I first saw this trailer when it played before “Mad Love” which starred Drew Barrymore and Chris O’Donnell. This was at Crow Canyon Cinemas, a movie multiplex I once worked at, and the volume was not all that great as the teenage audience, desperately waiting to see O’Donnell take his shirt off, were talking endlessly before the lights finally went down. I saw it again at the UC Berkeley theater, which was once known as the New Beverly Cinema of Northern California, and I got a better idea of what was on display as I could actually hear what was being said that time around.
“Strange Days” is a 1995 science fiction thriller which starred Ralph Fiennes, Angela Bassett and Juliette Lewis, and the film featured a kind of technology which allowed those who used it to experience recorded memories and physical sensations of others. But despite it being co-written and produced by James Cameron and having been directed by Kathryn Bigelow, it flopped hard at the box office. It is only over time that this film has gotten the cult following it truly deserved as this one offers the viewer a cinematic experience you cannot find elsewhere.
This particular trailer for “Strange Days” was its teaser trailer which had Fiennes selling us on this technology. The dialogue is taken from a scene in which he is trying to get a potential customer to buy some recorded memories, but this time Fiennes is looking straight into the camera, attempting to sell the audience on what he has.
Fiennes starred in this film not long after his Oscar-nominated turn in “Schindler’s List,” and I love how he tells us about this technology here without showing us a thing. His words suck us in to the possibilities of what we could experience if common sense didn’t kick in on a regular basis. It’s a brilliant piece of acting as he succeeds in making us want to open Pandora’s Box and experience pleasures which are ever so forbidden.
I also love the sound design of this trailer as it features a hum throughout which is much like the one I heard as I entered the American Conservatory Theater to watch the first part of “Angels in America.” There is something so comforting and alluring about such a hum that I cannot help but be drawn into the subject matter in a heartbeat.
By the way, can anyone tell me what song was used at the end of this trailer? I really dug it and would love to know where it came from. Perhaps it was by the band Deep Forest as they were supposed to be composing this film’s music score (it would later be done by Graeme Revell), but I don’t know.
If you have not watched “Strange Days” yet, I encourage you to do so as it deals with themes which are more pertinent today than when this film first came out.
The isolated home by the seaside or out in the wilderness always seems like the perfect location for your average horror film or psychological thriller. It’s a place where many of us go to get away from our daily troubles as well as the hustle and bustle of city life as it can become too overbearing after a time. But once characters arrive at such a peaceful destination and have fallen in love with the beautiful vistas and ambient noises, all hell breaks loose. While they want to get away from everything, a brutal form of everything is coming after them. Whether it’s “The Evil Dead,” “Gerald’s Game,” “Honeymoon,” “Silent House” or other movies which are not coming to my mind right now, I have to wonder if getting away from everything is all its cracked up to be.
These thoughts went through my mind when as I watched “The Night House,” a psychological horror film which looks to have Rebecca Hall trapped in a beautiful seaside house which is haunted. But what unfolded before my eyes proved to be much more absorbing and thrilling than I expected as it deals with the things that go bump in the night, but it also deals with universal themes such as grief and coping with such an unexpected loss. While this movie is not exactly groundbreaking, it kept me within its grasp throughout and made me jump out of my seat a few times.
Hall plays Beth, a small-town schoolteacher who is now a widow. During a rather prickly parent-teacher meeting in which a mother is a bit miffed at Beth for giving her son a C in Speech, Beth tells her that her husband had died by suicide the other week. Suffice to say, this is not your typical parent-teacher meeting, but the parent did get their offspring a higher grade as a result. Of course, the parent walked out of it all embarrassed just like she should have.
Despite all the pain and anguish she is enduring, Beth continues to reside in the house her husband Owen (Evan Jonigkeit) built for them during the early years of their marriage. Watching Beth’s home video footage of this house being built helps bring this story down to a more relatable level for me as friends of mine in Northern California shared videos of their own houses being constructed which had them all super excited. It is always more fun for some to create something than it is to destroy anything.
But when night falls, strange things begin happening around the house. The stereo system turns on by itself to play one of Beth and Owen’s favorite songs at an ear-splitting volume. Beth hears knocking on the walls but cannot find who is doing it, and with her getting drunk on a regular basis, it is getting harder to tell what is real and what is fantasy.
I sat in the darkened theater very much enthralled by “The Night House” as director David Bruckner, who previously the 2017 British horror film “The Ritual,” keeps us guessing as to what is really going on with Beth as she struggles to get past her husband’s sudden death even as she discovers things about him she was unaware of. To say he gives the proceedings a Hitchcockian vibe feels justified as the story holds onto its secret without ruining them long before the screen goes to black.
Bruckner also does a terrific job in making this house a terrifying place as he shows us how silence can be golden. As Beth moves around in her isolated home, there is little in the way of ambient sound, and it’s moments like these where I keep waiting with unbated anxiety for something loud to come out of nowhere. Yes, there are jump scares, but the ones Bruckner pulls off are highly effective as I cannot remember the last time I leaped out of my seat like this. Seriously, there may be cracks in the ceiling.
And then there’s Rebecca Hall who reminded me once again what an undervalued actress she is. Whether it’s “Iron Man 3,” “The Town” or the little seen “Christine,” she always proves to be a memorable presence as she fully invests herself in each character she plays. As Beth, she does some of her best work yet as runs the gamut of emotions while portraying a character going through the many stages of grief. Beth is sarcastic, biting and not always the nicest person to her friends, but Hall makes you empathize with her as this is her dealing with such a devastating and unforeseen death.
Hall also has nice support from her fellow actors here. Sarah Goldberg is a heartwarming presence as Beth’s best friend, Claire. While Beth may be pushing away, Claire still attempts to help her anyway she can even as she constantly apologizes for the things she said but didn’t mean to. Goldberg makes Claire feel painfully real as the character embodies the way many of us act towards a friend who has lost someone.
Vondie Curtis-Hall shows up as Mel, a local caretaker who also wants to help Beth in her time of need. The actor manages to find a subtle balance between being helpful and also vulnerable as Mel appears to be more knowledgeable about Owen than Beth initially realizes. Not all actors are successful in pulling this off, so it is noteworthy.
Stacy Martin, best known for her work in Lars Von Trier “Nymphomaniac,” has some choice scenes as Madelyne, a woman who may know more about Owen than Beth is comfortable with. It’s interesting to watch Madelyne as she struggles to befriend Beth even when Beth looks like she wants to jump across the table and strangle her. Martin does a great job in handling the awkwardness of her situation even as she looks to be risking physical and emotional harm.
I was surprised to see how deeply I was taken into “The Night House” as it looked, on the outside anyway, to be an average horror or thriller which may be fun but not leave much of an aftertaste. This film, however, really got under my skin though thanks to the performances and Bruckner’s direction which is even further enhanced by the beautiful cinematography by Elisha Christian and the ominous film score composed by Ben Lovett. But at the center of it all is Rebecca Hall who fully involves us in her character’s frightening path which looks to have no happy end. From start to finish, she is a marvel.
Seriously, I came out “The Night House” shaking. I watched it in sheer terror as I feared for the secrets Beth would end up discovering, and I also was terrified this movie would have some shaggy dog ending which would just pull the rug right out from under us in a terrible way. Remember the wannabe “Sixth Sense” ending that Nicholas Sparks adaptation “Safe Haven” had? Oh lord! Well, this one does not have that kind of an ending even though part of me was a bit perplexed by it.
In the end, “The Night House” is really meant to be an exploration of grief and how one person can go through its brutal stages It’s great to see a horror thriller pull this off in an emotional and thoughtful way, and it was all accomplished with little, if any, blood and gore. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but anyway.
The following review was written by Ultimate Rabbit correspondent, Tony Farinella.
There are good/great movies out there, and then there are bad movies. With a good or great movie, it is a dream come true for a cinephile. There is also a category of movies that are disappointing. Those are probably the hardest ones to digest. With a bad movie, it’s simply bad and you move on with your day. With a disappointing movie, it leaves behind a lot of “what ifs.” With “The Little Things,” it is a film which is filled with possibilities and even individual moments that really shine on screen. However, when it’s all said and done, having watched it twice now, it is very forgettable and run-of-the-mill. It’s disappointing because you expect more considering some of the participants involved.
Denzel Washington leads this cast, and he’s stellar as always in the part of deputy sheriff Joe “Deke” Deacon. This is someone who used to be higher up on the police department food chain until he had a heart attack, a divorce, and some personal problems. He let the job consume him and eat away at his soul. His replacement, Jimmy Baxter (Rami Malek), has more of a calm, cool and collected approach in his role as lead detective. Their paths cross because Jimmy realizes he can lean on Deke for advice and wisdom. Deke sees it as a win-win because a case Jimmy is working is quite similar to a case he has never been able to let go of in his personal and professional life. Those around Jimmy warn him not to become like Deacon, as he is a cautionary tale of what happens when a detective gets too caught up in his work.
They are both hot on the trail of suspect Albert Sparma (Jared Leto), a crime buff who seems to enjoy toying with both Deke and Jimmy. Jimmy has a hunch that Albert checks all of his boxes, and Deacon feels the same way. They begin to follow him and look into more of his personal life. This is where I felt the film started to fall apart. While I think Jared Leto is a fantastic actor, his performance here is very showy and over-the-top. He’s an Academy Award-winning actor, which is also the case with Washington and Malek. Washington can do this familiar role in his sleep. I’ve never been a huge fan of Malek, and he didn’t do anything in this film to win me over.
As far as the story, we have seen an uptick in popularity when it comes to stories involving murder mysteries and crime. It is all the rage on a number of streaming platforms. People are fascinated by their motives and what makes them tick. While I can understand the fascination with these stories, they are a little overdone at the moment. With “The Little Things,” it doesn’t really take any chances or add anything new to this genre. It is your standard crime thriller. There is only one other suspect in the film, and he’s not at all memorable or interesting. This is a film that was solely relying on the fact it has three Academy Award winners headlining it. This story has been done before in the past with a lot more weight, depth, and intensity.
The film is also too long as it runs at 128 minutes. It would have been just fine at one hour and forty-five minutes. I will say I did enjoy the ending, and it’s an interesting look at the emotional trauma and stress which detectives endure when they are struggling to solve a case. It works on that level, but it is not enough to recommend this movie as anything more than a one-time Redbox rental. Once again, I had high hopes for “The Little Things,” but in the end, the little things here made the difference in this film being an average one instead of a good or a great one.
* * out of * * * *
“The Little Things” is released on a single-disc Blu-ray which comes with a digital code from Warner Brothers Home Entertainment. It has a running time of 128 minutes and is rated R for violent/disturbing images, language, and full nudity.
Video and Audio Info:
The 1800p high-definition transfer really brings out the eerie and moody look of the film. This is a dark and bleak looking film, which you would expect from a film with this type of subject matter. The audio formats are DTS-HD MA: English 5.1, English Descriptive Audio, and Dolby Digital: French and Spanish. Subtitles are included in English, French, and Spanish.
The Little Things-Four Shades of Blue
A Contrast in Styles
Should You Buy It?
A lot of critics and film fans have compared this film to David Fincher’s “Se7en,” which is probably one of my top 25 favorite films of all time. This film does not hold a candle to “Se7en.” Again, there were moments which really clicked and scenes that really stood out. However, for the most part, it is long, tedious and rather bland. As far as special features are concerned, we only get two of them, and they are rather quick and to the point. The first one focuses on Washington’s work in cop films for Warner Brothers. The second talks about the differences between the characters played by Denzel Washington and Rami Malek. I can’t recommend you go out and buy this film as I watched it on HBO Max and now on Blu-ray, and it did not improve with a second viewing. As a Redbox rental on a rainy night, it’s worth your time.
**Disclaimer** I received a Blu-Ray copy of this film from Warner Brothers to review for free. The opinions and statements in the review are mine and mine alone.
“Hard Candy” is a low budget psychological thriller released back in 2005, and it was one of the many movies which I rented from Netflix which has gathered far too much dust before I finally took the time to view it. But view this movie I finally did, and shame on me for putting it off for so long. These days, it feels so rare to find a thriller which touches on such controversial issues like pedophilia or the uncertainty of online dating. I mean, do you have any idea who is on the other end of the computer screen? Aren’t you afraid to find out? I’m not saying you shouldn’t go through with it, but after watching this movie, you’ll be going into it with extreme caution even from the waist up.
We see 14-year-old Hayley Stark (Ellen Page, now Elliot Page) meeting up with 32-year-old photographer Jeff Kohlver at a nice modern café. They have been communicating with each other via the internet, but this is the first time they have seen one another in the flesh. After the inevitably awkward introduction, they get comfortable enough to where Hayley goes back with Jeff to his house on the hills. In the process of having so much fun, however, Jeff passes out and awakens to find himself tied to a chair. Hayley has turned the tables and makes her intentions to him very clear; she accuses Jeff of being a sexual predator and is aiming to make him pay for the hideous crimes she believes he has committed.
Watching “Hard Candy” reminded me a lot of Ariel Dorfman’s “Death and The Maiden” which was later made into a Roman Polanski film starring Sigourney Weaver and Ben Kingsley. Weaver ends up interrogating Kingsley because she believes he was the one who viciously tortured and raped her years before. The problem is she only has his voice to go on as she was blindfolded and never saw who it was assaulting her. You spend your time wondering if he is innocent or not, and if Weaver’s character is overreacting.
“Hard Candy” is a lot like “Death and The Maiden” because, until the very end, you are not sure what to believe. Hayley seems pretty damn certain of Jeff’s dark nature, but he is very convincing in proving to her and the audience that she has the wrong guy. But if Jeff really is the bad guy, you have to wonder who is the sicker of the two. Hayley is more than prepared to turn this guy into a late blooming opera singer with quite a falsetto, and her lack of hesitation in doing so suggests she is not mentally balanced.
When these two first appear onscreen, we know as much about them as they about one another, so we are put into their mindset as we try to figure out what their intentions might be. Can they trust one another? Can we? If so, which one should we trust more? “Hard Candy” teases us with the possibilities of what could go wrong with this date. It’s unsettling enough that you have a 30-year-old guy hanging out with a girl who’s not even of legal driving age, but how vulnerable will she allow herself to be around him? Then again, teenagers are not as dumb as many make them out to be.
“Hard Candy” is one of those movies which stayed with me long after I have finished watching it, and there are sequences that play more on what you think you see instead of what you actually see. The effect of those moments is truly unsettling to where I almost would compare “Hard Candy” to Michael Haneke’s “Funny Games.” Furthermore, the two main characters are not just two stock characters that could only exist in the movies; they are real people thrown into a situation which we ourselves hope never to get caught in. The questions it raises of justice, conscience, sickness of the mind, and others on top of them will have you delving into long conversations with those you just witnessed the movie with.
Now a 14-year-old person taking control of an older man and having a surprisingly strong knowledge of medical procedures may feel totally unbelievable as it may seem like something out of a John Grisham novel like “The Client.” This, however, just highlights the brilliance of Page’s performance as Hayley Stark. “Hard Candy” proved to be her big breakthrough in America, and she made this one before “X-Men: The Last Stand” and “Juno.” Page handles all the complexities of this character like a pro, making her seem all the more frighteningly real. The camera locks right into Page’s gazing eyes which show a determination of action she can never be easily pulled away from. She is truly amazing to watch here.
Patrick Wilson essentially plays the more reactive role, and watching him is painful as it truly looks like he is suffering more than he is acting. It’s not surprising to hear he passed out in one very intense scene (trust me, you will know which one I am talking about), and he gives an excellent performance in a role most actors are not necessarily in a hurry to play. Over the past few years, Patrick has given strong performances in movies like “Little Children” and “Watchmen,” but this easily stands out as some of his best work. You remain suspicious of his character throughout, but darn it, seeing him suffer makes you feel for the guy even if you don’t want to.
“Hard Candy” marked the directorial debut of David Slade who made music videos for various artists including Stone Temple Pilots and Tori Amos. I liked how he captured the sterile appearance of Jeff’s post-modern apartment and of how it is forever changed by the vicious actions of these characters. He also maintains a strong level of suspense and tension throughout the movie, something which never seems easy to do these days. Since this film, he since gone on to direct “30 Days of Night” and “The Twilight Saga: Eclipse,” but I’m guessing neither have the power this one film has.
Made for around $1 million, “Hard Candy” is a very effective thriller for those willing to plumb its dark psychological depths. The power of suggestion of certain scenes will be more than enough to drive those lacking a strong stomach out of the room, but if you like this kind of movie, it no doubt delivers. It’s also a hell of an acting showcase for Wilson and Page, but even more so for Page who has since gone on to a great acting career. The movie leaves its mark on your consciousness and will stay with you long after the credits are done. There are only so many movies I can say that about these days.
Master John Carpenter described “The Ward,” his first feature length movie in ten years, best through a video message at the Toronto International Film Festival:
“’The Ward’ is an old school horror movie made by an old school director.”
It’s good to know this going in as Carpenter is not trying to reinvent the wheel or outdo all other horror releases out now. The plot of “The Ward” is as old fashioned as they come, and it allows Mr. Carpenter to exercise the skills he has perfected for many years. It’s not on a par with “The Thing” or “Halloween,” but in the end I didn’t care. For me it was an absorbing movie which kept me entertained throughout its running time, and it was far more entertaining than those summer blockbusters duds “Green Lantern” or “Bad Teacher.”
“The Ward” stars Amber Heard as Kristen, a young woman whom we first see her indulging in a little pyromania, and not the kind Def Leppard made an album about. The police pick Kristen up after she burns down an abandoned farmhouse, and she gets sent straight to the ward of the movie’s title. Her fellow patients are not necessarily the “Girl, Interrupted” type, and Angelina Jolie is nowhere to be found. The intentions of Dr. Stringer (Jared Harris) appear ambiguous at best, and dealing with the chief orderly and Nurse Lundt, both who are deadly serious, is no picnic.
Actually, let me segue here for a moment; Nurse Lundt’s name seems to rhyme with a certain derogatory word. Which one you say? Well… You can just figure that out on your own. I wonder if this was intentional on the part of screenwriters Michael and Shawn Rasmussen, or perhaps it is just the name of someone they knew from way back. Well, whatever the case, Lundt certainly gives Nurse Ratched a run for her money in the seriously mean category, but her voice is not as lovely as Louise Fletcher’s was.
Now this being a psychiatric ward, it is mandatory that a ghost is roaming the halls. Kristen first sees it while taking a shower and, of course, everyone says she’s a nut which is redundant considering she’s staying in a mental institution. Then again, the patients may know more about what’s going on than they initially admit. I hate to think they’ve spent all their time there without seeing at least one ghost, you know? Anyway, patients start to disappear one by one, and Kristen aims to find out what happened to them on top of escaping the ward before it claims her as its next victim.
Now whatever you think of Carpenter’s directorial skills these days, his efforts in generating suspense are still strong. Carpenter is smart to not reveal all the important plot details right away, and he holds you within his grasp throughout as he leaves you guessing or imagining what’s really going on. Even if you see the ending coming from a mile away, the journey to it was an entertaining one for me.
I was skimming through another review of “The Ward” online which said Heard was as believable a mental patient as Charlize Theron was a mine worker in “North Country.” Now what is that supposed to mean? That she’s too good looking to be in a psychiatric ward? Give me a break! Heard does good work here portraying a strong-willed protagonist you want to root for. She’s engaging and believable, and while others may see her as being miscast, I did not. By the way, I thought Theron was great in “North Country” and I utterly accepted her as a mine worker. And in case that one reviewer didn’t notice, both actresses were in “North Country” and played different versions of the same character.
Lyndsy Fonseca is very good as Iris, the first girl to befriend Kristen. She appears to be the most emotionally balanced of the patients, and Fonseca makes her character’s awareness all the more convincing. Mamie Gummer gives a good performance as Emily, and she gives Emily a complexity she might otherwise not have had. Danielle Panabaker makes her character Sarah the epitome of Carly Simon’s classic tune “You’re So Vain,” and she’s a kick to watch. And Laura Leigh rounds out this strong group of actresses by making Zoey a convincingly traumatized person whose escape from reality consists of her acting like a little girl.
In terms of horror, Carpenter still makes effective use of cheap scares. While they have been used to death by dozens of filmmakers, he always makes them count. This is especially the case with “The Ward’s” final scene which truly took me by surprise. I should warn you though that the movie has one of those pull out the rug from under you kind of endings which I am really sick of. However, Carpenter doesn’t telegraph the ending to us like others typically do, so I’m willing to let it pass this time.
If there’s anything missing from “The Ward,” it’s Carpenter’s music which I am a big fan of, and his unique sounds were missed. Not that I want to knock Mark Kilian’s work here as he gives the film an appropriately atmospheric score which works very well, and it does have a bit of that Carpenter sound to it. Still, I yearn for a new score from Carpenter or even his son Cody who did amazing work on “Masters of Horror.”
Am I being too forgiving to “The Ward?” Perhaps. I’ve always been a big admirer of Carpenter’s work, and I even have good things to say about “Ghosts of Mars.” Many have expressed their big disappointment with “The Ward” as they want it to be on a par with “Halloween” and “The Thing.” Others found it not gory enough, but then again Carpenter’s strongest films don’t always rely on it like the “Saw” movies do. Personally, I don’t want to spend time comparing “The Ward” to his best movies because to do so would just be asking us to hate it before the opening credits even begin. You can only let an artist remain in the shadow of their past work for so long until you realize your spoiling the experience for yourself.
With “The Ward,” Carpenter was looking for a movie with a tight schedule and a limited location which didn’t require him to stay for a long time or get completely exhausted after shooting only half of it. With the limited resources he had, he made “The Ward” worth watching, and I got very involved in the plights of the characters. There’s nothing original on display here, and it may very well remind you of a gazillion other movies like it, but I’m glad the master finally directed a feature film again after so long. I just hope we don’t have to wait another ten years for Carpenter’s next film. And if there’s anyway Kurt Russell can star in it, you can sure bet I will be watching it on opening day!
“Narrow Margin” was released in 1990, back when movie remakes were as rare as people owning cell phones. Yes, it is a remake of the 1952 film noir “The Narrow Margin,” and it tells the tale of a Los Angeles deputy district attorney tasked with keeping a witness to a murder safe from a pair of hitmen as they travel through Canada in a train. What we have here is a movie with a terrific cast, some great stunts and sharp cinematography, but it also doesn’t have much of a brain in its head as the characters make one ridiculously stupid decision after another.
The movie starts with Carol Hunnicut (Anne Archer) arriving at the Four Seasons Hotel in Los Angeles where she has been set up on a blind date with a lawyer named Michael Tarlow (the late and still missed J.T. Walsh). Things go fine between them until Michael has to take a phone call in his hotel room and invites Carol along with him, not wanting to leave her alone. But then well-known gangster Leo Watts (Harris Yulin) arrives along with his henchman Jack Wootton (Nigel Bennett) and doesn’t hesitate in accusing Michael of stealing money from him. Michael, overwhelmed by his guilt, confesses his crime to Leo who offers to forgive him, providing they never do business together again. But we all know that gangsters are not big on honesty, and Leo has Michael murdered right on the spot. But, of course, they have no idea Carol is hiding in the bathroom and has witnessed everything.
Like any person who knows how rich and crooked people get off too easy in the real world, Carol flees Los Angeles, and yet she is somehow easy to find as Deputy District Attorney Robert Caulfield (Gene Hackman) and Detective Sergeant Dominick Benti (M. Emmet Walsh) come to find her hiding out in a remote cabin in Canada. And as you might expect, it doesn’t take long for these three to realize the gangsters have followed them as they were dumb enough to leave a trail of breadcrumbs in their path. Dominick is killed, and Robert and Carol escape onto a train headed for Vancouver. But, surprise, surprise, they are trailed by a pair of ridiculously well-dressed hitmen determined to take them out, and the movie turns into a cat and mouse thriller as Robert tries to keep Carol alive despite their dire and claustrophobic circumstances.
Now “Narrow Margin” does take place in a time where technology was nowhere near what it is today, but it is hard to believe even back then that a person could easily disappear without much of a trace. The fact these gangsters have little trouble in following Robert to where Carol is hiding out shows what terrible preparation he and Dominick put into finding and keeping her safe, and these guys are public servants for crying out loud!
Then there are the two hitmen played by Bennett and James Sikking, the latter I remember fondly as the Captain of the Excelsior in “Star Trek III: The Search for Spock.” They come onto the scene dressed to the max in expensive suits and shiny ties which more than spell out to the audience they are bad guys on the prowl. I guess it is asking too much for these hitmen to dress like they are average passengers as doing so just might make them harder to detect. But no, these guys have to show to everyone just how rich and stylish assassins can be to where they are impossible to miss.
There is also the issue of those assassins failing to follow Hackman back to his cabin where they just might find Archer hiding. When you look closely at the screenplay, you will see it has plot holes Christopher Nolan could have flown that giant airplane from “Tenet” through. The characters keep making an endless number of idiotic mistakes, and it just drains much of the suspense and tension “Narrow Margin” hoped to have. There is also a character reveal towards the end, but you can see that one coming from a mile away.
It really is a shame because “Narrow Margin” has the benefit of two great actors headlining it. Gene Hackman is a lot of fun to watch in a role others would have played too broadly. He has a great scene where he faces off with the two hitmen and explains why he won’t accept a bribe to give up his witness. Hackman plays the scene in such a playfully devious way to where it serves as a reminder of why he is one of the best film actors ever. Put him in a bad movie, and he will still give a terrific performance in it no matter what.
Archer appeared in this movie not long after she co-starred in “Fatal Attraction,” a classic which had us all wondering why in the world would Michael Douglas cheat on her with Glenn Close. She makes Carol Hunnicut into a heroine who is both strong-willed and deeply vulnerable as she struggles to stay alive from one moment to the next. She also has strong chemistry with Hackman to where they make quite the team, and the fact they are unable to fully suspend your disbelief is not entirely their fault.
“Narrow Margin” was written, directed and photographer by Peter Hyams. One of his great strengths is in crafting action sequences which truly leave you on the edge of your seat. A car almost going over a cliff is a cliché used in many action movies, but Hyams makes it work to great effect here as watching it almost made my heart stop. There are also a number of great stunts performed on top of a moving train, many performed by the actors themselves. Hyams really knows how to keep audiences riveted to where it is almost worth watching this film just for the action sequences alone.
But in the end, “Narrow Margin” proves to be more laughable than exciting as the characters do far too many idiotic things we can all see right through. Its trailer made it look like a top-notch thriller you would be foolish to miss out on, but sadly this is not the case. When Hackman and Archer cannot save a movie with their strong performances, not much else can.
It’s always cool when a filmmaker sneaks something up on you when you least expect it. On the surface, “Widows” looks like an average heist movie to where I went in thinking it would be another “Ocean’s Eleven,” but I can assure you this is not the case (and we did already have “Ocean’s 8” earlier this year). While this film provides audiences with the requisite action and violence, it cannot be boiled down into one sentence as it deals with themes of class divisions, political corruption and of the lengths many will go to just to make ends meet. What results is a hell of a thriller, and it’s a timely one as the struggles these characters face is all too real in this day and age.
“Widows” starts off with an introduction to the wives before they lose their spouses. Veronica (Viola Davis) shares an especially passionate kiss with her husband Harry Rawlings (Liam Neeson), Linda Perelli (Michelle Rodriguez) haggles with Carlos (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo) over money she needs for her clothing store, Alice Gunner (Elizabeth Debicki) cannot hide the black eye her abusive husband Florek (Jon Bernthal) gave her, and Amanda Nunn (Carrie Coon) is busy with her newborn baby as her significant other Jimmy (Coburn Goss) darts out the door. These scenes are interspersed with these men pulling off a robbery which goes horribly awry and results in their fiery deaths. The editing by Joe Walker is one of the best I have seen in any 2018 movie as he interweaves the different vignettes in a way which feels especially powerful.
From there, the four women attempt to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives as reality comes down hard on them in ways they are not prepared for. Things are especially precarious for Veronica when she is visited by crime boss and aspiring politician Jamal Manning (Brian Tyree Henry) who informs her Harry robbed $2 million dollars from him, and this money was lost in the fire. Jamal demands Veronica pay back this debt sooner rather than later, and the way he holds her dog during this scene will have pet owners gripping their armrests. Following this, Veronica gets together with the other widows to carry out a robbery which will net them the money they need to pay off said debt, and we watch as they take matters into their own hands in a way they never have previously.
I have a confession to make; this is the first movie by filmmaker Steve McQueen I have watched. McQueen has previously given us “Hunger,” “Shame” and “12 Years a Slave” which won the Oscar for Best Picture a couple of years ago. I certainly need to catch up on his work as his flair for filmmaking is clearly on display in “Widows.” Some of the long shots he pulls off here are amazing as the actors are forced to maintain an intensity which is not always easy to do in front of a camera, and it results in highly suspenseful and shocking moments which had the audience I saw it with gasping audibly.
At the center of “Widows” is Viola Davis who has long since proven to be a force of nature. Ever since I first saw her in “Doubt,” she has proven to be a no-nonsense actress and her performances are never less than stunning. As Veronica, she provides the story’s center of gravity as she forces the other women to join with her in a mission no one can easily prepare for, and she does this even as her heart is shattered by a grief she cannot keep inside forever. Even in moments where she doesn’t say a word, Davis makes us see what is going on in her mind without having to spell it out for us. Watching her here, I was reminded of the lethal presence she gave off in the disastrous “Suicide Squad” and of how she would have made a better Joker than Jared Leto.
One actress who really needs to be singled out, however, is Elizabeth Debicki. As Alice, she takes her character from being an abusive pawn for her husband and her equally nasty mother Agnieska (a wickedly good Jacki Weaver) to becoming a person who finds the strength and self-confidence which has eluded her for far too long. She makes Alice’s transition both natural and subtle to where she inhabits the character to where you can never take your eyes off of her.
McQueen and co-writer Gillian Flynn of “Gone Girl” fame adapted this movie from the British miniseries of the same name, one which I’m fairly certain my parents have seen. In this movie’s 129-minute running time, they manage to fit in so many different layers to where “Widows” feels much longer than it already is, but I never lost interest in what unfolded. We get a strong sense of the desperate lives each character leads as they live in a world where no superhero can save them. The two have also moved the story from England to Chicago and, as David Mamet once said, “In Chicago, we love our crooks!”
An interesting subplot which emerges in “Widows” involves a political campaign between Jamal Manning and Jack Mulligan (Colin Farrell), for alderman of a South Side precinct. We already got a glimpse of Jamal’s criminal activities, but Jack is not free of corruption himself. Even worse, his father Tom Mulligan (Robert Duvall, great as always) does nothing to hide his racist attitudes and believes this office is theirs by blood regardless of what the voters end up saying. Farrell is terrific as Jack in showing the shadowy corners he is forced to navigate through in politics. It’s a position he doesn’t want to be in, but he is stuck in the shadow of his incumbent father who is not about to see his son lose the election, and he proves to be as morally compromised, if not more so, as his political adversary.
This also leads to a brilliant scene as McQueen follows Jack as he gets into a car with his associate, and the camera stays outside as we watch them travel from the poor neighborhood he is campaigning in over to the affluent neighborhood where he lives. Is there another scene in a 2018 movie which shows the disparity between the haves and have nots without the use of words? If there is, I haven’t seen it.
Michelle Rodriguez remains as badass as ever, and its great fun watching her hold her own opposite Davis. Cynthia Erivo, who showed us what a great voice she has in “Bad Times as the El Royale,” is furiously good as Belle, a babysitter and beautician constantly running off to the next paying gig as her desperation to keep her head above water keeps her apart from her daughter. And Daniel Kaluuya, who had scored one hell of a breakthrough with “Get Out,” is a devilish delight as Jatemme Manning, a cold as ice psychopath who doesn’t think twice about ending someone’s life, and his presence is enough to frighten the most jaded of filmgoers.
Does “Widows” have plot holes? Perhaps, but I was too caught in the story and performances to really give them any notice. Any questions this movie proved to be refrigerator questions. As for the meaning of that, look to Alfred Hitchcock. This is a thriller which digs deep into the lives of those undone by history and inequity, and it’s hard not to root for them as they take matters into their own hands in a desperate attempt to reach for the life they dreamed of but which is cruelly denied to them. It is full of surprises, many of which I did not seem coming, and McQueen holds us in his cinematic grip from start to finish.
Another thing to take into account about “Widows” is how it deals with the five stages of grief. Getting through them is never easy, but you knew this already. Seeing these characters struggle with their individual grief is not something which draws attention to itself right away, but the ending, which features a character breaking out into a smile she worked hard to get to, shows how one can get to the other side and move on. You could say this only happens in the movies, but this one does not take place in the land of superheroes and comic books. Reality can be harsh, and “Widows” never lets you forget that.
When actors get to a certain point, they find themselves playing older men with a violent past which they have long since renounced, but we know they will jump back into action when the occasion arises. Whether it’s Liam Neeson in “Taken,” Sean Penn in “The Gunman,” Keanu Reeves in “John Wick” or even Clint Eastwood in “Unforgiven,” these characters end up falling back into their violent ways as life has left them little else to fall back on. A song by Eminem, “Guts Over Fear,” spells this out perfectly:
“It’s too late to start over. This is the only thing I know.”
This is certainly the case for Robert McCall, the main character of “The Equalizer” which was a popular show from the 1980’s. Now Denzel Washington makes this character his own in this cinematic adaptation which shows McCall leading a decent life at a Home Depot-like store named Home Mart where he befriends its many employees, and who spends his time outside work at his bare apartment or at the local diner reading a book. But a look into his eyes tells of a dark past he would rather not tell you about, and we all know this past is going to come roaring back.
This dark past comes to the surface when Alina (Chloe Grace Moretz), a teenage prostitute McCall becomes friendly with, ends up in the hospital after a severe beating. Seeing the damage done to her, McCall goes to the Russian mobsters who employed her to beg for her freedom. Even after he presents them with an envelope filled with over nine thousand dollars in cash, they are quick to dismiss him as just some old guy who is way past his prime. Unlike the “John Wick” movies where the villains react in embarrassment upon realizing who they inadvertently pissed off, the antagonists of “The Equalizer” have yet to realize how brutal McCall as they believe youth counts for more than age. By the time they come to see their mistake, the chance to make an apology is quickly rendered moot. Just ask the man whom McCall forcefully shoves a corkscrew under his chin to where you can see it inside his mouth.
Of course, the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and McCall’s actions have infuriated the Russian Mafia to where they send out theiir chief enforcer Nicolai Itchenko (Marton Csokas) to deal with the situation. It is important to note one of the books McCall reads is Ernest Hemmingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea” which is about an aging Cuban fisherman who struggles to catch a giant marlin out in the Gulf Stream. As the book begins, the fisherman has been unable to catch a fish for over 80 days, and “The Equalizer” starts with McCall leading a peaceful life which suggests he has not beaten the crap out of anyone for a long, long time. But we all know a giant marlin of sorts will be thrown into his path, and we are left wondering just how badly his antagonists will get their due justice.
There is no denying Washington is one of the best film actors ever, and “The Equalizer” could not have come to him at a better time. His career has lasted for several decades, and he has surpassed the point where he has nothing else left to prove. Washington was 59 when he played Robert McCall, and helps him give the character more gravitas as he now has the face of a man who has seen more than any person should in life. All he has to do is give off a look with his eyes or speak words with his still smooth voice to let us know he means business. And when he starts the timer on his watch of his, we know things are about to get nasty.
Watching “The Equalizer” reminded me of “The Gunman” which starred Sean Penn as a former special forces officer and mercenary whom we see at points apologizing to others for being so good at killing people, a skill he wishes he was never taught. Penn is another one of our finest actors, but his performance was laughable as his character displayed himself in a way which felt insulting to our intelligence. Washington, however, does not make this same mistake in playing McCall. There’s a scene in which he admits he has done things he is not proud of and that he gave up on doing them out of respect for his late wife, but a look into his eyes is enough to tell us he is not about to apologize for who he is and that he accepted this part of himself a long time ago.
“The Equalizer” also allows Washington to reteam with his “Training Day” director Antoine Fuqua, and this continues to be a match made in cinematic heaven. Let’s be honest, the plot of this movie is formulaic and hits all the notes we expect it to hit throughout, and we have a good idea of how things will turn out to where expect this to be a run of the mill action thriller. As long as it delivers the goods, this is enough.
Still, both Washington and Fuqua, along with screenwriter Richard Wenk, add their little touches to the material to where “The Equalizer” proves to be anything but average. Washington sells himself easily in this role, but he also adds a strong humanity to the character as we watch him help his friend Ralph (Johnny Skourtis) pass the security guard exam and keep a fellow employee calm while she is being robbed at gunpoint. Washington makes McCall a wonderfully rounded character in a way which could have come off as inescapably cheesy in the hands of another actor.
While Nicolai Itchenko comes off as just another overconfident gangster, let alone a Russian gangster, Fuqua gives Csokas some strong moments where a look at his tattoo-covered body reveals a man who has long since been rendered into a cold-hearted bastard to where any sense of empathy within him no longer exists. Csokas also has a scene where he stares off with Washington in the same way Al Pacino and Robert De Niro did in “Heat” as their characters try to figure the other one out, and he shows how deep Nicolai’s psychosis stretches in a way we do not often see in the typical action extravaganza.
Other actors make a sizable impact in their small roles, and it reinforces the saying of how there are no small roles, only small actors. David Harbour, before he became famous on “Stranger Things,” plays a corrupt cop whom McCall gives a chance to do the right thing in a coldly calculated way. Harbour makes the most of his moment opposite Washington when he yells out how life has given little in the way of choices to where he survives the only way he knows how. Sure, it may seem like a cliched moment, but Harbour sells it for all it is worth to where you cannot dismiss his performance as you walk out of the theater.
You even have Bill Pullman and Melissa Leo, two actors you can always depend on, showing up as Brian and Susan Plummer, a married couple and former CIA employees who were instrumental in McCall’s life and remain there for him in the aftermath of the tragedy he has suffered. Leo in particular brings a strong dramatic energy to her few scenes as she makes us see how Susan sympathizes with McCall’s situation to where she understands him in a way few others can or are willing to.
What I admired about Fuqua’s direction is that he has succeeded in making a slow burn thriller and not an action movie which hits the ground running like most do these days. Fuqua takes his time and is not quick to reveal everything about McCall to where the mystery of this man empowers the ultra-violent scenes to where we are constantly left on edge. When it comes to the movie’s climax at Home Mart, Fuqua keeps us as off-guard as the bad guys to where we cannot help but feel we are in their shoes as McCall takes them out with cruel precision. Ever since “Training Day,” this filmmaker has proven to be excellent at making action set pieces feel more visceral than they usually do, and he gets away with moving the story at a pace that seems unthinkable in today’s cinematic world which overflows with superheroes and comic book characters.
I’m not sure where I would place “The Equalizer” in the pantheon of Washington’s and Fuqua’s careers. It may not be among their best works, but it shows the care and intelligence they are willing to put into a typical genre film to where we got more out of the final product than we expect. I never did get the watch the television show which had Edward Woodward starring as Robert McCall, but I think it is safe to say Washington and Fuqua have taken this story and its main character and have safely made them their own.
It says a lot about John Carpenter’s “The Thing” that it could generate a prequel almost 20 years after its release. A critical and commercial failure back in 1982, it has since been justly reappraised as a true horror classic and remains Carpenter’s masterpiece. It proved even more terrifying than “Halloween,” and it also holds a special place on my list of my top ten favorite movies of all time. These days, it is even more frightening as the scenario it presents feels all too possible.
Now we have Matthijs van Heijningen Jr.’s “The Thing,” a prequel to Carpenter’s movie which explores the events leading up to it. Remember the Norwegian camp Kurt Russell and Richard Dysart visited which had been completely burned down? Now we get to see how it got laid waste by both the thing and the humans. But therein lies the problem; knowing the events precede those of the 1982 movie and who survives, much of the potential suspense and tension gets drowned out almost immediately.
Frankly, I would much rather see a sequel to Carpenter’s “The Thing” instead of this. His film was very effective because we never had a clear idea of who to trust. But in Heijningen’s film, we know the characters on display will eventually bite the dust, and it becomes a question of when these characters turn into the thing. After a while, it becomes more shocking when a character dies but doesn’t turn into a gooey alien. What spoils it even more is we know of at least one character who will survive what happens very early on, and all we can do is wait impatiently for him to get on the helicopter with his rifle and take shots at the wolf.
Heijningen is respectful of Carpenter’s movie and pays homage to it throughout, but I kept wondering if this was a remake instead of a prequel. Various scenes are clear imitations of the 1982 movie’s most classic moments, and I wish he had worked harder at distinguishing the prequel from it instead of just presenting us with something way too similar. He does wring some suspense and strong tension at different points, and his unique take on the blood test scene is very clever, but he is unable to sustain the tension which made Carpenter’s movie so utterly terrifying.
The special effects are very good, but they pale in comparison to the genius of Rob Bottin. Audiences are always quick to tell when CGI effects are overused. As for the performances, they are generally good even though the characters could have come out of any monster movie.
The best performance comes from Mary Elizabeth Winstead as paleontologist Kate Lloyd. Such a terrific presence in “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World” and “Live Free or Die Hard,” she holds our attention throughout and is one of the best reasons to see this prequel. While Lloyd is predictably inspired by Ellen Ripley from “Aliens,” Winstead makes the character her own and more than just another tough chick which movies like these typically rely on.
“The Thing” prequel is not terrible, but it will be of interest more to those who haven’t seen the 1982 film which itself was a remake and made back in a time when remakes were rare and actually worth watching. This particular version of John W. Campbell’s “Who Goes There?” feels like a lost opportunity, and it gets caught in the prequel trap of busily matching everything up to the film it leads into. It really sucks when you can see a movie’s ending long in advance. I did however admire the ambiguous ending shown before the end credits as it leaves you wondering if the alien really infected one of the last characters standing. Not knowing is always more unnerving than knowing, and at least the director got this right.
The apparent displacement of an observed object due to a change in the position of the observer.
Astronomy. The apparent angular displacement of a celestial body due to its being observed from the surface instead of from the center of the earth (diurnal parallax or geocentric parallax) or due to its being observed from the earth instead of from the sun (annual parallax or heliocentric parallax). Compare parallactic ellipse.
The difference between the view of an object as seen through the picture-taking lens of a camera and the view as seen through a separate viewfinder.
An apparent change in the position of cross hairs as viewed through a telescope, when the focusing is imperfect.
I always wondered what the word parallax meant, let alone in relation to this movie. This would have come in handy during those damn SAT’s I took so many years ago. It would have brought my scores up a bit. As for what my scores were…Well, you can just figure it out on your own.
“The Parallax View” is a thriller from 1974 directed by Alan J. Pakula and starring Warren Beatty. I saw it as a double feature with another Pakula thriller, “Klute.” I even remember my mom asking me to record this particular movie on the family VCR back in the 1980’s. I did succeed in getting the whole movie on tape as opposed to all those car races my dad and my brother asked me to record for them from time to time. Anyway, it’s a good thing I didn’t see this movie right away when I recorded it for my mom. They probably edited it down and cut all the good parts out.
The movie starts with an assassination of an assassination of a U.S. Senator on the Space Needle in Seattle, Washington. The movie then jumps ahead three years later to see the far-reaching circumstances this assassination has on those closely involved in it. Warren Beatty plays Joseph Frady, a reporter eager to get at the truth surrounding the assassination, and to find out why so many who were in the vicinity of the assassination have been dying. Many have been reported as dying from an embolism of some kind, but there are too many coincidences between all those dead which makes it impossible to believe they simply just died. Beatty’s character may not be able to prove it, but they were murdered. But by whom?
The movie opens with Frady getting a visit from a female friend who is convinced she will be murdered. She comes up with newspaper clippings of others present at the senator’s murder and how they died. But Frady dismisses her concerns as mere superstition, and that she cannot possibly be in danger. A couple of minutes later, we see her in the morgue, dead from an apparent overdose. This gets Frady up and running to finding out the truth as to why these people are being killed off. This drives his boss Bill Rintels (Hume Cronyn) to a lot of anxiety and irritation as he cannot get himself to believe all that is going on. Meanwhile, Frady risks life and limb literally to discover the truth behind everything. But like everything else, the truth will have a big cost.
Turns out all roads lead to The Parallax Corporation, a business which hires highly anti-social people and trains them to be assassins, and their targets usually tend to be politicians and government figures that stand in the way of making policy or a good profit. The movie escalates the tension to a high level as Beatty’s character puts himself in the most dangerous of positions. One of the most tension filled scenes comes when he realizes one of the Parallax assassins has put a bomb on board a plane with yet another politician, and Beatty boards the plane in an effort to find a way to get everyone off the plane before it detonates.
What I have come to discover about the late Alan J. Pakula is how he brought a lot of intelligence and reality to the movies he made, and there was never anything overly exaggerated in his direction. This seemed to ground the majority of his films in a world so real to where they come across as highly subversive. There is no hyper kinetic editing here, nor is there an overpowering score or adrenaline inducing sound effects. There is only the state of the world and of what’s really happening around us instead of what we are led to believe.
This movie is now over thirty years old, and yet its themes are not out of place in today’s society. The scenario of one man against the system, or of a person getting to the truth regardless of the consequences has been done over and over again. We have had “Michael Clayton” which starred George Clooney as a fixer at a law firm who suddenly develops a crisis of conscience that forces him to go against all the corruption which has engulfed the later part of his life. It’s thrillers like “The Parallax View” which gave movies like “Michael Clayton” a reason for being.
Beatty is perfectly cast here as this downtrodden reporter who is eager to not be as selfish as he has been for most of his life. The movie does not ride on his good looks to sell itself, but on the intelligence of Beatty’s performance as well of those around him. If you can’t believe Beatty in this role, then the movie is not going to work. I’m not sure of how many people today can recognize what a great actor Beatty can be if you give him the right material.
These days, we know that our government and the corporations are up to something which goes completely against what we were originally taught to believe in. What’s scary is when “The Parallax View” was first released, nothing much was different. It just keeps going on and on, and it’s almost like we are in denial about it. The question is, can we get at the truth of the matter and prove it to everyone who bothers to listen? Furthermore, can we do it in a way which doesn’t suck us into a trap that makes us look like a bad person to the rest of the world? This movie seems to say this is not really possible, but it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try, and we can’t simply give up.
“The Parallax View” is an excellent thriller which is definitely worth a watch. Coming out of one of the truly golden ages of cinema, the 1970’s, it is an underrated work which didn’t get the same-sized audience of Pakula’s other movies like “All the President’s Men.” If you like his work as a director, you should check this out.