Tag: mystery

Movie Review: The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996)

long kiss goodnightSeen: On dvd on my tv, rented from netflix.

I read about this on Snarky’s Machine a while ago but it got lost in my netflix queue, a sad tale suffered by so many films. Thank goodness, though, I finally watched The Long Kiss Goodnight, because this movie rules. Waking up alone and two months pregnant on a beach in New Jersey, Samantha Caine (Geena Davis) has no memory of her past but has managed to carve out a life in the past eight years. She’s a small-town schoolteacher in Pennsylvania with a nice guy boyfriend and a cute daughter, but little bits of her former self have been resurfacing and she’s scared of who she might have been, and who she might become. When an assassin attacks her in her own home, she enlists the aid of private detective Mitch Henessy (Samuel L Jackson) to finally uncover her past, and it turns out it’s ACTION-PACKED.

For some reason I had this vibe that maybe this movie wouldn’t be very good, that it wouldn’t live up to its cool premise. But that was a stupid thing to think, because this movie is pretty fucking awesome. I love Geena Davis in general and she is just excellent in her dual role, sweet and motherly one moment and sharp-tongued and homicidal the next, and then effectively combining these two parts of herself into one person. It’s an interesting character and I loved watching her shift and evolve as the film progressed. I also kind wish I had a secret past and suddenly developed awesome fighting skills? Maybe one day. I loved her rapport with Jackson, too, since their witty and often mean repartee is the kind of buddy comedy at which Black excels, just usually not with a female character. And Jackson himself is great, rocking these awesome green duds and cracking wise every few minutes. The story itself took a little while to get going, but I liked that the script really takes time to establish these characters, so that their later actions are seen in context.

Action-wise, I was pretty excited by this movie. I’m anti-gun but damn this is the kind of thing where I totally have action movie fantasies about going Commando on some armored compound and shooting all the bad guys. There’s also a crazy bomb threat that involves a huge truck and shooting from a helicopter and lots of fire and also crossing the Canadian border? It’s rad. In fact, I think most things about this movie are rad, and I’m not sure why we aren’t constantly talking about it? I know it’s sort of mired in mid-90s-ness in its visuals and gritty fights, and I know amnesia is like this weird, easy plot device, and it does sort of lose itself towards the end, but I can’t help loving it all. Also if you’re a Shane Black fan, this is interesting to see a few of his jokes and ideas used differently- I recognized some from Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, and I’m now wondering if the joke about everyone surviving at the end is drawn from this movie (originally a major character was supposed to be killed off). Curious.

4.5/5

Pair This Movie With: Hmmm a badass lady assassin? I’m pretty sure Haywire would be the perfect pairing. Alternatively, the overall tone made me think of another Shane Black film, The Last Boy Scout.

Movie Review: Prometheus (2012)

Prometheus
Seen: On blu-ray on our projector set-up, borrowed from the Tisch Library at Tufts.

My first movie of 2013 was one of the more polarizing films of 2012, as I recall anyway. So many of us were super excited for Ridley Scott’s return to the world of Alien, but after many disappointed reviews I just sort of let its theatrical release pass me by. But now here we are. Prometheus. In the future, archaeologist/biologist/explorer/doctor(?) Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and her boyfriend (husband?) Charlie (Logan Marshall-Green) think they’ve discovered an ancient alien race that came to earth and essentially established humanity, but then abandoned us for no good reason. A dying man finances their exploratory mission to a faraway planet where they hope to learn more about these superior beings and their motivations, but only terrible things await their team. Only. Terrible. Things.

With a strong cast, elegant and grandiose visuals, many dollops of mindfuckery, and a tantalizing connection to everyone’s favorite space horror (no, not Jason X, you big dopes, ALIEN!), Prometheus has a lot to recommend it. Unfortunately, the script is all over the place and even the film’s positive elements can’t keep it on track. I liked the characters- especially Charlize Theron’s tough-as-nails Meredith Vickers, who spends the entire movie sneering and it’s intoxicating. Michael Fassbender stands out as creepy robot David, all soft-spoken voice and dead eyes and uncertain loyalties. The setpieces are spectacular, the creature design is awesomely gross, and the technology is fun. Rapace’s whole self-abortion scene is hard to watch but at the same time totally badass, she rapidly takes control of a terrifying situation and it sort of defines her character for the rest of the film.

At first I liked how ambiguous the plot was, since it forced me to ask questions and challenged my assumptions, but as it went on the pieces moved further and further away from each other, and the developments of the final act were all pretty much expected. And then the actual ending doesn’t feel like an ending, it feels like a transition to a new act, so it’s extremely unsatisfying when the credits roll. There are some fresh and interesting ideas in this film, and yet Scott and Co. barely touch the surface of their concept. I know it’s long enough already, but it could have used another hour to continue the story, or at least a little more resolution leading into sequel territory. I mean, this was basically the first half of a movie. It’s not a full story, so it’s ultimately unfulfilling. It’s not that I didn’t like it, it’s that I needed more to make a complete story. Scott throws all these half-explained (or completely unexplained) elements at us and then forgets about them, or maybe he’s just saving them for later. It’s no surprise Damon Lindelof worked on the script, since there are definitely those infuriating Lost-ian tactics at work here, only without the lovable characters keeping the audience grounded.

3.5/5

Pair This Movie With: Daaang I don’t know, I mean Alien makes the most sense, right? So you can try to glean the connections? Otherwise for more psychological space horror you could do Event Horizon.

PS What the hell was with Guy Pearce as the old guy in the ridiculous prosthetics? I mean, why not just cast an actual old guy unless you’re going to show him young at some point? I kept expecting a Peter Weyland flashback or like a fountain of youth or something?

Beyond the Black Rainbow (2010) at 366 Weird Movies

Seen: On dvd on our projector set-up, rented from netflix.

So I missed Beyond the Black Rainbow when it played a weekend here, which was a bummer but hey, it happens. A friend brought it to my attention ages ago when he sent me the trailer, saying it sounded like Lost/Dharma Initiative-type stuff, which I am totally into! So I finally got around to seeing it, and dang it is sort of Dharma Initiative-y but it’s more in the psychedelic horror vein of Altered States and other weird movies from the 70s and 80s. So, appropriately, I wrote about it for 366 Weird Movies! We think it might have a shot for Weirdest Movie of 2012, but who knows. It has absolutely fantastic visuals and I loved how creepy the main character was, plus the synth-heavy soundtrack is wonderful. It’s a bit abstruse, though, and slow-moving.

Anyway please head over and read my full review!

Movie Review: Clue (1985)

Seen: On dvd on my tv, from my personal collection.

I’ve never been very into board games, but I will say that Clue was always my favorite. Something about the combination of violent murder mysteries and fancy dinner parties really appealed to me, plus I was generally really good at it. Thus it thoroughly pleases me that the best board game film adaptation we’re likely ever going to get is 1985’s Clue. A stellar cast of funny dudes and ladies leads the way for this goofy caper, involving a party in the 1950s held under mysterious circumstances. Someone has gathered together a group of people all connected to politics in Washington, DC, and all being blackmailed for some illicit truth. Pretty soon members of the household start turning up dead and it’s unclear who can be trusted, if anyone. Also: hilarity ensues.

Taking an already-goofy concept (turning a board game into a movie) and making it even goofier, Clue is a sheer joy to watch. Once the characters are assembled, it hops along at a clipped pace, packing in as many verbal jokes as it does visual gags. The script is extremely quotable, though most memorable is probably Madeline Kahn’s ad-libbed “FLAMES! Fla-Fl-Flames! On the side of my face!” It all leads up to a gleeful Tim Curry stealing the show in a hilarious climactic recap as his character Wadsworth briskly re-enacts the events of the evening in order to solve the murder. And the best part is, he gets to do it three times for three different possible endings! It’s a cute gimmick that really suits the source material.

You might come for the novelty of the premise and the ample amounts of cleavage, but you stay for the amazing cast. Naturally I think the aforementioned Madeline Kahn and Tim Curry are the best parts, but really everyone is superb. Christopher Lloyd is lascivious and pseudo-intellectual as Professor Plum, Eileen Brennan is constantly in hysterics as Mrs Peacock, Michael McKean is adorably excitable as Mr Green, Martin Mull is gruff and overly assured as Colonel Mustard, and Lesley Ann Warren is the hot one. Just kidding! Colleen Camp is the hot one. Warren is very funny and sexy as Miss Scarlet, I just wish she was wearing red!

Anyway, this movie is hilarious, though it drags a bit in the beginning and parts of the story don’t really make any sense. But mostly it’s just great!

4/5

Pair This Movie With: Another goofy mystery would suffice, I think, maybe something along the lines of A Shot in the Dark? Or I haven’t seen it but Murder By Death sounds really fun, and similar in theme.

Movie Review: The Shining (1980)

Seen: On blu-ray on our projector set-up, recently acquired for our collection by Miles.

So we are getting through a few horror movies this month which is exciting! Miles saw Room 237 at Fantastic Fest and was thus inspired to revisit The Shining, which I hadn’t seen in several years anyway. On our projector screen with surround sound and all the lights off, I will tell you that it is Damned. Effective. Adapted from Stephen King’s novel (though he notoriously hates Kubrick’s take on it), The Shining settles in at the beautiful but isolated Overlook Hotel during its closed winter months. Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson), a teacher-turned-writer, and his wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall) and young son Danny (Danny Lloyd) all move into the hotel as caretakers, hoping for a relaxing few months so Jack can work on his novel. Before taking the job he learns that the previous caretaker had had a nervous breakdown and killed his whole family and himself during an earlier winter at the hotel, but Jack is unfazed. As the weeks pass it becomes clear that some crazed force is seeping into Jack’s psyche, leading him down the very same path. His psychic son is the only person who can see what’s happening, but he’s too young to fully understand.

Ok obviously I can’t really actually summarize this movie, because I don’t really know what the fuck is happening at any given moment, I just know that I LOVE IT. The Shining is strange and beautiful and terrifying and intriguing, and I know I can’t really add in any meaningful way to the many analyses already available. But that’s ok. This is a movie that really sticks with you, seeping into the viewer’s brain with its long steady zooms and simultaneously expansive and claustrophobic spaces. Every visual detail is so deliberate, so precise, that one could easily watch the film on mute and still be incredibly absorbed. For once the sound is what really gets me though (I’m usually an extremely visual person), and those high-pitched tones and hushed chanting set the mood so perfectly that my anxiety increases astronomically as the noise escalates. I remember the first time I saw this movie with a group of friends in my freshman-year dorm, we were all biting our nails and whispering “oh my god oh my god” as the eerie wail grew louder and we were convinced something awful would happen, then suddenly that title card dropped to read TUESDAY and we all screamed. Since then Tuesday is the most terrifying fucking day, goddammit!

I like that this film takes its time. It’s a long slow journey from good-natured Jack Torrance and his cute family hanging out in a gorgeous old-timey hotel, to harrowing homicidal madness in a dark, snowy labyrinth. We’ve gotta watch all this freaky shit gradually unfold for a while to truly appreciate where it’s headed. Nicholson is fantastic as a man possessed, slipping into a madness that he eventually accepts whole-heartedly. Danny Lloyd is effectively creepy due to his hellish monster voice, which makes lines like “Danny’s not here, Mrs Torrance” somehow the scariest words I’ve ever heard. Scatman Crothers stands out as the hotel’s psychic head chef Dick Hallorran (who unfortunately fits into that “mystical black person” stereotype), but this time around I found myself drawn in the most by Shelley Duvall’s performance. She is an emotional wreck for a lot of this movie, and it works really well, since her desperation and isolation were so palpable. Her character is one of the loneliest people I’ve ever seen, with literally NO ONE to talk to about all of the fucked up things that are happening, and then at the end she goes on this horror house adventure that could easily send her over the edge, but instead she pulls herself together and saves herself and her son (well, unless they froze to death after the credits rolled). In the beginning of the story she seems too easygoing, too passive, but she quickly takes control of the situation the best she can, and I dug that. I’m sorry Duvall was so tortured on set by Kubrick, though, what a dick.

Oh where to go next? The Shining is a kickass movie all around, really. It is deeply unsettling and unquestionably eerie in the best way, and while it is laced with ambiguities I love that it leaves me with so much on my mind. The strange nature of the Overlook Hotel and its demonic presence is clearly demonstrated, but never really explained, so that multiple watches ensure as many new questions as they do answers. The breathtaking sets, tricky camera work, bizarre horror visuals, spine-tingling score, and top-notch performances combine perfectly to make it a memorable, one-of-a-kind film. I’m now convinced I’ll see ghosts from the 1920s everywhere I go, which is obviously the point, right?

5/5

Pair This Movie With: I really want to see Room 237 now, but I know it’s not available to most people. I’m also now really curious about Stephen King’s own tv remake, which features Melvin Van Peebles! I know it sucks, but I can’t help but wonder about it.