Thriller

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.

Miss Bala

First Hit: Although there’s a twist at every turn, it is predictable, but has enough of a twist at the end to make it interesting.

The film begins with Gloria (Gina Rodriguez) doing makeup for some fashion models in a Los Angeles fashion show. After the show, she gets in her car and heads to Tijuana Mexico to visit a close friend, whom she considers family. Suzu’s (Cristina Rodlo) family took Gloria in when she was small, and they spent their young years together. Gloria is headed there to help Suzu get ready for the Miss Baja California contest.

To introduce Gloria to Chief Saucedo (Damian Alcazar), who has some sway over who wins the contest, Suzu takes Gloria to a nightclub. What we also learn is that Saucedo is slowly taking over all the illegal trade that goes across the U.S – Mexico border. He’s attempting to take this unlawful business away from a gang called Las Estrellas.

Las Estrellas is led by Lino (Ismael Cruz Cordova). To shut down the Chief’s attempt to take over the border trade business from Lino, the Las Estrellas gang steals into the nightclub and starts to shoot it up. In the process they kidnap Suzu.

Gloria spends the rest of the film trying to find and rescue her close friend.

The storyline takes Gloria through being captured and used by the DEA, Las Estrellas, and the CIA. It is how the story weaves its way through all this that makes the film both work and not work. There’s too many tricks, story twists, and plot turns.

One thing that wasn’t very believable was the apparent age difference between Gloria and Suzu. This difference made me wonder about how they were friends when they were young. I also thought the some of the scenes were overly staged.

Rodriguez was good as an intense person who wanted to find her friend. Rodlo was OK as Gloria’s friend. Cordova was OK as the heavy leader of the gang. Alcazar was appropriately manipulative and arrogant as the crooked police chief. Anthony Mackie was OK as the undercover agent. Gareth Dunnet-Alcocer wrote an overly trick-filled screenplay. I didn’t engage with all the twists and turns. Catherine Hardwicke did a reasonable job of directing through all the storylines. 

Overall: This was an overly complicated film, and it didn’t need to be.

Serenity

First Hit: As a thriller it was average, but as the characters begin to question everything and reaching the end of their roles or usefulness, it became more obvious about how this story was unfolding.

The film starts with Baker Dill (Matthew McConaughey) fishing on his boat Serenity based at Plymouth Island. He, his vessel, and his deckhand Duke (Djimon Hounsou) were chartered by two drunk guys who want Dill and Duke to help them catch fish.

However, they hook up “The Big One,” Dill takes over the pole and attempts to reel in “The Big One.” They get it close to the boat but end up losing the fish. The charter guests are pissed because they didn’t get to catch the fish themselves. Dill is obsessed with catching “The Big One.”

There is a strangeness to the way Duke talks with Dill, and it is even stranger when Dill visits Constance (Diane Lane) for a quick roll in the hay, and then she pays him. Then she asks about her cat.

Dill needs money, and he thinks Duke is terrible luck, so he fires Duke. Dill then starts fishing alone for sailfish at night and trying to catch “The Big One” during the day. Although he’s successful with the night fishing, he’s not making any progress on his real goal, to catch “The Big One.”

One day Karen Zariakas (Anne Hathaway) shows up, and we learn she is his ex-wife and that the son he had with her, Patrick (Rafael Sayegh) is the same boy Dill telepathically communicates with and the audience has gotten a glimpse constantly typing at a computer in some unknown spot.

Karen wants to give Dill (AKA John to her) 10m dollars cash if he kills her current husband, Frank (Jason Clarke) who beats her and Patrick. Dill refuses and Duke continue to reminds Dill about following the righteous path of the Lord. Karen says her husband is coming to this remote island anyway and that she’s arranged for Dill to take Frank out on a charter. She hopes that Dill will get Frank drunk and toss him overboard and let the sharks eat him.

This is the set up for the film’s story, and it takes a while for it to gel.

In the meantime, there are plenty of hints for the audience about the surrealism of this story. These hints include the bar tender’s actions and words, the silent old man sitting at the table in the bar, the fishing store proprietor always saying everyone knows everything about everybody, Constance and the way she acts, and a new character who sells electronic fish finders, Reid Miller (Jeremy Strong). These hints include oddly controlled dialogue, references to being on this island and nowhere near a mainland, Reid walking around in a suit, the traffic light dance Dill does every morning, and The Doc (an unknown or seen character).

I enjoyed parts of the film with out-loud laughter, but I was the only one laughing in the theater maybe because I was the only one who figured it out or everyone else was bored. I liked that I felt the boy’s intensity when the film showed his eyes against the computer screen full of code.

McConaughey brought his standard look and feel to the role. It wasn’t anything unique. Hathaway was OK. The scenes where she succumbs to her husband's demands were intense, but other times her performance didn’t carry the power it needed to. Lane had a small, yet pivotal role and was good. Clarke was well suited to the part of cruel husband and general jerk. Strong had an interesting character because he seemed so out of place, and I didn’t get why he was in the story although he was a great sounding board for Dill. Sayegh was outstanding by expressing his intent through his eyes as we saw them on the computer screen. Hounsou was terrific as the good angel in the film, trying to keep McConaughey on course. Steven Knight wrote and directed this film. I can see why he got the talent he got to star in this film, but somehow the execution or the lack of additional depth in the story made it only mediocre.

Overall: The film has its moments, but somehow it doesn’t quite add up to the film it could have been.

Films that rose above the fray in 2018

This was a particularly good year for films. At first I didn’t think so but after I reviewed the films I watched and wrote about this past year, I was pleasantly surprised. I was entertained by outstanding acting, strong and poignant films about racism, and out loud laughs. My next post will be about the Oscar nominations.

Game Night: This film was funny from the get go and I laughed out loud all the way through.

Leaning Into the Wind: Andrew Goldsworthy: If you liked the film River and Tides, you’ll love Leaning....

The Death of Stalin: There are very funny moments, but I couldn’t help but wonder was his regime filled with that much personal corruptness? Probably.

Flower: The acting lifts this bizarre storyline to funny, engaging and entertaining levels.

Red Sparrow: Although long at 2h 19min, it had enough twists, turns, and detail to keep me fully engaged.

You Were Never Really Here: Beautifully shot scenes, dynamic soundtrack, but this oddly paced film tells a story of redemption, salvation or deeper despair.

Beirut: I really liked the way this film was put together and came to fruition.

A Quiet Place: Well done film and the silence of the actors made all the difference in the world.

Deadpool 2: First Hit: This film is fun, irreverent and filled with out-loud laughs.

RBG: Excellent film about a woman who lives within her strength and defined and changed U.S. law.

Disobedience: Extremely well-acted film about how antiquated thinking can split families and a loving relationship.

Hotel Artemis: Who says Hollywood cannot create a unique and well-acted film.

Blindspotting: Extremely powerful and pointed film and raises the bar for Best Picture of the Year. In my view this unnominated film is by far and away the best film of 2018.

Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far On Foot: A unhurried film revealing the power of how forgiveness of others and self, can make one’s life different.

Three Identical Strangers: A truly amazing story about how sciences’ curiosity didn't take into account the effects on human beings.

Sorry to Bother You: What I liked about this film is that it is funny, unique, and unlike any other film I’ve seen.

Leave No Trace: Sublimely acted and evenly paced film about a man and his daughter living in a public forest.

Puzzle: I thoroughly enjoyed this poignant film about a woman finding herself through a passion.

BlacKkKlansman: Fantastic film about race relations in the United States while reminding the audience about how far we have to go.

Eighth Grade: Outstanding acting and script gives us an insightful view of what it is like to be in the Eighth Grade today.

Fahrenheit 11/9: Covers a lot of stuff but I think it was mostly about Presidents and people in power managing and acting poorly.

Pick of the Litter: It was an fantastic and interesting way to learn about how guide dogs are taught to be amazing caretakers for the blind.

First Man: Compelling reenactment of an audaciously brave time in the 1960’s where we were challenged by President Kennedy to go to the moon.

The Hate U Give: A fantastic film about the existence of racism and, as indicated here, in our police departments as well.

Green Book: Excellent acting, engaging story, and both funny and thought-provoking make this film fun to sit through.

Boy Erased: Outstanding cast delivers sublime performances in a powerful story about LGBT conversion programs.

A Private War: Rosamund Pike (as Marie Colvin) gives a deeply complex performance of a war correspondent who brought personal stories of war victims to the forefront.

Bohemian Rhapsody: Accurate or not, this film was fun, well-acted, engaging, and joyful.

Can You Ever Forgive Me: Excellent acting about a caustic, friendless author that finally finds her voice.

Mary Queen of Scots: Saoirse Ronan (Mary Stuart) and Margot Robbie (Queen Elizabeth 1) give powerful performances in this adaptation of how Mary Queen of Scots tried to claim her title to the throne of England and Scotland.

Vice: I liked this oddly created film about a powerful yet enigmatic man who really ran our country for a period of time.

Ben is Back: Extremely well-acted story based on 24 hours of a mother and her addicted son’s return for the holidays.

Roma: Outside of the beautiful black and white photography and languid movement of the story, I left the theater with little.

The Favourite: A stark, intense musical score underscores the bizarre and tension filled interrelationships between the queen and her court.

Shoplifters: Wonderfully engaging film about a Japanese family who chose each other while fighting to stay nourished and together.

The Girl in the Spider's Web

First Hit: Although darkly shot with an overly complicated story, it was moderately entertaining.

Lizbeth Salander has been played by three people; Noomi Rapace, Rooney Mara, and in this film Claire Foy. Each brought their own edgy darkness to the role. I will say that each of them was extremely watchable because of their unique intensity.

The film begins with a young Lizbeth (Beau Gadson) playing chess with her sister Camila (Carlotta von Falkenhayn). Their father is eerily controlling and sexually sadistic, especially towards a more willing Camila. The sisters are close, but their father controls Camila and although Lizbeth tries to save her sister from her father’s clutches, she fails.

After Lizbeth dramatically leaves their home, the film shifts to Lizbeth as an adult. She’s a computer programmer, and is constantly finding someone to help or save, for a price. The first person we see her helping is an abused wife by blackmailing the executive and moving all his money to with wife’s account. It's obvious that her father's behavior has her saving people being abused.

She takes on a job to steal software that can run all the nuclear missiles in the world. This is where the story is clouded. The NSA is after the software, so is the creator. After all of them are the Swedish police and secret service. Lizbeth is being looked for my lots of people.

Then Camilla (now played by Sylvia Hoeks) shows up and she becomes someone that wants the computer code along with vengeance towards Lizbeth for leaving her with her father.

The film dances through a fair number of action scenes with people trying to hurt Lizbeth and obtain the computer program she has. Lizbeth has befriended the son of the program's creator and she takes it upon herself to save the boy after his father is killed. What makes it more complicated, is that the there is a code required to get access to the software on the computer and only boy knows it.

All of this and more pieces are thrown together and some of it was interesting to watch, but the thing that made this film really difficult to watch was just how dim and dark, in color, the scenes were. Even the day scenes are dark in tone and color. I know this was to add to the darkness of the story, but when the whole film is like this, it can almost put someone to sleep.

Foy is strong as Salander and she brought her own unique darkness and strengths to this role. Sverrir Gudnason plays the writer Mikael Blomkvist was OK in a minor role as someone who makes his living writing about Lisbeth. Lakeith Stanfield playing Ed Needham the NSA agent trying to get back the code was one of the stronger actors in this film. Hoeks was strong as Lizbeth’s sister. Steven Knight wrote a confusing script. Fede Alvarez directed this film and unfortunately it was more confusing than interesting.

Overall: This will take its place as the worst of the three “The Girl…” films.