Happy Death Day (2017)
★★★ / ★★★★
Fast-forward to the 2030s or 2040s when there is intense nostalgia for horror movies of the 2010s. “Happy Death Day,” written by Scott Lobdell and directed by Christopher Landon, is likely to be included on that list because it is clever, funny, and occasionally suspenseful. Although it lacks the level of gore that pictures with strong cult following tend to have, the neat little twists and turns as well as affectionate nudges to the slasher sub-genre make up for it. As an avid horror movie fan, it is not often that I find myself guessing incorrectly in terms of how the story is going to be resolved.
Here is a picture that takes cues from Harold Ramis’ classic comedy “Groundhog Day” and spins it in such a way that we think we know where it is going exactly because the viewer has likely seen that film. It dares enough to introduce a rather unlikable heroine named Tree (Jessica Rothe), a sorority girl who wakes up in Carter’s dorm room (Israel Broussard) every time she is murdered, in a genre where the protagonist must almost always be endearing right away so that the audience roots for her when she inevitably faces the masked killer. And because it uses “Groundhog Day” as inspiration, she must realize eventually that she is not a good person. While this piece is expected, the material takes it a bit further.
The film is executed with great energy and so the repetitive nature of each day is never exhausting. In fact, we pay attention a little bit more after each reset because we wish to gather clues in order to try to discover the killer’s identity. There is no quick and pointless editing, random shaking of the camera, and eye-rolling “Hello? Who’s there?” moments. Instead, it takes what works from solid horror pictures—such as the use of silence and when to break it, clever background imagery like posters or stickers, and using violence to provide catharsis rather than showing violence in order to simply take up minutes. It is a concise piece of work with a brain behind it.
Although not exactly a satire, it touches upon the idea of skewering college life in the universe of a horror movie. It might have become an instant classic had the screenplay been shaped further in order to expand upon and deeply explore this element—but perhaps such an idea could be utilized if a sequel were to happen. As is, however, it is solid popcorn entertainment, a breezy journey to the finish line.
Rothe does not have the look of a typical scream queen, but I enjoyed her performance. I liked that she is not afraid to look ugly—and I don’t mean simply being willing to not wear makeup or having mascara running down her face. She employs extreme facial expressions at times and there is something lovable and realistic about that. Further, she shares great chemistry with her co-star, Broussard, and the together they light up the room. At one point I wondered that had the movie been a romantic comedy set in a college setting where a sorority girl realizes later on that the person she thought was a loser is a winner after all, I would have loved to have seen that work, too.
American Assassin (2017)
★★★ / ★★★★
Action-thriller “American Assassin” is for the modern American audience: it moves swiftly, action sequences are violent and at times beautifully choreographed, and the screenplay commands a level of intrigue when it comes to the shadowy world of spies and espionage. But what makes it stand out among its contemporaries is a lack of handholding when it comes to the execution of the plot. We simply watch the pieces move across the board as the race to stop a nuclear bomb from being detonated unfolds.
The casting for the lead role is inspired and surprising. Dylan O’Brien does not have the physicality of a typical action star nor does he have a face that screams “Movie Star.” Even though O’Brien looks fit, there are many instances in which his character, Mitch Rapp, whose fiancée was murdered in a terrorist attack, appears as though he would be unable to handle his own against much taller, wider, seemingly stronger enemies. And so there is almost always tension before and during hand-to-hand combat.
The contrast proves refreshing and interesting. It highlights the fact that the character is driven by so much anger and an unquenchable thirst for vengeance that threat of bruises and broken bones would not stop him from accomplishing a mission. The character is fascinating because he likens that of a rabid dog but one that must be controlled by his superiors or risk years of surveillance and undercover work among terrorist groups.
One portion of the film that could have been explored further is the training under a former U.S. Navy SEAL and Cold War veteran Stan Hurley (Michael Keaton). Keaton, as expected, is able to hit different, sometimes unexpected, notes within a stock character who trains promising young talents. These training sessions not only provide curious details a potential agent might undergo before being deemed ready for the field but they also underline our protagonist’s strengths and weaknesses. We wonder about his weaknesses, specifically, and how it could be exploited later on—more importantly, at what cost.
I admired that an atmosphere is created in that action sequences are not all that important—and yet when it does present these adrenaline-fueled scenes, it excels. The screenplay creates a consistently high level of urgency and so we care about what would happen not only to the characters but whose hands the rogue nuclear weapon might end up. Because director Michael Cuesta has a habit of playing it small, when he changes his approach, viewers are rendered off-balanced in the best way possible.
“American Assassin,” based on the novel by Vince Flynn, has potential to become a profitable film series because a few elements are present that made the “Bourne” pictures highly watchable. The aggressive CIA operative has more layers to him than anger, as O’Brien’s solid performance suggests—especially during scenes between Rapp and Hurley. Here’s to hoping that if there is a next installment, the material expands the picture’s universe, makes its style more specific, and retains the ability to surprise.
Red Riding: In the Year of Our Lord 1983 (2009)
★★ / ★★★★
Two girls have gone missing in 1969 and 1972 and a third child is found dead in 1974. In 1983, Hazel Atkins is taken by the same murderer which makes her the most recent victim. Detective Maurice Jobson (David Morrissey) is assigned to the Atkins case but he struggles to remain focused due to the guilt that plagues him. In the past, he has been involved with corruption and it is finally catching up with him. Meanwhile, John Piggott (Mark Addy), a solicitor, meets with a convict, Myshkin (Daniel Mays), who confessed to the aforementioned kidnappings and murder but is now wishing for an appeal.
The final chapter of the “Red Riding Trilogy,” collectively based on David Peace’s novel, “Red Riding: In the Year of Our Lord 1983” moves at a brisk pace, certainly faster than its predecessors, but something is lost along the way because the big revelations feel rushed and there is not enough detective work shown on screen for us to be able to connect the dots without relying on the screenplay to spoon-feed information. For a heartbreaking and scary case about child abduction and murders, it is not at all an engaging experience—passable but not a work that stands out even among the trilogy.
The primitive interrogation techniques are well-shot. I felt like I was in that dark room as cops force confessions out of suspects. They do it because they feel pressure to get answers from their superiors and the media. The picture does a good job in communicating that the cops believe what they are doing what is right—actions that will lead to the truth. On the contrary, the case ends up becoming more complicated, unnecessarily so, due to false confessions. These confessions are akin to desperate gasps of air of a drowning person. It is unsettling to watch but you cannot help but observe it all unfold.
Some facts within the investigation remain vague which leaves room for doubt and unanswered questions. Perhaps this might not have been a problem if the material avoided to offer straightforward answers during the final fifteen minutes. One that bothered me especially is the medium (Saskia Reeves) who claims to see the dead girls. From its predecessors, it is shown that the crimes have been well-documented in the papers. If so, why does Jobson entertain the idea that Ms. Wymer can communicate with spirits? If Jobson were written smart, he should have recognized that a lot of what she claims to have learned most likely have come from old newspaper articles. In addition, the medium’s histrionics are phony. “She’s suffocating! It’s dark!,” she wails.
Subplots are introduced but each one does not get enough time to develop. Two of the most underdeveloped subplots involve the past of Piggott’s father which casts a shadow on the son’s work and a gloomy young man (Robert Sheehan) constantly looking out the window of trains. They are integral to the final act but it is off-putting that these strands seem to have thrown into the pot in the last second before being served to us. Not enough time has passed for their flavor to be released.
“Red Riding: In the Year of Our Lord 1983,” directed by Anand Tucker and based on the screenplay by Tony Grisoni, is not a terribly constructed mystery-thriller, though at times it is convoluted, but it neither demands our attention nor does it dare us to seek answers of our own. Even if seen through eyes and brain on auto-pilot, the rewards remain few and far between.
Fat Kid Rules the World (2012)
★★★ / ★★★★
“Fat Kid Rules the World,” based on the novel by K.L. Going, succeeds as a drama, with some comedic elements dispersed throughout, and is aimed toward teenagers and young adults because it does not result to pandering in order to get its points across. It is able to take a variety of topics—depression, punk music, unlikely friendship, a family in the process of moving on from a death, learning self-confidence—and weave them into one another to create a piece of work that offers not only a beautiful message but also one that is entertaining, amusing, and heartfelt.
Troy (Jacob Wysocki), a depressed and obese high school student, steps in front of an approaching bus with the hope of ending his unbearable sadness, but Marcus (Matt O’Leary) tackles him out of the way and the two crash onto the sidewalk. Although Troy denies that he had just attempted to commit suicide, Marcus sees through the lie and claims that Troy owes him a favor for the act of kindness. It can be paid if Troy agreed to be a drummer in a punk band despite the fact that Troy neither has interest in punk music nor playing drums.
The picture takes its time to allow each dramatic factor to unfold and so when they reach intersections, even though they may be different in tone or content, the package comes across as natural. Credit goes to the writers, Michael M.B. Galvin and Peter Spearman, for their boldness and creativity to let each conflict shine on their own while taking into consideration that each element has its own pacing. In this seemingly simple and straightforward piece of work, not everything has to be ironed out completely.
Troy’s relationship with the people around him is given special emphasis. Most beautifully rendered is Troy’s relationship with his father (Billy Campbell), a former Marine who must raise two teenagers on his own. Campbell plays Mr. Billings as tough but fair and the performer, paired with intelligent and honest writing, ensures that we understand why he must be the way he is.
I enjoyed the scenes with Mr. Billings and his eldest son the most because in a lot of movies that contains a stern male figure, especially in coming-of-age films, the character is almost always one dimensional. We can usually predict every beat, every silence about to be broken, every glowering look. Here, we sympathize completely with the father, too. In a scene toward the end, Troy assures his father that it is not his fault that Troy gained so much weight during their family’s grieving process. Moments of such directness shine brightly because comedy is not used as a crutch to tell a truth that must be expressed with complete confidence and clarity.
Beauty among the human relationships is perhaps the greatest weapon of “Fat Kid Rules the World,” a highly watchable, endearing, smart independent picture directed by Matthew Lillard. If more writers and filmmakers understood that honesty ought not be dampened constantly by silliness, quirkiness, and platitudes, it is likely that more people would be interested in diving into smaller stories that are important in their own way.
Mountain Between Us, The (2017)
★★ / ★★★★
Romantic survival pictures are a rarity in today’s film landscape and so it is most disappointing that “The Mountain Between Us,” based on the novel by Charles Martin, is too safe, failing to play upon either extremes in order to create a piece of work that is both daring and different. What results is a watchable picture that is significantly elevated by its lead performers. Without them, it would have been a bland misfire so credit goes to the casting directors for choosing the right actors for the job.
Pay attention to the opening scene, how Kate Winslet and Idris Elba introduce their characters by navigating Alex and Ben, a professional photographer and a neurosurgeon, respectively, after having been presented with information that their flights have been cancelled. Immediately we are intrigued by the characters because Winslet and Elba have a knack for capturing how actual people might react when given unfortunate news. Although a romantic picture, Alex and Ben are not peppy characters typically found in the sub-genre. I enjoyed that upon their meeting, the two are on the verge of frustration and so there is an instant spark there.
The film is visually impressive in that the snowy and mountainous landscapes look dangerous, foreboding, beautiful but clearly not a place one would like to get lost in. Scenes after the plane crash and prior to Ben and Alex deciding to search for a nearby town, if any, rather than wait for rescue are a mixed bag. Particularly annoying, although occasionally cute, are the reaction shots of a dog, whether it be after a comedic line is uttered or a during life or death situation. Using the animal in this way is such a bottom-of-the-barrel technique, often found in brain-dead romantic comedies without much aspiration other than to exist and rake in cash.
Hany Abu-Assad’s “The Mountain Between Us” is much better than such strategy. When it relies on the audience to figure out the assumptions characters make while getting to know one another in the unforgiving wilderness or the sorts of intricacies slowly being woven between them, the film is at its best. Had the screenplay by Chris Weitz and J. Mills Goodloe trusted the audience’s intelligence on a consistent manner, it certainly would have been a stronger film. There is no need for so many reaction shots of a dog, while playful, that does not have much to do with the plot.
But the beacon of the project is the strong acting by Winslet and Elba. In a movie like this, we all know how it is going to turn out. That is, they are going to survive their many trials. This is why the aftermath is perhaps the most fascinating portion of the film—when Alex and Ben have returned to their normal lives. Easily, I could have sat through another hour for the material to explore the rapidly changing dynamics between our protagonists. While these consummate thespians deliver the required complex emotions, fifteen minutes is not enough for the average screenplay to deliver a high level of catharsis.
Wonder Woman (2017)
★★ / ★★★★
“Wonder Woman,” directed by Patty Jenkins, is yet another superhero picture that is over-reliant on CGI and does not offer enough imagination to impress or move the viewer beyond images presented on screen. This is especially inexcusable since the film is over two hours long. What results is a barely passable popcorn entertainment—clearly not a project that will be remembered decades from now and be utilized as a bar to be met for the sub-genre. I find that it possesses a skeletal idea of what it wishes to be, but the execution lacks the necessary inspiration to create first-rate entertainment.
The casting of Gal Gadot is spot-on not only because of her physical beauty. While capable enough of carrying both dramatic and comedic moments, I enjoyed it most when the performer simply stands among a crowd and yet our eyes gravitate toward her. Magnetism is something that a person naturally possesses and Gadot has plenty to spare. She manages to stand out even when computerized special and visual effects invade the screen to the point of overload.
Notice that the best scenes in the picture are moments of levity, whether it be Diana, having been raised on a hidden island, discussing the pleasures of the flesh (and how she read twelve volumes of a book detailing such information) with an American pilot named Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) who is obviously attracted to her or Diana being forced to try on different articles of clothing so she can fit in with the crowd in London. When the material does not take itself too seriously, and willing to slow down the plot so we can get to know the characters a little more, it is refreshing in ways that other superhero movies are not. This is because the jokes are specific to Diana’s story, where she comes from, and what she hopes to achieve.
Conversely, when the material takes itself too seriously, the tone is dour, uninviting, and at times soporific. All of us have seen war films before and great ones shake us to the bone. The events that transpire here is a bizarre combination of real-life drama and comic book. Clearly, these extremes do not mesh well. A diluted version of reality is thrusted upon our laps and somehow we are supposed to find entertainment value out of it. Since the screenplay by Allan Heinberg lacks depth, it simply does not ring true on any level.
In addition, broad topics such as corruption, horrors of war, sacrifice, and heroism are touched upon, even mentioned outright, but these ideas are never explored in such a way that we are given insight as to what these words or ideas mean to the characters we are supposed to be rooting for. Instead, a pattern emerges: an idea is brought up and it is immediately followed by a relatively uninspired action scene. This is especially pervasive during the final hour of this drawn out film.
Those looking for dimension, depth, and insight from superhero pictures are bound to be severely disappointed by “Wonder Woman.” Here is a picture with outposts—important events that must be introduced into the plot in order to create a semblance of story—but the journeys between these outposts are rushed and lacking in flavor. I take comfort in the fact that the romance between Diana and Steve offers enough surprises.
Blade Runner 2049 (2017)
★★★★ / ★★★★
To follow up one of the most influential science-fiction pictures is no easy feat, but director Denis Villeneuve is able to meet and surpass the best qualities of “Blade Runner.” Notice how movies within the genre often forget that ideas should come first. After all, the goal of sci-fi paves the way for conversations involving humanity’s place in time, on this planet, and beyond. And so many of these films, often standard and disappointing, end up being filled with empty action, generic explosions, and senseless violence—filler masquerading as entertainment. “Blade Runner 2049” shines exactly because it offers a more cerebral experience.
The plot is filled with small but beautiful details best discovered for oneself. Instead, I offer to describe the elements which make the film so enthralling as the hypnotic plot unfolds. Perhaps most noticeable is its use of score—and at times the decision not to use anything but complete silence. We are so used to hearing a signal when an important plot development is about to be revealed. While there are moments when do hear the booming and bone-chilling score, particularly as the camera glides over futuristic lived-in metropolis, take note of instances when K (Ryan Gosling), a Blade Runner for the LAPD, discovers bizarre coincidences that force him to question his own identity.
This strategy works because when there is a close-up, there is no music that distracts from the surprise, terror, and confusion the cop undergoes during a pivotal moment. Although the character is supposed to be professional, calm, and collected, tight facial shots with no distraction allows us appreciate Gosling’s ability to communicate paragraphs only with minuscule changes in his facial expressions. In a way, the picture is not only for the intellectual hoping for philosophical questions but also for the emotionally intelligent.
There is a variety of landscapes shown—from metropolis filled with towers blanketed in mist, communities living amongst garbage, to sun-scorched deserts as far as the eye can see—all of them beautiful in their own way even though some of them may be unappealing. Of course, the story spends most of the time in the dark, brooding, often rainy Los Angeles, but there are plenty of details worth appreciating if one chooses to look closer.
Look in the background and notice extreme fashion; how advertisements are colorful, comedic, and hyperbolic; how looks on people’s faces suggest an overwhelming unhappiness with their existence. In addition, we wonder whether a person we are looking at is a human or replicant, the latter being bioengineered humans who are created to obey at all costs, almost like slaves, yet critical to the former’s survival. And if a person is indeed a replicant, is he or she an older model that must be “retired” by a Blade Runner? The environment is alive and buzzing with energy. Imaginative viewers will not be bored.
“What does it mean to be human?” is perhaps the most important question “Blade Runner 2049” takes from its predecessor and continues to explore. Revelations in the latter half force us not only to consider what the protagonist is going through emotionally and psychologically but also rethink previous scenes presented an hour or two prior. Credit goes to screenwriters Hampton Fancher and Michael Green for creating material that is smart, rich with implications, and worth exploring, debating over.
Finally, notice how the picture ends. Clearly, there is room for further discoveries and yet we feel in our bones that this chapter is complete. Considerably less elegant films fumble and tend to do one of two things: end before before the journey of the protagonist is complete or shamelessly setting up a sequel without tying up the biggest, most glaring strands. Here is a picture that understands the spirit of sci-fi, what it is and what it can achieve.
Annabelle: Creation (2017)
★★★ / ★★★★
As can be expected from a solid horror picture, “Annabelle: Creation,” directed by David F. Sandberg, is able to deliver the requisite scares alongside a story with intrigue. Once paranormal activities begin to terrorize the curious orphans who recently move into the Mullins’ home (Anthony LaPaglia, Miranda Otto), just about every other scene builds up to something—whether it be an alarming moment or a piece of the puzzle that sheds light on the possible reasons of the haunting inside and around the property. Clearly, it is a significant improvement from the uninspired, waste of time predecessor “Annabelle.”
Some scares are noticeably more effective than others. Pay close attention to scenes that revolve around Janice (Tabitha Eliana Bateman) and her seeming inability to refrain from investigating a strange noise. Because the character is crippled by polio, the movement of the camera must adapt to how fast she can move. This makes for a compelling watch because she simply cannot run out of the room as a demonic presence closes in. A shot that usually requires a split second turns into a second, maybe a second-and-a-half, and it makes a whole world of difference when it comes to amplifying the tension.
Weaker parts involve a lack of restraint when CGI is utilized. Aside from ostentatious display of black smoke and shadow looking utterly fake, at times I found the appearance of the demon to be laughable. Sometimes showing less really is more and the picture might have benefited greatly from this adage. However, the filmmakers have truly done a great job in not showing the doll move on its own too much. Rotating its head a couple of degrees at the right moment is more than enough to creep out the viewers. I enjoyed it most when the doll does not move at all and the shot simply lingers on its face because we get a chance to ascribe our thoughts and emotions onto it—which ties neatly into what the doll is supposed to be within the scope of this story.
The film is written by Gary Dauberman and it is a welcome surprise that it finds the time to show relationships amongst the orphans (Lulu Wilson, Grace Fulton, Philippa Coulthard, Taylor Buck, Lou Lou Safran) as well as between the orphans and the nun (Stephanie Sigman) in charge of their overall wellbeing. Similar works with poor writing tend to paint awkward and unconvincing connections between characters while not doing a good job in crafting horrifying situations. Or worse—they do not bother with it at all. Here, there is a smooth flow between character development and inflicting terror.
“Annabelle: Creation” offers nothing new or exciting to the genre, but it does offer old-school frights and entertainment. Horror fans who appreciate the unfolding of a scene—especially in silence when we hear only footsteps, the creaking of a door, a bell from afar—rather than being bombarded with evanescent jolts and annoying loud noises are likely to be pleasantly surprised. It tweaks enough usual tricks for us to overlook some of the clichés.
Hateship Loveship (2013)
★★ / ★★★★
After the older woman she worked for has died, Johanna (Kristen Wiig) is employed by Mr. McCauley (Nick Nolte) to help take care of his granddaughter. Sabitha (Hailee Steinfeld) does not live with her father (Guy Pearce) because he had been imprisoned and is currently struggling with drug addiction. Her mother, on the other hand, passed away due to an accident. Johanna and Sabitha do not see eye to eye, the former for her lack of social skills and the latter for feeling threatened by the new presence in the house.
Directed by Liza Johnson, the goal of “Hateship Loveship” is to tell a small but specific story about a woman who is so used to things just happening to her that we come to wonder if she has experienced how it is like to truly live. Although the screenplay by Mark Poirier attains that target occasionally, the emotional power of the film depends on how consistent it hits the mark exactly. By the end, one gets the impression that the film has good intentions but it is a misfire.
Part of the problem is Johanna teetering on bland, colorless, on paper. Wiig plays her just right—unfashionable, soft-spoken, always looking down—but the writer does not give her very much to do or say. Wiig single-handedly makes the quieter moments work—such as one involving a trip to a clothing store—because she has the talent for looking sad without being pathetic. We root for her to achieve some sort of happiness.
Still, for such a quiet person, we almost expect Johanna to offer profound insight when she does choose to speak. We know that the character is really at good cleaning, almost on an obsessive level, cooking, and is sensitive to others’ needs. We also know that she is so yearning to have romantic love that she becomes prey for a cruel joke.
There is a lack of fluidity in the storytelling. By dividing the picture into two major parts, the first half consisting of Johanna’s every day life with Sabitha and Mr. McCauley and the latter half Johanna spending time with Johanna’s father, it feels like two movies awkwardly conjoined. The final scenes have no sense of time passing by. Major events are thrown at us but they bear little impact because they are not yet earned.
Worse, there is a late subplot involving the grandfather finding a special woman. It has nothing at all to do with the larger themes of the movie so discerning viewers must wonder if such scenes had been added for the sake of having “feel-good” moments. I questioned if the writer did not have the confidence in the effectiveness of the dramatic material that he felt compelled to introduce a light distraction.
“Hateship Loveship” might have worked if it had been reread and rewritten several more times—to get rid of unnecessary details that contribute nothing to the overall arc and to focus on the protagonist’s struggles to find the love that she has longed for. At least it is refreshing to see Wiig in a dramatic role that she embodies so fully, there are moments when I forgot that she has made a career out of making people laugh.
★★ / ★★★★
It appears as though Breacher (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and his team of DEA agents (Mireille Enos, Sam Worthington, Terrence Howard, Joe Manganiello, Josh Holloway, Max Martini, Kevin Vance, Mark Schlegel) have succeeded in stealing ten million dollars from the Rios-Garza cartel without the American government knowing. But when they go underground to retrieve the money that very night, someone has beaten them to it. Soon, members of Breacher’s team begin to meet gruesome deaths, from being run over by a train to being nailed to the ceiling. An investigator (Olivia Williams) is assigned to investigate the murders.
The writing by Skip Woods and David Ayer prevents what could have been a highly entertaining action film—boasting a talented cast of tough guys (and gal)—from truly taking off. When characters speak, especially Breacher expressing how much his team means to him, there is not an iota of a believable moment or feeling. It is like listening to tires screeching, a test of patience and endurance.
An attempt is made to make the lead character more interesting and sympathetic. The backstory involving the kidnapping of his wife and son is tragic but never delved into completely. Connecting the dots is a challenge—and a pointless exercise—because the victims are either shown or mentioned only during the first scene and toward the end when explanation is required in order to move the plot forward. Thus, a rhythm behind the revelations is not established. Events occur out of convenience rather than that of natural progression.
Breacher’s team is unruly and unpleasant—which is a positive quality in a movie like this. Since the material does not have enough time to turn every character into a believable person we might encounter in the streets, at least they are not boring to be around. There is a roughness or ruggedness to most of them and the quieter ones do stand out because of the way they look or carry themselves. In other words, Breacher’s team is tough in different ways. If the writers had found a way to get us to care more about them, the picture might have worked on another level.
The action scenes are loud and gruesome at times. It seems as though just about everyone prefers to use big guns and so the combination of sounds following the pressing of the trigger amps up the tension. There are moments, however, when it reverts to clichés like a person being able to outrun a rain of bullets while moving rather slowly. Such scenes needed to be reedited to make it appear as though the situation was unfolding very quickly and one mistake could mean game over.
“Sabotage,” directed by David Ayer, is elevated by Williams because she is convincing as a tough and dirty-talking cop. I imagined her getting along perfectly with Brian Taylor and Mike Zavala from “End of Watch”—also directed by Ayer. It is a good decision to cast Williams because she exudes intelligence without even trying. At first glance, I expected her to play a character with an uptight nature and so when she starts cracking jokes and trying to make tough-sounding phrases work, I appreciated her sense of humor—a quality that the film does not offer very often.
★ / ★★★★
The would-be thriller “Unforgettable,” written by Christina Hodson and directed by Denise Di Novi, proves to be a disappointing watch because it could have been a trashy, campy flick with lead performers who are game to do whatever it takes to deliver a good time. Instead, what we are provided is yet another painfully generic Lifetime-like picture that lacks energy, intelligence, and well-earned thrills. In the middle of its barrage of boredom, I wondered: Who is the movie for? Why was it made?
Rosario Dawson and Katherine Heigl deserve better material to work with. They play Julia and Tessa, the former the fiancée of the latter’s ex-husband (Geoff Stults). Both surprised me in different ways. With Dawson, she is such a charismatic person, but this film has a knack for sucking the appeal out of her. Perhaps it is the manner in which the character is written; it fails to show us Julia’s strength for so long that we end up wishing to yell at her to do something smart or resourceful. The dialogue brings up that Julia is this strong person. However, entertainment comes from showing rather than telling.
Heigl is a delight as a psycho Barbie ice queen. I enjoyed the way she is able to tap into different emotions of being a cold-hearted person with using only her eyes at times. Having seen her in so many pedestrian, forgettable romantic comedies, I was delighted that in here she has found a way to communicate how the character feels without using words, whether it be a flick of the hair, how she stands so rigidly, how the corner of her mouth tightens up just a little when Tessa is given news that makes her feel less than. Another performer might have relied on the icy blond look and beautiful but emotionless face. Clearly, Heigl is the stronger (and more interesting) of the two co-leads.
There is barely a detectable dramatic parabola in the plot. While events happen, they do not build on a consistent manner. It almost always goes like this: Tessa recognizes an opportunity to make Julia’s life worse, she acts upon it in front of a computer in the dark, Julia responds to the situation but doesn’t recognize that the all too unfortunate event is no accident. Rinse and repeat. And so when the inevitably violent final act rolls around, there is an air of indifference since we know exactly how it is going to turn out. And just when you think it doesn’t get any worse, the final scene is all wrong. It hints at a possible sequel when there is barely anything to show in this film in the first place.
“Unforgettable” could have taken a page from Onur Tukel’s surprisingly effective “Catfight.” In that film, we understand the two women—their psychology, what motivates them, their end goals—and why they must eventually clash. Here, Julia and Tessa must fight only because the plot demands that they do. And in Tukel’s dark comedy, the violence is on an entirely different level that it has to be seen to be believed.