11/27/2014

Movie Review: Red Rock West (1993)


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Note: 
This piece was originally Published by Brian Sauer on his blog Rupert Pupkin Speaks as part of the Underrated Thrillers series by author Jen Johans in the fall of 2014. It was adapted from an earlier piece Johans had penned and posted in 2007 here on Film Intuition.

Review:
Inspired by neo-Noir masters David Lynch and the Coens, writer/director John Dahl proved he could handle Noir terrain in his own right with the excellent Red Rock West.

The film finds wounded war veteran Michael (Nicolas Cage) in the middle of the western desert looking for work that keeps eluding him because of his bad leg and his honesty about it in interviews.
 
When he’s mistaken for someone else, Cage agrees to a job from bar owner Wayne (J.T. Walsh) before realizing that the man thinks he’s the hit man he’s hired to kill his young, sexy, unfaithful wife played by Lara Flynn Boyle.


Boyle gives Cage even more money to get Wayne out of the picture and he figures he’ll take the money and leave town before a number of ridiculous but believable events make it impossible for him to leave Red Rock, such as the arrival of the real hit man played by the always over-the-top but affable Dennis Hopper.

Like Michael, Hopper’s Lyle is a former veteran of the war and there are some minor political implications throughout the work along with excellent uses of the environment for irony.

A Hitchcockian wrong man thriller, Dahl has fun with this influence in a nod to North By Northwest that finds Michael nearly run over by a car similar to Cary Grant’s battle with the crop duster.


Red Rock West also pays tribute to Rear Window given the film’s treatment of the disability to serve as a symbol of Cage’s “impotence” as a man without power a la James Stewart in Window.

A treat to watch, the film-literate script penned by John and his brother Rick Dahl has a blast taking archetypes like Boyle’s femme fatale, Cage’s unlucky mark, and Hopper’s thuggish villain and making them vastly more complex as each evolves in a multitude of ways from one act to the next.

Likewise, it serves as wonderful study for aspiring screenwriters as we watch our refreshingly relatable main character Michael time and time again doing things that viewers themselves think they might do (like writing a note to authorities, etc.) but yet keep getting stuck in that dark, Noir town in the middle of nowhere.


Poorly handled in its initial release by producers unsure if a western Noir would ever catch on, the film (which played on cable before being released overseas) happened to strike a chord with the right viewer at the right time, bringing it to the Toronto International Film Festival where another fan picked up the baton to serve as its champion.

Released in a few theaters in San Francisco where it broke records, Red Rock West became a critical and word-of-mouth hit just weeks before it was slated for its original video release, forever making it an underrated treasure worthy of cult status as one of Cage’s best pre-Oscar performances and John Dahl’s best film.

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Text ©2014, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reserved. http://www.filmintuition.com Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I may have received a review copy of this title in order to voluntarily decide to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.

Warner Archive Collection DVD Review: The Last of Sheila (1973)

Note: 
This piece was originally Published by Brian Sauer on his blog Rupert Pupkin Speaks as part of the Underrated Thrillers series by author Jen Johans in the fall of 2014.

Review:
The ultimate film for puzzle lovers, this Edgar award winning screenplay about a scavenger hunt turned deadly by Psycho villain Anthony Perkins and Broadway titan Stephen Sondheim took its inspiration from the real-life scavenger hunts the two hosted for their show business friends.

Underlined three times, The Last of Sheila was included at the very top of a short list of “must see murder mysteries” given to me as a young film buff and writer by the bestselling author husband of my ninth grade English teacher after she’d heard me rave one too many times about The Usual Suspects.

Sheila was not only the only work he’d included that I’d never seen (let alone heard of), it was also the one that sent me on an extensive scavenger hunt of my own from one video store to another in order to track down the sole VHS copy in a thirty mile radius… and to this day I am glad that I did.

Like Suspects, Final Analysis, Frantic, Memento, The Game, and Red Rock West, The Last of Sheila is one of those films that acknowledges its influences in cleverly crafted homage from start to finish yet it also manages to go above and beyond its roots as a post-Hitchcockian Noir.

Transcending the limits of genre so that it’s also a very self aware Tinseltown parody filled with in-jokes about type casting and larger-than-life Hollywood personas, Sheila is equal parts thriller and black comedy, directed by Herbert Ross, who was as much at home directing Neil Simon comedies as he was handling dramas.

Not only respecting but demanding the intelligence of its audience to be sophisticated enough to accept a work that doesn’t neatly fit into any one category, Sheila turns its viewers into party-goers who’ve traveled aboard the yacht of an eccentric film producer who’s celebrating the one-year anniversary of his wife’s hit-and-run death by unmasking the secrets of his guests in a week-long game.

A film where even the most throwaway dialogue has the potential to payoff unexpectedly, although the case is solved by the final frame, Sheila only grows richer with repeat viewings where you can see the way that point-of-view, subjective edits, and even the most innocuous of props hide in plain sight as clues to be both savored and discovered.

While it’s a masterwork of mystery in a script that’s sure to evoke envy in crime writers, the way it encourages and utilizes cinema-literacy in its sleight-of-hand makes Sheila underrated on a filmic level – teaching viewers about the importance of framing, cutting, and juxtaposition as well as any Film Studies 101 course.

From the playful command of “dissolve” that dissolves into a flashback to showing us the same scenes shot a few different ways, Sheila is that rare Hollywood in-joke movie that celebrates its craft as smartly as its skewers its stereotypes.


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Text ©2014, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reserved. http://www.filmintuition.com Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I may have received a review copy of this title in order to voluntarily decide to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.

Warner Archive Collection DVD Review: The Gazebo - Remastered Edition (1959)


Note: 
This piece was originally Published by Brian Sauer on his blog Rupert Pupkin Speaks as part of the Underrated Thrillers series by author Jen Johans in the fall of 2014.

Review:
A major change of pace for MGM musical screenwriter George Wells who adapted Alec Coppel’s hit 1958 Broadway play for the The Blue Dahlia director George Marshall, The Gazebo plays equally well as a comedy and a crime thriller thanks to its stark black-and-white cinematography and the terrific chemistry of leads Glenn Ford and Debbie Reynolds.

Similar in tone to Hitchcock’s The Trouble With Harry, which the filmmakers get plenty of mileage out of throughout the film that involves a body that won’t stay buried and a darkly comedic script that adheres to Murphy’s Law, The Gazebo centers on a show business couple whose livelihood is threatened by a blackmailer.

Having managed to keep his wife (Reynolds) out of the loop so far, crime show television screenwriter/director Ford runs out of patience and money when the insistent blackmailer tells him he plans to release nude photos of his now successful actress wife.

Following a “hypothetical” creative meeting with a police officer friend and a few improvisational words of wisdom gleaned from a phone call with Hitch, Ford decides he’s going to get rid of the scoundrel once and for all, especially after his wife unknowingly gives him the perfect place to bury the body beneath a gazebo she’s just purchased.

Filled with surprising plot twists and frequently funny mishaps beautifully played by Ford in a standout performance that keep this fast-paced film firing on all cylinders, The Gazebo has been beautifully remastered by Warner Archive, giving viewers weaned on the Coen Brothers a chance to see a vintage crime comedy that still crackles with wit and suspense.


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Text ©2014, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reserved. http://www.filmintuition.com Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I may have received a review copy of this title in order to voluntarily decide to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.

Movie Review: Too Late for Tears (1949)


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AKA: Killer Bait

Note:
This piece was originally Published by Brian Sauer on his blog Rupert Pupkin Speaks as part of the Underrated Thrillers series by author Jen Johans in the fall of 2014.

Review:
Considering the fact that Byron Haskin is best known for helming movies that drew heavily on his extensive background as a Warner Brothers special effects head (including Disney’s first feature length foray into live action via Treasure Island and the 1953 Orwell adaptation of The War of the Worlds), it’s no wonder that his late ‘40s thrillers get lost in the shuffle.

However, Noir fans would do well to seek out the one-two punch of I Walk Alone and Two Late for Tears that Haskin executed prior to Island which teamed him up with under-utilized B-movie actress Lizabeth Scott for a pair of potent pictures.


Seduced by the enviable cast including Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas (in an early turn fresh off his impressive work in Out of the Past), when sought out by genre scholars, most of the ink has been spilled about Walk.

But when compared side by side, in truth it’s the less flashy 1949 public domain gem Too Late for Tears (also known as Killer Bait) that’s far worthier of cult classic status alongside other low-budget public domain favorites such as Quicksand and Detour.

Easily the more compelling of the two, Tears also sets itself apart by centering the entire film around a female antihero – which in retrospect helped anticipate the ‘80s and ‘90s revisionist Neo-Noirs that harked back to genre classics while giving women much stronger roles.

Following an accidental money drop which finds a bag filled with sixty thousand dollars erroneously tossed into Lizabeth Scott’s car, the quick-thinking blonde decides to do everything in her power to play finders keepers, even if that means bumping off her straitlaced husband (and anyone who crosses her path) to get her way.

What could’ve been a fairly straightforward crime melodrama about the evils of greed (as predictably one misdeed follows another) turns into a surprisingly complex web of comeuppance, calculation, and intrigue as new players appear out of the woodwork changing the rules and adding new layers to the already escalating plotline.

Based on a serial from The Saturday Evening Post and adapted by its author Roy Huggins (who would go on to create TV’s The Fugitive, Maverick and 77 Sunset Strip), Tears offered both Scott and former bit player turned I Walk Alone actress Kristine Miller two of the best written roles of their careers.

Likewise the film not only helped anticipate the future directorial success of Haskin but also offers an early glimpse of the same character driven multifaceted plotting that would hold viewers captive for decades once Huggins took his mind for murderous mysteries to the small screen. 



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Text ©2014, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reserved. http://www.filmintuition.com Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I may have received a review copy of this title in order to voluntarily decide to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.

Movie Review: The Leading Man (1996)


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Note:
This piece was originally published by Brian Sauer on his blog Rupert Pupkin Speaks as part of the Underrated Thrillers series by author Jen Johans in the fall of 2014.

Review:
A dramatic thriller with twinges of dark comedy and psychological suspense, one of the reasons director John Duigan’s film flew under the radar was because nobody could figure out precisely how to classify the work and pitch it to an audience.

I say forget about trying to fit it into a neat little box and just enjoy the ride.

Rocker Jon Bon Jovi turns in a terrific performance as Robin Grange, an enigmatic American actor who – rumor has it – was kicked out of Hollywood because he wound up in the wrong studio head’s wife’s bed. In London to try his hand in the theater, Robin befriends acclaimed playwright Felix Webb (Lambert Wilson) who is caught in a love triangle of his own.

Desperately in love with a young aspiring actress (played by Thandie Newton) who he’s just cast in his opus opposite Robin, Felix’s devotion to Netwon’s Hilary is put to the test when his tempestuous wife, Helena (Anna Galiena) begins to catch on.

Pushed to his limit by Helena’s latest stunts lashing out against her absentee husband by taking a scissors to his wardrobe and his hair as he sleeps – the frazzled Felix agrees to a bizarre proposition by Robin wherein the American will seduce his wife in order to get her off his back.

A gentleman’s agreement pitched by Robin as a favor to a friend and with the added caveat that since his wife is beautiful “it won’t exactly be a chore,” Felix gives into the man even if in the back of his mind he doesn’t suspect it will work.

Determined to get into character “for a proper love affair,” Robin begins studying Helena’s habits and tastes, working overtime for a role that audiences realize may not stop with just Helena.

Wondering exactly what Robin has in mind, what his gun is for and just who the mark is and what is the motive, when the plan gets underway and begins to involve Hilary as well, the playwright realizes he may have gotten himself into something he can’t write his way out of by final curtain.

A modern day twist on the parable of being careful what one wishes for, while the script (by the director’s sister Virginia Duigan) could benefit from one more twist in the last act, it’s a fascinating tale of karmic revenge that is that much more effective given its theatrical setting.

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Text ©2014, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reserved. http://www.filmintuition.com Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I may have received a review copy of this title in order to voluntarily decide to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.

11/26/2014

Blu-ray Review - Planes: Fire and Rescue (2014)


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On Blu-ray, DVD, or Download

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Related Review: 
Planes (2013)



AKA: Disney's Planes: Fire & Rescue; Planes: Fire & Rescue

As the very embodiment of not just wishing upon a star but aspiring to fly among them to make his Disney dreams come true, in the first of three planned "World of Cars" spin-off Planes pictures, Dane Cook's ambitious crop duster ventured from humble beginnings as a farm flyer before overcoming enormous obstacles to take to the international skies as a world-class racer.

Yet just because the underdog made it to the top of our eye-line (in some gorgeously crafted CG sequences that helped distract us from the otherwise by-the-numbers plotline), it doesn't mean that he'll be smooth sailing in the sky for long as this time around, reality in the form of a faulty gearbox soon sends him crashing down from cloud nine.


Hoping to remedy the mess he’s made at home, Dusty cruises over to Piston Peak National Park for what he assumes will be a cakewalk compared to everything he's achieved.

However he quickly finds himself overwhelmed, outclassed, and — whether or not he wants to admit it — seriously impressed by the high precision flying, jaw-dropping displays of teamwork, bravery and lack of ego evidenced by the squad of true heroes whom he encounters.

And though it may be smaller in scope to the global scale of its predecessor, Planes: Fire and Rescue is vastly superior to the first film which ran out of gas and plot by the end of the first act.

Yet while the original Planes would have been better off wrapping up its entire storyline in the form of a short film as opposed to a feature, Fire and Rescue only gets better as it continues, particularly as witnessed by the coolly cinematic introduction to the crew (and what they can do) cut in time to AC/DC's "Thunderstruck."


Admittedly and much like the previous installment, Fire is a retread of the same character archetypes, storylines, style, and structure of Cars — this time with Ed Harris taking on the role as the mentor embodied by Paul Newman in the Pixar original.

However, the one bonus that this film has over the rest of the World series is a genuinely witty, against-type voice-over turn by Modern Family's Julie Bowen Dipper, the aptly-named new coworker of Dusty who's as dippy and she is determined to make Dusty her wingman.


While Dipper's overeager charm recalls Jessie in Toy Story 2 and Dory in Finding Nemo, a theme from another Pixar franchise film floats into the last half of Disney’s Planes that echoes the mature moral conveyed in Monsters University.

For just as Billy Crystal's Mike struggled to adapt his future plans and roll with the punches when he learned that the path he'd always imagined for himself wasn't in the cards, it's precisely the same ability-driven setback that Dusty faces in this film upon realizing that sometimes life doesn't always go the way you’d expect.

A rough patch of a plot twist that can also be viewed as a metaphor for disability, Dusty's role-defining character arc is universally relatable from multiple points-of-view.


Uniting the ambitious flier with his mentor on a more soulful level, viewers eventually discover that, like Dusty, the decision to join the Fire and Rescue Squad came later in life as a fallback career for the character voiced by Harris as well.

Predictably of course, Planes: Fire and Rescue takes a cheap way out by giving its characters another happily ever after solution in the nick of time. Nonetheless, even utilizing this plotline is an admirably responsible step in the right direction for Disney given that their entire empire is built upon wishing on a star and dreams coming true.


For fittingly, over the past thirty years there's been a definite paradigm shift at the House of Mouse in an important transition for not only the classic fairy tales that served as a foundation for the happiest place on earth but also in the underdog films that have replaced them as modern day wish fulfillment sagas.

Winningly, they’ve managed to infuse the works with more realism while still staying true to their roots by never taking away from the importance of optimistic dreams.


Thus, Disney has not only taken responsibility for the oversimplification of tales of old by showing us heroes that know they might need a backup plan to save themselves when times are tough but they also give the youngest generation filmic examples of these very lessons at the very same time.

While it's nowhere near as impactful or thrilling as recent Disney fare including the superlative Wreck it Ralph or Frozen, much like Dusty you have to admire the ability of Planes to bounce back from the problems of the first one early on to deliver something stronger and more successful all around.

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Text ©2014, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reserved. http://www.filmintuition.com Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I may have received a review copy of this title in order to voluntarily decide to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.

11/21/2014

Blu-ray Review: Last Passenger (2013)


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Chugging along at a steady pace, this sharply executed thriller set aboard a busy British commuter train late at night during the Christmas holiday week takes us the long way around on its path to excitement.

Familiar with its terrain, Last Passenger pays homage to its Hitchcockian roots both with regard to its romantically old-fashioned set piece as well as its emphasis on Strangers on a Train style character-driven dramatic tension.


Bold in its restraint, rather than solely relying on the external dangers apparent within the machinations of the diesel engine beast, Passenger’s decision to opt for the scenic route ensures that we're fully invested in the handful of characters left on board once the train begins to empty out.

Focusing primarily on Dougray Scott’s widowed emergency room doctor and his young son who strike up a cordial but gradually flirtatious conversation with a blonde-haired beauty across the aisle, Passenger moves from meet-cute to the territory of mystery once the trio realize that not only has the train ceased making scheduled stops but all the employees have vanished as well.

Trying to keep a cool head, Scott initially approaches the issue like a puzzle to solve – similar to the way his son likes to rave about his skills as a diagnostician who can say what's wrong with the person just by looking at them.

However, it's only after he stumbles on a scene a foul play that he and a formerly dubious by-the-book businessman he’d butted heads with realize that they're among only six riders aboard on the now runaway train who’ve been left to fend for themselves.

Unable to reason with the unseen driver who's cut the emergency brakes and taken control of the train — barreling along the rails towards the end of the line at nearly a hundred miles an hour – the six strangers struggle to figure out how to get the cars to stop.


Utilizing any objects at their disposal from the guard's keys and the train's operating manual to alcohol from the bar and their own cell phones, the riders rely on real-world theory as well as any skills or knowledge they've picked up along the way to take control away from the unknown man at the front.

Employing red herrings and misdirection from start to finish, what sets Passenger apart from other works of this type (aside from its generically ill-fitting title) is that it refuses to go along with the typical construct of a hero and a villain that must be unmasked by the ending.

Missing in the film are the clichéd "talking killer" exposition-filled speeches that explain the why and how (beyond whom and what) that have been designed by the screenwriter to wrap everything up into a neat little bow.


Instead we're presented with the type of thriller that we normally see the aftermath of in the evening news wherein we can't understand why things went so wrong except for the chilling realization that there's no possible explanation that would ever make sense.

Yes, there are a few contrivances and gaps in logic such as the fact that one rider conveniently works on the London Underground and another knows way too much about train crashes. However, we’re willing to overlook both of these partly because the velocity of the film doesn’t leave us with that much time upon which to dwell before shifting our attention towards a thrilling new diversion, in an obvious takeaway from Jan de Bont’s Speed.


And likewise while some of the finger pointing and unrealistic fights between the frazzled commuters makes you think that — perhaps in a different draft of the screenplay— the first time feature filmmaker and writer/director Omid Nooshin did take his characters down a much more traditional and familiar path of good and evil, all tonal inconsistencies aside, Passenger holds steady.

For despite the fact that he was using a well-traveled map of suspenseful transportation thrillers to guide his impressive cinematic debut journey, by confidently veering down a different direction at full speed, Nooshin charted a new course that's sure to garner even greater momentum now that it's arrived on both disc and Netflix at last.
   

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Text ©2014, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reserved. http://www.filmintuition.com Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I may have received a review copy of this title in order to voluntarily decide to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.

11/13/2014

Blu-ray Review: A Most Wanted Man (2014)


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Unable to weave its overwhelming number of characters and conflicts together into a solidly crafted dramatic tapestry, director Gavin Hood's otherwise ambitious 2007 effort Rendition was one of several pictures to address the moral and ethical pros and cons of life in the post 9/11 landscape that ultimately crashed and burned at the box office.

Tackling similar terrain by way of a completely different throughline, The American helmer Anton Corbijn turned to fictionalized nonfiction while bringing former real-life spy turned Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy master novelist John le Carré’s exploration of extraordinary rendition to the screen with this tautly stylish adaptation of A Most Wanted Man.

And since it takes a certain degree of performance to pull off life as a secret agent, it’s perhaps (tragically) fitting that the film features what wound up to be the last starring role for the late great thespian Philip Seymour Hoffman who heads up the Oscar caliber cast for Corbijn’s strongest character driven nail biter since his directorial debut via the Ian Curtis biopic Control.


A German intelligence agent, Hoffman's Günther Bachmann relies on tried-and-true Cold War era information-gathering techniques (such as turning sources, person-to-person observation, and sturdy shoe leather) to “make the weather," as he explains in a key meeting with representatives from other governments.

Radiating power and integrity while striving to retain control over a questionable situation involving a recent foreign arrival, as the film gets going, Bachmann must identify the real motives and missing pieces in the mysterious back-story of a half-Chechen, half-Muslim young man who’s arrived in Hamburg seeking asylum and his father’s willed fortune.

Still stung by the time he got it wrong before 9/11 (which the viewer gradually learns may have had more to do with foreign blame-shifting versus actual error), it’s up to Bachmann to ascertain whether the man is a genuine threat or someone whose innocence is being clouded by circumstance and the ever-changing weather of the political climate Bachmann’s team specializes in forecasting.


Hoping to catch a shark he’s had his eye on long before he was tasked with sizing up the newest on the scene as a minnow or a barracuda, the spies zero in on Rachel McAdams’s refugee rights activist and Willem Dafoe’s private banker – angling to turn those whose paths the man has crossed into bait.

Desperate to run the operation his way, Bachmann finds himself butting heads with an American agent (played with commanding presence by Robin Wright as the type of operative that her House of Cards alter ego would probably have on speed dial).

Claustrophobic and complex, while admittedly it is slanted more one direction as a work of liberal humanism indicative of le Carré's ouevre (and given the author's own admission), Man still admirably implores viewers to see both sides of the story by layering it with shadows and light.


Largely subtle on the whole, although it doesn’t tip its hat quite as noticeably as, say TV’s Scandal does with its over-the-top speechmaking, the success of this approach is both hit and miss, however.

Harking back to Corbijn’s past as a music video director, Wanted struggles at times with stagy “see it from the cheap seats” visually dominant character blocking, ignoring organic movement in favor of landing a few cool frame-within-a-frame shots of structural symbolism.

While thankfully minor, certain sequences weigh a little too heavily on the film’s otherwise impressive commitment to realism via foreshadowing that's obvious to everyone except for the super spies on the screen (such as in a critical moment during the penultimate scene when they fail to notice a suspicious car that calls an unbelievable amount of attention to itself).

Nonetheless still on par with the suspension of disbelief demanded during the thematically similar Showtime series Homeland, in the end the complete conviction of the ensemble cast keeps us firmly rooted to the yarn being unspooled in A Most Wanted Man.


Bringing all of the players together in a final sequence that hits us like an emotional tidal wave and also reaffirms the author’s point better than any one monologue or individual frame, the work captured by ace cinematographer Benoît Delhomme looks and sounds as lifelike as a documentary thanks to Lionsgate’s stellar high definition Blu-ray transfer.

Boasting a terrific behind-the-scenes featurette with former German-stationed British spy turned The Spy Who Came In From the Cold scribe John le Carré himself, the highly recommended extra takes you on a biographical, historical, and topical tour of the work, the man, and its political terrain.

Not shying away from sharing his own views on the issues that inspired le Carré and the film, the informative bonus material also invites you to compare and contrast other works about extraordinary rendition, while encouraging you to do some information-gathering of your own.

An excellent companion to the main attraction, the author hosted walk-and-talk is as engrossing as it is compelling – making me wish that somebody would take the time to bring the author’s own story to the screen as a superior saga of extraordinary espionage both on and off the page.

   

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Text ©2014, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reserved. http://www.filmintuition.com Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I may have received a review copy of this title in order to voluntarily decide to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.

11/05/2014

Blu-ray Review: Free Fall (2014)


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Even without saddling him with the Ayn Rand epic-worthy name of Thaddeus Gault, as soon as we see that the man embodying the far-too-smooth, selfishly shady CEO at the heart of Free Fall is none other than iconic screen villain Malcolm McDowell, we know right from the start that he’ll be the one calling all the shots of the suspense that should – by all rights – follow.

Unfortunately Fall’s screenwriter and editor in particular don’t seem to have the same faith in the viewers (or the movie’s every-woman heroine Jane Porter played by I Spit on Your Grave actress Sarah Butler) that we initially had in them.


Rather than build upon that unsettling wave of terror established in the span of a handful of frames as a body lands on top of a car in the opening sequence, the filmmakers slow the action down to a crawl and leave it there for roughly twenty minutes.

And while there’s a great film to be found in Free Fall – the one that made it to the final cut of this recently released Anchor Bay Blu-ray isn’t it.

Spending entirely too much of the film’s ever-critical first act slowly connecting the John Grisham Firm-like dots of the corporation’s evil practices from fraud to the fatally forced retirement plans for professionals unwilling to look the other way (such as Jane’s recently deceased mentor), Free Fall misgauges the strengths of what should’ve simply been a Red Eye, Panic Room, or P2 style thriller.


Instead of watching Jane try to make it out of her workplace alive after she finds herself trapped in an elevator based game of chicken with D.B. Sweeney’s crisis management executive (aka Gault’s hired hitman), Free Fall inspires yawns and apathy with dull office posturing and politics early on.

Likewise, following the cat-and-mouse excitement that arises once Sweeney reveals his true intentions, Free Fall goes against the genre tradition of empowering women to try and save themselves. All but giving up on the heroine once she hits the elevator, the filmmakers bring in a likable but wholly unnecessary new character for the awkward final half without bothering to fully flesh out either role.

While McDowell’s casting as Thaddeus Gault is a bit too on the nose, it’s interesting for Cutting Edge star Sweeney (who intriguingly once brought the character of Rand’s John Galt to cinematic life in an adaptation of Atlas Shrugged) to be given the role of the heavy even if the script offers him very little to do.

Not realizing that the thing that makes movies like P2 and Panic Room work so well is their sense of “you are here” visceral urgency that makes us imagine what we’d do if we were all in our heroine’s place, while the actors all give it their best shot, unfortunately the film never manages to ignite a single spark.

To its credit however, it is helped along by a few glimmering flickers from Jonathan Hall’s gorgeously crisp and nicely contrasted wood and steel toned cinematography to a few tense moments of man vs. man or Jane vs. ruthless businessmen action, which do their damndest to distract us from the otherwise wooden script.


While Free Fall manages to hold your interest as an inefficient yet nonetheless ambitious workmanlike yarn in desperate need of a rewrite, overall you’re much better off selecting one of those other – not quite real-time but all-in-one-night – vastly superior reality driven horror stories.

An inauspicious directorial effort from Halloween franchise producer Malek Akkad that’s filled with clumsy gaps in logic (from an endless bullet supply to a head-scratcher of a reference to a character we’ve never met in a pivotal scene), Free Fall sets itself up to be a great source of elevator based horror but ultimately it's as trapped as our heroine is with no chance of easy escape.

Having been stuck in an elevator in real life (with a nine month pregnant woman during a power outage no less), I can certainly attest that the emotionally charged setting is ripe for horror before you even add to it.

Nonetheless, the vantage point of a young woman playing chicken with a corporate hitman from a panic room-like steel cage trapped between two floors is far more thrilling than any CSPAN worthy paradigm… regardless of its villain’s last name.

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