kingsley) to investigate the disappearance of a patient that mysteriously escaped from her cell, who killed her kids, Rachel Solando. She is loose somewhere on the island, because there is no way for her to escape the island without drowning.

Searching through her cell, Teddy fines a piece of paper in her room that has “The law of 4. Who is 67?” scribbled on it. In order to try to find out the circumstances surrounding the escapee, Teddy and Chuck want to interview the staff. Dr. Cawley and Dr. Naehring (Max von Sydow) doesn’t want the investigators to rummage through the staffs personal files. Teddy wants to leave immediately.

The more time that Teddy spends on the island he has flashbacks of an incident when he was a soldier in WWII liberating a Dachau concentration camp or his life with her wife, Dolores (Michelle Williams) that was killed years earlier.

A massive hurricane hits the island and the prisoners try to escape the island, Teddy comes to realization when Rachel is found that they are 66 patients on the island, but Rachel implies there is a 67th patient. Who is that patient?

I thought the performances were very good, especially DiCaprio, Jackie Earle Haley and Patricia Clarkson.

I thought that the score was unnecessary in the beginning segments of the film. I guess, Scorsese wanted to set the mood. It was ear deafening. The biggest problem of the movie is the twist. Watching the trailers lately, they talk about the twist ending. The twist you could predict thirty minutes into the movie. I wasn’t a surprise at all, but I was half right about it. There was another sharp turn that I didn’t see coming.

Judgment: This movie was mess with your mind until the very end.

Rating: ****

Drag Me to Hell (2009)

You’d be surprised what you’ll be willing to do, when the Lamia comes for you.

– Rham Jas

Don’t hate for this proclamation, but I am not familiar with Sam Raimi’s comedic horror past with The Evil Dead series. I should visit them in the future, but I thought I would start with Raimi going back to his roots with Drag Me to Hell. This movie freaked me out.

A plucky loan officer, Christine Brown (Alison Lohman) longs to be assistant manager at her bank, but she is constantly undermined by ass kisser, Stu (Reggie Lee). Her boss, Mr. Jacks (David Paymer) is deciding between the two of them. In order for her to get the position, she needs to make tough decision to secure it.

As by maligned fate, a decrepit woman Mrs. Ganush (Lorna Raver) appears at her desk, asking Christine to stop the repossession of her house. With two extensions under her belt, there is nothing for Christine to do. She decides to turn her down. Mrs. Ganush begs her to try to save house. Christine stands her ground. Mrs. Ganush pounces on Christine and is forced out.

When Christine is going to her car after work, she is attacked by Mrs. Ganush who felt that she has publicly shamed her. They fight. Christine thinks she defeated her, but the old hag got the upper hand reciting an incantation by using a button from her jacket. She hands the button back to Christine.

Visibly shaken from the ordeal Christine wants to get her fortune read when strange occurrences start to happen. Her boyfriend, Clay Dalton (Justin Long) goes with her. The fortune teller Rham Jas (Dileep Rao) says that she has been cursed by the old woman. A dark spirit surrounds her. Clay is skeptical of the fortune teller’s powers.

After Christine arrives home alone, she hears strange noises in her house when she is alone. She sees a demonic figure. A doctor thinks that it’s post-traumatic stress disorder because of the attack. In the middle of night, a fly enters her body. She thinks it’s not real but she can here is buzzing inside her. She begins to see the old woman in nightmarish hallucinations.

She tries to get back with Mrs. Ganush to ask her for forgiveness, but she is recently died. She goes back to the Rham Jas; he tells her about the dark spirit that is haunting her. It is called a lamia, which takes the possessor of the cursed object to Hell. He offers alternative to rid of the curse. She wants to do anything to not be condemned to hell in three days time.

I thought that this movie would be a cup of tea. Damn, I was sucked into this movie. The genesis of how Christine got the curse was a little ridiculous, but I could forgive it because of nature of the movie. Besides I think the posters and the trailer kinda give away the ending. That’s unfortunate.

Judgment: It’s a wild ride that everyone should get on board.

Rating: ****1/2

The Lovely Bones (2009)

My name is Salmon, like the fish. First name, Susie. I was fourteen years old when I was murdered on December 6th, 1973. I wasn’t gone. I was alive in my own perfect world. But in my heart, I knew it wasn’t perfect. My murderer still haunted me. My father had the pieces but he couldn’t make them fit. I waited for justice but justice did not come.

– Susie Salmon

The Lovely Bones is based on the beloved 2002  book by Alice Sebold that has been receiving universally bad buzz since the award season have started. Director Peter Jackson tries to recapture the spirit of the book while incorporating his signature technological flair. The only reason that I saw this movie was the awards buzz surrounding Stanley Tucci. He is probably a bright spot in this hodgepodge of a movie.

The movie is told in perspective of a 14-year-old girl named Susie Salmon (Saiorse Ronan) who is a typical teenager growing up in Pennsylvania. She is full of life, hope, and dreams of being a wildlife photographer when she grows up. There is a British boy at school that is interested in her, Ray Singh (Reece Ritchie).

She doesn’t get along with her parents, Jack and Abigail (Mark Wahlberg, Rachel Weisz) when they have a petty fight about their shutterbug using all twenty-four rolls that gave it to her along with her camera for her birthday.

That fateful day December 6, 1973 would alter the course of their Norristown neighborhood forever. After school, Susie was walking across a cornfield when a neighbor living across the street from the Salmons, George Harvey (Stanley Tucci) approaches her and lures her into a makeshift pit.

Her parents are worried for her when she didn’t come home. Jack canvasses the neighborhood with her picture. Abigail calls the police. Detective Len Fenerman (Michael Imperioli) investigates the case. Before there were pictures in the back of milk cartons or amber alerts, the police have a tough time finding Susie, but it’s too late for her.

What the adults don’t know is that “the weird girl” of the neighborhood, Ruth Conners (Carolyn Dando) runs into Susie bolting down the street after escaping from the pit. The unclear thing is that it was her ghost. Susie realizes that she is dead, but is stuck in a type of purgatory called “The In-Between.”

Realizing that Susie is not coming home, the family thrown in chaos when the days turned into months as George Harvey is not caught. He cleans up his tracks, because he is a seasoned serial killer. Thinking that Harvey is getting away with her murder, Susie decides to help her family to find the clues to bring her killer to justice.

This premise seemed very interesting. I have not read the book, but I read a synopsis of the book after I saw the movie. The timeline was condensed from a decade to a year. If Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh and Phillipa Boyens incorporated all of the elements from Alice Sebold’s book into the movie, it would have been a more sappy mess then it is.

The family dynamics seemed off with Jack obsessing over his bottle ships, the mother reading cookbooks, the grandmother (Susan Sarandon) wants to makeover the kids to take their mind of their murdered sister. What? I could not buy Wahlberg and Weisz as a married couple. I think they were miscast. The dialogue at times was very wooden and sometimes melodramatic.

The tone runs the gamut of intense drama to fantasy to comedic farce. Disjointed. It’s not cohesive as a narrative. I don’t think that Jackson was the right person to direct this movie. Perhaps somebody like Catherine Hardwicke could have handled the material better with Jackson’s team, WETA doing the stunning visuals.

The CGI effects in the movie were spectacular, but it feels like it was sensory overload at times. I thought that for the most part Saoirse Ronan gave a good performance as well as Stanley Tucci as the serial killer.

Judgment: There is a great revenge story hidden beneath a muddled adaptation under a bunch of bells and whistles.

Rating: **1/2

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Transsiberian (2008)

Kill off all my demons, Roy, and my angels might die, too.

– Jessie

Coming back from the gym on Saturday, I wanted to watch Steve Carrell’s movie, Dan in Real Life on TBS. When I was flipping through episode guide, I saw that Transsiberian was coming on at the same time on Showtime. I remember that Tassoula from Cinebanter had this movie on her top ten of 2008 list. I decided to watch this instead. I’m glad I did.

A couple that is having martial problems, Roy and Jessie (Woody Harrelson, Emily Mortimer) board the Transsiberian Express in Pekin, China. They just finished a six-day sister city mission by Roy’s church in the region to help the impoverished kids. This is their first trip together. They thought that they could put their turbulent home life behind them. During the numerous stops, Jessie would take pictures of the landscapes and the people that they encounter.

On one of the scheduled stops, another couple comes into their cabin, Carlos and Abby (Eduardo Noriega, Kate Mara). They said that they are coming from Japan teaching English and Spanish. Carlos is a travel nut who dragged Abby along with him non-stop for two years.

The younger adventurous couple’s tendencies rub off on Roy and Jessie. They bond over vodka in the dining car. They open themselves up with each other with their dreams of the future. Carlos tries to single out Jessie when he shows her some souvenirs in his bag.

At another layover, Roy’s obsession with trains leads him to be stranded there. Jessie doesn’t realize the fact until the train with chugging along. Jessie has a feeling that there is something not right about the couple that shares their cabin. She franticly tries to look for him from different people in Russia. Secrets are exposed, truths are revealed and the couples are thrown into chaos.

This movie is a slow burn. Try to survive for the first hour of the movie, then the movie kicks up into high gear. I can’t tell you whatever happens, because they would be a spoiler. I want you to experience that for yourself.

Judgment: If you need a good reason to see this movie, it’s Emily Mortimer. She deals with heavy material and she could handle it with ease. Absolute must-see.

Rating: ****

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