The House on Pine Street

The House on Pine Street.

Directed by Aaron and Austin Keeling (more known for their short movies) An interesting idea which ultimately lets itself down by giving us too much and tool little at the same time, creating a movie which is a mixed bag of everything.  A young couple recovpinestreetering from issues which reveal themselves as the movie goes on, move in to a house in a sleepy Kansas sub-urban town.  Here immediately the film falls for its biggest weakness, cliché; as the couple is introduced to us arriving at the home, the host/estate agent is the type of mono-syllabic character Which makes Lurch (Adams Family 1964) seem carefree and reckless, as it turns out he was a red-herring, appearing nowhere else for the film.

We find out that Jennifer (Emily Goss) is 7 months pregnant and has agreed to move back to her home town with her partner while he takes a temporary job locally. Straight away the scene is being set as we see the house deliberately set to look suitably old and scary. Which is fine except, one room is perfect and nicely restored, while the hallway etc. has bubbling peeling paint.   Nothing much happens at first, then little things start to happen, but only as long as we the watcher sees them. As the house continues to make its presence felt, the stresses build up for Jennifer.  Stresses which are not helped by her over-bearing mother. It turns out her mother arranged the house and job, despite the two of them barely being on speaking terms.  As Jennifer is drawn deeper in to the horror of the house, the others (including some local friends of her mother) are more and more inclined to believe it is Jennifer, and not the house which is the issue.  It also does not help, that as her hate of the house and her surroundings grows, her husband (Taylor Bottles), is settling in to town and has accepted a full-time position.

This could have been an excellent movie, but there was nothing new in the offering, if the writers had decided not to actually show the entity, it might have been a better movie, as it would have kept the mental terror whole.  The tension between Jennifer and her mother (Cathy Barnett) is perhaps a little too much given the already occupied story-line. Somewhat cluttered in its presentation, leaving the viewer to try and catch-up a number of times, it could have tried to do its own thing.

The film builds to its ultimate end, not a million miles from expected and so not reaching too high an achievement. The Taking of Deboragh Logan (Adam Robitel, 2014) was a much better piece of work. Over all a familiar take of a familiar story, which could have been much more interesting.

Overall a “Middle of the road” 2.5/5 (I could not stretch to 3)

Blackhat

If I was writing a school report from this movie, I would probably write “Could do better…”. It is not a bad movie, but given who is involved, I was expecting more. Directed by Michael Mann (Public Enemies, 2009), I came away with the feeling the effort that should have been put in to the movie was not used. Despite the name this is simply a police procedural, thriller type movie with relatively little in the way of “techno-plot” indeed given some of the errors and continuity breaks I think those involved perhaps did not have the technical know-how to close out the movie from a plot perspective.

The movie opens with an excellent graphics sequence (possibly a highlight) showing code being sent to a computer which turns off a fan at a Chinese nuclear power station and causes a breach (they said meltdown at one stage, but if it was, there would not have been people running around the site in civilian clothes just days afterwards). Shortly after the commodities markets in New York are hacked and feedstuffs a spiked netting a $75m profit for our bad guy. While working on the nuclear a Captain, Chen Dawai, (Leehom Wang, My Lucky Star, 2013) in the PLA (a rising Princeling judging by his description) he recognises some old code he is responsible for, he along with his old room mate in college, Nick Hathaway (Chris Hemsworth, Thor 2011), who just so happens to be doing a prison sentence for hacking some banks and costing them about $50m, depending on which part of the movie we refer to, he is either doing 13 or 15 years in prison for this.

Long story short, Hathaway is released on furlough after Captain Chen links with the FBI and his Network engineer sister ( Wei Tang, The Golden Era, 2014). Despite initial reservations the FBI lead investigator, Carol Barrett ( Viola Davis, The Help, 2011) sees their worth and backs them as they end up following clues around the Far-East.

Eventually Hathaway puts the clues together, not so much from his cyber skills as from his ability just to stand back and look at the complete picture.

If you ant to look at this movie with any sense of seriousness, you will be disappointed, if however if you like a movie with people running all over the place, shooting everybody and anybody while seemingly never getting in trouble, then you will love this.

There are a number of huger plot holes – if you are trying how to disable a pump PLC system , you don’t need to find one of the pumps at a nuclear power plant, which will raise headlines. Speaking of PLCs (Programmable Logic (not Launch) Controllers are a fairly basic piece of kit that even I was programming when in college a generation ago, so no big challenge there. There are also a number of continuity errors, in Tshirts changing colour, stains on suits suddenly disappearing etc.

Hathaway who is supposedly a SW genius does some funny stuff like use a browser/domain name to indicate an IP address (dodgy) and I’m not going to ask when he got in to an illegal server farm, how he managed to find the drive he needed and hack it.

As a chase-‘em, shoot ‘em up movie it works, but anybody with more than an ounce of engineering or coding skills is going to be entertained much. The closing scenes in Jakarta also strain the imagination, it is noteworthy how many people ignored gun & knife toting westerners as they possessed along the road with their torches. I also have a problem with the “little things”. After arriving in Malaysia (illegally) they seemed to have no shortage of ready cash and indeed in the closing scenes Hathaway actually takes €5000 out of his, supposedly secret Swiss bank account; two things in the few hours he was in Malaysia, how did he mange to get his bank card (there nothing to suggest he had this or other private belongings prior to the last arrival), oh and why use Euro when going to Switzerland, rather than Swiss Francs.

I started off giving this a *** rating but the more I think about it, and how unconvincing the movie was from both a characterisation and technology perspectives I have to revise down to **. This might be a little harsh, but like I said at the beginning “could do better”. A final comment is the effect of mixing the digital and 35mm camera work, hmm – small doses please, it was certainly over used and grated a few times.

Taken 3

Yeah, some of the editing is a bit rough and yeah our action hero does not seem to like running much and let’s face it the plot is rubbish, seeming to grow as the movie went along. One almost gets the feeling that the words “Let’s try this here” were used a lot in the scripting. Now that’s the negative out of the way, let’s look at the facts.

This is a EuropaCorp movie, Luc Besson (Lucy 2014) is one of the co-writers so we know what to expect. The movie itself is directed by Olivier Megaton (Transporter 3, 2008) and opens on familiar territory. Once again based around ex-CIA operative Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson, A Walk among The Tombstones, 2014) and family. Almost in the opening shot we learn daughter Kim (Maggie Grace, Lockout, 2012) is pregnant and not long after we see how Bryan and Lenore are on the best of terms. Indeed we soon see how she is having difficulties in her marriage to her current husband, Stuart, (Dougray Scott, Hitman, 2007) and pretty soon after that Lenore is found dead in Bryan’s apartment. What does this have to do with Russian mafia? No sooner than our hero gets home to the site of his ex-wife’s dead body do the police show up. He quickly escapes from them and so the hunt begins.

Our Hero is helped by the fact that the Detective in charge( Forest Whitaker, The Butler, 2013) is actually “smart”. I say helped, you’ll see why as the movie progresses. So now the fun begins. Whereas in the previous offerings the chase was a private affair almost, here we almost have a mix of two movies – The Fugitive (1963, 1993) and Taken (1 or 2). It helps that being ex-CIA and still having friends in the business means he is not alone. On the run, being chased by would-be killers and trying to find answers (sound familiar?), Mr Mills begins his traditional search and destroy. Of course no Taken would be the same without a variation of “I will find you” which I’m glad to say we have here.

This is a typical EuropaCorp vehicle, light on the brain, set piece moves and just enough of a plot and general action to keep the watcher happy. If I have to make one negative comment it is that I felt the plot was being developed as the team went along with the filming, but that said it still worked. Sam Spruell, (Good People, 2014) works well as the Russian ex-special forces bad-guy.

Without ruining the plot, the movie ends with the by-now traditional scene of family bonding on the pier. Watch it, enjoy it and remember it is only meant to be fun.

*** It does what it says on the label.

Caché (Hidden) (2005)

This work from Michael Haneke (The White Ribbon, 2009) opens with a street view which we soon discover is actually video footage of a couple which was left on their doorstep. Why was this done, is somebody playing a prank on the couple or is something more sinister brewing. The couple, Georges (Daniel Auteuil, The Widow of Saint-Pierre, 2000) is a TV host while his wife Anne, (Juliette Binoche, An Open Heart, Mila, 2013) ) who works in publishing. Anne thinks a fan of Georges is responsible for the recordings.

This is only the beginning though. They soon after receive another recording , wrapped in a gruesome picture of a child vomiting blood, the same picture which is sent to their young son. As the tension surrounding these events grows, Georges again receives a new communication, this one leads him to his childhood home.

As George tries to get to the bottom of the hidden secret he descends to an almost comical version of himself. The Search for answers brings us to Majid (Maurice Benichou, La Grande vie, Kowalski, 2009) an old childhood friend who provides us with evidence of a dark past impacting today’s life.

This is a Haneke film, so it need not be shot in a tried and tested conventional manner. He does not necessarily follow the chronology of the story, often mixing scenes, showing clips out of time, but which ultimately build to the conclusion.

What makes this film so significant is its use of allegory, much of the film can be seen as a reflection on aspects of France’s colonial past. The cinematography is essential to the film, with Haneke daring to use full takes which work to build the scene rather than just carry forward the story.

This thriller is based on a mysterious event, from the start we are left to ask the questions, it takes up on to the very last scene before we can say the question has been answered and that which was hidden revealed. What past secrets do we carry with us, hidden from the world?

There is something very Hitchcockian about this movie, it is the mystery which drives us with the characters and cinematography being carefully sculpted to tell a story. It must be watched in full to appreciate just how well it works. The fact that the primary actors are two of Frances greatest in their profession also helps deliver a very worthwhile movie.

**** and a bit more.

Nightcrawler

Nightcrawler opens by introducing us to a young man, Louis Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal, End of Watch, 2012) looking for an income and work. We very quickly get a picture of him as he sells stolen metal to a building site. Using negotiating skills he observed/learned from others he tries to maximise his income. Trying to turn the situation to his  benefit he asks for a job, only to be refused, pushing for roles, the site-supervisor tells him out-right that he will not hire a thief.

As he tries to make a living he come across an accident being filmed by a stringer, Joe Loder (Bill Paxton, Edge of Tomorrow, 2014) who fills him in on what is happening. This is something Louis thinks he can do. Buying a new camera (financed through the theft of a sports bike) he begins to film accidents and issues using a police scanner to get to incidents. Trying to always stay one step ahead of the others he meets and develops a working relationship with Nina (Rene Russo Outbreak, 1995) , a night news director at a local news station.

As each night progresses he learns from those around them and shamelessly robs ideas from them always trying to stay ahead. As part of his attempts to move forward he interviews and hires an young out-of-work assistant, Rick (Riz Ahmed, Four Lions, 2010) on what can only be described as “slave-labour” terms. The interview process and subsequent interaction shows us in no uncertain manner just what kind of guy Bloom is.

As business grows for Bloom we see that it is on the back of others, always moving forward and quite happily at the expense of others. As we see the relationship with Nina develop we are left sitting in a mix of shock and wonder. This is clearly a man whose moral compass is different to ours. The increasingly complex relationship with Nina is mirrored in his relationship with Rick, his assistant. In no “legitimate” organisation would Bloom’s behaviour be acceptable but young Rick is desperate and needs the job.

Bloom is a person who sees a problem and works to a solution, regardless of whether or not the solution is ethical or legal.

This approach to those around him leaves us considering if Bloom is actually sane. Those around him question likewise. The movie develops along with Bloom to the extent that when he decides to take a very unconventional step with life-changing consequences we firmly see just how twisted he is. As he says himself, his issue may not be that he cannot communicate with people but that he does not like people. Beating the police to a home invasion Bloom discovers more than he bargained for. Breaking into the house he films ultra graphic scenes of the murder, but also captures the images of the murders (which he does not release to the police or other media). Thinking only of his advancement “to the next level” bloom orchestrates a series of moves which entail him avoiding police arrest (for being on the scene) and ultimately tracking down the people responsible for the home-invasion so that he can film the arrest and gain more prestige in the industry. A move that has tragic consequences.

Is this movie good? It is okay. Is Jake Gyllenhaal any good in the movie? He is brilliant. This is probably Gyllenhaal’s most significant acting role, watching the movie I see Louis Bloom not Jake Gyllenhaal. The one weakness I would have is the treatment of Rick by Bloom, surely no employee could be so hard-up as to continue for as long as he did with Bloom, paid so little and abused so much. The dialogue is excellent through-out with Gyllenhaal’s Bloom fully succeeding in creating a character we dislike EVERY time he opens his mouth.

Rene Russo’s Nina is a very smart character, an ideal foil to Bloom. The developing relationship is worked to a surgical precision, with the relationship echoing closing the unfolding events, events which lead up to the high-octane denouement.

With a different cast this movie could have been a poor reflection of itself, as it stands it has been tightly directed with a cast who were able to deliver more than just the lines required of them. The characterisation is key to this film, with events working to supply the characters with the ammunition needed to portray the roles just as needed.

This is a **** Movie. There are certain plot gaps which I felt took away from the “perfect” label many have attached to this movie, but don’t let that take away from the experience, it is an excellent film.

Odd Man Out

This 1947 British classic was directed by Carol Reed (The Third Man, 1949) and starred James Mason (the Desert Rats, 1953). The story is based on the book by F.L. Green. The movie is about the impact on the lives of all those around Johnny McQueen (Mason). The film is set in a Northern Irish city, pick one of the two…and revolves around McQueen as he tries to survive a botched raid. The movie does not explicitly name any organisation just the “Organisation” . McQueen is a leading figure in the Organisation and having been lying low for about six months following his prison escape he has been ordered to execute a raid to raise funds. The film is set against the background of post-war Britain.

The remains of the war are all around and rationing is still in place. The scene is dark and broody, the movie has a classic British Noir feel. The shadows are there and contain menace. Is his heart in it? From what we can gather, he is a changed man since his time in prison, so much so that one of his team asks if he should be on the raid. We learn that McQueen is a person of some worth in Republican circles. The raid fails. McQueen injured and already on the run, must find safety on the streets of the city. As he scrambles for help he must hide in those corners, the snug of a crowded bar, air-shelter, where ever he can.   All the time there is one person looking to help him, Kathleen ( Kathleen Ryan, Captain Boycott, 1947) the woman in whose house he has been hiding. She has fallen in love with him and will go to any lengths to protect him.

This is a classic crime thriller, given the republican/political edge. What is certainly noteworthy is the attention to detail employed by Reed. He manages to side step the larger political issue to concentrate on the person aspects of the situation, whether it be through the dynamic with McQueen and his gang members, the police, the women or even Fr. Tom (W.G. Fay, London Town, 1946). The hunt builds to the violent climax. All the time during the hunt we are conflicted, however abhorrent his background, we are constantly drawn to McQueen and his plight, will he escape, will he survive? What makes this film is the characterisation, Mason is supported by what was largely the members of the Abbey Theatre, the Irish National Theatre, and before you say “so what” we need to remember the Abbey provided such cast members as Cyril Cusack who played gang member Pat and Dan O’Herlihy (Fail Safe, 1964) being fellow gang member “Nolan”. Other cast members included legendary William Hartnell who went on to be the first to play the historic role of The Doctor in Dr. Who ©

We follow McQueen has he slowly and painfully descends to the final showdown with the police. Can a good man do evil, what drives him, can an evil man do good?

Predestination

An excellent all round piece of work.

Written and directed by Peter and Michael Spierig, the team behind Daybreakers (2010). Time travel has been conquered, at least to a limited extent based on a time zero in the early 1980’s. From this time limited travel over a period of 53 years is possible. However the time travel take its toll on those who travel, slowly degrading them physically and mentally. The number of jumps in time is regulated and overseen. The time travel itself is secret and limited to 12 agents in the Temporal Bureau, the travel is controlled and monitored, with strict rules about missions and and deviations from missions. The impact of travel is carefully monitored. Noah Taylor (Lawless, 2012) plays the part of Mr. Robinson, the shadowy figure who seems to interweave the lives of our protagonists, his role and influence becoming clearer as the story progresses.

The Story opens with an agent (Ethan Hawke, Before Midnight, 2013) trying to stop a bomber detonating his latest effort when the arrest goes wrong and the agent is blown-up and nearly killed, such are his injuries that his have needs to be reconstructed. The reconstruction allows him time to get ready for his last case, the travel back to hunt for the “Fizzle “ bomber, a serial bomber whose works have been escalating to the extent that in March 1975 he killed almost 10,000 people in New York.

Our agent recovers and returns to the time as a barman, he he meets a woman a single mother (Sarah Snook Sleeping Beauty, 2011), with a fascinating story, one she says cannot be beaten. The story details her unique life from the day she was dropped off in an orphanage and the various struggles she had fitting in (her younger self played by Freya Stafford) right up to her adult life and the challenges she has faced. We see how these challenges have quite literally shaped her. The agent listens and actually offers her a a chance to make do a wrong, a chance she finds unbelievable, she takes him up on the offer. He lets slip a little detail of her life, how did he know this, he explains it away, but we are warned.

Pretty soon, it becomes obvious that things are not as they seem. This is a thriller, one where suspense is not a dirty word. I am tempted to say there are a number of twists to this move with plot developments coming left, right and center, but that would be to do the film a dis-service. This plot is one of the most well thought-out I’ve come across in years, there are not twists in the plot so much as well directed curves which ultimately lead us to the climax.

I cannot say too much because to say anything risks giving away an excellent plot. This is a film where all of the aspects must come together for it to work. The script is tight, remarkably so, the cinematography is aligned perfectly to the plot developments, with the subtle stylization for the different time periods. Movies with twists are often just average movies where a writer or producer etc. decides something else is needed. Here there is nothing else needed. This is a carefully plotted story which brings you along .

If you are the type to run about in and out to the kitchen making coffee or pop corn during a movie, then this one is not for you. Once you turn on this film you need to sit down and watch it through. This is a story with no space fillers or padding. It is brilliantly executed. A lot cold be said to analyze this film and the subject of time travelling paradoxes, but that would ruin the experience of the movie. That said it would be no harm to understand the concepts of the paradoxes.