Entries tagged with “thriller”.


A gorgeous exploration of the loneliness of space, Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity will please the casual filmgoer. Those who like their science to be, well, scientifically accurate, may have some issues with it. See what I had to say at buzzymag.

An excerpt:
Those who remember the space shuttle Challenger know how easy it is for something to go horribly, terribly wrong in space. That was over in seconds–what if things start to go wrong and you need to figure out how to get back to Earth?

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captain phillips movie poster Captain Phillips

Director: Paul Greengrass

Writers: Billy Ray, Richard Phillips (book), Stephan Talty (book)

Stars: Tom Hanks, Barkhad Abdi, Barkhad Abdirahman, Faysal Ahmed, Mahat M. Ali, Michael Chernus, David Warshaofsky, Corey Johnson, Chris Mulkey, Catherine Keener, Yul Vazquez, Max Martini

It’s the season for Oscar bait and awesome performances, and “based on historical events” movies have always been a favorite of Academy voters. Hot on the heels of Rush comes Captain Phillips, based on the true life experience of a freighter captain who runs into Somalian pirates.

The situation would make an awesome board game. Resources for the freighter crew include limited or improvised weapons, money for bribes, knowledge of the environment versus superior firepower on the side of the pirates, who are reluctant to actually kill anyone–that greatly decreases the possibility of a big ransom payoff. Both sides have the limited ability to call for help and advice from their colleagues outside, who are moving toward the ship . . .

The movie shows you both sides of the equation: Captain Phillips, first in Vermont, then in Oman as he takes command of the cargo ship Maersk Alabama; and a group of poor men in Somalia, sent off to grab a ship for ransom.

Phillips (the ever impressive Tom Hanks) is vigilant, well aware of the dangers of the coast off Somalia. But preparation can only take you so far.

When the pirates actually show up on radar, the crew works it by the book, calling Maritime Operations for help and evading as best they can. Eventually, though, there begins a days-long confrontation between four armed pirates led by the impulsive Muse and the virtually unarmed crew.

Terror in a situation they never expected is portrayed amazingly through the eyes of the freighter crew, in scene after scene as the stress levels up. The pirates are more playing things by ear, and less certain when things don’t go as planned. The film makes clear just how much influence a leader can have, as the two groups of men, respectively, take their cues from their captain and his demeanor.

As the title Captain Phillips indicates, Tom Hanks is all over this one, and he delivers. In spades. On the other side of the equation, first-time actor Barkhad Abdi is remarkably convincing and terrifyingly real as the pirate captain. These two playing off each other are the best moments in the film.

This one is not for the faint of heart–the reality it’s based on is even grimmer and more extreme than the movie, but they took it plenty far. It is well worth seeing and will easily keep your
attention for its more than two hour running time.

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A movie about spirituality and desperation and what happens when hope is all but lost, Prisoners is gripping and will keep you on the edge of your seat.

An amazing cast led by Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal gives absolutely outstanding performances of a compelling script. See the full review at buzzymag.

An excerpt:
Keller Dover’s (Hugh Jackman) personal philosophy, passed down from his father is: “Hope for the best. Prepare for the worst.” He’s a devout survivalist, and a bit of a control freak. When his daughter and her friend are kidnapped–his world is turned upside-down.

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This a low-budget, well-written, well-conceived well-acted thriller based on some clever manipulations of society. What would good people do under pressure and with no fear or reprisal? It’s an interesting look at a social experience gone terribly wrong.

Sequel The Purge 2 is already in the works, after The Purge made approx $34 million opening weekend, on a budget of $3 million.

An excerpt:
The Sandins are a rich family living in a gated community. This is a near future where the “new founding fathers” have given everyone a way to resolve their aggressive tendencies: once a year, for twelve hours, anything goes. The annual Purge.

The result is a weirdly polite society . . .

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And four, well that’s even better. Especially when they’re really, really good and just a touch obnoxious.

And they have better tricks than anyone ever has. Is is real magic?

An excerpt:
The Four Horsemen are committing crimes. Or are they? What they’re doing is impossible, unless real magic somehow exists. When a bank robbery becomes a part of the act in Vegas, FBI Agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) bursts on to the scene, interrogating everyone in sight.

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Jack Reacher is a thinking man’s action/adventure movie. A complicated plot, and lots of good action will keep you engaged. See what I had to say about it at buzzmag.

Excerpt:
Watch for a return of the wonderful chemistry between Robert Duvall and Tom Cruise, when the two share the screen. Like the best parts of Days of Thunder, these two are marvelous playing off one another, with an intense sense of both comaraderie and competitiveness.

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Argo
Director: Ben Affleck
Writers: Chris Terrio, Joshuah Bearman (article)
Stars: Bean Affleck, Bryan Cranston, John Goodman, Alan Arkin, Victor Garber

I remember when Ted Koppel was on TV for half-an-hour every night giving updates on the Iranian hostage crises: that would in due time become Nightline, a show he would host for twenty-five years. During the almost fifteen months Americans were held hostage, it seemed things would never be back to “normal.”

It’s been over thirty years. Argo brought it all back.

argo poster

Argo opens with a great historical montage and voiceover describing the critical events leading to the hostage crises. It gives you a great sense of both realism and history, despite the fact that the story has been fictionalized. (For more of the real details, the Wired article that Argo was partially based on can be found here.

Obviously, any “plot holes” have to be forgiven because that was just the way it happened. The idea of legitimizing something by putting ads in Variety, etc.–how could it not be real? The details were simply amazing: that they actually had to option the script, set up an office, etc.

The oddest piece for me was the priority put on incinerating the classified material–didn’t they have shredders? Then later, other documents are shredded. Still later, teams of carpet weavers (some of them children) worked to reassemble the shredded document pieces. I would have called this totally improbable if it hadn’t happened in real life–which can often be stranger than fiction.

Occasional clips of the shah, Ayatollah Khomeini, and President Carter, as well as general stock footage, really keeps this grounded in the period. Kudos to the makeup and costume folks for outstanding work, as well as set design, props, locations–the feel is spot on.

What makes this film stand out is the excellent pacing. It’s a scary time–the “houseguests” were in fear for their lives, and there is a genuine sense of urgency–you practically want to cheer. A good script and fine directing by Ben Affleck clearly come into play here.

There are also some great performances, particularly Affleck as Tony Mendez, and John Goodman and Alan Arkin representing Hollywood as makeup man John Chambers and producer Lester Siegel.

But honestly, how did we live without cell phones back then? It was plain weird seeing spies getting phone calls at someone’s house.

Geek fact: the actual script used was an adaption of Roger Zelazny’s Lord of Light . . .

Argo f** yourself.

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I saw Branded all by myself at a matinee show. This was probably a good thing–I wouldn’t want to inflict this movie on anyone. The trailer seemed so promising too . . . see what I had to say at buzzymag.

An excerpt:
It’s rather an interesting companion piece to Supersize Me on some levels.

Then the entire movie takes a sharp left turn into weird and never recovers . . . .

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James Bond has nothing on Tiger, an Indian intelligence agent sent to Dublin on yet another mission. Full of action and romance (and song!), my first Bollywood film is a ton of fun!. Indian audiences expect their films to include everything–and this one delivers. Check out my full review at buzzymag.

An excerpt:
If you enjoy the music they play when you eat out at the Indian Restaurant, you’ll love the soundtrack–it’s rocked-out Indian music that really works, especially in the action sequences. The whole soundtrack is effective in building the mood.

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If I’m going to talk about movies, I need to start by talking about my movie viewing habits. There are a lot of films I’d like to see–and I usually know when they’re opening. Sometimes I’ll end up catching a bunch over the course of a three-day weekend. I guess I go on movie binges. When I’m busy, though, I end up catching things when they hit HBO or worse, when I’m on an international flight on a teensy, tiny screen.

When I still lived in upstate New York, things were easier. The theater was five minutes away. A thought of a movie could turn into “Let’s go” and fifteen minutes later we were sitting in the theater with popcorn. Now, with the closest multiplex half-an-hour away, planning is required. And time seems to be less available–gone are the days when I sat in the movie house hallway at the mall all day long waiting for the first show of Return of the Jedi.

There are more diversions here, too. Half-an-hour to the movie theater, an hour to the Philadelphia Ballet or the touring Broadway musicals or Dorian’s Parlor [steampunk!} or anything else in downtown Philly. My movie going is suffering.

And, last of all, when we moved I left behind my best friend Garcia. He was always up for a film, especially a thriller or a horror film. Garcia and I went together to see such notables as The People Under the Stairs and In the Mouth of Madness. My husband’s taste is somewhat more discerning . . . .

I’ve been keeping an eye on development and following the information trickling out by dibs and dabs about The Grey, and was I certain it was something I wanted to see. I was lucky enough to score tickets to one of the advance screenings (another nifty thing about living near a major metropolitan area). So, last week I dragged along my slightly reluctant husband about an hour-and-a-half away to catch The Grey.

the grey movie poster The Grey is a very real film. I shivered just watching it. It was an interesting experience, as in recent years we’ve taken to seeing films in the later part of their releases in mostly empty theaters. This was an advanced screening, and a packed house–a whole ‘nother animal.

The film has a beautiful, quiet almost surrealistic introduction narrated by Ottway (played to intense perfection by Liam Neeson), showing the dichotomy of the harsh survivalist and the introspective, hurting poet.

Once the oil-rig workers have experienced their plane “malfunction” and end up out in the middle of the Alaskan Tundra with limited resources, it turns into something of a survivalist thriller, punctuated by interactions with supernaturally persistent wolves intent on hunting down the survivors.

Bouts of trying to trek through the elements are broken up by excellent dialogue between the characters as they ponder the meaning of life, the existence of god and all of the deep whys behind it all.

Two things make this movie stand out. One is the sprinkling of humor throughout to break the tension. In a half-empty theater it would have been harder to gauge if this was working–in the packed house we saw the film in, I could feel the tension rising, then someone on screen would drop in a zinger (often quite dark), and the whole house would react. You could feel everyone let out the breath they didn’t know they were holding. The pacing is really well done. I think I left dents in my armrests.

But the true star of the film is the performances. The intensity of the portrayals by everyone in the film, starting with Neeson in his leadership role, with absolute standouts by FranK Grillo, Dallas Roberts, Dermot Mulroney, and honestly the entire rest of the cast, makes the film what it is. You watch these characters grow, you suffer with them, and you die with some of them. You grow to care about them–and they are not the nicest guys!

It’s been a week since I saw this one, and it’s still echoing in my mind. I think it will be for a long time.

ETA: Now that the movie has opened, it’s been confirmed that there is a stinger after the credits. This was missing at the advanced screening. When you go see it, make sure you wait around until the bloody end.

It’s also going the around the interwebs that The Grey will be given a limited re-release in October for awards season. Hopefully, the fine performances will be recognized . . . .

Go see it. Sit in the front row if you can (I did). But don’t forget your sweater.

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