Tag Archives: Thriller

Review: Peeping Tom

Director: Michael Powell
Year: 1960
Score: 7.5/10

Fittingly, a film about voyeurism contains cinema's first cameltoe.

Fittingly, a film about voyeurism contains cinema’s first cameltoe.

Controversial British movie about a man who murders women and films their final moments. It bears some superficial similarities to the 1979 film Bloodline, but is far more successful. Though billed as a horror movie, it isn’t scary as such; it’s more creepy and psychologically disturbing. Its real strength lies in its ideas, its willingness to wallow in depravity (reminding me of David Fincher’s Se7en in that regard), and the utterly unpleasant lead performance from Carl Boehm. Some aspects are a touch simplistic (e.g. the Freudian stuff), but it all hangs together fairly well.

It’s easy to see why it would have caused such an uproar when first released, not only for its plot and subject matter, but for the matter-of-fact way in which the seediest parts of British society are depicted. The interpretation advanced by some critics that the whole film is a comment on horror filmmaking, and the voyeuristic position of the audiences of such films, is viable and intriguing. Recommended.

Review: WarGames

Director: John Badham
Year: 1983
Score: 8/10

The WarGames movie tie-in version of the arcade game Galaga features Matthew Broderick's face staring out at the player in an effort to cause distraction.

The WarGames movie tie-in version of the arcade game Galaga features Matthew Broderick’s face staring out at the player in an effort to cause distraction.

This sci-fi(ish) thriller could very easily have not stood the test of time given how reliant it is on computer technologies that are supposed to seem futuristic. However, it still holds up, primarily because it’s really good fun, with a perfect tone and the right balance of humour and techno-thrills.

Young Matthew Broderick (several years before he was Ferris Bueller) is a great asset, nailing the role of David Lightman, the bright high school student hacker who’s quickly in over his head but manages to pull MacGyver-esque stunts to get out of any fix and solve problems his seniors just don’t understand. Other members of the cast are also good, especially Dabney Coleman, who rarely disappoints. Also look for John Spencer (The West Wing) and Michael Madsen (Reservoir Dogs, Kill Bill) as the pair of missile launchers in the prologue.

A few minor criticisms: despite being one of the first mainstream movies to feature a hacker as a protagonist (a step forward in the fight for equality for nerds and geeks!), it nonetheless perpetuates stereotypes about computer nerds (Exhibit A: the scene featuring two of David’s nerdier hacker friends); David’s parents’ lack of concern about (or knowledge of) his activities, even once he’s been effectively taken into custody by government agents, is hard to believe; and there’s a bit where the love interest played by Ally Sheedy has a moment of stupidity that seems jarringly out of character, seriously asking David whether his detention by the authorities was “because of what you did with my grade?” despite already knowing that his hacking had caused a temporary military crisis. Just ignore these minor quibbles and enjoy the ride as I did.

Guest Review: Sinister

Director: Scott Derrickson
Year: 2012
Score: 6.5/10
Reviewer: Drew Pontikis

Still from Sinister

Suddenly Mrs. Wilson regretted her decision to answer the ‘Homeschool Substitute Teacher Wanted’ ad.

Sinister is a strange film, as it doesn’t really sit right as a horror film. As you might imagine, a horror film’s most pressing aim is to be scary; some are really bad at it admittedly, but that is the ultimate aim that it should be striving for. Sinister on the other hand doesn’t feel scary, nor does it feel at any point that it is trying to be scary. This sounds like a criticism and a sure sign that this film is a failure, but in practice it’s actually quite an interesting film. The best way I can describe it is if you imagine a version of Kiss the Girls in which the serial killer is a ghost.

Quick summary: writer moves to a house where some murdering occurred, and whilst unpacking finds a projector and box of home films in the attic; writer watches them and finds that they’re snuff films, continues to watch them anyway, then spooky stuff occurs. It’s quite an odd sensation watching this film; you’re waiting for the horror and it just never happens, but at the same time it tows you along in a relatively interesting plot. It’s almost like it’s a failed horror film that’s fluked its way into being a thriller.

Compared to its peers (Paranormal Activity and Insidious), Sinister fails. It doesn’t make the cut as a horror film, and those (like me) who were expecting to be scared will find their nerves intact and trousers unsoiled. So much does it fail in fact, by rights I would have scored this perhaps a three out of ten were it being judged purely as a horror. In isolation however, Sinister is interesting and rather than a good plot poorly executed, it would fall into the category ‘Not what we were looking for but we’ll take it’.

Drew Pontikis is an avid gamer and film fanatic. A fan of racing sims, first person shooters and horror films, Drew is notable for talking almost exclusively using Futurama quotes. Follow him on Twitter as @drew060609 or read his game reviews at http://obscenegaming.wordpress.com.

Review: Prisoners

Director: Denis Villeneuve
Year: 2013
Score: 7.5/10

Oh, deer. According to the credits, "American Humane Association monitored some of the animal action. No animals were harmed in those scenes". Presumably this wasn't one of the monitored scenes...

Oh, deer. According to the credits, “American Humane Association monitored some of the animal action. No animals were harmed in those scenes”. Presumably this wasn’t one of the monitored scenes…

At its heart, this grim drama is basically just a police procedural. Like many of its kin it features red herrings, convenient coincidences, surprising twists, and no proper exploration of the motives of the criminal(s) responsible for the central crime(s). However, it’s able to rise above these genre tropes thanks to strong performances from an excellent cast (Hugh Jackman is especially good; I’ve generally thought poorly of him but this very much redeems him in my eyes), assured direction from Canadian Denis Villeneuve, and some effective emotional moments. The relentlessness of the movie’s bleakness brings to mind David Fincher’s Se7en, and that’s no bad thing. After the revelations in the last half hour, I’m not convinced it all actually makes sense. In fact, it really is that final stretch – with twists and resolutions that don’t really match the power of what precedes them – that lowers this from a potential 8.5 or 9 down to a solid 7.5. Interesting piece of trivia: cinematographer Roger Deakins was nominated for an Oscar and lost (to Emmanuel Lubezki, whose work on Gravity was admittedly outstanding), making it 11 losses from 11 nominations.

Review: THX 1138

Director: George Lucas
Year: 1971
Score: 7.5/10

Shitty 2004 CGI monkeys in a low-budget 1971 sci-fi film? This, George Lucas, is why so many people hate you.

Shitty 2004 CGI monkeys in a low-budget 1971 sci-fi film? This, George Lucas, is why so many people hate you.

Fascinating low-budget dystopian sci-fi drama/thriller that’s as interesting for its actual content as it is for its place in film history as (a) George Lucas’ debut (see what he could make back when he was genuinely creative!) and (b) American Zoetrope’s first disaster. It’s highly evocative of (and, let’s be honest, rips off) Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, and presents perhaps the most vivid and oppressive depiction of a non-apocalyptic dystopia I’ve seen on film. There are some core problems, mostly with the narrative (surprise, surprise!) – structurally it’s not especially coherent, the middle section (featuring our hero in a kind of prison) doesn’t really work, and the final act is disappointing in its simplistic focus on pursuit (featuring Yet Another George Lucas Car Chase™) – but there’s much to enjoy despite them. The sound design is brilliant (the oft-heard snippets of techno-babble spouted by bureaucrats who rule through surveillance are especially effective); there are some great ideas; the satirical elements still seem relevant and on-point; and the final shot is deservedly iconic. Robert Duvall is fine but frequently upstaged by the excellent Donald Pleasance. The version now available is Retcon Lucas’ 2004 reissue, featuring new CGI insertions that are mostly (with the obvious exception of the CGI monkey versions of the shell dwellers near the end) more seamless than those in the Star Wars reissues.

Guest Review: Alex Cross

Director: Rob Cohen
Year: 2012
Score: 5/10
Reviewer: Drew Pontikis

Seriously, don't look – there's a really tiny guy standing behind you!

Seriously, don’t look – there’s a really tiny guy standing behind you!

Where Along Came a Spider and Kiss the Girls bravely went first, Alex Cross stumbles clumsily behind. Gone are the days of Morgan Freeman’s deep and atmosphere-creating character as the piercing sunlight of Tyler Perry’s new hard-man character glares painfully into the hungover eyes of the detective thriller genre.

This is a reasonably entertaining thriller, rescued from the depths of cinematic obscurity by a frankly superb performance from a steroid-pumped former Lost cry baby Matthew Fox as the crazed bad guy Picasso. There is actually a fairly strong roster of acting talent; John C. McGinley (of Scrubs’ Dr. Cox fame) and Jean Reno both take reasonably large roles but unfortunately both fail to sparkle to the extent that we’ve seen so many times before.

The problem for Alex Cross is the film’s namesake’s association with the character’s previous outings, and not least because of the change of actor. There’s a change of pace to the film from its predecessors, leaving behind clinical and calculating detective work and embracing a new world of cage fighting and rocket launchers. Were this film called Tommy Knox: Detective Badass then it would be enjoyable in its own right, however sadly for most it will be forever cast into the bargain bin labelled ‘difficult third album’.

As with all ‘film of the books’, Alex Cross is at the behest of the plot laid out before in another medium. Sadly it hasn’t made the transition as effortlessly as many others have, but Rob Cohen’s new vision of the character is still worth a watch.

Drew Pontikis is an avid gamer and film fanatic. A fan of racing sims, first person shooters and horror films, Drew is notable for talking almost exclusively using Futurama quotes. Follow him on Twitter as @drew060609 or read his game reviews at http://obscenegaming.wordpress.com.