Tag Archives: thriller

104 – Bad Times at the El Royale

We pick at flaw after flaw in a film we sincerely enjoyed! Drew Goddard’s post-noir, post-Tarantino, post-Hitchcock thriller is an oddball, a delightfully playful collection of stories about secrets and regrets and temptations and damage. A fabulous ensemble cast is split up and paired off in all sorts of ways, histories are exposed, deception is currency, violence is brutal and shocking. And it all happens on one rainy night in a broken old motel in 1969.

We have few issues with Goddard’s screenplay, which, but for the exception of one or two characters who we reckon could have been given a little more flesh, is creative, clever, witty, and energetic. But as a director, we find him lacking – as José phrases it, he has no instinct for cinema. It’s a significant problem in a film that’s building upon and pastiching entire genres and movements of cinema.

We go back and forth on some of the performances, though they’re primarily good, and Jeff Bridges and Lewis Pullman in particular are just perfect. Mike appreciates that the film understands when to pull the rug out from under you and when not to. We agree that it’s destined to become a cult success, the type of film you want to know if your friends have seen. And we like trifle.

The podcast can be listened to in the players above or on iTunes.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

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98 – A Simple Favor

“From the darker side of director Paul Feig”, as the ubiquitous advertising has it, and the film doesn’t disappoint. A Simple Favor pairs Anna Kendrick with Blake Lively as the least compatible friends you can imagine, friends with dark secrets and desires. We find Feig a complete master of tone, able to control the film’s descent into some very, very murky places without ever losing its ability to remain light and likeable. It’s a quite an achievement.

We discuss the way the film makes the female characters prominent and diminishes the role of men, eschewing the typical noir hero role for Kendrick’s Nancy Drew escapades, and the pleasure in seeing her character develop and assume control. The use of flashback is interesting and at some points quite brilliant, with important plot points being conveyed through subtle eyeline matches and just a few short shots recontextualising things we already know, or think we know. Mike finds the plot grows a little overcomplicated towards the end, and indeed predicted one or two developments – normally he prides himself on his gullibility – but these are nitpicks, at best, in a hugely entertaining film.

And it’s a film noir played for laughs! José can’t stress that enough.

The podcast can be listened to in the players above or on iTunes.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

89 – Searching

You wait all day for a new type of film and then two turn up at once. Hot on the heels of Unfriended: Dark Web, which we discussed a few weeks ago, is Searching, another desktop film (as we’re calling them). John Cho plays a father whose teenage daughter goes missing and conducts a search for her using her laptop and an old family PC.

It’s formally a little different from Unfriended, and we consider that even more formal difference might have suited the story. But the form does allow the film to cleverly and subtly address themes of generational difference and familial disconnection, and the drama the film builds is deeply involving.

We also remark upon the film’s surprisingly unique and welcome depiction of an Asian-American family, and Mike misremembers the origin of the term “woman in the fridge”.

The podcast can be listened to in the players above or on iTunes.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

88 – Red Sparrow

We catch up on home media with an erotic thriller that, while it fails to titillate, offers a fascinating portrayal of totalitarianism, sexuality, control and ownership of the female body and the way power is expressed through it, revenge, and more. Jennifer Lawrence stars as a ballet dancer forced into working for the state as a honeypot, tasked with seducing Joel Edgerton’s CIA operative for the purpose of smoking out his mole.

We are in agreement on the extravagant thrill of the opening, and the electifying darkness of the sex school’s complex dynamics and brutal methods. Mike is less interested in what occurs when the action moves into the field, and holds out hope for an ambitious (and insane) conclusion; José, more realistic, expounds on why the film’s developments should be interesting enough for Mike as they are. The plot grows convoluted, the visual design less expressive, but ultimately we love what Red Sparrow offers and wish we’d caught it when it was at the cinema.

The podcast can be listened to in the players above or on iTunes.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

86 – The Equalizer 2

Quiet, meditative, sensitive, gradual. Not the first words that come to mind when considering 2014’s vigilante thriller The Equalizer – though they do apply at times – but certainly descriptors of its sequel, which we loved. Denzel Washington’s ex-spy, Robert McCall, who had managed to extricate himself from a life of state-sanctioned violence and murder, now works as a vigilante for hire, an avenger, conducts himself as a role model, mentor, and cheerleader for those whose lives with which he comes into contact.

We discuss The Equalizer 2‘s ethos of personal responsibility and self-improvement, and its meditative tone. José orates on his love of Denzel and his position as perhaps the most significant figure of black masculinity throughout the history of cinema. Mike adores Antoine Fuqua’s aesthetic of long lenses, shallow focus and moody lighting; a visual sensibility that looks wonderful and intimidating on the big screen, but somehow makes small screens seem big too.

While it’s certainly cut from the same cloth as the first film, The Equalizer 2 is more confident to bask in contemplation and even a kind of plotlessness, and it’s not quite what you’d expect. We think it’s great. Worth seeing while it’s in cinemas.

The podcast can be listened to in the players above or on iTunes.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

81 – Unfriended: Dark Web

Designed entirely to simulate the desktop interface of a Macbook, Unfriended: Dark Web enthusiastically adapts modern fears of surveillance and digital stalking to the horror genre (drawing on the style of 2014’s Unfriended, to which this is a sequel). It’s a stylistic achievement that never once feels unconvincing, even if the route the plot takes is far from unpredictable.

We discuss the way the film hides its most graphic elements and is able to create tension and horror from the very opposite, and the wonderful evocation of distracted attention, with the main character jumping between Skype, Spotify, Facebook and more, that remarkably never becomes overwhelming or incomprehensible. Some of the performances aren’t the best, and we each found the film uninvolving at different points and for different reasons, but generally speaking we enjoyed the film’s experiment and found it interesting.

We also discuss the two producers, each of whose names caught our eyes, and how Dark Web fits in to the current cinema programme.

The podcast can be listened to in the players above or on iTunes.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

75 – Hotel Artemis

A tight yet sprawling high-concept thriller, Hotel Artemis features glorious performances from Jodie Foster and the wonderful cast that surrounds her, surprising pathos and a beautifully built world. José expounds upon his love for Foster and explores the details of her performance here; Mike discusses what makes the world-building so effective and elegant. We’d have liked to have seen stronger, more expressive visual storytelling – there’s so much potential in this single sanctuary hidden within an unforgiving world – but, well, nobody’s perfect.

The podcast can be listened to in the player above or on iTunes.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.