EXIT PLAN (2020)

June 11, 2020

 Greetings again from the darkness. Euthanasia, ‘Dignity in Death’ or assisted suicide. Whatever you prefer to call it, those against the idea have likely never been in the situation where medical treatment provides no hope. Max Isaksen (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, “Game of Thrones”) is an Insurance Investigator. After his most recent scan, the doctor informs him that his brain tumor is growing and surgery is not an option. His bodily functions will slowly and mercilessly dissolve until death takes him.

Max is a non-descript kind of guy. The usually dashing Coster-Waldau is hidden behind old style wire-rimmed glasses and a mustache. He’s happily married, but can’t bring himself to tell his lovely wife Laerke (Tuva Novotny, ANNIHILATION, 2018) about the tumor or his inner thoughts. He’s frustrated that the special diet and app monitor didn’t ‘save’ him, so now he’s suffering with speech issues, headaches, and other ailments that serve as a reminder of the ultimate outcome.

While working with one of his clients, Max learns about the choice her husband made – Hotel Aurora, which promises “a beautiful ending.” It’s an enterprise that excels in secrecy and efficiency. Their sales pitch is an end to life that fulfills your fantasy. Just know that once you execute the agreement, there is no changing your mind. Instead, you are immediately given a sedative and put on a private plane where you are whisked away to the Danish-modern hotel in a remote, stunning setting. Support work is provided by Kate Ashfield (SHAUN OF THE DEAD, 2004) as the fake mother, and Jan Bijovet as Frank, the director of Aurora.

Denmark-born director Jonas Alexander Arnby and writer Rasmus Birch worked together on WHEN ANIMALS DREAM (2014) and here they explore an existential question about life and death, and whose choice it is. There is also the question of saying goodbye to loved ones and choosing the terms at the end. It’s a somber story that twists reality and dreams, and we can’t help but find some similarities to Yorgos Lanthimos’ THE LOBSTER (2015), although that one was infinitely more bizarre. There are a couple of moments of levity – such as asking for tips on tying a noose, and we do learn that Poppy Tea tastes best with lemon. Speaking of beverages, I lost count at the number of scenes featuring wine, juice, water or some other ingestible liquid. Sometimes it’s a bonding experiencing with a toast, while other times, it’s a biological need. Whatever the reason, taking a sip is somehow tied into the circle of life. As The Eagles sang in “Hotel California”, ‘you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.” Welcome to the Aurora, where we never have to ask, ‘how was your stay?’

Available on VOD June 12, 2020

watch the trailer:


April 27, 2013

oblivion1 Greetings again from the darkness. Here we have Exhibit Number One in proving the theory that no quantity or quality of movie special effects can overcome the lack a good story. Joseph Kosinski (Tron: Legacy) directs his own graphic novel, and the result is a beautiful and impressive looking film that lacks substance and fails to develop any characters for us to care about.

This almost plays as a sci-fi tribute with tips of the cap to at least the following: The Matrix, Moon, Total Recall, Inception, Planet of the Apes, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, 2001: A Space Odyssey … and even Top Gun! Unfortunately, it falls short of all of those except for the stunning visual effects of the patrol drones (George Lucas oblivion2would be proud) and the beautiful photography of Claudio Miranda (Life of Pi).

The most obvious comparison is with Wall-E. This time, Tom Cruise plays the “mop-up crew” along with his assigned spouse played by Andrea Riseborough (very good as Wallis Simpson in W.E., and recently seen in Disconnect). We learn from the initial voice-over (by Cruise, not Morgan Freeman) that Earth was left in ruins after a long battle with aliens. Now the last bit of Earth’s resources are being harvested before it is deserted forever.

oblivion3 The cast is pretty deep with an extremely upbeat Melissa Leo showing up in the “Hal” role on a low-res video screen, Morgan Freeman and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau as leaders of the underground surviving humans, Olga Kurylenko (a Bond girl in Quantum of Solace, and currently in To The Wonder), and even stunt-woman extraordinare Zoe Bell making an appearance.

All the wonderful toys are present, the look and feel are really something to see, the Jetsons-style home is kinda cool, and we get the ever-present Cruise sprint … this time in a space suit! Despite all the goodies, this one just seems to fall flat in the ability to draw us in. If you are a sci-fi visual type, you’ll get a kick out of it. Otherwise, look elsewhere for an effective team and another day in paradise.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you are a huge sci-fi fan and enjoy new effects (see the patrol drones)

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you need a good story, no matter how advanced the effects

watch the trailer:



MAMA (2013)

January 20, 2013

mama2 Greetings again from the darkness. Ever since The Blair Witch Project and the influence of “found footage”, which then transitioned into the endless sequels for Paranormal Activity, true creativity and ingenuity has been mostly lacking from the horror genre. One of those still devoted to creeping us out and generating seat jumping is Guillermo del Toro, who produced this film after seeing writer/director Andres Muschietti’s three minute short film (see below).

Since the real joy in experiencing a horror film comes from the surprises and twists, very few details will be revealed here. Worth noting is the lead role of Annabel played by the incredibly talented Jessica Chastain. Yes, the same one who is currently nominated for her role in Zero Dark Thirty. This time out, Ms. Chastain is a tatted up bass player in a (lousy) punkish band and sporting a Joan Jett hairdo. Annabel is living a bohemian lifestyle (translation: nearly starving with mama3no responsibilities) with her artist boyfriend Lucas, played by Nikolaj Coaster-Waldau, whom many will recognize from “Game of Thrones”, and who appeared in the superb Headhunters (one of my favorites of 2012).

Many horror film clichés are presented here including a cabin in the woods, a portal to the afterlife, buzzing bugs, unexplained lullaby singing through the air vents, an untimely “fall” down the stairs by a main character and ties to a long ago tragedy that holds the key to this current mess. Notable is the welcome absence of gross-out and gore-out special effects. Despite the clichés, Muschietti and his co-writing sister Barbara, and Neil Cross provide us with some new touches mama5(uncovering maternal instincts) and such a great looking movie that our attention is firmly held … especially for the first 80%. As happens so frequently, the final act is a bit disappointing, but not enough to ruin the experience.

Chastain is top notch here, though Coaster-Waldau is underutilized. The two young girls are effectively portrayed by Megan Charpentier (Victoria) and Isabelle Nelisse (Lily). In fact, Lily scampering about on all fours may be as frightening as the spooky Mama, played by 7 foot actor Javier Botet. It’s an unconventional horror film with an atypical ending … and one of the few movies to ever raise the question of whether one can survive for 5 years on a diet of cherries.  This one is certainly worth a look if you are a fan of the genre.

take a look at the 3 minute short film that inspired the movie – plus the intro from Guillermo del Toro:


Watch the feature trailer:


HEADHUNTERS (Hodejegerne, Norway 2011)

May 8, 2012

 Greetings again from the darkness. Based on the novel by Jo Nesbo, this one quickly sets up the main character Roger Brown as someone we neither trust nor necessarily even like. He is a smooth talking recruiter who also steals valuable artwork to (barely) support his luxurious lifestyle, which includes a near-super model girlfriend and modern mansion.  That we remain interested in Roger for 2 hours speaks to the strength and creativity of the story.

The film is based in Norway and director Morten Tyldum seems to have a very wicked sense of humor as he really puts Roger (Aksel Hennie) through some things not even found in the worst fraternity or military hazing. While it can be classified as a very taut thriller, it is also a demented ride that would make the Coen Brothers proud. As a matter of fact, it would surprise me if this one doesn’t get a U.S. remake very soon. The story and characters lend themselves very well to a star vehicle.

However, I don’t wish to sell this version short. It is well done and entertaining in a devilish way. When Roger meets Clas Greve (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), the real fun begins. Many will recognize Coaster-Waldau from “Game of Thrones” and he proves to be a terrific adversary for Roger. Neither are what they seem, and both seem quite pleasant to everyone else. Roger’s girlfriend Diana is played by the beautiful Synnove Macody Lund, and even she brings a nice element of doubt to the story. There is also a nice supporting turn from Julie Olgaard as Lotte.

The tone and twists remind me a bit of the Coen Brothers classic Blood Simple, but this one is even a bit more outrageous as things spin out of control for the characters. Much of the film is a spent in chase mode and that leads to some drama, thrills and chuckles. That’s a pretty nice compliment for any movie.

watch the trailer:


November 3, 2011

 Greetings again from the darkness. George Roy Hill‘s Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is one of my all-time favorites. Action, adventure, gun play, wise-cracking, romance, charming lead actors, and a touch of western legend, all combine for a very entertaining film. Spanish screenwriter and director Mateo Gil (s/p, The Sea Inside) takes up the story 20 years from the infamous freeze frame that ended Hill’s 1969 film.

Sure, you might need suspension of disbelief since we all remember the hundreds of Bolivian soldiers firing at once when Butch and Sundance attempted their escape, but this film is really more about aging and trying to put things right in a life that took a wrong turn. The Butch we are first introduced to is writing a letter to the son of Etta Place, after her death. He writes that it’s time to come home – meaning he is to leave the quiet life in rural Bolivia and make the long journey back to the U.S.

 This aging “Uncle Butch” is played by the great Sam Shepard. Mr. Shepard is not just a Pulitzer winning writer, but he has always had an incredibly strong screen presence … a wonderful face and trustworthy voice. Here is in full grizzled cowboy mode and sports the bright eyes we remember from Paul Newman, while displaying a newfound peace raising horses in the Bolivian countryside. He lives this life as James Blackthorn, not Butch Cassidy. He even has a relationship with one of the local ladies, who seems filled with the spirit that Butch had as a younger man.

 Blackthorn collects his savings from the bank … a bit ironic, eh? He sets off on the journey, but is quickly knocked off course thanks to the recklessness of a Spainish thief played by Eduardo Noriega. Noriega says he can makes things right and the two form an unlikely team. Unfortunately, Butch has become more trusting in his old age, and Noriega turns out not to be the partner than Sundance once was.

This whole story is a bit outlandish, but it’s at its best when Blackthorn runs smack dab into Makinley, one of the old Pinkerton men who was chasing him twenty years ago. Turns out, Makinley (Stephen Rea) is a social outcast because he was the only one who thought the boys survived that attack so many years ago. Seems both Makinley and Blackthorn have been cast aside and trapped for two decades in Bolivia.

 While Shepard is outstanding, he shares star billing with the terrain of Bolivia. It definitely holds its own versus the Monument Valley we have seen in so many westerns over the years. The salt flats are particularly beautiful and treacherous, and filmed with skill by the director. We are also treated to periodic flashbacks and a few of the key moments for the younger Butch (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), Sundance (Padraic Delaney) and Etta (Dominique McElligott). We learn that the partnership was truly that … one for all.

This film will probably have little box office success, but it’s certainly worth a look for those of you intrigued by the Butch and Sundance legend, and are able to wonder just WHAT IF ….

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you are a fan of the original Butch & Sundance OR you never miss a chance to see Sam Shepard onscreen OR you would like to see the rarely seen natural beauty of Bolivia

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: a slow moving western hold little appeal for you OR you just aren’t willing to buy into the idea that maybe Butch and Sundance survived the Bolivian Army massacre

watch the trailer: