Category Archives: Suspense

A Genre Bending Chiller That Delivers

I get so tired of watching ads on television for movie thrillers. In these ads they usually show you the best, or most arresting, parts. You watch the movie and find the rest is pretty tepid. Not so with 10 Cloverfield Lane, a genuine thriller that will get your heart racing and rivet your attention to the screen.  In it, a young woman (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) comes to after an automobile accident to find herself in a bunker run by survivalist John Goodman.

10 Cloverleaf Lane

She’s told that there’s been trouble outside and the air is poisonedand that she is only safe in the bunker,  but she comes to suspect that crazy old John has trapped her for other reasons.  I can’t tell more so I won’t ruin the surprises, but let’s just say that Goodman is magnificent, good enough to earn an Oscar nomination, though those aren’t generally give for this sort of movie. Genres are combined and bent and the ending will astonish you. This is one thriller that delivers! It’s available now on an  immaculately produced Blu-ray with terrifying surround sound that also includes a DVD and a digital copy.

Two Terrific Action Films

I love movies that make me think or that deal with some social condition or the human spirit, but let’s face it – once in a while I just want to see an action adventure movie that thrills and entertains in doing so. This past week I was lucky to see two really good ones. Spectre at my local Regal theater and Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation in the comfort of my home on the 65″ screen. Spectre might be the best James Bond movie yet, and I’ll talk about it when it’s available to view at home. Mission…is available on a dandy Blu-ray disc that gets four stars easy.

Mission Impossible Rogue Nationa

Once again Tom Cruise stars as Ethan Hunt, the indefatigable agent who always gets the job done, no matter the obstacle. Simon Pegg is back on board as his often humorous sidekick, Benji Dunn, as is Jeremy Renner as the head of Hunt’s elite squad. This time, that elite squad has been squelched by the CIA (led by a snarky Alan Baldwin), and the guys are on their own in trying to discover if The Syndicate, a collection of rogue agents, really exists, and if so, to annihilate it. Matters are complicated by Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) a gorgeous and athletic agent who may or may not be playing them.  There are car chases, motorcycle chases, shoot outs, and a tense underwater sequence. The pacing is breathless but there are enough resting places that one can catch his breath before the action starts again. In short, the pacing is perfect, the acting is perfect, the plot is engaging, and the mystery never lets up until the final twist. The Blu-ray disc has a drop-dead-gorgeous image and the sound is full bodied and has lots of presence. For once the balance between dialogue and lease breaking sound is perfect. Too many movies these days drop the dialogue way down and the effects way up so you’re faced with the dilemma of having to be blown out of your house by the effects just to hear the script. Not so with Mission..it serves as a model of how it should be done. There are lots of extras, by the way, that explain how some of the stunts were done and enhance the viewing experience. Four stars and maybe a half more – don’t miss it.

Is There an Android in Your Future?

Androids. One of the most popular, recurring themes in science fiction. A theme very popular today as several movies and television shows have focused on topic and made it very, well, human.

Ex Machina

First up there’s the feature film, Ex Machina in which nerdy genius Caleb Smith (Domhnall Gleeson) wins a contest which allows him to spend a week with Nathan Bateman (Oscar Issac), the mysterious, reclusive CEO of the company where Caleb works. Nathan lives in a house in the middle of primeval forests, accessible only by pontoon aircraft. He has created Ava (Alicia Vikander), an android he wishes to pair in conversation with Caleb to see if artificial intelligence really works. No spoilers here just a note that this suspenseful film delivers a memorable climax and conclusion.  It’s on DVD and Blu-ray, the latter boasts a superb picture but the sound is tricky. The dialogue is on the soft side but if you boost it, the music score and sound effects might blow you out of your home. The exaggerated dynamic range eases up after the first third of the movie.

Humans

Humans is an 8-part first season of a show filmed in Great Britain and shown in the U. S. on AMC. The show is set in the near future where people can buy “synths,” as the androids are called, to do domestic duties and the like. But the creator of the androids that look exactly like humans gave a small group of them extra, human emotions and reasoning powers. Humans follows the interactions of this artificial family with a real human family. They win over most of the real humans, but not all. At the end of the season, the line between human and android begins to blur. Low key yet totally absorbing thanks to fine casting and an intelligent script.

Extant

Extant was created as a starring show for Halle Berry. She stars as an astronaut scientist who orbits in space for a year, then returns to earth mysteriously pregnant. That’s the main theme, but a parallel one examines her relationship with her android son, Ethan. One of the most interesting questions asked is whether Ethan is “property” or not. The show turned into a bit of a snooze in its first season, so no blame if you stopped watching it. But season two is revved up with new acting blood, tighter scripts and more answers. Give it a second chance and I think you’ll agree that it’s appealing science fiction. And after watching all three of these productions, you’ll probably start looking at the stranger next to you at the bus stop and asking yourself “I wonder if he/she is one of them?” You’ll never know.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Mr. Robot” – Must watch TV

I saw the first episode of Mr. Robot (USA) last night and was pretty blown away by it. But then I’ve always had a little rabble rousing in my DNA. One of my best friends when i was in Jr. High School in Chapel Hill was against the establishment and wanted to hire an airplane to drop anti government fliers over the UNC Campus. I sort of like the idea. The hero of Mr. Robot is Elliot (Rami Malek) a young man hired by E Corporation to protect its server systems. Only Elliot by night is a cyber vigilante who hacks accounts, ferrets out evil, and confronts the perpetrators with their own files.

Mr. Robot 2

Anti Corporation Elliot is recruited by anti corporation Mr. Robot (Christian Slater, in a role ideally suited to him) who has elaborate plans to do a karate chop to  E Corp and others by de-funding all corporate entities. Elliot is supposed to defend E Corp but in the essential voice  overs that run in his brain, we find out he really calls it Evil Corp. Some of the language against corporations is tough (one might even think Michael Moore was hired as a consultant),  and the pacing is brisk. Through all is Rami Malek, who mesmerizes. You won’t be able to take your eyes off him just like you won’t be able to drop Mr. Robot once you’ve started viewing. You’ve been warned.

Foreign TV Via Netflix

Netflix streaming, which I consider one of the great values out there, has always had a smattering of foreign TV, subtitled and all, but that small number of titles has blossomed into a large number that have their own separate search division. Here are three of the  best, which you also might be able to obtain on DVD or Blu-ray disc, depending on your access. But wherever you find them, don’t miss these superlative shows.

The Code

The Code is an Australian show, so it is in English without subtitles. It’s concerned with one of action drama’s favorite topics – government cover up. A young couple, cruising in the outback, gets involved in an accident and the girl dies. A video is involved that proves that the girl was murdered. Two brothers pursue the truth. Reporter Ned Banks (Dan Spielman) wants the story for his raggy newspaper, brother Jesse (Ashley Zukerman) is a computer hacker extraordinaire, who keeps the brothers informer but also at odds. The whole cast is find but American actor Zukerman is especially good. Suspense builds and builds for six episodes. and the photography and sound are first rate. Netflix has season one, there’s apparently a season two (also six episodes) in the wings.

Salamander

Salamander is a Belgian TV show and carries easy to read English subtitles.  It’s about espionage and that favorite topic again – government coverup – adding another favorite theme – the heist. Sophisticated thieves go through sewer  tunnels to gain access to a bank’s  safe deposit boxes. They empty 66 of them, taking papers and photos that might prove embarrassing to government officials were they to be revealed. The bank wants no police involvement, fearing the knowledge of the contents of those boxes might bring down the government. One policeman, Paul Geradi (FIlip Peeters) seeks the truth and for his trouble becomes a wanted man, pursuing justice against all odds. Though 12 episodes long, Salamander is taut and exciting to the end, each episode ending with a cliffhanger that propels a viewer on to the next chapter. Breathtaking thrills and lots of cat and mouse action, with multiple cats and multiple mice! A second season is in the works, as is an English language remake.

Witnesses

The Messengers is a French show and like no other I’ve seen.  It’s subtitled and set in a French seacoast town that has vistas of amazing beauty. Three recently buried bodies are discovered exhumed and placed in the show house of a new housing development. They’ve been positioned so as to imitate an average 3-person family. It happens again, and this time, a photograph of a former police investigator is left behind. That man, Paul Maisonneuve (Thierry Lhermitte) rejoins the force and along with his former student, Sandra Winckler (Marie Dompnier), now a full investigator herself, sets out to find the culprits. In episode 3 it becomes clear that these crimes are a distraction to hide a real crime. That one is solved in episode 5, the other in the final episode 6. This show, like Salamander, is exceptionally taut, with splendid photography, and also has Class A movie style acting.  Lhermitte, usually known in France for comedy, and Dompnier have hand in glove chemistry. It’s wonderful to watch them work together.  Lhermitte walks off at the end of this one, but I’ve a feeling he’ll be enticed back for a second season. Let’s hope so.