Tag: pablo schreiber

Den of Thieves

Den of Thieves (2018)
★★★ / ★★★★

Although “Den of Thieves,” written and directed by Christian Gudegast, can be criticized for not having an original bone in its system, it is worth seeing because it takes what works from familiar stories involving cops and robbers and manages to turn them into solid entertainment. I wager that nearly every viewer who is intrigued by heist films will be filled with nervous energy as thieves attempt to rob the Los Angeles branch of the Federal Reserve, a place so secure—filled with numerous guards, state-of-the-art cameras, and sensors—that over fifty prior groups who tried were all captured. They didn’t even make it past the lobby.

Perhaps the most interesting element is the screenplay daring the viewers to prefer the thieves over the cops. The former group is led by Merrimen (Pablo Schreiber), one who is not only smart but also highly experienced in tactical military combat, while the latter is spearheaded by O’Brien (Gerard Butler), equipped with such gall and explosive personality that when he enters a room it feels as though a tornado is wreaking havoc through it. Their macho clashing is both amusing and intense, some might say homoerotic, a strange combination that does not always work especially when paralyzing glares are directly preceded by effort in producing real human drama.

The material falters when it tries to provide character details outside of one’s occupational proficiency. For instance, the relationship drama between O’Brien and his wife comes out of left field; it relies upon our familiarity of other, better movies involving overworked men of the law and their proclivity toward cheating on their spouses. While the acting is solid, the content as well as context is lacking. It is not specific enough to this story. I go as far to say that it isn’t balanced. Why is it that we learn about O’Brien’s life at home but we learn nothing about Merrimen’s personal life? It does not work at all since the less unlikable of the two, and more interesting, is the ex-convict.

Undeniably, its greatest strength is the harrowing action sequences. When lawmen and outlaws must result to utilizing assault weapons and nothing is heard except bullets being fired and metallic casings hitting various surfaces, it jolts the viewers into paying complete attention. Michael Mann’s “Heat” serving as one of its central inspirations, down to the camera placement and expert editing, great energy is created when characters must move from one point to the other like chess pieces while dodging a rain of bullets. In movies of lower caliber with less stakes, not once do we believe that cops will fail to claim victory. Here, however, “heroes” and “villains” appeal to be on equal footing. And that’s exciting.

Had the writer-director aspired to make a leaner picture by dropping every ounce of personal drama altogether and focused on characters simply doing their jobs, “Den of Thieves” might have worked on an entirely different level. Because what’s right on the money is the fact that these characters need not be liked. They simply have to pique our interest, for us to be curious enough that we do not wish to see them drop dead before we had time to figure them out. In other words, the material is not quite free from the restraints of its sub-genre.


Preservation (2014)
★★ / ★★★★

An independent suspense-thriller with great potential but ultimately limited by a standard and uninspired setup, “Preservation” is watchable given one is in the mood for ignoring logic, physics, and accepting a bit of silliness. As far as camping trips that go horribly awry, at least this story offers small but genuinely surprising twists that contain dramatic force. It is apparent that writer-director Christopher Denham has thought about his screenplay so that the changes that the protagonist goes through come full circle.

Wit (Wrenn Schmidt), her husband (Aaron Stanton), and brother-in-law (Pablo Schreiber) plan to camp at a state park for a weekend getaway. But when they get there, the park is closed—seemingly for years. Mike and Sean’s last visit was when they were boys. Although the park is off-limits according to the posted signs, the trio go in anyway to hike, hunt, and relax. The next morning, however, they wake up and their possessions are gone, each of them having a black mark on their foreheads—as if they are going to be targeted. Mike assumes it is one of Mike’s pranks… but Mike’s beloved dog, too, is nowhere to be found.

The material is held back by an extended exposition that is obviously only present to provide character background through dialogue. Although this approach can work in slow burn but very tightly-written thrillers, it is ineffective here because the characters are not that interesting and that fact becomes increasingly clear the more they speak to one another. They talk about their pasts and lives back in the city, but they are bland, their outlook or perspective about the world and those around them do not grab or compel us. Still, although a bit flat, the exchanges are never stagnant or pointless.

The picture comes to life the moment the campers realize the next morning that most of their personal items are gone. I enjoyed that at first there is utter shock and then almost immediately there is a tinge of humor in it. After all, who doesn’t wake up from the commotion inevitably made by someone walking around, folding, lifting, and carrying away items of various sizes—especially when sleeping in a new place and out in the wilderness? Our brains are programmed to be sensitive to danger in instances such as this. The writer-director ought to have had more opportunities to play with tone, especially during the action scenes where violence must be employed for survival. Some might work and some may not but changes, good or bad, tend to keep viewers engaged.

Somewhat surprising is the style of violence employed. For a survival film set in the wilderness, many of the scenes involving physical confrontations between or amongst characters come across cartoonish. Perhaps this trait can be attributed to the budget or the editing—likely both—but I found it refreshing that it goes against the visceral type of violence that is expected in the genre. There are even a few moments when I considered whether a few critical tweaks might have made the picture into a comedy-thriller. I liked that it is almost at the cusp of two genres.

Many people will not understand the value of a movie like “Preservation.” Who can blame them when suspense-thrillers are expected to be serious, nail-biting, logical, as tightly written as possible? This picture does not embody any of these characteristics. I liked it enough nonetheless because it bothers to deliver something different. The risks it takes do not always work but it least it takes them. Self-serious thrillers of its type tend to be one dimensional in look, tone, and feeling. Not to mention predictable and boring. I’ve always said that I’d rather see a movie that works some of the time exactly because it takes risks rather than a movie that does not work at all exactly because it is too afraid to even consider stepping out of the box.


After (2014)
★★ / ★★★★

There is a secret in “After,” written by Sabrina Gennarino and directed by Pieter Gaspersz, that is not at all worth the trouble keeping, thus preventing the picture from reaching its true potential as a melodrama. To gain momentum, it should have been revealed some time in the middle or it ought to not have been a secret to us at all. Instead, the final few scenes come off trying too hard to surprise rather than being quiet and genuinely absorbing.

The Valentino family is a dysfunctional bunch and the material makes the case that part of the reason why they are severely unhappy is because they are unable to deal with the past. Mitch (John Doman), the patriarch, is highly protective of his fragile wife, Nora (Kathleen Quinlan), and so he goes to great lengths to distract her from reality. In a telling scene, Nora loses it after she accidentally tramples over a flower while gardening.

Their grown children—Chris (Pablo Schreiber), Max (Sabrina Gennarino), and Nick (Adam Scarimbolo)—follow suit in grooming the mirage because they, in a way, are afraid of their father and constantly, one way or another, needing his approval. Perhaps most interesting is Max who, when asked by her boyfriend (Darrin Dewitt Henson) to get married, claims she needs time to think about it not because she does not want to accept but because having him as a family member means a higher risk of exposing the secret.

The film is shot without glitz or glamour which works to its advantage. Although the script tends to lean on over exaggeration to get its point across, the problems between Mitch and his children, especially the sons, feel real at times. I was interested in what would happen next even though the situations are terrains are commonly traversed.

Casting unfamiliar faces works, too. Some of them are quite green which I liked because I found it difficult to read how they would allow their characters to react given an expected situation. If household names were cast, it might have been a frustrating experience because it might have been easier to predict the performers’ choices. Here, although some of the acting is wooden, a level of mystery remains.

“After” is likely to not impress many, but a skeletal track is laid out here to make an effective drama. The pieces do not quite fit as neatly as they should because there is a lack of complex characterization and transitions, especially the father (whom I saw as the central figure instead of the mother) in terms of how we view him. Toward the end, we get a feel for his softer side but it is almost out of the blue.


Happythankyoumoreplease (2010)
★★★ / ★★★★

Sam Wexler (Josh Radnor), on his way to an opportunity that could get his novel published, met a boy (Michael Algieri) who was accidentally left by his foster parents on the subway. Feeling responsible because he was the only witness, Sam planned to take Rasheen to the police station, but the boy said he didn’t want to go back. Sam sensed that there was something wrong, perhaps an abusive household, so he unwisely took Rasheen to his apartment and allowed him to stay there indefinitely. Despite his friends’ concerns, Sam failed to contact the proper authorities. Written and directed by Josh Radnor, “Happythankyoumoreplease” was an interesting look at late twenty-something New Yorkers as they tried to figure out what they wanted in life. The conflict was between romantic love and career, but the factors that lie in between were far more fascinating. Although I’ve seen its specific type of comedy-drama, there was something endearing about it because there were small details in all characters that felt honest. For example, Charlie (Pablo Schreiber) wanted to move to Los Angeles to expand his career while Mary Catherine (Zoe Kazan) hoped to stay in New York because it was her home. I liked the way Radnor allowed the characters to discuss why they felt like moving or staying was the better option. Although they were young, Mary Catherine and Charlie were adults. Real problems almost always don’t have easy solutions because solutions sometimes depend on perspective. There was also Annie (Malin Akerman), inflicted with an autoimmune disorder, and her bad taste in men. She just couldn’t seem to find someone who was ready to settle down. Like most of us, she clings to her expectations about her ideal partner: funny, kind, and good-looking. In reality, with a little bit of luck, one can find someone who embodies two out of the three qualities. Annie met Sam #2 (Tony Hale), the plain-looking guy in the office who kept trying to make conversation with her. Initially, she just brushed him off because he didn’t have the three aforementioned qualities. Through their interactions, she learned a thing or two about herself. More importantly, it did so without the material hammering us over the head. The one thing I loved about the movie was in the way it portrayed friendship. Notice that despite the ups and downs in the characters’ lives, friendship was the one constant element. I thought the underlying message was if you have friends–real friends, like the ones you can hang out with any day of the week and talk about absolutely anything–everything should be okay. I liked that message because even though it may not be true all the time, it had truth in it . “Happythankyoumoreplease” made me feel happy, grateful, and yearning for more. It didn’t offer anything new but it served as a nice reminder of the sunnier things life can offer if we welcome it with a smile and open arms.