With so much of the film's budget and overall success dependent upon its special effects, it's become standard operating procedure for disaster movies to move as quickly as possible to get right to the catastrophic event.
Sketching the main characters with the broadest of strokes before placing them in peril, with only the briefest of introductions to guide us, all too often in this genre it's up to the actors and audience to fill in the rest.
, which flies the viewer and our lead Mathieu (Romain Duris) to Paris and hits the ground running, before that is, the ground strikes back by knocking out the power after an earthquake and filling the city with toxic gas.
Discovering the deadly effect of the mist as bodies drop before his eyes, Mathieu races across the street from his apartment to the one that Olga Kurylenko’s scientist and teacher Anna shares with their beloved daughter Sarah (Fantine Harduin), who suffers from an immunodeficiency disorder and lives in a glass bubble.
While thanks to battery power, she's safe for the time being in her filtered air enclosure, Mathieu and Anna have no choice but to climb as high as they can past the line where the fog stops.
Taking refuge in the top-floor apartment alongside their elderly neighbors (Michel Robin and Anne Gaylor), after discovering that the substance is not only rising but also doesn't affect their skin, Mathieu suddenly turns into Indiana Jones while going on the hunt for supplies and oxygen masks so he and Anna can continue to change Sarah's bubble battery.
Realizing that help is not coming, they risk everything to track down the medical equipment their daughter would need for them all to leave the building together.
Never clarifying just what Mathieu's current relationship is with Anna and most pressingly, how he acquired his particular set of Liam Neeson worthy skills, while the logic challenged film asks you to overlook a lot (including how he suddenly seems to know the rules of surviving in the mist), the actors are game and
's cinematography and visual effects are first rate.
Shot by Pierre-Yves Bastard and boasting effects by Bruno Mallard and a gifted team, visually of course,
However, in pulse quick quickening action sequences which find Mathieu and Anna wandering the foggy streets of Paris with only a flashlight to guide them before Mathieu must race back to the apartment through a rooftop obstacle course, Roby's film is also reminiscent of apocalyptic disaster movies like
A far cry from his more contemplative roles in highbrow fare, it's here where we realize just how much
is augmented by character actor Romain Duris' commitment — even to the ridiculous — in an impressive turn as our surprisingly action oriented lead.
generates its fair share of excitement, it's a shame that, despite the talented cast and what should have been a naturally touching storyline, we just don't feel that connected to characters we know so extraordinarily little about.
Couple that with the film's inconsistency, including introducing Mathieu as a motorcycle rider and then forgetting he has a motorcycle until the end of the movie which — awesome action scenes aside — sure would have made more sense than wasting time and oxygen running around Paris by foot and we're left with a film that changes from scene to scene, kind of like the mist.
Infused with a pro-environmental message, while about halfway through the movie we start to get an inkling as to where this will all be heading, it still makes for an intriguingly Shyamalanesque turn of events, even if we wish that the work overall would've been worthier of the plot twist.
Striving to give its viewers a little of everything from action to horror to family drama, Roby's film loses its footing thanks to a weak foundation. And although it has its moments, like most disaster movies,
will most likely be remembered for its big catastrophic event, a running Romain Duris, and foggy special effects.
Arriving on Netflix: Feb. 8
The way Bill Duke's community basketball coach sees it, "you either care all the way or you don't care at all, man," and it only takes a few minutes of screen time for us to realize that, when it comes to looking out for his clients during an NBA lockout, André Holland's basketball agent Ray is a man who cares all the way.
Trying to save his lottery pick player Erick (Melvin Gregg) from bankruptcy and himself from unemployment, Ray spends a majority of Steven Soderbergh's ninety minute movie in motion. Talking at the speed of a playoffs game, over the course of a few fateful days, Ray maneuvers between the labor dispute's offense and defense.
A subversive look at "the game on top of the game" of basketball but without any court action in sight, the film, written by playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney (Moonlight
) and modeled on Sweet Smell of Success
, raises valid, urgent questions about the commoditization of predominantly black athletes by white owners.
Making moves to redistribute the balance of power, money, and control back into the hands of the players alongside his brainy, ambitious assistant Sam (a terrific Zazie Beetz), in High Flying Bird
, we get the chance to go behind the curtain of what Ray dubs "the sexiest sport."
Using an outsider's perspective to explore new terrain in an unexpected way, Soderbergh's bold decision to take basketball itself out of the equation gives us a closer look at what we're really seeing when we watch a game on TV.
One of our most curious filmmakers, especially given the scope and objectivity of his character driven films, it's safe to say that had he not entered the film industry, Steven Soderbergh would have made one hell of an investigative reporter.
A unique mix of vintage and modern Soderbergh filmmaking techniques, although Bird
was shot on an iPhone (like his recent underrated thriller Unsane
's frames are sharper and more polished, perhaps owing as much to advances in technology as the film's smoother, less frantic tone and approach.
Comprised of the same set-up of two people in a room talking that he says
made his name thirty years ago in Sex, Lies, and Videotape
, the end result is a fascinating blend of theater, journalism, and cinéma vérité brought to life with verve and skill by its top-notch cast in just three weeks.
Best appreciated the second time around when we're better able to digest McCraney's gorgeously penned, theatrical monologues which are so full of meaning that they occasionally feel too big for the screen, Bird
also makes for an ideal double feature with the 1957 classic Sweet Smell of Success
Used by Soderbergh as a template for the film when he was first developing it on the set of The Knick
alongside Holland, even without Success
is sure to inspire its fair share of think pieces and make for engaging post-film discussion regardless.
Determined to bring more authentic female characters to the action genre, filmmaker Vicky Jewson (Born of War
) made the wise decision to let the characters drive the action in her latest work, releasing on Netflix on January 18.
Inspired by the life of Jacquie Davis, one of the world's leading female bodyguards, Close
is a film that's light on plot and heavy on action.
Sharply choreographed by Eastern Promises
stunt and fight coordinator Julian Spencer and thrillingly executed, Close
's intense action begins right from the start as we meet our fictional Jacquie stand-in, Sam, played by Noomi Rapace. The very definition of the strong, silent type, we first encounter Sam on assignment in Sudan just before things go sideways in a pre-credit sequence that stylistically echoes the James Bond
Adding to the 007 effect, Jewson's production is bookended by two catchy pop songs from the band Candy Says including the Shazam-worthy "Running Up the Hill," and "Beautiful Feeling," which play along with the film's opening and closing credits respectively.
An expert in counter-terrorism with far more experience protecting assets in war zones than she does babysitting high value clients, Sam accepts what she assumes will be a temporary close protection officer assignment guarding Zoe Tanner (Sophie Nélisse), a rich heiress with abandonment issues still grieving the death of her father.
Traveling with Zoe to a veritable safe house in Morocco run by the security team from her stepmother's (Indira Varma) company is supposed to mark the end of the assignment as far as Sam is concerned. Yet although discharged by the Moroccan security team, Sam agrees to stay at Zoe's insistence at least until morning when her time would officially be up, which turns out to be a crucial decision that drives Close
's plot forward like a bullet train after the two barely make it out alive following a violent kidnapping attempt in the middle of the night.
Soon realizing that instead of a random attack, they're being hunted, although they initially got off on the wrong foot, Sam and Zoe find themselves having to rely on each other as they try to survive long enough to identify the culprit behind it all.
Featuring a strong turn by the ever-fearless Rapace, who trained with Davis and did all of her own stunts from heart-racing unarmed brawls to an underwater fight to the death, Jewson's technically stellar film, which was shot in just 29 days, boasts an ace crew including her longtime cinematographer Malte Rosenfeld and Bourne
camera operator Klemens Becker.
While the characters or rather their situation dictates the action as Jewson intended, Close
's breakneck pacing and professional polish goes a long way toward helping us overlook the fact that we know about as much about Sam and Zoe as they do regarding the peril in which they find themselves during the film's ninety-four minute running time.
Too often working off of context clues in the form of weak dialogue, although the action genre is full of heroes we know almost nothing about such as The Man With No Name
and others whose lives get revealed throughout such as John McClane's in Die Hard
tries to have it both ways.
Not knowing how to balance conversational scenes with first rate action, particularly when it comes to piecing together Sam's emotional backstory, Jewson and her co-writer (producer Rupert Whitaker) decide to bring us up to speed once and for all, clumsily and inorganically depositing a character in Morocco whose sole purpose seems to be telling the audience exactly what we need to know before getting shot.
Regrettably, taking such a blunt approach to Sam as well as Zoe (whose own bio is literally shown to us in Sam's case folder) weakens their credibility by inviting us relate to the two more like we would heroines in a video game rather than fully three dimensional people. And while that's a definite misstep, everything else about Close
— especially the gutsy, all-in performances by our leads — keeps us thoroughly invested.
Better skilled at sticking the landing when it comes to the otherwise light plot, Jewson and Whitaker deliver some clever twists as the women try to figure out not only who is after them but also who they can trust. And even though my Netflix press screener was missing English subtitles in a few brief scenes conducted entirely in a foreign language, Close
does a terrific job of showing rather than simply telling the viewer (as well as Sam and Zoe) just what exactly is going on by the final showdown.
A far cry from action movies of the past that found damsels in distress resorting to running behind their male protector in a skirt and heels, while I wish Close
's leads would've been better defined, it's impossible not to watch the film without a sense of vicarious pride as Rapace takes on any and all challengers by land or by sea.
The first of at least two planned collaborations between Jewson and Rapace that center on bringing more authentic female heroes to the genre, luckily for Close
fans, the helmer will also revisit Davis's life in a future eight episode planned Netflix series, based on her book
Trading curse words over rationed beef jerky in a game of gradually escalating dares, two bored runaway pre-teen boys get much more than they bargained for after they apply the logic of Finder's Keepers to a seemingly abandoned squad car they've stumbled onto in the middle of a rural Colorado field shortly into this startlingly original sleeper.
Knowing that they haven't been gone long enough for somebody have called the authorities to track them down, the boys quickly move from challenging one another to touch the car to hopping inside for a joy ride.
Taking the opportunity to change the point-of-view, Cop Car
helmer Jon Watts moves the narrative backwards in time. Revealing just who and what is waiting for the boys on the other side of the thin blue line, it becomes clear that our young leads have unknowingly set foot inside a real world version of cops and robbers that's far more gray than black and white.
Thin, wiry, and wide-eyed, as the conniving sheriff with his head on a swivel who's up to no good, star and producer Kevin Bacon turns in one of his creepiest villainous performances since he first blew all memories of Footloose
sky-high terrorizing Meryl Streep (and this reviewer) over twenty years ago as River Wild
's self-described "different kind of nice guy."
Fast-paced by necessity and design, although it's easy to get so caught up in the increasingly nerve-wracking storyline that you lose sight of the way the film sets up future twists and turns to come – most notably through inventive camera angles which call extra attention to the police cruiser's trunk – Cop Car
hooks you from the start nonetheless.
On par with The Gift
as one of 2015’s strongest independent thrillers since the previous year's Blue Ruin
and Cold in July
, this word-of-mouth film festival favorite serves as a vital reminder that great storytelling will always trump costly special effects.
Yet while film buffs can spot traces of Duel
, Stand By Me
, and Blood Simple
in Cop Car
's structural, spiritual, and stylistic DNA, by embracing the innocence of its characters as opposed to taking an unrealistic Kick-Ass
style campy shortcut to let them incredulously succumb to the violence, Watts' work remains refreshingly unique.
Never straying too far from darkly realist, Neo Noir terrain, Watts and his stellar team on both sides of the screen refuse to betray their vision or let Cop Car
's limited budget get in the way of the tale they’ve dreamed of telling.
Creatively firing on all cylinders while coming up with unexpected ways to bring the action to a head, similar to the way that the titular discovery surprised our talented, young leads in the first act, Cop Car
is sure to sneak up on you.
A thrilling Bacon anchored vehicle that demands you buckle up tight, Cop Car
is a Finder's Keeper indeed, even if, like all movies (and road trips alike), it’s best enjoyed when you bring others along for the ride.
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