Friday, April 25, 2008

And Then There Were None (1945)

"Very stupid to kill the only servant in the house. Now we don't even know where to find the marmalade."
- Emily Brent (Dame Judith Anderson)

This 1945 oft-copied mystery set the bar for how to successfully film a whodunit, and includes suspense, intrigue, comedy, and even a little love story.

Eight guests and two hired helpers are invited/assigned to the sole house on an island, there to be accused of crimes and to be sentenced to death by their host, U. N. Owen (a code for ‘unknown’). In a plot structure oft-copied, they are killed off one-by-one by a seemingly hidden assassin. Each time someone dies, one of the ten Indian sculptures is removed from a table centerpiece. It’s sometimes hard to believe this movie was filmed in 1945. It contains quite a few techniques (like the characters looking at the camera) that must have been revolutionary, but are now passe. It also has a very low-key, offhanded mood that makes it feel more like a murder game than a real series of murders, especially since we never see any of the murders first-hand. Based on one of Agatha Cristie’s highest rated and most popular novels.  Rating: 2.75 of 4

"One of the supreme suspense films."
- Jeremy Heilman (

Breach (2007)

"One might propose that I am either insanely brave, or…quite insane. I’d answer neither. I’d say, ‘insanely loyal.’ Take your pick. There’s insanity in all the answers."
- Robert Hanssen (Chris Cooper)

At a glance: Beautiful prose and Chris Cooper’s captivating performance makes this almost poetic thinking person’s thriller captivating to watch, with the focus on the relationship and mental battle between an aspiring FBI agent and his seasoned boss.

Aspiring FBI trainee Eric (Ryan Phillippe) is assigned to work with and investigate Robert Hanssen (Chris Cooper), a highly successful veteran FBI agent who is suspected of being a sexual deviant. Although the agent (Laura Linney) who assigns him to the case assures him that Hanssen has been found with pornographic material on his computer and has been reported for questionable behavior by female co-workers, what Eric finds initially is an intelligent, brusque, conservative, and highly religious man who appears to value family and loyalty above all else. He gets even more confused when he finds out that Hanssen is due for mandatory retirement in two months anyway – so why is the bureau investigating him so vigorously? Eric is a sharp young man, but is he clever enough to match it with one of the most clever and intuitive agents in the bureau. Even if you are not patriotically involved in the cat and mouse story of catching an uber-traitor, you can still revel in the excellent prose, solid performances, and understated direction. Cooper is a powerful, captivating actor – he virtually stole Adaptation  - and, working with a magnificent, sometimes poetic script, his screen presence radiates brightly. There is also excellent supporting work by Laura Linney and Caroline Dhavernas. What it lacks in razzle-dazzle and fast-paced editing, it more than makes up for with character study and dialogue. A small, quiet success – but perhaps a little somber for some palates. Rating: 3 of 4

"In the face of such a towering performance from Cooper, Phillippe keeps his end up while Laura Linney, as his handler, delivers the kind of turn we’ve come to expect from one of America’s finest movie actresses."
- Daily Mirror –UK

"A sombre game of cat-and-mouse. What it lacks in genuine tension it amply compensates in the understated performances of the two leads."
- Anthony Quinn (Independent)

"The script is intelligent and Ray's direction solid...Performances are top-notch, especially from Cooper...and the low-key cinematography and music serve the material well."
- Doris Toumarkine (Film Journal International)

Children of Men (2006)

"Last one to die please turn out the light."
- sign on billboard

"As the sound of the playgrounds faded, the despair set in. Very odd, what happens in a world without children's voices."
- Miriam (Pam Ferris)

At a glance: In the near future, in a sterile, hostile, violent and suspicious world that is devoid of children, Clive Owen plays a former activist who is asked to escort a special young woman on a dangerous voyage. This dark and, for the most part, depressing world exaggerates the worst elements of our present to create an ominous future.

London, 2027, and today’s news is that the youngest person in the world – 27 years old, has just been stabbed after refusing to give an autograph. All over, people cry at this news. Why are there no children? And why is London rocked by suddden explosions, while its trains are coated in wire and pelted by boys throwing rocks? The world has collapsed, and only Britain soldiers on, says the video that plays on the train. Even in Britain, everyone is infertile, refugees are hunted down and incarcerated, and life seems meaningless to Theo (Clive Owen). He’s kidnapped by Julianne, an old flame (Julianne Moore) who leads the resistance in a fight against government oppression of refugees. She needs transit papers for a refugee girl, and he needs money – and he still has some emotional ties to Julianne. Without giving much away, let me just say that it isn’t hard to guess the big secret of where this is going, but it still works dramatically – especially when we learn how the secret ties in to Theo’s past. An interesting blend of drama, sci-fi, war, and end-of-the-world genres; it may prove too relentlessly bleak for some. Michael Caine adds flavor in another quirky, poignant role. For those with attention to detail, there are numerous references to other events of torture and war (for example, the famous hooded prisoner from the Abu Ghraib prison can be seen in one of the cages just after Miriam is taken). You might also notice the recreation of a Pink Floyd album cover. Read the trivia page at ( to get an idea of the detail and care that went into the making of this film.Rating: 2.75 of 4

"There is much about the film that is impressive, but ultimately we do not care enough about the characters, so our journey is a frustrating one."
- Urban Cinefile Critics (Urban Cinefile)

"You feel as if you’re accompanying a war photographer who’s lost a bet. Slogging unflinchingly through humanity’s worst hours, the movie laces the narrative’s forays into science-fiction grandstanding with a gut-wrenching dynamic."
- Joshua Rothkopf (Time Out New York)

"As uncertain and spontaneous as its events are in the moment, Children of Men feels too tightly wound for its own good."
- Rob Humanick (Stranger Song)

Monday, April 14, 2008

Cloverfield (2008)

Jason Hawkins (Mike Vogel): [to Rob] You're not good enough for her. That's it. That's fact. That's science. Beth McIntyre is like from a whole nuther planet, man. She's beautiful, she's charming. And you, I love you, but let's face it you're kind of a douchebag. And going to Japan is not going to fix that.

Beth (Odette Yustman): [sees monster] What is that?
Hud (T. J. Miller): It's a terrible thing.
[much later, while trying to get to a flight of stairs, Rob encounters a parasite and kills it]
Beth: Oh my God! What is that?
Hud: I don't know! Something else! Also terrible.

At a glance: Point of view horror/sci-fi film, all lensed in a home-movie shakey-cam format, will test your ability to withstand seasickness, but if you can tolerate the technique, you will be rewarded with one of the most clever and realistic monster movies ever made.

A New York based surprise party for a young man named Rob (Michael Stahl-David) (who is moving to Japan) is being filmed by ‘Hud’, Rob’s friend. At the party, we learn about Rob’s long-time friendship, recent romantic interlude, and argument with friend Beth. The party is interrupted when a huge, people-eating creature invades Manhattan, causing Godzilla-like destruction. Hud keeps filming during the evacuation. While being evacuated to safety, Rob receives a phone message from Beth that she is trapped in her apartment in midtown. Rob heads there to help her, while Hud, Lily (Jessica Lucas), and Marlena (Lizzy Caplan) tag along. If it wasn’t bad enough to have a huge creature on the loose, it is shedding vicious spider-like babies the size of cats that bite and impregnate. All of the images are supplied by party-goer turned fleeing victim Hud, so it’s all shakey-cam, all the time, except for a couple of very short sequences where the movie-maker focuses on a television screen. We catch tantalizing, terrifying snippets of the creature as it shows a leg here or a tail there between New York City’s high-rises, and we know it’s evil, because it bit the head off the Statue of Liberty like it was no more than a big chocolate bunny rabbit. It’s prudent 85 minute running time is filled with a non-stop roller-coaster ride of thrills and scares, and it’s even cleverly blended with bits of a Rob and Beth outing to Coney Island (that was on the videotape before this event). Rating: 3 of 4

Note: Talk of a possible sequel is already in the works. Will they opt for a shakey-cam sequel, and, if so, how will they work that into the plot? Perhaps it can be filmed by someone with a nervous twitch…

"The special effects are excellent, with just enough being shown of the marauding 'attacker' and its minions to keep you on the edge of your seat."
- Michael A. Smith (Nolan's Pop Culture Review)

"Nothing feels choreographed or contrived; every shot of disaster is found footage or dumb luck, every glimpse of the threat is fleeting and often unsatisfying. This is, simply put, awesome."
- Karina Montgomery (Cinerina)