A Quiet Place

April 25, 2018 by  
Filed under Movies

Given how low key John Krasinski’s remote family thriller “A Quiet Place” is, it might be a complete shocker that it was co-produced by Michael Bay. While there are flashes of explosions and explicit CGI, the best moments of the film are in its silence. Credit that to Krasinski and the cast, and the writing–that had to play all the notes you don’t hear.

The story takes place a few months after an apparent invasion of creatures that can attack by sound. Evidenced by numerous newspaper clippings (they apparently still will exist in 2020), we have figured that out, but can do nothing to stop them. Even the military gives up and says, “We can no longer protect you”. The Abbott family is couched away in the countryside of an unnamed area, away from the loud cities and condensed populations. We don’t get an “Independence Day” or “V” here. We get to see what an alien invasion would look like out in the middle of nowhere. Though touches of this were displayed by “10 Cloverfield Lane”, that was more of a “who’s the real monster?” type of creature feature.

Here, we know exactly who to root for and against. The creatures are lethal, gruesome, and horrifying. They look like a cross between a giant insect out of “The Mist”, and Venom. As said above, they hunt by sound only. Put up all the lights you want, cook all the fish you like, it won’t catch their attention. But scream, play with an electronic toy, or even run a TV with static–and, you’re dead.

When we’re introduced, the Abbotts have done a pretty good job of keeping up with how to protect themselves. Lee, the father (Krasinski), is very caring and attentive to his family of two boys and a girl–the girl, being deaf. His wife, Evelyn (Emily Blunt), becomes pregnant, complicating things further. But she, too, is protective and strong, and both of them appear to make a good team of husband/wife/mom/dad, to stave off the monsters. The young boy, Beau (Cade Woodward), is trying to be good, but is attracted to some things that can get you in trouble. We first spot them rummaging through an abandoned grocery store in town, finding things to provide sustenance. We also find later that they can still fish in the river nearby, and make food with grains and vegetables. But, they cannot eat on plates or with silverware. Yep, even those noises can attract the creatures.

After shopping, the family makes their way through a path, when suddenly it’s clear that Beau forgot to play by the rules. His brother Marcus (Noah Jupe) and deaf sister Regan (Millicent Simmonds, deaf in real life too), try to keep him safe. But the creatures are extremely deft, and it becomes a race for the father to try and save him.

We’re thrown about another year in, and now Evelyn is getting close to bearing a child. Lee has finished making a soundproof baby room in the basement, and also has developed a new hearing aid for Regan, who still thinks it’s a waste of time to do so. But, the hearing aid becomes an important plot point further in the story. And, it paints a good picture of Lee as a guy who really wants to do whatever he can to ensure his family survives. Obviously, a hearing aid will alert Regan to danger. Without that, she is oblivious to where the creatures are and when they can pounce on you.

What drives the stakes up for this family is how disconnected they are from civilization–Lee makes vain attempts to communicate through Morse code in his work room; and, the fact that they have a baby on the way makes it clear that no matter how quiet you can try to keep your kids, a newborn is nearly impossible. Not to mention, with no medical aid or hospital visits, it’s impossible to know when Evelyn’s going to give birth.

The writers know how to play with the sound complications as well–you can tell they must’ve drafted quite a bit of rewrites to get it accurate, because it’s completely believable in its execution. We are always on pins and needles, waiting for someone to stub their toe or run into something when they’re not looking–all the mundane things we’re vulnerable to. It’s interesting to note there’s a scene where birds are flying around, indicating that these things can’t fly obviously. They clearly would be affected by the sound of the birds, but they can’t kill them. Just a nice little touch added.

Krasinski’s direction is pitch perfect, always building tension and giving us white knuckles. The performances are outstanding; but probably the best is Blunt’s because of what she has to endure while trying to be quiet, but also carrying a human being inside her and protecting him when he’s born. Simmonds also does a great job of being very aware for someone who can’t hear. And it’s also nice to see that the whole family can speak in sign language, clearly showing how much they don’t consider Regan a handicap or a burden. They’re a loving family and we are fully invested emotionally in them.

And it is an emotional experience watching this film as much as it is visceral, and thrilling. The whole film works, throughout, never a dull moment, and never a moment where we’re waiting for that other shoe to drop. And once it does, and we’re seeing the creatures in full, it’s pretty terrifying.

My rating: :D

Gravity

October 8, 2013 by  
Filed under Movies

NOTE: I am reviewing this film after seeing it on IMAX 3-D. I recommend this be the way the film is seen, to get the ultimate experience of it.

I’ve always enjoyed Alfonso Cuaron’s films. From “Y Tu Mama Tambien” to “Children of Men”, I like that he seems to do things his way and doesn’t back down from studio pressure or anything. His films are fresh and honest, and aren’t afraid to be tragic and dark. He carries this tradition on in the big budget “Gravity”, a film that is not only an incredible visual experience, but also a pretty incredible emotional one as well.

We are introduced immediately to a space mission already in progress between veteran astronaut Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) and a bio-medical engineer, Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock). They are operating at two opposite places of a career: Ryan at the beginning, Matt at the end. He waxes poetic about old stories to Houston Mission Control (voiced by Ed Harris), and teases Dr. Stone while listening to lazy, irritatingly twangy country music. Then, the mission is abruptly aborted when Houston informs them that during a Russian missile strike to destroy an out of service satellite, space debris is headed their way and they’re ordered back to the Hubble. But Dr. Stone moves a little too slowly and they can’t all get back in when the debris hits, knocking the Hubble out of commission and killing everyone on the shuttle. Dr. Stone and Kowalski are the only survivors, and their communication with Houston gets cut off, leaving them stranded.

But they’re not completely out of options. There is an ISS (International Space Station) around them with an escape pod, and they can make it there before the debris comes at them again. The ISS is Russian as well, but according to NASA, all escape pods run basically the same. While on their way to the ISS, Dr. Stone is running out of oxygen, but Kowalski assures her she can still live in the suit if she takes smaller breaths (“Sip, don’t gulp. It’s wine, not beer.”). He tries to get personal information out of her; but she is very closed about herself, even though she does reveal that she had a daughter who died in an accident at school one day very suddenly during recess.

Once they find the ISS, however, things don’t turn for the better for them. They find that the ISS has been damaged, and the crew has already vacated, leaving only one pod behind that has already deployed its parachute. This leaves the pod useless to return to Earth. Again, Kowalski has a plan. There’s another space station a little ways away (“It’s a Sunday drive”) owned by the Chinese. Again, their pods work the same way so they should be able to get back home using that. En route, however, Stone’s leg gets caught on one of the parachute cords, and she can only let Kowalski drift off into space to untangle herself. He tells her to let him go, and she’s alone to try and find the Chinese space station.

The remainder of the film is Stone’s personal sojourn, an allegory of sorts of re-birth and resurrection. There are many symbols, some overt and some subtle, and the film can certainly be seen as a metaphor for the cycle of life. Kowalski resonates with Stone, and there’s even a glimpse of him again, giving her hope that she’s not really all alone out there.

The film thrives on pulse pounding suspense, especially during the chaotic space debris sequences and when she’s facing a crisis in the Russian Soyuz. But where the film is strongest is in the quiet moments when Stone is left to face herself. There’s a wonderfully painful and emotional sequence in which Stone wants to give up and let go. She reaches communication with a random person (possibly Chinese) who has picked up her frequency from his house. He can’t understand her, and calls her “Mayday” (since that’s what she keeps repeating), and she listens to hear a dog in the background, and the sound of a baby. She finds comfort in this, because even though it’s remote, it’s a connection to life–something she has lost a connection with both literally and figuratively.

Obviously, she does not give up. And all of this builds to an incredibly intense climactic ending that really keeps you clinging to your seat. I won’t reveal how it ends, of course. But at 91 minutes, you won’t be waiting that long for it. And you’ll be so engrossed in all the goings-on you won’t even feel the time.

The performance by Sandra  Bullock is one for the ages, and will certainly come with an Oscar nomination. And well deserved. All in all, is film will make you feel like you just went through all of it with Dr. Stone and Kowalski right next to you, and that’s a great achievement by Cuaron. It’s one of the few films, like “Avatar”, where 3-D actually makes you feel “a part” of the whole experience.

My rating: :D

Halloween II

August 31, 2009 by  
Filed under Featured Content, Movies

When Rob Zombie came onto the horror film scene in 2003 with “House of 1,000 Corpses”, I welcomed him fairly warmly. His film, while a somewhat derivative send-up of 70’s gorefest Drive-In horror movies, was, at its heart, a fun movie. It didn’t take itself too seriously, and it gave a much needed jolt into a horror genre on life support. He created a film version of a Halloween funhouse: something that would give you chills, some laughs, and entertain you throughout. His cast was likable, and his skills as a filmmaker were more than competent.
When he followed that up with “The Devil’s Rejects”, I knew we had a filmmaker in this guy. He took what made “House” strong and made it even better, adding a more serious side to “Devil’s” that gave it a sense of reality, and it was not only gritty and horrific, but endearing as well. But how would he follow that up?
Well, I was hoping he’d continue his quest in original filmmaking, but instead he went the remake route. I had never been in favor of remaking any classic film, be it horror or otherwise. You should remake bad movies, not good ones, I always thought. But the fact that Zombie signed on to do a remake of “Halloween”, I was intrigued. Unlike many horror remakes, this guy at least has a clue and a purpose.
And unlike a lot of people, I actually enjoyed his take on “Halloween”. I looked at both movies differently, and appreciated both for what they were. But I felt Zombie had done his job, and needed to move on.
Hollywood thought otherwise. He apparently didn’t want to make a sequel, but I’m guessing the Weinstein brothers threw enough money at him for him to sign on, and now we have a sequel to a remake, which should instantly make your head explode due to the fact that this is the ultimate deadly sin in filmmaking, in my opinion. But what more could Zombie do?
Unfortunately, this is 105 minutes of proof that the answer is: Nothing. Zombie can blame the producers for forcing his hand (which I still have no sympathy for the guy for), but he did write the script, and the script is very banal. He wanted to create a portrait of insanity by having Laurie Strode increasingly become more like Michael, or at least–insane like him, not a murderer.
But instead of a character film we just get the same hackneyed, cliche’d slasher film all over again–and this time, even the kills aren’t interesting. Scout Taylor-Compton is probably one of the most irritating actresses I’ve seen in the last few years, and while I could look past my own bias in the last film, it really couldn’t be ignored in this one. The laughably extravagant dream sequences, the insistence on hillbilly victims, and the trite “symbolism” with the White Horse and Mother Myers with Young Michael imagery didn’t work and showed that either Zombie had nothing left in the tank, or he is losing his touch. I’m guessing it’s the former over the latter, but Zombie deserves to be torched for this film because it’s lazy filmmaking, and he has always struck me as anything but that, as an artist in general.
There are a few things that save this film from ultimate suckage, however. There is a death scene that actually moved me. I won’t give it away but it involves probably one of the only likable characters in the film. The death scene is far from cliche and I appreciated the sad piano music accompaniment, and the delicate way Zombie handled it. It was the only time I’ve ever been emotionally stirred in a slasher film, I think. I also liked the scenes involving Dr. Loomis that revealed him as a fraud to the public, such as appearing on a late night talk show in which he is *following* “Weird” Al Yankovic as a guest.
Other than that, though, it just seemed like Zombie didn’t have fun at all with this one. I was hoping he’d move on to his own films after this, but apparently he is going to take on “The Blob” next. I’m hoping he will at least get a little more creative with that one. This is the most unnecessary “Halloween” film since…well, I guess anything after the original could be considered unnecessary. But not since “The Revenge of Michael Myers” (Part 5) have I been this bored and uninterested with the franchise. At least Halloween Water had a few funny moments.

My rating: :(

Body of Lies

October 14, 2008 by  
Filed under Movies

I had mentioned in my review of “Burn After Reading” that the opening and closing shots are amusing and poignant to what the film is about; in that, here’s a picture of the globe, here we focus on a random area, and see random events that prove to be much more hectic and dramatic than they should. In “Body of Lies”, it’s pretty much the complete opposite effect.

The film revolves around two characters throughout, played by Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe. Now, I’m going to go ahead and let you know that the trailers for this film have been their own “body of lies” by somehow trying to portray Crowe as the villain in the film. He’s not. I’m not ruining anything by telling you that, either. In fact, knowing that should aid you through this movie, so that you’re not thinking there will be some big twist at the end or some kind of revelation that turns Crowe into a bad guy. He is a bit of a window character for DiCaprio’s character, named Roger Ferris, who is an undercover agent for the CIA investigating a series of terrorist bombings that have led him to Jordan.

Ridley Scott directed this picture, and he shows time and time again that, even in his advanced age, he can still shoot a picture. The script, by William Monahan, has a great first act. It sets things up very well. You are intrigued by the layers of plot thickening. But, the film goes to such an extent to set things up that really, it can only be justified by having an even bigger ending. I think the film’s eyes were bigger than its stomach.

This film is based on a novel, and I believe the script wanted to treat this as much as a character movie as it was a plot-driven thriller. But because it tries to go into two different directions at once, it goes nowhere instead. There is a brief love interest that Roger becomes involved with–but he goes to an extreme (and unbelievable) length to protect her, and winds up getting right into Ground Zero, and throws himself into the proverbial Lion’s Den.

This is a film of great set up and poor pay off. The “body of lies” that Roger entangles himself into are very natural, it’s not that contrived. But how he gets out of them are exactly that. And it leaves something to be desired by the ending. It’s a film that is also ensconced in themes about deceit and truth and honor. Crowe’s character, as I mentioned before, is used well in this metaphor.

Overall, the movie is well acted, and well paced. I never felt bored, even if I was confused on exactly where it was going. The villains were a bit simple and predictable. But I can’t endorse the film because the biggest thing lacking in the film was the third act and the ending and that’s really the most important thing. It just didn’t have the punch that it should have, and it was a great let down after a wonderful set up. It’s a shame that so many great names are attached to this inferior effort. But, it is worth a viewing if you’re a big fan of Scott, Crowe or DiCaprio. All gave A efforts, but the film winds up with a C result.

My rating: :???: