Films viewed in 2011

Posts Tagged ‘thriller’

488. Terror Train

In Canadian on February 24, 2012 at 4:46 PM

Dir. Roger Spottiswoode

A masked killer targets six college kids throwing a large New Year’s Eve costume party aboard a moving train.

MY TAKE

Jamie Lee Curtis is best remembered as the “scream queen” from the Halloween franchise, but a couple of Canadian films helped her secure the title. Prom Night is the classic of the two, but Terror Train is still worth keeping track of. The film has fun featuring a young David Copperfield as a mischievous magician, and his routine pulls off the trick of keeping you guessing about his allegiance throughout. The story is otherwise a pretty cut and dry tale of teens being terrorized in a confined space, but looks good and chugs along at a nice pace. In other words, don’t be surprised when they remake this film because it already has a fan base of about 12 people.

 

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487. Trespass

In Thriller on February 24, 2012 at 2:52 PM

Dir. Joel Schumacher

As they’re held for ransom, a husband and wife’s predicament grows more dire amid the discovery of betrayal and deception.

MY TAKE

Dust off the Hollywood A-list from the 90s and you’ll find the people responsible for making Trespass. Hit-and-miss master Joel Schumacher is at the helm of this well-worn home invasion thriller that pits a rocky marriage against thugs and clichés. Without ever aspiring to reach a level of social or artistic commentary close to (the original) Straw Dogs or Funny Games, the film is far safer than such a threatening premise should allow. Nicolas Cage yet again employs an accent and cadence from places unknown as the deceptive father, while Nicole Kidman just seems happy to show off how her tear ducts weren’t sewn over by plastic surgery.  There’s enough left-over glow from these stars to keep us invested until the end, but the only thing that shines are the glossy sets.

 

465. Manhunter

In Crime on January 31, 2012 at 12:43 PM

Dir. Michael Mann

An FBI specialist tracks a serial killer who appears to select his victims at random.

MY TAKE

Before Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal “the Cannibal” Lecktor got his big screen debut in Michael Mann’s sometimes unbearably 80s crime thriller Manhunter. Once you get past the florescent opening titles and soundtrack, however, the film delivers some deliciously good mysteries, navigated by a hard-boiled William Petersen.  Brian Cox takes a stab at the role that would later be immortalized by Anthony Hopkins, but his few scenes are only to supplement the hunt for Tom Noonan as the Tooth Fairy, who brings all the creepiness the films needs.  More valuable to completionists of the Hannibal series than fans of the genre, Manhunter still manages to surprise and entertain, just not always for the reasons intended.

458. Elite Squad

In Foreign Language on January 27, 2012 at 4:23 PM

Dir. José Padilha

1997, Captain Nascimento has to find his successor while trying to take down drug dealers and criminals before the Pope comes to Brazil.

MY TAKE

City of God raised the bar for what a great gangster film could look and feel like. Elite Squad shares a writer and the setting of that masterpiece to create another bang-up action film that’s easy to love. Director José Padilha takes an uncompromising look at the other side of the coin to prove sometimes executing the law is as dirty as breaking it.  Mark Ruffalo look-a-alike Wagner Moura has sensitive eyes that always seem ready to betray his fearless leadership, but the most compelling story belongs to his two newest recruits and their attempts to sort their way through the grueling tests they endure everyday to fight for what they believe is right.


455. Class of 1984

In Canadian on January 26, 2012 at 4:46 PM

Dir. Mark L. Lester

A new, unsuspecting teacher gives his violent, drug dealing students a lesson they won’t forget.

MY TAKE

In the Canadian cinema yearbook of about 1977-83, only a few gems and cult classics passed the test of being more than sneaky producer write-offs. Mark L. Lester’s Class of 1984 certainly qualifies, as a no-holds-barred rumble through the blackboard jungle that is wild, tense, and even thrillingly cathartic (to anyone who has ever taught). The film was initially expelled from many countries for its “lewd” content, but as times have changed, it feels much more realistic than the filmmakers probably ever thought possible. Worth seeing for a good early appearance by Michael J. Fox, if nothing else.

422. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

In Mystery on December 21, 2011 at 1:25 PM

Dir. David Fincher

A journalist tries to uncover a forty year-old mystery with the help of Lisbeth Salander, a young computer hacker.

MY TAKE

The best thing I can really say about David Fincher’s appropriately dark, moody, and unflinching The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is that he didn’t screw it up. With an exceptional Swedish film treatment having come out the year before, it didn’t take much imagination to see the potential of an American version. The pacing feels slightly more even here, the visual palette is remarkable similar, but the casting of the original just can’t be beat. Rooney Mara is completely convincing and committed, but the extra sexiness of Noomi Rapace made her Lisbeth Salander irresistibly compelling. And by using Daniel Craig, a hook-up feels more believable, but his vulnerability doesn’t (sorry, Bond). Overall, I’m most looking forward to the sequels which have much more room for improvement.

420. Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol

In Action on December 21, 2011 at 9:34 AM

Dir. Brad Bird

After the Kremlin is bombed, Ethan Hunt and his new team go rogue to clear IMF’s name.

MY TAKE

Tom Cruise takes a lot of flak for his personal intensity, but that focus and passion never fails him on-screen. Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol gives us some impossibly good action scenes that are beautifully enhanced by IMAX and never feel anything less than breathtaking. Pixar star director Brad Bird brings a refreshing touch to franchise (which is now unapologetically infringing on James Bond territory), by letting us follow every sequence with just enough adrenaline and clarity for the tension to take root. Ingenuity is also always a priority in every scene, from new central gadgets to touches so small you’ll miss them if you blink. The story itself is just a bit straighter than we’ve come to expect from a franchise built on big twists.

419. The Pledge

In Crime on December 21, 2011 at 9:25 AM

Dir. Sean Penn

A retiring police chief pledges to catch the killer of a young child.

MY TAKE

Throwing a detective into a tough case on the eve of his retirement has been the premise for many films. What makes director Sean Penn’s film The Pledge different is how well Jack Nicholson embodies the struggle trying to solve a final murder, and more importantly his personal unraveling as the clues don’t add up to an obvious conclusion. The first scene foreshadows how bad things will get, which hits the bullseye of giving the audience what they want but not the protagonist what he needs. Supporting performances by Patricia Clarkson, Benicio Del Toro and Robin Wright Penn also anchor the films appeal for adult audiences who care about seeing good people try and do the right thing.

 

393. Martha Marcy May Marlene

In Drama on November 22, 2011 at 4:24 PM

Dir. Sean Durkin

A damaged young woman struggles to re-assimilate with her family after fleeing an abusive cult.

MY TAKE

The muddy palette and soft focus throughout writer/director Sean Durkin’s first feature works to wash out the colour and clarity of a cult controlled mind. While I alternated between appreciating the cinematography and resenting its sometimes amateur feel, I never wavered in being mesmerized by Elizabeth Olson. Bearing more than a fading resemblance to her superstar sisters, she ironically shines by completely losing herself in the character. The tricky transitions during quiet moments also perfectly disorients the viewer to temporarily question where we are.  An overly ambiguous ending may be the only downfall, but by that point I was committed to drinking the Kool-Aid of praises for the film.

388. Unthinkable

In Thriller on November 17, 2011 at 5:53 PM

Dir. Gregor Jordan

A black-ops specialist and FBI team team press a suspect terrorist for the location of three nuclear weapons set to detonate.

MY TAKE

In a premise that was played out every year on 24, Gregor Jordan tries his best to spark debate about the validity of torture in the face of terrorism.  Samuel L. Jackson plays sadism specialist Samuel L. Jackson (he stopped “acting” long ago) and represents the tough choices you and I must contemplate lest we be blown up one day in such a dramatic time-sensitive scenario. To his credit, Michael Sheen gives a performance not worthy of this film, and allows us to empathize with him despite the muddled motives we’re given. The film isn’t without it’s moments of moderate shock, but I wouldn’t count the final twist among them.