Thriller

Suspect Zero

Year: 2004
Directed By: E. Elias Merhige
Written By: Zak Penn

I didn’t know what I was getting myself into with this one. It’s one of those movies I watched once about ten years ago and immediately bought a copy of it to add to the collection. There was a period of aggressive expansion for the collection around 2006-2008 when I lived near a used DVD store and could buy lots of movies. I would look for something cool and add it to the collection I was so proud to show off. This movie was one of those added around 06, and I’m excited to sit down and see what it was that caught my eye.

This is a cool movie of cat and mouse but I think what sets it apart is Ben Kingsley. The ferocity he acts with is a remarkable thing to see. The man really is on another level of acting than most of his peers. His performance in this movie is quite impressive but he really catches you off guard with the following scene:

Kingsley can be so unnerving, it’s the look in his eyes. He’s scary enough just on his own but when he has you tied up and at his mercy he invokes another level of fear. I’ve seen him bomb a role before (Iron Man 3) but when he brings it he can startle you out of your seat. Check out Sexy Beast if you don’t believe me.

I think what probably caught my eye back in 06 wasn’t Ben Kingsley at all but more likely Aaron Eckhart. He had blown me away the year before with Thank You For Smoking and I was a really big fan. Eckhart is a good actor and he does a good enough job holding his own against Kingsley in this movie. Can’t help but feel like his career never quite took off after rising around this time and then falling a few years later.

I feel like this movie climaxes with a real Seven vibe to it but it’s not as good. No movie can really match up to “what’s in the box?!?” Nevertheless it’s a good enough ending to an interesting movie. It manages to surprise you a little bit after misleading us with a bit of foreshadowing earlier in the film.

This is a cool movie with a couple of notable performances but it’s nothing spectacular. There are worse ways to spend your time but I don’t know that this movie is really worth it. It’s not bad at all but still manages to be more of the same.

NEXT MOVIE: Swordfish (2001)

The Sixth Sense

Year: 1999
Directed By: M. Night Shyamalan
Written By: M. Night Shyamalan

RYAN’S REVIEW

This is where it all started for M. Night Shyamalan and as far as I am concerned it was where everything went wrong for him. He burst onto the scene with this fantastic thriller that had a twist that really shocked everyone. That shock was his undoing though as it spawned certain expectations the director would never fulfill in the future. This was an incredibly successful movie but each succeeding film has been less profitable and less of a success with the audience. I don’t think it is Shyamalan’s fault and in fact like him quite a lot as a director.

I think that the shocker at the end of this movie gave people the idea that every film he made would feature something on par, and the studios tend to market Shyamalan movies like that. More often than not this is not what Shyamalan movies are meant to be like. His movies are more about human nature than anything else but people expect something much different. The expectations generated from this first film coupled with how the films are marketed make people really grow to hate Shyamalan. For more on why people hate M. Night Shyamalan see these reviews of his other works: The Happening, Lady in the Wateror Devil.

I have often written about how occasionally two movies of similar premise come out at the exact same time. To name a couple of examples: Dante’s Peak and Volcano, Armageddon and Deep Impact, A Bug’s Life and Antzthis list can go on and on. Point being, when this anomaly happens I only ever watch one of the films. It just so happens that The Sixth Sense came out at the same time as another movie that was very similar, Stir of Echoes.  While I was aware of The Sixth Sense I had no interest in seeing it after watching Stir of Echoes with Kevin Bacon. Knowing I didn’t intend to see it one of my friends who was, like everybody, awed by the film excitedly told me the big shocker at the end. I will discuss more about the similarities between these two movies when we get to the one I liked more.

So this movie never got to knock my socks off with the big surprise. I had known what would happen long before ever actually sitting down to see it and the movie was never one I really cared for. That being said, I think it has everything to do with why I am a fan of M. Night Shyamalan. By the time his next film Unbreakable came out I had not had my expectations raised to unreasonable levels. I really enjoyed the movie that many found disappointing and continued to enjoy his movies as everyone else finds them flawed. I think it’s because I don’t expect the big shocker, I sit back and enjoy his movies for what they are.

This movie is actually one of my least favorite Shyamalan movies. I think Bruce Willis is great and Haley Joel Osment was outstanding but the movie just never really interested me much. There was the one scene with the kid who had committed suicide and that bothered me as a teen. I had a friend once who had ended his own life in much the same fashion seen in the film and it was just too soon for me. Put that together with the fact that I knew what the big shocker was and this whole film was lost on me. The thing about a big shocker is it only really gets you once and afterwards the lack of surprise equals a lack of excitement. I have found so many Shyamalan movies to be the type I love to watch multiple times, specifically The Village, which is my favorite of his films.

Haley Joel Osment was such a renowned child actor when I was young but he really grew up to be an unfortunate looking adult. All the youthful cuteness that he has in this movie faded away with puberty and today he is doing things like Tusk. There are plenty who would suggest that isn’t pathetic but I found that movie to be so ridiculous. As great as Osment was in this movie he was arguably even better in A.I. Artificial Intelligence. Under the direction of the child whisperer Steven Speilberg, Osment gave such an eerie performance you might believe the kid actually was a robot. It’s a shame he couldn’t carry that talent into adulthood.

Despite the lack of positive reviews M. Night Shyamalan continues to make films and in fact his newest one Split looks really cool. Although to be fair, all his movie look really cool. I hope that this movie turns out to be as devious as it looks and is not simply the trick of misguided marketing. Check out the trailer below to see what he has coming up. Otherwise I have never vouched for this movie and won’t start now. If you haven’t seen it you are in the minority because it was that big of a film. However, I do not personally think it is worth your time if you have seen it. If you haven’t and somehow manage to not know the big shocker at the end then by all means seek this out and let it blow your mind.

NEXT MOVIE: Slackers (2002)

Saw II

Year: 2005
Directed By: Darren Lynn Bousman
Written By: Leigh Whannell and Darren Lynn Bousman

RYAN’S REVIEW

As far as I am concerned this movie is night and day different from the first. Not only is it an excellent sequel but it is a better movie than the first. It’s graphic and violent as befits a Saw movie but here the story starts to really get interesting. This movie offers more than shock and awe, it offers a mind twisting story that makes you want to keep going. I am not really a fan of this series, but I am a fan of this movie.

This movie managed to offer more than simply violence, it offered violence fused with intrigue, with mystery, and with revenge. There was more purpose to this film, or maybe it was just more captivating than the first. I believe a good sequel is a bigger and better version of the first. This movie fits the bill for that by simply being bigger and better than the first one.

In the first one I felt like it was a given that eventually one of those men were cutting off their leg. I don’t think the story was gripping at all. In the end of this one though when you realize that the events we have been watching in real time had long since past and been over, it’s mind blowing. When Donnie Wahlberg falls for that trap and you realize why it was laid for him it’s quite shocking. It’s more than shocking, it is inviting in the sense that you feel compelled to see the next movie.

The apprentice is now at work and that holds so many possibilities. I feel like this was what built the whole franchise into a series that stretched seven years. This movie gives you the saw crap that its audience demands. That poor girl dug through a pit of needles and that one girls stuck both of her arms into a modified Chinese finger trap thing for arms. That was violent and gory but it was so much more than that. This movie was smart. It was smart enough to fool the audience all the way up until the end and give us a real wow moment.

So I think this is a great sequel and one of the best simply for exceeding it’s predecessor so severely. I would have never given this franchise the time of day but this movie convinced me that it was worth my time. The first film did not.

As much as I am loathed to the idea of connecting these films will Halloween I’m saving the next two anyway. It’s no time of year to watch four Saw movies back to back and I’ve had my fill for the time being.

This is a terrific movie and if you haven’t seen it it is easily worth your time. It’s not for the tender-hearted but for a fan of a good mind blowing thriller this is a good one.

NEXT MOVIE: Schindler’s List (1993)

 

Saw

Year: 2004
Directed By: James Wan
Written By: Leigh Whannell and James Wan

RYAN’S REVIEW

I was specifically against this movie when it came out. I don’t care for the whole torture porn thing and I think what these types of movies offer are a poor substitute for actual horror. It wasn’t until I was forced to watch the sequel and that one caught me at the right moment that I gave this series a chance. I consider the second film to this one to be one of the best sequels I’ve ever seen and will explain more upon its review. I think it far exceeds this film in every way.

I have tried to give this film a second chance but if I’m being really honest it just isn’t for me. When the movie came out I wasn’t into it and I’m not into it now. The only reason this movie is part of the collection is because the sequel impressed me and I thought it prudent to have its predecessor next to it on the shelf.

The most interesting thing about this movie is its director James Wan, because he has been the man pegged to be behind camera for the upcoming Aquaman movie. I am very excited to see how that movie turns out because Jason Mamoa looks wicked as the King of Atlantis but James Wan gives me pause. If this movie is any indication of his abilities I fear Warner Brothers has made another costly decision with choosing directors. Batman v Superman can only be described as failure in the aftermath of its box office release and I think that is specifically because they put the film in the hands of Zak Snyder. My only hope is that they haven’t done the same with Wan directing Aquaman. I would so like the DC properties to produce good films of such cool characters but they just can’t seem to figure out what Marvel is doing right.

I gave some consideration to saving these movies until Halloween to review during the month when we only do horror films but that would lend credence to the notion that this is a horror film. I do not consider this a horror film but simply a thriller with the type of shocking violence some people get off on. I like the horror genre and despite owning some of these films I think they set the genre back a long way.

Good horror is scary, it’s more than simply violence and gore. This movie and series isn’t built upon fear but on violence and suspense. This movie specifically offers very little that interests me and I will explain what the sequel did differently that made it worth wild. To sum it all up I do not think this movie is worth your time and do not vouch for it.

NEXT MOVIE: Saw II (2005)

Ricochet

Year: 1991
Directed By: Russell Mulcahy
Written By: Fred Dekker and Menno Meyjes (story), Steven E. de Souza (screenplay)

RYAN’S REVIEW

I came across this movie on late night TV about 9 years ago and found myself entranced. What a fantastic and demented story about revenge.  It has a cool 90s feel to it too. I specifically remember going out of my way on the following day to find a copy of it and buy it.

I distinctly remember how much I disliked Denzel Washington when I came across this movie. I have never had a very fond opinion of him but specifically remember having a big problem with him winning the Academy Award in 2003 for Training Day. I have still never revisited that movie so my old opinion still stands. Yet, having a bad opinion of him I was so surprised by his performance in this movie. I have always thought he had a chip on his shoulder about something, he just comes across as such an angry actor to me. In this movie he isn’t like that though, he’s so loose and seems to genuinely be enjoying himself.

I grew up watching John Lithgow play the foolish yet humorous part of Dick on 3rd Rock from the Sun. I thought it was awesome when I saw him as a bad guy for the first time in Cliffhanger, but this is different. In this movie he’s not simply a bad guy, he’s a straight up psychopath with one man in his cross hairs. Motivated by the prospect of revenge Lithgow’s villainous Earl Talbot Blake perseveres for seven years in prison planning all the while what he will do to exact that revenge. I thought his plan for revenge was what made this movie interesting. I love a good bad guy and Lithgow’s Blake fits the bill. He is cunning and ruthless with no inhibitions what so ever. Driven only by hate he is the exact type of person you don’t want to get on the wrong side of.

This is a cool movie and I like it, but it literally provokes nothing more from me than what has already been written. I think if you have the opportunity to see this one you are in for a surprising treat. I don’t know how likely that is because this seems to be a generally forgotten movie. It’s a cool story with interesting plot twists and good performances. That makes it worth your time to see.

NEXT MOVIE: Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)

The Purge

Year: 2013
Directed By: James DeMonaco
Written By: James DeMonaco

RYAN’S REVIEW

This isn’t a movie I love or even particularly like but I do think it is a cool idea. My brother is so taken with the movie that I feel compelled to keep giving it chances. This movie, like Crazy, Stupid, Love, made its way into the collection on that same Amazon shopping spree night when I bought several DVDs absentmindedly.  The Purge itself is an idea worth making a film about but I find so much about this movie to be just too typical. I don’t think “The Annual Purge” really is or would be cool either.

In a nutshell an annual purge would allow a lot of unsavory criminal elements to simply wipe themselves out but the truth is it would never go that way. As we see in the movie you would have plenty of people from all walks of life taking part but what about the people who aren’t just out there to unleash the beast in the form of murder? How many men just go back to their daily lives after an evening of carte blanche in sex crimes? What I fear is that on an actual evening of purging that getting murdered would be one of the easiest things to be victimized by. What’s worse are all the nightmares people actually survive and the hell you have to go through life remembering. People are sick and demented, give them 12 hours every year to show their wild side and we would see things most of us never could have imagined.

I feel like the shock value in this movie is too intentional and poorly executed. I like the evil rich kid who comes knocking on their door but that’s about as far as it goes. Rhys Wakefield, who plays the Polite Stranger, is wicked and intimidating from beginning to end. However, while I think he is really well written and delivers a great performance he is alone in that category. I think the girls dual wielding machetes and axes are a bit silly. An ax is a heavy and cumbersome weapon; it’s just ridiculous for this college girl to be swinging it with ease and precision as a man fires a shotgun at her. Not to mention I feel like it is an obvious effort to recreate the Manson murders as so many films do, like The Strangers. I can buy girls getting in on unleashing the beast but when they are dancing around and being so cutesy about killing it’s just overkill.

I feel like everything that happens in the movie is just too typical too. The innocent son feels sorry for the hobo in the street pleading for his life so he lets him inside like an idiot. The daughter has an older boyfriend who she obviously isn’t mature enough to understand and he tries to kill her dad. The neighbors aren’t there to help but to purge. It’s all just too typical and doesn’t really impress me. Maybe if the actors were better or the story was tweaked a bit it might have worked but I just don’t buy these cookie cutter suburban people feeling the need to butcher one of their neighbors and her children. I get it if they just really want to kill Ethan Hawke, but when they pull out knives to stab his children to death in his place I feel like it’s just too much. I can see the suburban type wanting to kill the man who profited off this chaos but I just don’t want to think people become child murderers so easily. Not to mention the knives, killing isn’t an easy thing and I don’t think people unaccustomed to it would chose such a personal and hands on way to murder when they are packing guns.

I think there were merits to the story that involved how The Purge is simply a tool to counteract poverty and cleanse society of the beatniks but this movie glosses over them too much. So much so that they immediately made a sequel to go farther with it. The sequel was equally as rushed in an effort to make money though and probably falls short in similar ways. I do think the sequel to this movie is better than this one, but that’s not to say it couldn’t have been better if more time and effort was put into it.

I think this is at least the fourth time I have tried to get into this movie and again it fails to inspire anything more than a shrug. I can get the appeal but I feel like it’s a story I’ve just seen too many times already. The only thing that makes this movie any different from any other Manson family murder knockoff is the pseudo half assed effort to introduce a political aspect to the mayhem created. If you haven’t seen half a dozen movies already where people are victimized by senseless killing from unreasonably persevering bad guys then maybe you will love this. I just don’t find anything exceptional about it. However, with a cool running time of less than an hour and half, I’ll leave it up to you whether or not it is actually worth your time.

NEXT MOVIEQuills (2000)

The Prestige

Year: 2006
Directed By: Christopher Nolan
Written By: Christopher Nolan and Jonathan Nolan, Christopher Priest (novel)

RYAN’S REVIEW

After Christopher Nolan knocked our socks off with the start of a brand new Batman franchise in 2005 he immediately followed it up with this little nugget. A film with a spectacular cast, a story that kept us guessing the whole time, and an ending that blew us away. This movie, more than any other at a time when I was just learning who Nolan was, convinced me that this guy was for real and somebody to keep an eye on. I had yet to see Memento at that time, and while I had seen Insomnia I gave it little thought and made no connection. In 2006 I was young and eagerly looking for a new favorite filmmaker two years removed from both Oliver Stone and Quentin Tarantino disappointing me in the worst of ways. There were the Coen Brothers of course, and I liked several others as well but this movie officially ushered in a new player to the ball field.

Christopher Nolan is not my favorite director today but he is part of a handful of directors I am always excited to hear have something new coming out. Nolan is a smart director who keeps his filmmaking crew together for most of his films. That continuity, as much as his mind and capabilities, goes a long way in making his movies a head above the rest. I have recently been disappointed by Nolan as I thought Interstellar was painfully awful. However I still have faith in him despite that long and uneventful film I anticipated so much. There are people out there who have the audacity to call Interstellar great but they are only lying to themselves. That movie was garbage, but Nolan’s prior track record speaks for itself. This movie was awarded to Nolan over others because Christopher Priest, the author of the book, specifically wanted him. Nolan took it and hit the ground running to produce another good film in the downtime between the groundbreaking and moneymaking giant of his Batman franchise. Aside from his Batman films, Nolan’s movies are typically the type that make you think and will keep you guessing. What better story to do that with than one about magic and illusion? As we come to the actual prestige of the movie what we find is not only shocking and surprising but a haunting reality for both magicians.

This movie also played a big part in my becoming a fan of Christian Bale. Bale had been around for some time but I had never given him any credit until after I saw Batman Begins for the first time. I still wondered then if he was just good in that particular movie but this film proved he could do more. Bale has since gone on to achieve even greater success over the years but I will always remember this role as the one that officially caught my eye and made me realize his potential. In this film I couldn’t get over how awesome it was simply to see Batman and Wolverine on screen together. This movie came out the same year as the ultimately disappointing X-men Last Stand, but it wasn’t Hugh Jackman’s fault that movie sucked. Jackman is always great as Wolverine and I thought he was great as the charismatic side of the two feuding magicians in this film.

The rivalry between Jackman and Bale in this movie progresses into darkness early on. Their hatred and competitiveness drive the intrigue of the movie as much as the mystery of their magic does. As each man raises the stakes the audience edges closer to the edge of their seats. Ultimately the climax of this feud is satisfyingly dark and perverse with neither of the two winning but only destroying one another. Magicians and showmen who become what they practice are such interesting men. The pressure on the showmen like Jackman to continue to impress and keep the audience interested can drive them to dire straits. Then there are the true wizards, like Bale’s character, who have an early understanding in how to fool the entire world with an act that is always on. Magicians have to keep you guessing and a movie about them has to do the same.

As good as Jackman and Bale were in this movie their performances are made even better by a stellar supporting cast. In the sunset years of his career Michael Caine only seems to shimmer brighter. An obvious favorite of Christopher Nolan, Caine has been able to stay in the spotlight with great parts in most of his films. I am a huge fan of Caine and love every opportunity to see him on screen. He has an aged dignity and air of respect to him that often reminds me of my own grandfather who is very endeared to me. They are the exact same age and while they don’t look or sound anything alike it’s about the way they carry themselves and the presence that they hold that make me connect the two.

Andy Serkis plays an important part in the film and for once we actually see him, as opposed to simply his movements and voice via motion capture suit. Serkis is one of the most talented actors out there that nobody ever actually sees. He has an extraordinary talent for acting in the advanced technologies of the modern movie era. Among his resume are roles like Gollum from the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit series, King Kong in the 2005 remake, Caesar in the new Planet of the Apes franchise, and he will be adding a new one at the end of this year with a role in J.J. Abrams new Star Wars film. I once saw a behind the scenes look at Serkis performing in the motion caption suit as Gollem on the set of the second Lord of the Rings film. It was like more than ten years ago when I saw it but to this day I still marvel over watching him perform that scene. An incredibly talented actor who has such unique skills. It’s nice to see him in the flesh now and again though. In this movie he brings an eerily creepy character to the film that adds to the intrigue of it all.

The part Serkis plays is the main assistant to a real life man of mystery, Nikola Tesla, played by a man who himself is oddly mysterious, David Bowie. As an undertone to the movie is the battle of minds that went on at the time between the electrical pioneers of Thomas Edison and Tesla. I know little about both of these men in truth but this movie does motivate me to look into the real history. Seems like there is a really interesting story there that I missed out on along the way.

I suppose it shouldn’t go unnoticed that Scarlett Johansson plays a significant role in the film. She is a very beautiful actress but I have never really felt there was anything that set her apart from say Piper Perabo who plays a smaller yet equally as important part in the movie. Johansson has found much more success than Perabo but I tend to think this is the work of agents more than it is talent. In the movie industry pretty faces are a dime a dozen and at the mercy of whatever popularity they can mustard in the years given to them. The window is short when time is the enemy of what keeps you in the spotlight. I find most people consider me crazy when I mention not being a big fan of Johansson. I don’t really know what it is but I just don’t see it. I tolerate her in the Marvel films as Black Widow but I can’t even get behind her in a role like that. There is nothing wrong with her performance in this movie, but I just don’t see her as anything more than a pretty face. However, that being said, this film can only be considered a success for her.

This is a really cool movie but I don’t love it with multiple viewings like I do most of my favorite movies. I don’t think that has anything to do with the film though and everything to do with its content. Magic and illusion is an art that is only really effective the first time. The more you see it the more you figure it all out and the excitement is gone. This movie is a terrific film to watch for the first time. The intrigue will draw you in and the climax will knock you back a few steps. This movie is important to me because it got my attention and encouraged me to see more from Christopher Nolan. It’s not his best but at par with what he is capable of and the par for Nolan is a step above the norm for the rest. This is an interesting movie with terrific performances and great all around effects. It is more than worth your time to see and I think it’s one anybody will enjoy.

NEXT MOVIE: The Princess Bride (1987)