The kill-or-die scenario that this movie hinges on isn't something new; it's been used in films from Battle Royale to The Hunger Games. What's different here is the utter pointlessness of the exercise. There's no social commentary here whatsoever, nor is there any satirical edge or character-based intrigue. Instead, this is little more than a sadistic exercise in violence and death, more along the lines of the Saw series. And if it didn't have such a terrific cast, it would be unwatchable.
It's set in a suburb of Bogota, Colombia, where the Belko nonprofit agency helps Latin American companies connect with North American employees. One morning, just after the staff arrives for work, there's an announcement: two people must be killed in the next two minutes. And then 30 people must be dead in the next two hours. It doesn't take long until the entire office block collapses into anarchy. The boss Barry (Tony Goldwyn) immediately seizes control of a stash of guns in the security office, while IT guy Mike (John Gallagher Jr.) keeps a level head as he tries to protect his girlfriend Leandra (Adria Arjona). And as chatterbox Wendell (John G. McGinley) goes on a rampage, Dany (Melonie Diaz) manages to keep out of everyone's way on her very first day in the job.
It's hard to believe that this is written and produced by James Gunn, the man behind the Guardians of the Galaxy movies. The script is so simplistic and witless that it can't help but make thinking audience members furious. Convenient elements are added to boost the premise, such as impenetrable shutters closing off the building or tracker chips implanted in the employees that have explosive charges in them that can be triggered with the flick of a switch. In other words, it's clear from the start that it's unlikely anyone will survive. And even if they do, there's no real reason for any of this to be happening.
Continue reading: The Belko Experiment Review
Rather than a sequel or spin-off, this is a spiritual successor to 2008's Cloverfield, a terrifically tense thriller that builds a genuine sense of horror. Director Dan Trachtenberg deploys a range of Hitchcock-style tricks to establish characters and crank up layers of intensity, keeping everything unnervingly close to the boiling point. When everything finally erupts, the climax is exhilarating, even if it never quite finds a sense of meaning beneath the surface.
It opens as Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is packing up and leaving her flat, driving through the Louisiana countryside. Her fiance (voiced by Bradley Cooper) calls and tries to coax her into coming back, but she drives on determinedly. Then as the radio reports news of rolling unexplained blackouts, she's in a serious car crash and wakes up chained to a pipe in an unfinished room. Her host Howard (John Goodman) claims to have saved her life, bringing her to his fallout bunker just as everyone above-ground was killed by some sort of attack. And there's another guy taking refuge in the bunker, the rather goofy Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.), who like Michelle doubts Howard's story and rebels against his strict rules.
This is a rare film that manages to create thoroughly believable characters in just a few moments of back-story, then push them together in ways that continually surprise us. The snappy script uses wit and suggestion to undermine scenes with subtext as their power games escalate. So the tug of war between these three people has both subtle layers of intrigue as well as some seriously nasty conflict. Where this goes is impossible to predict, because all three actors are so good at portraying characters who are only pretending to trust each other. Goodman has never played a role like this, and is excellent as a nerdy religious nutcase who may or may not be a psychopath. Gallagher adds continual touches that undermine Howard's authority. And Winstead anchors the film as a smart, resourceful woman who refuses to accept anything at face value.
Continue reading: 10 Cloverfield Lane Review
When Michelle wakes up from a serious car accident, she finds that she's been taken in by an older man who lives in an old underground bunker. Her rescuer swears that he's saved Michelle from a deadly chemical that's been accidentally released, she finds it ever harder to believe and decides she must recuperate and escape the person she sees as her captor. Formulating and in part executing her plan, Michelle soon learns the truth behind the situation she finds herself in.
Is she safer out in the world or down below in the bunker?
10 Cloverfield Lane is an unrelated sequel to the 2008 film 'Cloverfield'. Whilst that film was directed by Matt Reeves, the new film sees newcomer Dan Trachtenberg pick up directorial duties. JJ Abrams once again acts as a lead producer.
Documentary-style authenticity gives this understated drama a real kick as it explores the fallout of child abuse from an angle we'd never expect. But this isn't the usual devastatingly gloomy approach, as filmmaker Cretton creates people and situations that are so honest that we have no trouble identifying with them. And he remains realistic and hopeful about the future.
The story centres on Grace (Larson), a counsellor at a short-term group home for at-risk teens. She's secretly in a relationship with her colleague Mason (Gallagher), and has a shock when she learns that she's pregnant. The real surprise is how this news dredges up memories of her own troubled childhood. But she doesn't have much time to take care of herself, because she, Mason and their coworkers (Malek and Beatriz) have a variety of kids who need their help. These include Marcus (Stanfield), who's about to turn 18 and move out on his own, and new arrival Jayden (Dever), who keeps trying to run away to see her abusive father.
Writer-director Cretton reveals Grace's personal history only as she's willing to face it herself. This allows Larson to deliver a remarkably transparent performance, as we see her confronting things she won't admit to herself. Her scenes with Gallagher are packed with jagged emotion as all of these issues swell up around them. And we can see that Mason's past in much more stable foster homes has given him more tools to handle these things.
Continue reading: Short Term 12 Review
"Pieces of April" is a Murphy's-Law Thanksgiving comedy in which both the meal and the movie have a hard time coming together.
Saddled with a handful of sitcomy plot contrivances that leave it struggling with its own mediocrity, the film's quirkiness never quite evolves into cleverness as it follows a pretty young punkette (Katie Holmes) through a day of near-disasters, and her uneasy suburban family on their long, reluctant car trip to her graffiti-encrusted Lower East Side walk-up for what they're sure will be a calamity of a holiday meal with their absconded black sheep.
While the nervous, habitually irresponsible April (Holmes) is banging on doors and meeting eccentric, snooty and non-English-speaking neighbors in a desperate search for a working oven (her own had served only as a cabinet until this morning, when she discovered it was dead), the girl's mom (Patricia Clarkson), dad (Oliver Platt), grandma (Alice Drummond) and teenage siblings are squeezed into a station wagon and getting on each other's last nerves.
Continue reading: Pieces Of April Review
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