Thriller

Hotel Mumbai

First Hit: It was interesting enough from a historical perspective but didn’t engage because it was a predictable and a known story.

When this attack happened, India was caught off guard. The real-life consequences of not having the type of policing or counterterrorism task force required to deal with the this coordinated assault was that it caused at least 174 deaths.

In November of 2008, ten members of Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorist group executed a coordinated attack on Hindus in twelve locations throughout Mumbai, the financial center of India. The attack lasted four days. This film shows brief scenes of the shootings from some of the other locations, however the main target was The Taj Mahal Palace Hotel. This is a five-star hotel where the guest is king, and this is where most of scenes are filmed.

The terrorists are coaxed on, and being guided by, a voice on the phone through the headsets worn by the men. He encourages them to kill anyone they see without mercy. However, he’s also looking for these men to take western prisoners for “negotiating purposes.” The audience knows there won’t be real negotiations and the captured will die.

Among the captured are David (Armie Hammer) who is married to Zahra (Nazanin Boniadi). The are traveling with their young baby who’s being taken care of by their nanny, Sally (Tilda Cobham-Hervey).

The film makes an emphatic point of the ruthlessness of the machine gun armed terrorists by having them coldly shoot anyone they see. They attempt kill anyone who moves, except for the few they want to capture and hold to gain additional publicity because they are prominent or wealthy figures.

One of the captured is Vasili (Jason Isaacs) who is a former Russian special forces specialist. His redeeming scene is when he ferociously bites the achilleas of one of the terrorists.

However, the main star of this film is Arjun (Dev Patel) who works in the hotel as a waiter. He’s a Sikh which comes into play later in the story. He and the head chef Oberol (Anupam Kher) attempt to save some of the hotel’s guest from being killed by hiding them in a exclusive room with only one public way in. The story is about how these people were saved.

Overall, Patel was good in this role. One outstanding scene was the way he explained his Sikh hair covering to one of the concerned and ill-informed guests. Kher was excellent as the Head Chef in holding to his belief that the hotel’s “guests are god.” Hammer was good as the American who was married to a Muslim woman. His desire to protect his family was spot on. Boniadi was wonderful as Hammer’s wife. When she starts saying prayers in front of the terrorists, it becomes very tense — one of the best scenes in the film. Cobham-Hervey was outstanding as the nanny. She felt very genuine in her desire to protect the child from harm. Isaacs was very good as the overindulgent selfish Russian operative who finally does something for someone else. The entire cadre of actors playing the terrorists did a sublime job of making sure they were cold hearted and unrelenting in their role of killing people for a golden ticket to heaven. John Collee and Anthony Maras wrote a interesting script. Maras directed this film which included actual scenes from the actual attack.

Overall: I wasn’t as captured or engaged as I thought I might be.

The Hummingbird Project

First Hit: Jessie Eisenberg brings intensity to his roles, and in this film it adds to an already time driven story about speed.

Vincent Zaleski (Eisenberg) is a Wall Street trader. He’s focused on high frequency trading. Response times of the systems he works on is paramount.

He works for Eva Torres (Salma Hayek) who is relentless and ruthless. Her opening scenes makes this point. It is in these scenes, we get to also know Vincent’s brother Anton (Alexander Skarsgard) who is a coding and engineering genius.

Anton and two others work for Eva in the capacity of trying to reduce the response times of getting and sending trading quotes. Each of the three have separate projects including microwave transmissions which seems to have in insurmountable problem.

Vincent and Anton are convinced that if they can run optic fiber cable from the centralized data center in Kansas to their office in New York, then will be able to realize an advantage by getting quotes milliseconds before other traders and thereby getting an advantage. The goal is to get the data 1 millisecond faster than anyone else. That millisecond is equal to one flap of a hummingbird’s wing (hence the title).

The cost of drilling a completely straight hole ten feet underground from Kansas to New York is expensive, but with the right investor, one who sees the advantage, they could make hundreds of millions of dollars each year for a couple of years when their technology advantage would become obsolete.

Convinced of the possibilities, Vincent finds Bryan Taylor (Frank Schorpion) who’s known to make risky investments. After persuading Taylor to finance the project, Vincent and Anton quit working for Eva. In a ranting scene when they tell her, she vows to retaliate.

To help them drill this straight, twelve-hundred-mile tube ten feet underground, they hire Mark Vega (Michael Mando) who is a genius in his own right. His stories about the places he’s drilled are fascinating.

The rest of the film is about the trials and tribulations of this project, Vincent’s discovery that he’s very ill, Anton’s amazing focus, and Anton’s wife’s patience.

The over-the-top scenes of Eva threatening the two men, especially Anton were engaging to watch. When they hire Ophelia Troller (Ayisha Issa) to figure out how to drill through government land in the Appalachian Mountains, it gets even more complex and interesting.

However, one of my favorite scenes is when Anton is drilling a hole in a file cabinet and his amazingly patient wife comes in and tells him to quiet down. I loved this interaction and the whole scene.

Ultimately, there has to be a race, and Eva hires someone who thinks he can figure out the microwave solution that will be faster and less expensive. The race is on.

Eisenberg was intensely perfect for this role. His fast-talking drive and focus fit this role. His action and reaction to hearing about his cancer was thoughtful. Skarsgard was outstanding as Vincent’s savant like programmer engineer brother. I thought he nailed the role. Hayek was sublimely vicious. She was strong in portraying the win at all costs attitude of the leader of a high frequency trading company. Schorpion was strong as the risky investor. Issa was amazing as the woman who could get them through the mountain. Mando was outstanding as the project manager for the whole project. He was extremely effective in making me believe he knew what he was doing. Kim Nguyen wrote and directed this film. I thought the script was strong and the acting excellent. However, somewhere along the way it became a little tedious and maybe that is because of the intense energy brought by the roles and actors was so overbearing.

Overall: This was a good film and might have been more engaging if they’d taken the time to demonstrate more clearly the advantage of a 1 millisecond advantage in high frequency trading.

Us

First Hit: Started off OK, but then became a contrived, overburdened, and almost laughable story.

I was a fan of Jordan Peele’s Get Out. However, here the characters felt pressed in their roles and the premise and ending was apparent to me early on.

The ability to keep the audience focused on one thing while using sleight of hand to set us up for a surprise is what this film is about. However, when the crowning moment appears and I sat there and said to myself, “yeah, that was expected,” it didn’t work.

Us didn’t work for me because Adelaide Wilson (Lupita Nyong’o also plays Red) was a little too odd from the beginning. Her looks and way of being stood out a too much.

The set-up from her going into the house of mirrors as a child and being adversely affected wasn’t strong enough to make me buy her subsequent adult behavior. Therefore I started trying to figure out why is she was the way she was — darkly edgy.

The story is, that as a child, Adelaide enters a house of mirrors and gets scared. We are to believe this had a profound effect on her. Then we meet her later in life married to Gabe (Winston Duke also plays Abraham). They have two children Zora and Jason (Shahadi Wright Joseph and Evan Alex respectively). On a family vacation, they decide to take a day trip to Santa Cruz. Adelaide doesn’t want to go because this is where the house of mirrors, where she was frightened in as a child, is located.

Events, with Jason wandering off at the Santa Cruz beach near the house of mirrors, spark’s a visit from their dark underworld counterparts.

The story gets more complex by adding in their friends Josh and Kitty Tyler (Tim Heidecker and Elizabeth Moss respectively) and their twin daughters Becca and Lindsey (Cali Sheldon and Noelle Sheldon respectively).

The underworld expansion and counterpoint to each of the characters were mildly entertaining.

Nyong’o telegraphed the part more than I would have liked. I’m not sure whether this was at Peele’s direction or her interpretation. Regardless, outside of a few strong scenes, I didn’t buy it. Duke had some funny scenes, like his first foyer in his boat, but his role didn’t work for me and I didn’t think he and Nyong’o worked as a couple. It just didn’t seem to fit. Joseph was probably the best thing in the film. When she got in the driver’s seat of the car and insisted in driving, and when she took the golf club in hand, the audience knew she meant business. She was excellent. Alex was good as the son, however, the mask fixation didn’t work for me, and I understand why it was part of the role. Heidecker and Moss were strong in their supportive roles. Peele both wrote and directed this film and for the most part it didn’t work. It made me wonder if he’ll fall into the same trap as M. Night Shyamalan; create a wonderful first film and then slowly fall into the abyss of ever increasingly bad films.

Overall: This film was failure of suspense, thrill, and horror.

The Wedding Guest

First Hit: This is a good dark thriller, but it was the sites where this film was shot, New Delhi, Jaipur, Goa and other cities and towns in India and Pakistan, that made me smile.

The main character Jay (Dev Patel) is introduced while he systematically packs a suitcase and then heads to London Heathrow airport. We know nothing about him, except he looks very stern and on a mission. What we do know is that he’s packing his suitcase he packs several passports. This creates suspicion.

Where is he going? Why does he have multiple passports?

Landing in New Delhi seems to fit and makes it easy to buy into the trip because the actor is Indian. But we soon learn he only speaks English, he’s not from India. Because many Indians speak English, this isn’t an issue. His first order of business is to rent a car, and tells the agent he’ll return it in two weeks.

He spends a short period in New Delhi, but then heads north to Pakistan. Crossing the border, he rents another car and eventually finds a small town where he spies a young lady getting out of a Range Rover.

Adding to the mystery, he then buys two handguns and duct tape. When he is looking at the guns, he seems knowledgeable, and that’s he’s experienced with handguns. In case the audience didn’t know by his demeanor when he was leaving London, we understand now, this isn’t a happy wedding movie. Practicing his shooting skills, we note that he’s serious about what he is about to do and that is, steal the bride.

The bride to be, Samira (Radhika Apte), is marrying someone we never meet. All we know is that Jay seems intent on abducting Samira.

We learn that he’s under contract to do this for someone he’s never met, a wealthy Londoner, played by Jim Sarbh.

Later we find out that Samira and Jim were lovers before her being required to marry a Pakistani man by her family. We think, and it is confirmed later, she hates the idea of marrying this man, so when Jay steals into her room at the groom’s home, gags and handcuffs her, and takes her, she goes along with it.

That all happens in the first half of the film. The remaining half is about how do Jay and Samira find their way back to London? This becomes an issue because, during their escape from the compound, Jay has to kill a guard.

 The unusual depth in this film is that the audience never gets any picture about who Jay is and why he’s doing this. Yes, it seems for the money, but what drove him to do this kind of work – we never know. We do learn more about Samira because she tells Jay how she ended up in Pakistan ready to marry a man she didn’t know or like. And Jim is someone we only know as wanting Samira back in his life; had enough money to hire Jay to do this, and in the end, wasn’t really committed to Samira. Both Samira and Jay are somewhat lost souls finding their way through life, which makes their chemistry work really well.

However, having spent months traveling in India carrying my backpack, I loved the scenes in the streets of Delhi, Jaipur, and on the trains and busses. I intensely experienced all of them, and not only did the director get it right, but it also brought up fond memories of my travels.

Patel was strangely excellent in this role. I liked that he took this role which is generally out of character from his previous film characters. He did an excellent job of making me buy into his purpose and intent. Apte was divine as Samira. She came across as deeply mischievous, beguiling, secretive, and having her own agenda. As she said about her family’s description of her, she is a little “crazy.” Sarbh was strong as the wealthy playboy type guy who was willing to pay for his wish to get Samira back, but there was another agenda that made it compelling in a different way. Michael Winterbottom wrote a deviously dark script and his adept view of how to integrate India was outstanding.

Overall: I really enjoyed this film in both story and visual scenes.

Cold Pursuit

First Hit: This film was a cross between a Liam Neeson Taken thriller and a black comedy using a Taken like storyline.

The film starts as a typical Liam Neeson film about him making violent amends for wrongdoing to his family.

Here as Nels Coxman (Neeson), his job is running a snow plow for the city of Kehoe Colorado, a small glitzy resort town up in the Rocky Mountains an hour or two outside of Denver. His wife Grace (Laura Dern) hangs around the house, smokes pot and has virtually no lines or involvement in this film. She disappears shortly after their son Kyle (Micheal Richardson) is found dead because of a heroin overdose.

Problem is Kyle doesn’t do drugs which Nels holds on to and determines that someone murdered his son. Because of this, he decides to find and kill the people who did this.

Starting at the bottom of the food chain, he begins with the guy who was with his son and actually set up the problem in the first place when he stole 10 kilos of cocaine from the area the kingpin Trevor ‘Viking’ Calcote (Tom Bateman). Nels, works up the food chain killing people higher up in the Viking organization.

Viking is a controlling arrogant bizarre drug dealer. He’s got a son from a former marriage who spends half of his time with him. His ex-wife is an American Indian. The importance of this is that Viking’s father made a deal with White Bull to split up the drug dealing territory.

When Viking wrongly kills White Bull’s son thinking that the son took his drugs, White Bull and his gang go after Viking.

So now the plot has Nels killing Viking’s gang, one by one, and Viking going after White Bull’s people and White Bull planning to do a significant hit on Viking’s gang for killing his son.

Convoluted? Yes, but when the director creates scenes with hang gliding Indians, hotel front desks with white fur on them, and bizarre killing scenes, one has to really wonder what the director was thinking.

I started laughing out loud at some of the audacious dialogue and strange scenes. It took a few minutes, but then others in the theater joined me in seeing the dark humor of this film.

Neeson did his best to keep the Taken guy in play for this film, but Nels is no Bryan Mills. It would have been interesting to hear the direction he got for this role; be Mills but be ready for dark humor. Dern was not used, had virtually no dialogue, and left me wondering why she even took this role unless to get paid. Bateman was OK in this over the top part. Frank Baldwin wrote an oddly constructed screenplay because of the way the actors said the lines. Hans Petter Moland had an odd vision of this film especially when the Taken series was tracked so differently.

Overall: This film was amusing, although I’m not sure that was the intention along with, intense and Neeson delivered what was expected.