I’d heard good things about this 2013 thriller but had not got around to watching until last night. Starring two actors I always enjoy, Hugh Jackman and especially Jake Gyllenhaal … this looked like essential viewing from the very moment I’d heard about it. Telling the story of two suburban families who’s young daughters go missing one day, this follows the ensuing investigation that doesn’t bring many leads, causing Jackman’s father to take the law into his own hands. He decides to abduct the number one suspect and beat out some answers, whilst at the same time the detective in charge of the case, Gyllenhaal attempts to unravel and mystery.
Directed by the acclaimed Denis Villeneuve (Sicario, Blade Runner 2049) this is a taught and hard-hitting with above average performances not only from the leads but also Maria Bello. Unlike similar missing persons movies this raises questions of what’s right and wrong, although never did I not understand the desperation and pain experienced by the worried parents. With echoes of movies like (the underrated) Death Sentence and Zodiac, the gradually complex investigation is delivered with no end of tension, twists and turns. It kept this viewer guessing throughout and even if the final reveal is a little too neat, I was still left satisfied.
It’s a lengthy movie but never slow or stretched out and kept me gripped. A few questions are left unanswered at the end, with a mystery considering a character’s obsession with mazes left up in the air. But this was still solid entertainment with atmospheric direction and a stunning turn from Jackman making him one of the best working today. And to think I came to this for Gyllenhaal who whilst very good is left overshadowed.
Didn’t Steven Soderbergh (Ocean’s Eleven, Traffic) announce his retirements at one stage, or did I dream that? Either way the man continues to deliver movies including this latest psychological thriller starring The Crown’s Clare Foy who plays Sawyer, a woman who has started a new job in a new city after running from a stalker. However after an intended one night stand goes awry, she turns to a psychiatrist to tackle some of her demons. Problem is she unwittingly signs herself into a psychiatric institute and is unable to leave for seven days. Is she losing her mind and has her stalker returned?
Soderberg’s movie has an immediately unsettling aesthetic. Filmed believe it or not entirely on an iPhone, and with claustrophobic, unconventional filming techniques that makes everything seem dream-like … it was easy for me to go along with the paranoia and hopelessness of Sawyer’s plight. Once the hospital becomes the main location, the way the movie questions what is real and what might be in Sawyer’s head is very well done. Foy is brilliant, damaged and vulnerable making her one of those actors that really becomes the character. Support from genre icon Amy Irving (Carrie) was welcome if under-used and along with a creepy stalker this ticked all my boxes.
I’d have liked the ‘is she imagining it?’ element explored a little more than it was as it kind of turns into a typical thriller in the final act … but along with plenty of atmosphere and a few genuine shocks, I really enjoyed this.
A few years ago I was heavily into all things Hong Kong Action Cinema and explored not only the movies of the legendary Jackie Chan but everything from John Woo to Tsui Hark and Jet Li. I got pretty burnt out it has to be said but occasionally I’ll revisit that interest when I see one of the classics get the Blu-ray treatment. This 1985 action comedy has Chan as rule-breaking super-cop Ka-Kui, who following a successful raid on a shanty town to capture a notorious drug dealer, finds himself looking after a witness (played by genre queen Brigitte Lin).
This 1985 movie, the first in the long-running series … was a huge hit and won awards in it’s native land whilst helping turn Jackie Chan into the superstar we all know him as. Watching this movie now, whilst well structured and entertaining throughout, seems to lean a little too heavily towards comedy with drawn-out scenes devoted to silly gags and comical situations involving his girlfriend (Maggie Cheung) and often bumbling co-workers. Thankfully when the action does kick in it’s terrific, showcased in three varied scenes that prove without a doubt why Chan’s so respected, not just as a martial artist but also as a choreographer and daredevil with his unique brand of environment-using stunt work. Influences from the likes of Buster Keaton are obvious and even all these years later, watching him is mesmerising. Not exactly the greatest action movie Chan’s ever done or even his best movie but it’s still a classic for what it set in motion.
This UK Blu-ray from Eureka! Is presented as a double feature box set with Police Story 2 and boasts a detailed booklet as well as a wealth of extra features. We get three cuts of the movie (the original release, the Japanese extended cut & a shorter American home video cut), behind the scenes featurettes, archive interviews, a brief over-view of Chan’s stunt wok, deleted scenes and trailers. The movie itself is in decent shape, with a 4K re-mastered image that whilst boasting nice detail and vibrancy, some darker scenes suffer from a smudgy, overly dark appearance. The soundtrack is good though with both 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio soundtracks presented in English dubbed and Cantonese subtitled, although the movie’s age means those surrounds are barely used. Overall, solid treatment for a movie that’s still a great deal of fun.
By the time the sixth entry in a popular franchise rolls around, you’d be forgiven for expecting things to get a bit lazy. Tom Cruise has now cemented himself as the biggest action star since Schwarzeneggar with a does-his-own-stunts calling card to rival Jackie Chan, but can another outing keep on upping the anti? Let’s see… Cruise returns as super agent Ethan Hunt who this time is given the job of tracking down three nuclear bombs that have fallen into the hands of black market dealers. He must stop them falling into the hands of The Apostles, what remains of Rogue Nation’s The Syndicate to prevent a global catastrophe. However when a mission takes an unexpected turn, Hunt and his team (including series regulars Simon Pegg & Ving Rhames) find the odds stacked against them – just how it should be.
Ok so having to stop nuclear bombs falling into the wrong hands is probably as generic a plot as it gets and with the return of Rogue Nation’s sleepy-talking villain, this initially felt like it was going through the motions. Yet it soon dawned on me that this time it was less about the mission and more about Ethan Hunt; the man, his methods and his dilemmas, constantly haunted by that fateful decision he made three movies back to send his wife (Michelle Monaghan) into hiding. The story handles this aspect that’s only ever been hinted at in previous movies, very well indeed and proves the movie’s beating heart in place of set piece after set piece. Yet along with the return of Rebecca Ferguson’s assassin ‘Elsa’ we still get tons of action, car chases, roof top chases, fights and a helicopter chase sequence that has to be seen to be believed.
The pacing stumbles occasionally, not helped by some copy and paste sequences that aren’t quite as good as we’ve seen before (another bike chase?), yet the movie makes up for this in strong performances and memorable character moments that made me love the camaraderie between Hunt and his agents. Six movies into the franchise this may be a different kind of Mission Impossible but by this stage that’s a good thing.
I like Joaquin Phoenix and it has to be said, you never really know what you’re in for with his movies. He’s weird but fascinating and usually at least his performance is something to come away appreciating regardless of the movie. This thriller has him as ‘Joe’ a grizzled, world-weary hit man, who takes jobs from various shady contacts, killing whomever he’s told to for a cash sum whilst otherwise going about his life, caring for his ailing mother and haunted by a troubling past.
There are strong echoes of the seminal Taxi Driver here, with similar themes of feeling disaffected by the world surround oneself and wanting to find some sort of meaning within the murk, the grime and the sleaze. Once Joe however stumbles upon a case of a runaway girl who may have fallen victim to a child sex trafficking ring, a new found purpose emerges which quickly comes with unexpected repercussions. It lacks the dry wit of Martin Scorsese’s classic, and plays out in a rather unique fashion, hardly showing any of the violence that is clearly taking place, preferring jump cuts and fancy editing to give a sense of dread and hopelessness, which works well. However with a vague approach to the details, especially surrounding Joe’s past, this proves frustrating and with performances that are mostly blank stares and silence (and sometimes words uttered so lazily it’s hard to actually make them out) … for all this is trying to achieve, it ends up annoying in equal measure.
Director Lynne Ramsay has certainly delivered a different kind of thriller; sort of like Taken but with absolute realism in place of Hollywood action … a movie that lingered in my memory, disturbed me but was ultimately unfulfilling – reflective I’d say of the central character’s life. Perhaps that was the point.
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