Tag Archives: Suspense

Inheritance (2020)

[2.5 stars]

There is only one reason to see this rather predictable, if nicely tense, movie…and that’s Simon Pegg (Slaughterhouse Rulez). His complete transformation and performance is really quite amazing.

Unfortunately, the rest of the cast isn’t quite so engaging. Lily Collins (Tolkien) is completely miscast as a highly respected and tough NYC DA. She just doesn’t have that gravitas…and her reactions through much of the story are, well, not from a woman who should be more  prepossessed. Chace Crawford (The Boys) is fine, but sadly typecast in his role; there are no surprises there.

And then there’s the story. To be honest, as director Vaughn Stein’s follow-up to his more stylish and satisfying Terminal, I was rather disappointed. His handling of the script is fine, but he should have pushed for something beyond the obvious. There was an opportunity for a more interesting conclusion that was completely missed. By taking it just one more step to complete Collins’ journey, a bland and obvious ending could have been elevated; but that isn’t what’s on offer.

Certainly, there is some good tension and by-play in this piece, but I can’t really recommend the cost of nearly two hours. However, if you do tune in, Pegg alone may keep you nailed to your seat to stick it out. Just don’t expect revelation at the conclusion, merely an ending.

Young Wallander

[3.5 stars]

This continues a trend of reinventing and revisiting established mystery icons and tracing their genesis. Young Montalbano or Endeavour come immediately to mind, and they are both good touchstones for considering this latest entry into the “Young” phase.

There are some interesting and unique aspects to this series. First, much like Casino Royale, it is a contemporary prequel to its original. And, like Casino Royale, it somehow works. Honestly, an approach which tackled similar character issues, but made them time period appropriate, would have been fine too. But I can see the beauty of setting it now and tackling the issues in more familiar terms.

Adam Pålsson (Before We Die) takes on the title character well… he even has two Wallenders to draw from, Krister Henriksson and Kenneth Branagh, which is another unique aspect to this series. It isn’t entirely clear which he focused on, though I think it leans more heavily to the Swedish version. Certainly the initial season arc is very Wallander in its structure and resolution. You know that from very early on in the first episode.

However, the show is less about drawing the early years for the later man than it is about just setting up some good mysteries, at least so far; but that’s OK too as long as they keep up the quality. Which isn’t to say we don’t see the initial threads of his rumination and dark sensibility. It’s there, as are some of the threads of his family issues.

There are a number of good roles around Pålsson. The standouts are primarily the women in his life: Leanne Best and Ellise Chappell (Yesterday). They are very different from one another and yet both buffet Wallander through his leap to detective-hood. Of the men in the cast, the standouts are Richard Dillane and Charles Mnene. Again two very different influences, and both essential to Wallander now and the Wallander to come. How they go forward from this initial foray is going to be interesting to see, assuming it’s renewed.

I really should have gotten to this sooner, but I didn’t realize it was in English and not Swedish. I was in the midst of three other subtitled shows; I just couldn’t add another at the time. But now that I have, I can definitely recommend it to lovers of the original series and those just looking for something new to feed the beast.

Underwater

[2.75 stars]

From three minutes into this movie it’s just a suspense run. Not a particularly surprising one, but fairly well engineered to keep you on the edge. Of course, that’s often mucked up by the challenge of figuring out who’s in trouble when and where since so much of the time they’re in heavy gear, but that’s a different aspect to discuss.

Certainly, at least, Kristen Stewart (Charlie’s Angels) provides a relatively strong lead. She’s even somewhat believable as the mechanical engineer “sciencing the shit” out of stuff to survive. OK, really more Macgivering it, but you get the idea. The others… well, you do have to wonder why the hell the company even allowed them on their multi-billion dollar rig in the first place. I couldn’t figure out their value-add or purpose even by the end of the movie.

Her colleagues are a diversity panel’s dream, for no particular reason. They all do fine with what they have, but what they have isn’t a lot. Vincent Cassel (Jason Bourne), Mamoudou Athie (The Front Runner), Jessica Henwick (Iron Fist), and even the cypherish John Gallagher Jr. (The Miseducation of Cameron Post) create characters with some depth and sympathy, if not credibility. Only TJ Miller (Deadpool) is less than a complete person, serving entirely for comic relief that feels very out of place and makes him seem a fool.

Basically, this is a bit of Abyss meets Cloverfield meets Alien meets, oh, figure it out for yourself if you dare. It’s a 90 minute romp with a  lot of fun effects, some good scares, and an absurdly thin plot. Director William Eubank (The Signal) didn’t really bring what talent of his I’ve seen before, other than the pacing. And the script by Brian Duffield (Insurgent) and Adam Cozad (The Legend of Tarzan) just didn’t hold together well. But it may be enough to get you through.

And, yes, my rating is splitting a lot of hairs, but I just couldn’t live with giving it three stars given all the plot and other issues. What I will say, however, is that it’s certainly a story of heroism and drive; for that it got to survive. And the “Live Bunny Montage” on the extras is definitely worth the viewing after the flick.

Away

[3.5 stars]

Movies of all types have been trying to capture the challenge of space travel for years… and, for some reason, even moreso in the last few years. From Passengers, to First Man, to Ad Astra, or even Aniara, they all run into the same challenge: being in space may be pretty, but it’s boring. This is what Dark Star tackled decades ago, though with a great deal more tongue-in-cheek. This isn’t to say that these movies were bad or boring, but that they manufactured tension to embrace and carry that basic reality. And only Aniara comes at all close to the truth, though aspects of the others include it.

With that as prologue, consider Away. There is a lot about its science that is, let’s just say creative, but they try to capture that trapped sensibility and the challenge of the time of flight. The result is mixed and just a tad soapy. Even with some really good performances carrying it along, and some nicely mirrored plots Earth-side and on board the ship, it all feels forced and improbable in the results. Which doesn’t make it bad, just not particularly accurate much of the time. For instance, even an international coalition is going to be sure that the crew all get along and are solidly stable, because they want it to succeed.

In between tense, potential disasters that are manufactured each week, the story revolves around several relationships. Primarily  it is around Hilary Swank (I Am Mother) and her husband, played nicely by Josh Charles (Freeheld). In a world of entertainment where married couple stories are about marriages at odds, this is a supportive relationship that is strained by their very concerns for each other. Their daughter provides a young-love perspective as well, which Talitha Eliana Bateman (Geostorm) and Adam Irigoyen (The Last Ship) navigate to varying degrees of credibility.

The rest of the crew have both inter-personal challenges and revelations of their past. Vivian Wu, Ray Panthaki (Colette), Ato Essandoh (Tales from the Loop), and Mark Ivanir each get their moments and without whom the rest would have been boring.

But ultimately the real question is: Is it worth taking the journey with Away? And, generally, I’m going to say, yes. Even with the “adjusted” science and forced events, it’s a tense, but entertaining 10 episodes delivered by a talented cast and some unexpected maturity in the relationships. And it is a rare, solid example of near-term science fiction. It also definitely feels like something new and different, and it can stand on its own or go forward. Frankly, I kinda hope they will leave it as a stand-alone event series and not try carry the story any further. It made its point and can only get repetitive or become pale reflections of other shows and movies that have come before. If they chose to leap forward a number of years, there are possibilities, but I’m not sure what it planned.

The Burnt Orange Heresy

[4 stars]

Unreliable narrators can be brilliant or frustrating. Having one is risky enough, but when you’ve four of them driving a movie, you’re really pressing your luck. But Scott B. Smith’s (Siberia) script adaptation is smart, crisp, and a delight in its story-telling.

Claes Bang (Dracula) is the main focus of the story, and from near the top we know there’s something off with him. He’s charismatic, smarmy, and quite full of himself, while being obviously desperate and damaged. Elizabeth Debicki (Widows) provides a wonderful foil and secondary locus as she dives into his orbit. The two are slowly revealed and challenged by Donald Sutherland  (Ad Astra) and Mick Jagger while the story takes shape.

And that is one of the wonderful aspects that sets this film apart: it is more than a third in before you’re even sure what the story is. For his first feature, director Giuseppe Capotondi took on some serious challenges, but he knocked it out of the park.

Burnt Orange Heresy is a deeply engrossing film that has as much to say about art and the artist as it does about human frailty and desire. To get a sense of the delivery of that message, imagine a Mamet play, without the cursing (think House of Games) or even Hitchcock with an elevated sense of philosophy.

If you enjoy intense, clever, and verbally dexterous tales, make time for this one. It isn’t a talk-fest, but practically all of the dialogue is a sparring match between the characters involved. It’s a dark joy of a movie.

The Burnt Orange Heresy Poster

The Whistlers (La Gomera)

[4 stars]

Oddball films that really work are hard to find. Corneliu Porumboiu’s Whistlers certainly falls into that category as a delightfully dark comedy that doubles as one of the odder mobster love stories you’ll get to see. It isn’t perfect…in fact I want to slap him around just a bit for not following through on the main conceit, even though he does use it. And, before you ask, yeah, it’s real.

What sets this story apart from so many similar stories of betrayal, dirty cops, and semi-honorable thieves is how the tale is told. Porumboiu fractures the story and tells it with parallel chronologies to make the story as much one of mystery as it is suspense.

Vladimir Ivanov (Toni Erdmann) and Catrinel Marlon (Tale of Tales) are at the center of the story. Ivanov’s even temperament, despite any circumstance, is both amusing and amazing as he sells it every time. And Marlon’s femme fatale approach is both cold and spot on; her sharp intelligence always on display.

The couple are surrounded by a host of interesting supporting characters. Rodica Lazar, in particular, as Ivanov’s boss, is a fascinating and quiet portrayal.

Basically, this is a romp, with dark, Romanian overtones. But is also a comedy, which keeps it all from getting too weighty and uncomfortable. If you haven’t found it yet, and are looking for something a bit different but not too fluffy, this is a good way to go.

The Whistlers Poster

Biohackers

[3 stars]

Germany is really producing some fun TV lately (think Dark). This newest, high-concept scifi conspiracy tale really works well… till near the end, when it’s a bit rushed and predictable. But up till then, the plot is nicely pushed along organically and without too much manipulation.

Luna Wedler, in the lead, manages to convey an intelligent adversary to her target, the coldly manipulative and driven Jessica Schwarz. And, of course, there’s a band of misfits helping it all along. And while Jing Xiang and Sebastian Jakob Doppelbauer are hopelessly silly through part of it, they are also entertaining as heck. Xiang, in particular, handles piles of monologue wonderfully. On the other hand, the more serious connections for Wedler are bit less clear in their motivations. Though they have depth, neither Adrian Julius Tillmann nor Thomas Prenn are entirely believable in their actions.

On the upside, this story was renewed, so we’re not to be left hanging on the final moments of the 6 episode wind-up. Suffice to say, it’s a pretty good ride, told in a way that didn’t put my teeth on edge with people being willful-stupid about those around them, or not speaking up when they should. In other words, most of the characters had some clear intelligence and lived in our world (science aspects aside). Definitely worth an investment of your time if you like these kind of shows.

Charlotte Gray

[3 stars]

This is a fairly standard, though gorgeously filmed, WWII espionage/love story, with few surprises. What makes it worth seeing is Cate Blanchett (Where’d You Go Bernadette). The 2001 season was a good one for Blanchett. The month prior, she’d wow’d audiences with her Galadriel, which would permanently set the tone of her screen presence.  When she steps on screen, regardless of character, she dominates; confident, radiant, terrifyingly in control. But in Charlotte Gray, she starts, uncharacteristically, weak and grows into her role without ever quite becoming that pillar of power. It’s almost like watching the growth of Blanchett as she matured into a star.

The rest of the cast is quite the list as well. With Billy Crudup (After the Wedding), Michael Gambon (Sylvia), Rupert Penry-Jones (Whitechapel), and Anton Lesser (Endeavour) driving the main plot with Blanchett, and a slew of others around them, the movie is packed with talent. These are all great reasons to spend time in Vichy France. In fact, given our current world politics, it’s a good time to be reminded why that form of collaboration and conciliatory/accommodating  attitude can be so destructive.

Director Gillian Armstrong (Little Women (1994)) managed the story well. She certainly helped guide her actors through complex challenges without ever quite having them tip over into melodrama. But she couldn’t quite escape the obvious. Even if there were moments of surprise, they were almost all tipped or inevitable. Really, her triumph in this is the evolution of Blanchett’s character. For that it is worth your time.

Charlotte Gray Poster

The Last Wave (La dernière vague)

[3 stars]

To get a sense of this odd, supernatural suspense/thriller series, imagine if Les Revenants took place on a beach in the South of France and had more than passing cross-pollination with The 4400. Admittedly, those references may be too obscure for most folks. Think Manifest on the beach, perhaps?

One of the things that I enjoy about French genre entertainment is that, whether it is based more on science (like Ad Vitam) or fantasy  (like Les Revenants) it always focuses on the effect of the issues on people and society. Because, in the end, what’s important is how it affects people, not the secret or issue itself; that’s just a medium to explore humanity.

The Last Wave is definitely more on the fantasy side of things, but with the trappings of science. An event occurs in a small town and then, with a bunch of hand-wavy explanations, we are treated to a struggle of conscience and politics that carries the story through to the end. The writing isn’t brilliant, but the story is very engaging and wide ranging. But, in the end, I was happy to ride their wave to the finale, which is complete and as-intended. So, no cliff-hanger that will leave you wondering if you’ll ever see the end.

The Rhythm Section

[3 stars]

As a follow-up to his quirky I Think We’re Alone Now, director Reed Morano brought us this contemplative actioner. That may seem a contradiction in terms…and it sort of is…but he stuck to his intent throughout, and I give him props for that. But it does make for a slow kind of assassin film. Think The Tourist rather than Taken or even Atomic Blonde.

Since Gloria proved it was possible, the number of tough female killers has been multiplying; particularly lately. They aren’t all home runs, but it is great to see so many more female driven actioners these days. Blake Lively (A Simple Favor) tackles the role with intensity and humility. It is, in some ways, reminiscent of Cameron Diaz’s turn in Being John Malkovich, when she allowed herself to be, well, completely unattractive in order to serve the part and movie. But, unlike Diaz, Lively drives this movie.

Jude Law (Vox Lux) and Sterling K. Brown (Waves) provide the higher profile support to Lively. Law is actually surprisingly credible in his role. Brown is as well, but it is less of a stretch role for him.

The real challenge for this movie was it’s script by first-timer Mark Burnell, who adapted his own novel for this outing. The story itself isn’t quite credible, though it is also clear it is intended as an origin story for a potential franchise; not one that will probably ever get made given movie’s results. And, more importantly, Burnell couldn’t let go of the internal dialogue moments from his book. The script lingers over Lively’s past long after it was necessary anymore to establish motive and struggles. Basically, he shouldn’t have adapted his own book…and Morano should have been more brutal during the edit. Had the movie been about 20 minutes shorter, its pacing might have pulled it together better.

It isn’t that I don’t want depth in my action leads, but this movie kept repeating the same moments and footage. Those efforts added nothing that a brief moment on a good actor’s face wouldn’t have been able to convey. And Morano had good actors in the leads.

So the short answer to this movie is that it is good, but slow, entertainment. The path and results of the adventure are somewhat easy to get ahead of, thanks again to the pacing, but the resolution is satisfying. If you’re looking for another female led story with a woman who is, ultimately, in control, you could do worse. I just wish it had been a bit tighter to energize it more.

The Rhythm Section Poster