Archive for the Mystery Category

Enemy

Posted in Drama, Mystery, thriller with tags on May 22, 2014 by Mark Walker

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Director: Denis Villenueve.
Screenplay: Javier Gullón.
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Mélanie Laurent, Sarah Gadon, Isabella Rossellini, Joshua Peace, Tim Post, Kedar Brown.

“The last thing you need is meeting strange men in hotel rooms. You already have enough trouble sticking with one woman, don’t you?”

Reportedly made before they collaborated on the impressive vigilante thriller “Prisoners” in 2013, Jake Gyllenhaal and director Denis Villeneuve crafted this fascinating and hugely involving psychological drama. Now that the surrealist master David Lynch has seemingly taken a backseat from filmmaking, it’s promising to see that someone else is able to handle the material that wouldn’t be out of place in his hands.

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Oldboy

Posted in Crime, Drama, Mystery with tags on April 3, 2014 by Mark Walker

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Director: Spike Lee.
Screenplay: Mark Protosevich.
Starring: Josh Brolin, Elizabeth Olsen, Samuel L. Jackson, Sharlto Copley, Michael Imperioli, James Ransone, Max Casella, Pom Klementieff, Lance Reddick, Richard Portnow, Linda Emond, Elvis Nolasco, Rami Malek, Hannah Ware, Hannah Simone, Ciera Payton, Elvy Yost.

Heaven make me free of it. The rest is silence.”

Park Chan Wook’s 2004 Korean original of “Oldboy” is one of the most visceral and emotionally devastating thrillers that you’re ever likely to find. As a result, it totally baffled me when I heard about the intentions for an English language remake. I don’t care how much of an impressive cast or crew were assembled, as far as I see it, there really isn’t anything else that could have been brought to treading this ground again. Now that I’ve seen Spike Lee’s version, I stand by that even more. This was a completely pointless exercise.

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Prisoners

Posted in Crime, Drama, Mystery, thriller with tags on December 17, 2013 by Mark Walker

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Director: Denis Villeneuve.
Screenplay: Aaron Guzikowski.
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Paul Dano, Viola Davis, Terrence Howard, Maria Bello, Melissa Leo, Dylan Minnette, Zoe Borde, Erin Gerasimovich, Kyla Drew Simmons, David Dastmalchian, Wayne Duvall.

Pray for the best, but prepare for the worst“.

In 2011, Canadian director Denis Villeneuve’s “Incendies” received an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language film. For that, he depicted a family that ventured on a journey of discovery. In “Prisoners“, Villeneuve turns his eye to another bleak family drama where ‘discovery’ is, once again, the driving force behind his characters’ motivations.

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The Secret In Their Eyes * * * * 1/2

Posted in Drama, Foreign Language, Mystery, thriller with tags on May 4, 2013 by Mark Walker

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Director: Juan José Campanella.
Screenplay: Eduardo Sacheri, Juan José Campanella.
Starring: Ricardo Darin, Soledad Villamil, Guillermo Francella, Pablo Rago, Javier Godino, José Luis Gioia, Carla Quevedo.

The 2010 Academy Awards category for Best Foreign Language film contained some strong contenders with the likes of Jacques Audiard’s “A Prophet” and Michael Haneke’s “The White Ribbon“; two films that could easily have laid claim to the award. However, it was this film that crept up from under their noses and took the Oscar. Whether or nor you pay any credence to the Oscars is neither here nor there as there’s no doubt that this is solid and absorbing filmmaking.

In 1999, retired criminal justice officer Benjamin Esposito (Ricardo Darìn) decides to write a novel about a murder case that he investigated in 1974. He decides to visit his old colleague Irene Hastings (Soledad Villamil) to talk it over. The case had repercussions for everyone involved but Benjamin didn’t realise the direct effect it had on him or his deep, suppressed feelings for Irene.

With a title like “The Secret In Their Eyes“, this film states it’s intentions and stands by them. Director Juan José Campanella lingers long on shots and wisely focuses on the eyes of his performers. For a film that’s predominately dialogue driven, the abundance of close-up’s add another dimension where the eyes speak a thousand words. It’s a great technique that conveys a myriad of hidden meanings in the relationship between the two main characters, Benjamin and Irene. However, this relationship is not entirely apparent from the off-set. It’s only when the film’s layers are revealed that this comes to the surface, as in the meantime you’re too preoccupied with it’s murder-mystery plot developments. This mystery progresses into a manhunt, while taking time to explore the judicial system and political corruption that was rife in Argentina in 1970’s. It’s during this, that Campanella takes advantage of the thriller element in the story, delivery an absolutely astounding and very skilfully handled tracking shot through a football stadium, leading to an impressively assembled chase sequence. Just how they managed to do it is beyond me and needs to be seen to be believed. There are many moments of intensity when it matters (including a nerve-racking elevator moment that’s hard to forget) but it also knows how to ground itself and that’s were the performances come in; Ricardo Darin is a charismatic presence who more than holds your interest with unshakable ideals and a strong moral compass, while Soledad Villamil delivers a strong and reserved show. It’s the chemistry between these two wonderful actors that play a big part in the film’s, effortless, tonal shifts. It’s also not without humour or tragedy which is provided by Guillermo Francella as Benjamin’s alcoholic, but loyal and reliable colleague, Pablo.
Quite simply, it’s easy to see why this film took the Oscar, it’s has a bit of everything; a sharp and involving script that pays great attention to detail; skilful direction; rich cinematography and natural, committed performances.

A complex tapestry about life, love and chances rued, that’s built around the constructs of a thriller. It excels in everything it challenges and that’s exactly where it’s strengths lie.

Mark Walker

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In The Mouth Of Madness * * * 1/2

Posted in Fantasy, Horror, Mystery with tags on April 25, 2013 by Mark Walker

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Director: John Carpenter.
Screenplay: Michael De Luca.
Starring: Sam Neill, Jürgen Prochnow, Charlton Heston, David Warner, John Glover, Julie Carmen, Bernie Casey, Peter Jason, Frances Bay, Hayden Christensen.

After “The Thing” in 1982 and “Prince Of Darkness” in 1987, director John Carpenter completed his self-titled ‘Apocalypse trilogy’ in 1994 with “In The Mouth Of Madness“. Unfortunately, by this point, Carpenter couldn’t get any strong studio backing for his projects and as a result his excellent concepts never really took off as well as they could have. This film is another example of the financial problems that he was facing.

When renowned horror writer Sutter Cane (Jurgen Prochnow) makes a sudden disappearance, strange things begin to happen. His ability to describe evil, literally, starts to come to life and effect everyone in society. To investigate his mysterious disappearance, Insurance investigator John Trent (Sam Neill) is sent to a little East Coast town called Hobb’s End. However, this little town is actually a figment of Cane’s imagination and Trent soon finds himself questioning his own sanity as he is drawn further and further into the dark recesses of Cane’s twisted mind.

As always with Carpenter, the concept and premise is one of sheer brilliance and it possesses more than few references to real life horror writers Stephen King and H.P. Lovecraft but unlike his previous efforts there is something amiss here. Maybe it’s because Carpenter doesn’t actually write the script himself or even compose the soundtrack with the idiosyncratic and atmospheric style that fans of his will be accustomed to. Despite the excellent premise, I found that the films major issue was a lack of drive. It didn’t catch me the way it did when I first seen it. Also, it suffers from a failure to bring a depth to any character other than Sam Neill’s investigator. Sutter Cane is a very intriguing antagonist with a lot of potential but he features very little and when he does appear, the films budget is tested in order to realise it’s horror. All in all, this struck me as an attempt from Carpenter to appeal to a wider audience and as a result sacrificed the very style that made him a unique filmmaker to begin with. That’s not to say that this is a poor film. It’s not. It’s very cleverly constructed and for the most part, very well delivered. Carpenter is a master at his build up and construction of atmosphere, meanwhile, cleverly unravelling the mystery. However, the film takes a little too long to get going and just when it’s hitting it crescendo, it feels rushed and over a bit too soon.

For the most part, Carpenter does well to blur the lines between fantasy and reality but ultimately it doesn’t quite come together as obscurity and pretentiousness creep in. It’s a great attempt, but Carpenter has delivered better.

(This review was part of a collaboration with Eric who runs The IPC. To view the post in full and give Eric some support, go here)

Mark Walker

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Berberian Sound Studio * * * 1/2

Posted in Horror, Mystery with tags on March 11, 2013 by Mark Walker

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Director: Peter Strickland.
Screenplay: Peter Strickland.
Starring: Toby Jones, Cosimo Fusco, Antonio Mancini, Tonia Sotiropoulou, Susanna Cappellaro, Suzy Kendall, Hilda Péter, Layla Amir, Eugenia Caruso, Chiara D’Anna, Lara Parmiani.

This second feature from director Peter Strickland (following “Katalin Varga” in 2009) is certainly an interesting bag of mixed opinions. Some have claimed it to be a five star experience, while others simply didn’t get it. I suppose it depends a lot on your approach beforehand but there’s no mistaking that it’s one of those film’s where you’re left to make up your own mind.

An experienced British sound-engineer is hired to work on a low-budget Italian horror movie called “Equestrian Vortex”. Throughout his work, he struggles with the language-barrier and constant exposure to horror movie images and finds himself drawn into a vortex all his own, as he begins to lose his grasp on reality.

The thing that strikes you most from this film when it opens is it’s good sense of atmosphere. It possess an almost strange sepia tint, as if the proceedings have been desaturated. There’s a permeating feeling dread and unease that courses through it as, time itself, seems to stroll by. Strickland is certainly in no rush to tell his story and he also abandons any conventional method in doing so; a good chunk of the dialogue is in Italian and there’s a deliberate omission of subtitles. This may put some people off but it serves to create an understanding and affiliation with the loneliness and isolation of the protagonist, Gilderoy (played brilliantly by Toby Jones). Although deliberate, and an interesting method, I also found it somewhat frustrating. What’s also very interesting is that the story takes shape in the sound that’s provided for film’s rather than the images. How many times have you ever seen a horror movie that relies solely on audio rather than visual? Cabbages are stabbed and plunged into water to provide the perfect accompanying sound of someone being stabbed or drowned. It’s an interesting insight and the suggestion of horror is actually captured very well using this approach. When we do, eventually, see the images that have been getting dubbed, it throws the film into a completely new surrealistic direction that shares similarities with the mind-bending talents of David Lynch and his art imitating life theme of “Inland Empire” or “Mulholland Drive“. Of course, thats where the similarity ends as Strickland doesn’t have the ability to construct his story with any real meaning in the way that Lynch excels at. I’m no stranger to surreal cinema, in fact I love it, but this leaned a little too far to self-indulgence for me.
Anyone familiar with the ‘Giallo’ horrors of Italian cinema during the 60’s and 70’s will, no doubt, take a lot more from this film than I did. That being said, there’s no denying it’s grasp on atmosphere and it’s impressive ability to build tension. However, as our protagonist becomes increasingly withdrawn and descends in madness, we descend into obscurity without any real satisfying conclusion. For me, the film just ended. I was aware of it’s nature and prepared for any subtext or symbolism that it might throw my way, but in the end, it didn’t quite come together. I was hoping for a more satisfying conclusion.

It’s certainly won’t be to everyone’s tastes. For some, it will bore. For others, it will confuse. However, if your open minded enough, it will draw you in. Basically, it’s an art-house horror that can either be seen as pretentious clap trap or an astute homage. I, strangely, find myself somewhere in between.

Mark Walker

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JFK * * * * *

Posted in Drama, Mystery with tags on September 29, 2012 by Mark Walker

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Director: Oliver Stone.
Screenplay: Oliver Stone, Zachary Sklar.
Starring: Kevin Costner, Gary Oldman, Tommy Lee Jones, Joe Pesci, Kevin Bacon, Sissy Spacek, Donald Sutherland, John Candy, Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau, Ed Asner, Vincent D’Onofrio, Laurie Metcalf, Michael Rooker, Jay O. Sanders, Beata Pozniak, Sally Kirkland, Brian Doyle-Murray, Wayne Knight, Tony Plana, Tomas Milian, Gary Grubbs, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Dale Dye, Bob Gunton, Sean Stone, Jim Garrison.

Director Oliver Stone is no stranger to biopics or documentaries covering the lives of influential or powerful people. He has looked into the lives of Vietnam veteran and political activist Ron Kovic in “Born On The Fourth Of July“; Jim Morrison, the lead singer of “The Doors“; military general and conquerer “Alexander” the great; Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro in “Comandante” and two films on the exploits of American presidents Richard “Nixon” and George “W.” Bush. In the films mentioned, Stone explores the lives of these men but in “JFK” he does the opposite and explores the death of the man and in the process, crafts one of his most accomplished films.

In Dallas, Texas on November 22nd 1963, President John F. Kennedy is assassinated. The official explanation released by the F.B.I. doesn’t make sense and is very suspicious. As a result, New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison (Kevin Costner) decides to investigate and uncovers a dangerous conspiracy that may involve more than he could ever have imagined.

Oliver Stone has done his homework here and bombards the audience with facts, theories and reports from the media, interviews and eyewitness testimonies. He covers the history of events right across the board from the Bay of Pigs to the Warren Report via the questionable marksmanship of “lone gunman” Lee Harvey Oswald. Whether or not you agree with Stone’s theories is of little importance. What is of great importance is his ability to pose serious questions on one of the most tragic political events and biggest conspiracies in American history. It could easily come across that Stone (or Garrison) have all the answers but they don’t. This is a film that endeavours to get to the root of the truth. Many questions will remain unanswered but it’s also not the type of film that claims to provide them. Some information is pure speculation but the very place where Stone succeeds is his ability to instil debate. He welcomes it and the film is far more powerful because of it. It’s a tangled web that has been weaved and Stone deserves the utmost respect in tackling it head on. What’s most impressive though is that it’s never boring. With all the details, it could be in danger of losing the audiences attention but it doesn’t and this is thanks-in-large to editor’s Pietro Scalia and Joe Hutshing in skilfully piecing all the fragmented narrative strands together. They won an Oscar for their work and deservingly so. Another deserving Oscar winner was cinematographer Robert Richardson for his marvellous attention to detail in capturing the look and feel of the 1960’s. Amongst the the brisk pace and attention to detail is an abundant cast of quality actors and no matter how small the role, each of them get a chance to shine; Gary Oldman makes a perfect Oswald and other notable displays from Kevin Bacon, Joe Pesci, John Candy, Donald Sutherland and an Oscar nominated turn from Tommy Lee Jones as eccentric socialite, Clay Shaw. It’s Costner who is the main focus here though and he delivers a solid and determined performance. More importantly, he’s an appealing presence which is very much required when the film steps over the 3 hour mark. He captures the obsession of Garrison and in a lot of ways makes it our own; his dogged determination for answers reflecting ours. When all the dust has settled, the film culminates into a conventional court room drama but still remains riveting. It’s during this time – despite some already shocking revelations earlier in the film – that Stone finishes with aplomb and takes his chance to disclose some staggering pieces of information.

A conspiracy theorists dream, that may take some criticism for being hypothetical or one-sided but there’s no denying Stone’s bravery or his skill in encapsulating the paranoia and unrest at this time in history.

Mark Walker

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