October 23, 2014

stonehearst Greetings again from the darkness. A surefire indication that a movie is a must-see for me are the words “based on a story by Edgar Allan Poe” … no matter how loosely. Then, set the film in a creepy turn of the 20th century insane asylum, and cast Ben Kingsley, Michael Caine and Brendan Gleeson, and consider me exceptionally excited.

From the opening moments, there is a certain nostalgic or throwback feel.It recalls the “B” movie feel of so many from the 40’s and 50’s that I grew up watching on late night TV. Imagining the production in Black & White rather than color, and picturing Vincent Price as one of the leads, probably give this one more credit than it earns. Despite the stellar cast – also featuring Kate Beckinsale, Jim Sturgess, David Thewlis, and Sinead Cusack – it doesn’t manage to generate any real suspense or feeling of danger.

Director Brad Anderson works mostly in television, but has kicked out some films of interest along the way. These include Session 9, Transsiberian, The Call, and especially The Machinist. Here, he has an exceptionally deep and talented cast, yet manages to waste Mr. Caine and Mr. Gleeson with minor roles. Even Ms. Beckinsale is treated as simple eye candy with a stunning wardrobe that defies logic, given the circumstances.

Three characters that deliver some fun are Sophie Kennedy Clark as Millie (the nurse), David Thewlis as the comically named Mickey Finn, and of course Sir Ben Kingsley as Silas Lamb. Kingsley is one of the few actors who can walk the fine line between elegance and madness, and leave us wondering (even if we really know). He thrives on scenery-chewing roles and this one definitely qualifies.

The script avoids any real insight or statement on the cruel treatment of the mentally afflicted from the pre-psychoanalysis days brought on shortly thereafter by Freud. Allowing the inmates to run the asylum does make it clear that insanity comes in many forms with differing degrees. In fact, I would challenge viewers to name one truly sane person in this film. Loosely based on Poe’s short story “The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether”, what the film lacks in tension and terror (it’s not Shutter Island), it mostly makes up for in production design and nostalgia.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: a throwback to the asylum movies of the 40’s and 50’s brings you a warm nostalgic feeling

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF:  you prefer not to see electro-shock therapy administered to Michael Caine

watch the trailer:



THE CALL (2013)

March 17, 2013

the call2 Greetings again from the darkness. Movie thrillers tend to fall into one of three categories: 1. Slick and stylish 2. “B”-level, yet effective 3. Not suspenseful or thrilling. This latest from director Brad Anderson (The Machinist, Transsiberian) is a rare blend of all three categories … all things to no people.

Halle Berry takes the lead as Jordan Turner, a veteran 911 Operator who thrives in “the Hive” – the name they give to the hub of emergency response. We quickly enough get an overview of how the center works and what’s involved for the operators … a balance of crank calls, “normal” situations and full on panic mode. One of these panic mode calls finds Jordan making a critical mistake that leads directly to the kidnapping and death of a young girl. Jordan is unable to handle the mental anguish and 6 months later we catch up with her as a Trainer.

the call4 The film kicks into gear when young Casey (Abigail Breslin) calls 911 from the trunk of a car after being kidnapped from a mall parking lot. In a move totally lacking in shock, Jordan finds herself back in the chair and offering Casey calm advice on how to handle her dangerous predicament. The back and forth between these two provides a comparison in diverse claustrophobia. Jordan is wired to the computer monitor with a headset and Casey is locked in a car trunk.

The one thing every good crime thriller needs is a worthy and interesting bad guy. Instead of the sick genius of Hannibal Lecter, we get the ticks and twitches of Michael Foster (played by Michael Eklund). This is no criminal mastermind, but rather a mentally the call3unstable freak. Of course he is dangerous … but just not very interesting.

Despite the shortcomings, we do find ourselves pulled into the cat and mouse pursuit … which is only a chase thanks to an untraceable prepaid cell phone. Rather than continue with the basic mind games of the first two acts, the final 15 minutes turn ludicrous as Jordan escapes from the desk and heads out to do some detective work on her own. This last act is absurd and the ending provides no satisfaction or reward for our earlier commitment to the characters and story.

I will say that it is quite disconcerting to hear Little Miss Sunshine shout out “M____ F____”

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you want to see Little Miss Sunshine (Abigail Breslin) in a more grown up role (she is now almost 17) OR you would like a rare glimpse inside the 911 center

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF:  you prefer a worthy villain and a somewhat intelligent ending to your thrillers

watch the trailer: