Posts Tagged ‘suspense movie’

Short takes: ‘The Avengers,’ ‘True Grit’ and ‘The Lighthouse’

August 6, 2020
Combination image: ‘The Avengers,’ ‘True Grit’ and ‘The Lighthouse.’

By Matthew E. Milliken
Aug. 6, 2020

Author’s note: The third and last work discussed in this post, The Lighthouse, has a well-deserved R rating because of sexual situations and violence. As such, that part of the post may not be suitable for young and/or sensitive readers. MEM

Joss Whedon’s 2012 Marvel Comics movie, The Avengers, is a delightful superhero romp.

The movie opens with the exiled Asgardian prince Loki (Tom Hiddleston) raiding a federal laboratory and absconding with a mystical power source known as the tesseract. He takes with him physicist Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård), who’s been experimenting with the ancient device (previously seen powering the bad guys in Captain America: The First Avenger and making a cameo in the end credits scene of Thor), and S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner), on whom he’s cast a spell that compels their obedience.

With an eye toward recovering the tesseract quickly and quietly, S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) assembles a team of capable heroes and brilliant scientists and engineers. The group soon to be known as the Avengers includes Tony Stark, a.k.a. Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.); physicist Bruce Banner, who when angered becomes the Incredible Hulk (Mark Ruffalo, stepping into Edward Norton’s shoes); Steve Rogers, a.k.a. Captain America (Chris Evans); Asgardian demigod Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Loki’s stronger but not quite as quick-witted brother; and the incredibly agile Natasha Romanoff, a.k.a. Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson, reprising her role from Iron Man 2).

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Michael Mann’s 1986 thriller ‘Manhunter’ misses the mark in several ways

February 19, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
Feb. 19, 2018

In 1986, Michael Mann was arguably at the height of his influence. He was creator and executive producer of the hit TV crime series Miami Vice, then in its second season. He also found time that year to direct Manhunter, a suspense movie based on Thomas Harris’s novel Red Dragon.

That 1981 volume featured the first appearance of Hannibal Lecter, infamous cannibalistic serial killer who would mesmerize readers in Harris’s follow-up, The Silence of the Lambs. Jonathan Demme directed a film version of the best-seller in 1991, three years after the novel’s publication; in so doing, he brought forth an indelible performance from Anthony Hopkins as the sly, seductive but deeply corrupt Lecter.

The unforgettable character became so popular that Harris went on to write two novels centered on the serial killer, both of which were brought to the screen. Further, the murderous shrink inspired Hannibal, a TV series that ran for three seasons and fleshes out the doctor’s murderous exploits before his capture.

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Two reporters search for truth in the nation’s capital in the taut 2009 thriller ‘State of Play’

April 18, 2017

By Matthew E. Milliken
April 18, 2017

State of Play, the 2009 feature starring Russell Crowe and Rachel McAdams as Washington newspaper reporters, is a well-paced political thriller with some conventional notions about power and some curious notions about journalism.

The movie, co-written by Matthew Michael Carnahan (World War ZDeepwater Horizon), Tony Gilroy (Michael ClaytonDuplicity and Rogue One) and Billy Ray (BreachShattered Glass and Captain Phillips), is based on a 2003 British miniseries of the same name written by Paul Abbott. But it feels thoroughly American, despite having a New Zealander (Crowe) portraying a blue-collar Pittsburgh native and being directed by Kevin Macdonald (The Last King of Scotland), a Scotsman who’s mainly helmed documentaries.

The film opens with a stone-faced man (Michael Berresse) pumping bullets into a teenage junkie (LaDell Preston) who had the misfortune of crossing him and a pizza delivery man (Dan Brown) who had the misfortune of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Later that morning, as a Washington Globe crime reporter named Cal McAffrey (Crowe) begins investigating why an unknown single shooter has apparently attacked two very disparate targets, a young congressional aide named Sonia Baker (Maria Thayer) dies after being pushed into the path of an oncoming Metro train.

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Four friends go all in on murder in the modest direct-to-video suspenser ‘The Poker Club’

March 30, 2017

By Matthew E. Milliken
March 30, 2017

The Poker Club is a modestly effective direct-to-video suspense film about four friends who struggle to hold their lives together after one of them accidentally kills a burglar.

The 2008 movie, based on a novel by prolific author Ed Gorman, begins as Bill, Neil, Curtis and Aaron are playing cards at Aaron’s isolated farmhouse in a small New Jersey community. The quartet have been playing on Monday nights since they were college students, but this get-together takes an unexpected turn when they discover a jittery knife-wielding intruder (Lenny Levi) in the kitchen.

The men tie up the burglar after a chaotic scuffle, but when he breaks loose, a wounded and frightened Curtis (Loren Dean) kills him with a single blow from a baseball bat. To avoid an ugly legal mess, the friends agree to bundle the corpse into a tarp and deposit it in a nearby river.

Naturally, this does not resolve their problems, in part because it turns out that the intruder was not just a random burglar.

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Intriguing independent science fiction suspense movie ‘Infini’ is a minor treat for genre fans

February 28, 2017

By Matthew E. Milliken
Feb. 28, 2017

The 2015 science fiction suspense movie Infini borrows plenty of concepts from superior movies, among them Invasion of the Body SnatchersSolaris and Aliens. But although this independent film is obscure, having been made in Australia on a minuscule budget, it’s executed well enough to make it worthwhile viewing for science-fiction aficionados.

Most of the movie takes place on an abandoned mining base on Infini, the farthest-flung outpost in the galaxy. A few hundred years into the future, when members of Infini’s skeleton crew go insane and program a deadly cargo to be sent to Earth, troops are teleported (“slipstreamed,” in the movie’s parlance) to the location to shut down the shipment. But the first wave of responders quickly go insane, and an elite search-and-rescue team led by Capt. Seet Johanson (Kevin Copeland) is summoned to clean up the fiasco.

The group encounters the only known survivor of the disaster, a security specialist named Whit Carmichael. The frazzled Carmichael (Daniel MacPherson) claims that he shut down the base’s heating system during the carnage, thereby leaving most of it in a deep freeze as crazed personnel slaughtered one another. He agrees to help his would-be rescuers disable the cargo transport, but during the process many of the team members are exposed to the same toxic biological material that plunged earlier visitors into madness.

The rest of the story consists of Carmichael’s increasingly frantic efforts to evade the armed psychotics who are hunting him (and each other) while counting down the hours until he can teleport back to Earth.

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Look out ‘Below’: World War II submarine action meets ghost story in fun but flawed genre mashup

December 6, 2013

By Matthew E. Milliken
Dec. 6, 2013

I have a love-hate relationship with horror films.

From a very young age, I’ve always found scary movies to be absolutely terrifying. Once, as a child, my family went to visit my Aunt Gussie and Uncle Paul’s apartment in Queens, and some kind of monster movie was playing unnoticed on a TV in my line of sight. Every time I looked at the screen, I was overcome by a wave of foreboding, and my heart would start racing. I would look away and soon calm down… But I couldn’t resist redirecting my gaze toward the TV, even though I knew it would upset me.

At some point — I think as the scene reached its climax and the monster (Frankenstein’s?) finally unleashed some kind of rampage — my mother or someone else noticed my abject terror, and either the channel was changed or the TV was shut off or my attention was actively redirected or I was moved to another room. (Yeah, it was definitely one of those things.)

Even to this day, I don’t watch a lot of scary movies. One of the few I saw at a relatively early age was Alien, and the only reason I watched it was that it belonged to the science fiction genre, which I found all but irresistible in my younger days.

Still, sometimes I just want to be scared without being totally revolted or terrified. Over the past year or so, I found a way to channel this impulse: By reading scripts for scary movies.

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