Zack and Miri Make a Porno (2008)
Zathura: A Space Adventure (2005)
Z Channel: A Magnificent Obsession (2004)
Zero Dark Thirty (2012)
Z for Zachariah (2015)
Zombi 2 (1979)
Zombieland: Double Tap (2019)
Zoom In: Stories Behind the Best Independent Films of 2007 (2007)
Red Dragon (2002)
★★ / ★★★★
Remakes must exude a purpose for existing. Brett Ratner’s “Red Dragon,” based on Thomas Harris’ novel of the same name which was adapted to screen in 1986 by Michael Mann, only truly comes alive during the final fifteen minutes. The rest of it, while watchable mainly due to the terrific performances by Edward Norton who plays a retired FBI profiler Will Graham and the inimitable Anthony Hopkins once again stepping into his iconic role of Dr. Hannibal Lecter, is merely a polished retread of Mann’s superior “Manhunter.” One of the key differences between the remake and the original is that in the latter, Graham and Lecter interact more often. But it is curious that their exchanges do not necessarily reveal more in regards to their symbiotic relationship in catching serial killers—before and after Graham discovered that Lecter was the notorious Chesapeake Ripper who ate his victims. There is no tease, no seduction. What results is a movie that is longer but not more informative—at least in ways that count. At times I found that Ratner’s film aspires to fill in some blanks that “Manhunter” left open for interpretation—a mistake because certain details, like specifics of a murder or crime scene, are better left to the imagination. Mann’s film may be rough around the edges and the performances not as strong when compared to Ratner’s picture. But the remake, while tolerable, fails to surpass the original because it comes across as yet another psychological thriller with minimal intrigue; everything must be shown or explained for the viewer out of fear that it may across as too oblique or strange otherwise. It is too safe when the material is far from it.
★★★ / ★★★★
Gated communities are meant to keep people out. In “1BR,” written and directed by David Marmor, they’re designed to keep people in. Executed with a specific vision and a whole lot of patience, the picture does not waste any time in making viewers feel off-balance. From the moment Sarah (Nicole Brydon Bloom) enters the Asilo Del Mar apartment complex for an open house, there is a creepiness to the community that’s bubbling just beneath the surface. Residents are too smiley, too friendly, too accommodating—to the point where it almost feels staged, a charade. Bloom is terrific as a lonely young woman who has run away from a painful past, which involves her mother’s passing from cancer, to try and make it in Los Angeles as a designer despite a lack of support from her father. There is a translucent quality to her face; when Sarah comes up with a specific thought or feels a certain emotion, it is right there for us to absorb. We sympathize with Sarah’s yearning to connect and be accepted. (Her only friend is her cat named Gyles.) Bloom is someone to keep an eye on. Meanwhile, the picture comes alive about a third of the way through—almost thirty minutes in—when it is revealed to us what’s really going on in the heavenly Asilo Del Mar. As our heroine is subjected to brutality and humiliation, we become increasingly angry for her and wish for her to fight back. But how can she when being a pushover is Sarah’s nature? Although the work tackles the dangers of group-think and conformity on a superficial manner, it is consistently entertaining. This is a solid debut film. I look forward to what Marmor will come up with next because I feel he has even more twisted stories up his sleeves.
Seventh Son (2014)
★★ / ★★★★
If one signs up only for the scenery then “Seventh Son,” loosely based upon Joseph Delaney’s novel “The Spook’s Apprentice,” receives a most enthusiastic recommendation. It offers eye-catching vistas of verdant meadows, ominous forests, tranquil lakeside homes, perilous cliffs, a cloister hidden in the mountains, a walled but lively city burned to the ground. But outside the handful of terrific visuals, the story is a bore for the most part. It is correct for the plot to be straightforward: Master Gregory (Jeff Bridges), the last knight of his kind, is on a mission to end the life of a witch, Mother Malkin (Julianne Moore), who killed his apprentice of ten years (Kit Harrington). The journey toward the destination, however, is problematic: it is riddled with pesky asides, like a romance between Tom Ward (Ben Barnes), the new apprentice, and Alice (Alicia Vikander), a half-witch whose mother is loyal to Mother Malkin. I found most of the action sequences to be somewhat exciting and well-choreographed. But nearly every time the action dies down and the two lovebirds must exchange words and make physical contact, the movie screeches to a halt. It isn’t that Barnes and Vikander do not share chemistry. A looming apocalypse is simply far bigger than whether or not they’ll end up together. Perhaps a more crucial shortcoming: We never get a chance to appreciate the apprenticeship, what it entails outside wielding weapons and learning concoctions. As a result, the picture is like store-bought soup: if not without flavor, it is missing a memorable personality, spices that make the dish pop or taste special. Screenplay by Charles Leavitt and Steven Knight. Directed by Sergei Bodrov.
I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997)
★★ / ★★★★
“I Know What You Did Last Summer” is a parade of beautiful actors looking tormented in a wan, straightforward slasher flick. There is not one surprising element here worthy of strong recommendation. It begins with a moral conundrum: While on their way home from the beach, four friends (Jennifer Love Hewitt, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Ryan Phillippe, Freddie Prinze Jr.) accidentally hit a pedestrian on the highway. Do they take responsibility and call the police or do they get rid of the body? There is no movie in the former choice and so once all is said and done, the story jumps a year later when Julie (Hewitt), now a failing freshman in university, receives an ominous note suggesting someone had seen them commit murder. Sure enough, Julie’s friends are killed one by one eventually—by order of importance: predictable, tedious. These scenes are not especially creative, memorable, or gruesome. I felt no glee from the filmmakers in wanting to entertain us. At least one or two chases are extended enough to create minimal tension. The work is based upon Lois Duncan’s novel of the same name, but we learn nothing about the four friends other than their superficial traits: Julie feels the most guilt, Helen and her vanity, Barry the tough guy, and Ray the bore (we learn the least about him—an obvious red herring). Why should we care about these people? It is not enough that a man (or woman) in a rain slicker with a hook wishes to kill them. And, just like forgettable horror pictures, it has the nerve to set up a sequel with—you guessed it—a lame jump scare. Directed by Jim Gillespie. Screenplay by Kevin Williamson.
Never Rarely Sometimes Always (2020)
★★★ / ★★★★
Writer-director Eliza Hittman takes us on another painfully realistic journey—this time alongside a seventeen-year-old named Autumn (Sidney Flanigan) who seeks to have an abortion. The story and subject are dealt without comedy or melodrama; like life, it just is. An argument can be made the work is simply meant to document. We take note of Autumn’s strained home life, how she is treated in school by her peers, how unhappy and angry she is, her complex relationship with her cousin Skylar (Talia Ryder) who supports her decision to abort the fetus, and who the father might be. Most powerful are Autumn’s visits to two clinics: one in her hometown of rural Pennsylvania and the other in New York City. I admired that it shows stark differences between a clinic with intent to protect the fetus first and foremost and a clinic with a mission to respect what a woman chooses to do with her body. But that’s not all. We follow Autumn from the moment she enters the door, how she is greeted by the receptionist, while she waits in the waiting room, and the specific questions she is asked—or not asked—by a medical professional. From this angle, the differences between the clinics are more nuanced, thus requiring more attention (example: the former clinic often uses the word “baby” while the latter abstains). “Never Rarely Sometimes Always” is a terrific film because it underscores with utmost clarity what one can expect should a woman chooses to get an abortion. Although it is short in matching the best documentaries that deal with the same topic because it does not show the various instruments used during the procedure, it remains to be highly informative and riveting.
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