KNIVES OUT (2019)
Flick finds best selling mystery writer and millionaire, Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) dead with his throat cut. It’s ruled a suicide, but an anonymous someone has hired private detective Benoit Blanc (a wonderful Daniel Craig) to take on the case. Blanc finds the game is afoot with a family cut out of Harlan’s will at his 85th birthday the night of his death and his personal care nurse Marta (Ana de Armas) now the sole inheritor of his fortune and assets. With a house filled with those who would benefit from Harlan’s demise, can the unwelcome detective unravel the tangled web that has been woven.
Written and directed by Rian Johnson (Looper, Star Wars: The Last Jedi) this is a near perfect flick. It’s a delightfully old fashioned murder(?) mystery with a dozen or so suspects, all with a motive, and an intricately woven plot that our detective must unravel. It’s easy to follow, but like Craig’s Blanc we must find and interpret the clues, while the web keeps getting more and more complex around him…and us. The film has a darkly comic tone, which suits the story perfectly and an absolutely fabulous cast to play our suspects including, de Armas, Jamie Lee Curtis, Chris Evans, Michael Shannon, Don Johnson and Toni Collette, not to forget the legendary Christopher Plummer as Harlan. It keeps you guessing and smiling, never confuses you, but doesn’t make it easy for you either. When the time comes, there are some fun surprises and reveals and you also realize that for the last two hours you’ve been spectacularly entertained. A near perfect movie that has a perfect cast. Also stars Katherine Langford, Lakeith Stanfield and Noah Segan.
Mystery thriller finds widower David Kim (John Cho) frantically searching for his teenage daughter Margot (Michelle La) who has gone missing. The entire story takes place on his laptop and phone, as he desperately searches all her social media sites for clues to where she went or who might know where she is. More frightening to David, aside from her disappearance, is that he may not have known his daughter at all.
Flick is not the first movie to take place entirely on a computer, but is one of the better ones thanks to skillful direction from Aneesh Chaganty from his clever script co-written with Sev Ohanian. The film starts out introducing us to the Kims, quickly etching out a portrait of a loving family, that is devastated by the loss of wife and mother Pam (Sara Sohn). We then get a single father trying to do what’s best for his daughter when, out of nowhere, she vanishes. It now evolves into a tense and suspenseful mystery as David tries to track down his daughter through social media, as a police detective (Debra Messing) investigates. For a movie that takes place entirely digital, Chaganty finds some clever ways to let us find out information, while still keeping us as in the dark as David as to where Margot went. Did she run away?…or worse? There are a few red herrings and if the film has an Achilles Heel, it’s that after putting us…and David…through a lot to get to it’s conclusion, it gets a bit convoluted in order to give it a crowd pleasing ending. It gets a bit dark and then has to juggle a somewhat far-fetched late story development in order to end things with a less grim and more safe Hollywood finale. Otherwise, this is a very entertaining and involving thriller with strong work from it’s leading man.
The cast is very small with many characters only appearing in quick video clips or photos such as Margot herself and her mother. John Cho gives a very strong and heartfelt performance as a slightly overprotective dad frantically searching for his daughter. Cho is both sympathetic and tenacious as he tries to track down Margot, refusing to believe the police and public…once the case goes viral…that Margot is dead or run away. A strong performance by Cho. Debra Messing is also good as a women who is both detective and a mother herself and the character fits well into the framework of the story. The only other character that has a steady amount of screen time is Joseph Lee as David’s stoner brother Peter, with whom David frequently confides in.
Overall, this was a very entertaining thriller. It’s social media setting is no longer new, but Aneesh Chaganty uses it cleverly and directs his cast and story very well. It’s suspenseful and intense and if it lets it’s build-up down a bit, it’s in a last act turn away from the dark path it was headed, taking the film away from a more realistic and grim ending in order to play it safe. Otherwise this was a solid mystery thriller with strong work from John Cho.
Rated 3 (out of 4) laptops.
THE DISAPPOINTMENTS ROOM (2016)
The Disappointments Room is exactly that. Kate Beckinsale stars as architect, wife and mother, Dana, who is moving into a rural country home with her family. Exploring her new house she finds it has a hidden locked room in the attic. Research reveals it’s a disappointments room…a room where well-to-do families hid deformed or handicapped children, to live out their lives in secret without ’embarrassing’ their families. Dana, having lost one of her own children, is especially disturbed by this and starts to see and be haunted by visions and apparitions of a past family and their deformed daughter. Is she just experiencing delusions caused by grief over the accidental death of her baby daughter, or is she really being haunted?
Directed by D.J. Caruso (Disturbia), from a script by he and Wentworth Miller, this is an incredibly generic ghost story. All the well-worn clichés are present, such as Dana being the only one who sees these apparitions and the husband (Mel Raido) leaving mid-haunting to go away for a few days with the haunted wife now home alone with her son (Duncan Joiner). Beckinsale really tries hard here to give her emotionally strained mom some depth, but the incredibly bland script doesn’t give her much to work with. Raido’s husband is the typical doubter who believes it’s all in his wife’s head and there is the stereotypical young, hunky handyman (Lucas Till) to hit on Beckinsale’s hot mom, in a sub-plot that goes nowhere. Caruso directs competently, but achieves only a few spooky moments and holds our interest only by a thread. Bland and very familiar.
DRESSED TO KILL (1980)
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1980 thriller opens with bored and sexually unsatisfied high society housewife Kate Miller (Angie Dickinson) having a rather rough sexual fantasy while her husband is pounding away at her. She relays this frustration to her therapist, Dr. Robert Elliott (Michael Caine) and even hits on him to no avail. Kate finally has an affair with a stranger she meets at an art gallery, but is savagely murdered by a mysterious blonde in the elevator on her way out. The murder is witnessed by high priced hooker Liz Blake (Nancy Allen) who now is caught between the killer who saw her as well and a cop (Dennis Franz) who uses her to help him investigate Elliot, whom he thinks knows more about the killer than he is saying. Will Liz get out of this mess alive?
As written and directed by Brian De Palma this is a bombastic and overindulgent thriller with a slight case of Psycho envy and every bit of it is intentional. Subtlety is not De Palma’s style and he directs the film with a hand that evokes both Alfred Hitchcock and Dario Argento, especially when bathed in Pino Donaggio’s operatic score. The cinematography is lush, the violence is intense and bloody and despite some very raunchy dialog and some intense sexual overtones, the film does retain some class, even when it’s not trying to be classy. There is some nice suspense, a couple of intense chases and upon first viewing, it is a provocative mystery as to who our homicidal femme fatale “Bobbi” really is. The fun of repeat viewings, is seeing how obvious the killer’s identity is in hindsight, as the clues where there all the time. There is some nice interaction between Allen’s sassy hooker and Kate’s inventor son Peter (Keith Gordon) as the two team to hunt down the killer, Liz to save her own skin and Peter to avenge his mother’s death. Complimenting this sexually charged thriller is the before mentioned cinematography by Ralf D. Bode and that melodramatic score by Donaggio who also scored Joe Dante’s horror classics Piranha and The Howling. If the film has any failings, it can be a little too melodramatic for it’s own good and approaches borderline silly in a few spots. Most of this comes in the first act with Kate’s game of sexual cat and mouse with the stranger at the art gallery being a prime example. It’s a bit much to the point of camp, but otherwise this is an entertaining erotic thriller.
The cast is top notch. Caine is mysterious and aloof as Dr. Elliott. He knows far more than he is telling about his patient “Bobbi” and keeps us in the dark as to just how involved he is, aside from knowing victim and killer. Nancy Allen is sexy and sassy as Liz. She’s hunted by a killer and being manipulated by police and Allen portrays a women trapped in the middle with few friends, but a lot of spunk, very well…and she’s quite hot in the role, Speaking of hot, Angie Dickinson was almost 50 when she portrayed the fiery and sexually frustrated Kate and she exudes sexual desire and a touching sadness in a very solid performance. She was also still stunningly gorgeous (even with the knowledge that she had a body double for the infamous shower scene) and her character evoked sympathy from the audience long before her harrowing and gruesome death by straight razor. Gordon is also good as Kate’s genius nerd of a son and we can see why Carpenter chose him three years later to play equally nerdy Arnie Cunningham in Christine. Rounding out is Dennis Franz as the sleazy, yet still somewhat charming and likable Det. Marino. A really good cast.
Brian De Palma’s most infamous flick is part Hitchcockian mystery/thriller and part Italian giallo. It’s got violence, loads of sexual tinged scenes and dialog and a mysterious figure in black stalking her prey. It can be delightfully bombastic and operatic at times, although sometimes too much for it’s own good. It’s got a solid cast and at this point, loads of 80s nostalgia. Not perfect, but a fun and entertaining mystery thriller with an elevator murder that sticks with you long the flick is over.
3 straight razors.
THE HATEFUL EIGHT (2015)
Latest flick from Quentin Tarantino finds bounty hunter John “The Hangman” Ruth (Kurt Russell) heading to the town of Red Rock with his latest acquisition, murderess Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh). They are reluctantly in the company of another bounty hunter, Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) and there is a massive blizzard on it’s way. Ruth, Warren and a group of others find themselves taking shelter at a remote haberdashery to wait out the storm. The owners are suspiciously absent and now Ruth begins to suspect he’s walked into a trap with possible associates of Miss Domergue. As they are all snowbound together, paranoia begins to take over as no one knows who they can trust. Accusations begin to fly, can bullets be far behind?
If I am to sum up Quentin Tarantino’s latest in one word it would be underwhelmed. The film is well directed and certainly looks great, as Tarantino knows how to frame a shot. It’s just that it is a very long winded mystery/thriller at almost three hours and there are tedious stretches of dialog that seem to drag on. Tarantino is known for his snappy dialog, but here it just seems to meander, taking a long time to accomplish something. Once the bullets and blood start to fly in the last act, it just comes off as gratuitous after such a long time of slowly unraveling what is going on. That and when it is all laid out before us, it’s not all that impressive or a big deal. You kind of feel like “I sat through almost three hours for this?”. There are some really good characters and performances in the flick and it has a great cast, but just takes a long time to not go anywhere all that interesting or far. Not an outright bad movie, just one that is only moderately engaging. Also stars Bruce Dern, Michael Madsen and Channing Tatum.