Mystery

The Intruder

First Hit: A day after watching this movie, I’ve forgotten almost everything about it.

A good film has you remember something about it, the next day, next week, next month, and next year. This film barely made it to the next day. A movie like “Wait Until Dark,” which might be categorized as the same genre, is still is with me today, and I saw it in 1967.

The idea of this film is; a couple decides to buy a country home in Napa Valley, fix it up, and hopefully raise a family in their new home. The house they fall in love with is owned by a man who claims his wife died about two years ago from cancer and it’s time for him to move on and live in Florida with his daughter. But, with any good horror mystery, there is a wrinkle in the idyllic story.

Here we have Annie and Scott Russell (Megan Good and Michael Ealy respectively), having had success, wanting to move from a condo in San Francisco to a home in Napa Valley. The home Annie falls in love with is owned by Charlie Peck (Dennis Quaid).

The faults started early for me. The looks and quick switches in attitude by Peck made him a creepy suspect too soon. He didn’t sell the story of his wife dying of cancer well enough. That is what disappointed me about this film. It telegraphed too loud and too early the player's positions in this film.

Annie, on her part, was too trusting too early and in apparent situations where caution would be the by-word, she wasn’t. Scott was on edge too early as well. His mistrust and skittishness seemed a little too fabricated.

Anyway, after buying the house, Peck keeps showing up at Russell’s home, mowing the lawn, yelling at people installing a security system, and trying to be helpful. He isn’t, and the creepiness oozes from his eyes and a fake smile.

The story unfolds as one might imagine, but the over crafting from the beginning led to an apparent predictable ending. Additionally, I live in the San Francisco Bay area I’m surprised that Scott, as a high-level advertising executive, would consider making a daily commute from Napa to San Francisco. It might have been better if they had moved to Mill Valley, Fairfax, or other Marin County areas, than Napa. I couldn’t get around the commute as being something viable.

Ealy was OK as Scott. However, his suspicions were telegraphed too early in the film. Good was acceptable as Annie. Her naivety towards Peck by not seeing his obvious behavior flaws was not believable. As a for instance, note the scene when she invites him in to share the pizza he delivers to her, dumb. Quaid overacted the part, but I did think his evil grin was well done. He sort of had a “Chuckie” look to him. Joseph Sikora as Scott’s close friend Mike was reasonable in his role as up and coming young, robust and rich guy. Alvina August was acceptable as Mike’s girlfriend who put up with Mike’s posturing. David Loughery wrote a good script, but it was the direction by Deon Taylor that failed to make the story memorable. He didn’t get much out of his actors and sided on overacting to make this film.

Overall: This film is totally forgettable and not worth seeing.

Greta

First Hit: The story portrayed here was poorly constructed and did not keep me engaged.

The plot is about a Greta (Isabelle Huppert), an older lonely woman who plays the piano looking for companionship. To find it, she leaves purses with a few objects in them on the New York Subway, one being her ID. Her hopes are someone will notice and return the handbags.

We are introduced to Frances McCullen (Chloe Grace Moretz), a young waitress who has recently lost her mother to cancer. She’s living with her best friend Erica Penn (Maika Monroe). While coming home one evening, Francis found a purse on the subway. Finding the ID, Frances finds Greta’s home and returns the handbag.

They strike up a friendship based on that they’ve lost loved ones; Greta her husband and Frances, her mother. However, it becomes obsessive on Greta’s part, and the creepiness begins after their first meeting. Greta’s weirdness of Frances’ time and attention hits a high mark when Frances finds additional purses, like the one she returned. The gig is up.

Figuring out that Greta does this to entrap young women, she also realizes that these women, including her, are replacements for her daughter whom Greta says is living in France. But is she?

As the story unfolds, Greta’s behavior becomes more obsessive and creepy. Finally, she drugs Frances and locks her up.

The story continues to unfold from here and how it ends is only slightly surprising.

The best part of the film was the quality of the cinematography and sets. Greta’s home had a beautiful quality, including its own creepiness. The apartment where Frances and Erica lived was perfectly modern for two young women. However, the story and film felt pushed through and forced.

Huppert was, at times, excellent in her expressions, but overdone as the story unfolded. Moretz was good, she carried the naivety of her role well enough, but again it was the story and direction that made all of it not work. Monroe was good as the roommate, and her final scenes were excellent. However, during the movie the story just guided her to be more flighty than needed. Ray Wright and Neil Jordan wrote a mixed-up script that created an overemphasis on the creepiness of the character. Jordan didn’t help matters with the direction because the creepiness was overdone.

Overall: This story didn’t quite work.

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.

Escape Room

First Hit: Despite the lack of depth, I thought this film was very entertaining to watch.

The premise is that six strangers, who each have had a particular type of tragedy in their lives, are thrown together into a set of increasingly dangerous rooms and must escape.

We meet Zoey (Taylor Russell) in her dorm room and electing to study during Thanksgiving holiday instead of accepting her roommate’s invitation to go home with her.

Then we’re introduced to Jason (Jay Ellis) who is a Wall Street deal maker, making a deal with one of his large clients.

We also meet Ben (Logan Miller) trying to better his life by asking for a customer interfacing position in the grocery store he works in and then gets turned down, the quick camera flash to a flask on a desk gives you a hint of his past.

Each of the six Zoey, Jason, Ben, Mike (Tyler Labine), Amanda (Deborah Ann Woll), and Danny (Nik Dodani) receive a puzzle box, and because each of them knows how to solve puzzles, find the invitation hidden within the box to meet at a specific time and place.

When these strangers arrive into the reception room, they soon find out that the voice behind the glass reception window is recorded. Ben wants to go outside and have a cigarette and tries to leave. When he turns the door handle it breaks off in his hand, they are stuck. The group realizes that this room is part of the puzzle and they have to find a way out.

The room starts transforming into an oven and furnace with heating coils and flames coming out of the walls and ceiling. Together they start looking for clues to get out of the room.

Escaping this room by learning how to work together, they find themselves in a small comfortable mountain cabin room. Going out the front door, they are locked out of the cabin and in a freezing winter scene with a frozen lake. After finding an exit door they realize they need a key to unlock it.

The winter scene is getting colder and realizing they will die of hypothermia, they start working together to find the key that will allow them to escape this room.

While looking for the key, Danny falls through the ice and dies. Now the group realizes that the challenge their engaged in, is deadly.

As the group meets the challenge of each room, people are dying on the way. Finally, the remaining group find themselves in a dark grungy hospital room, where there are beds and corresponding folders that explain the history of each of them. Each of them was a lone survivor of an event in their life. Each was picked because they found a way.

Russell was the most compelling character in the film and as we discover in the end, cannot let the game go. There may be a sequel. Miller was very good as the semi-slacker who survives the game and subsequently changed his life. Woll was the most interesting person in the game. Her fearlessness and strength were perfectly portrayed. Ellis did a great job of being an arrogant jerk. His truth was exposed. Labine was very strong as the older experienced part of the team. Dodani was odd in his role as escape room junkie. His enthusiasm towards the dilemma the group found themselves in was over done. Bragi F. Schut and Maria Melnik wrote an OK screen play. I would have liked a bit more about the characters. Adam Robitel did a good job of creating tense situations and the sets were interesting, but the lack of depth didn’t quite work.

Overall: It wasn’t a great film, but I was intrigued by the rooms, clues and a couple of the characters.

The Mule

First Hit: Film lagged and spent too much time on an aging Clint Eastwood.

I was looking forward to seeing this film, but as it wound down, I realized that I simply was watching an old man be an old man making choices.

I like Eastwood and here as Earl Stone who is a horticulturist that’s running his own business, he’s good. However, as we begin to explore his life, we discover he was once married, didn’t show up to his daughter’s wedding, likes to be the life of the party, and he slowly becomes afraid of the internet because he knows it going to ruin his business.

As his flower business fails, he needs money, so he turns to driving drugs for a dealer. At first, it’s small quantities, which he does easily. Then he starts moving larger and larger amounts of cocaine.

Eventually, the head of the cartel becomes impressed with this old guy who seems to be able to easily move drugs around the country. After meeting the head, he moves the largest shipment ever moved to a mid-west city.

In the meantime, he’s being looked for by the DEA who need a bust to prove their worth. Leading the team of men is an outsider DEA Agent named Colin Bates (Bradley Cooper) and a local DEA Agent (Michael Pena).

However, the story seems to be focused on Earl, when we’ve got Pena, Cooper, and Laurence Fishburne (as a DEA Special Agent) who are great actors that have stories to tell the audience as well.

Additionally, the audience gets cheated on a background of Earl’s family with former wife Mary (Dianne Wiest), daughter Iris (Alison Eastwood), and granddaughter Ginny (Taissa Farmiga). It could have been compelling to share more about this. Why hire great actors if they only have small, almost meaningless roles?

To me this was the downfall of the film. We spent a lot of time with Earl driving down the highway when backstories of all these characters could have been brought forth for our enjoyment.

Eastwood was good, but he seems to either lack the fortitude to take on strong roles or he wanted it to be this fumblingly self-focused old man trying to make a living and be seen by others as king of the hill. Farmiga was strong as the granddaughter who believed in him. Wiest was great, but there was so little of her. Alison Eastwood was OK as Earl’s daughter. Cooper was OK in a limited but pivotal role. I think he needed to become more of the story. Pena was, as always, an excellent sidekick. Fishburne was strong as the leading Special Agent. Andy Garcia was excellent as the drug lord. Nick Schenk wrote this film from an New York Times article. Eastwood directed himself in this film and it appears he’s lost his touch.

Overall: This was a disappointing film, lacking in suspense as well as developing scenes.