Riddle (2013), or a Gigantic Waste of Time.

RiddleA riddle can easily be defined as one of two things: a mystifying, misleading, or puzzling question posed as a problem to be solved or guessed. Or alternatively something or someone difficult to understand. Riddle (2013) is not a deep-rooted conundrum, or a hard to solve mystery. It is very misleading, puzzling, and mystifying it’s in lack of technical accuracy. However the solution is ultimately that it’s basically a waste of time.  Riddle is directed by John O. Hartman (Wyatt Earp 1994) and Nicholas Mross. I would say it stars Val Kilmer, but that’s basically a lie as his screentime in the film consists of about 6 minutes. Why his face is on the poster, I have literally no idea. His character is an irrelevant stock character, who has roughly 5 lines in the whole film. If we’re putting irrelevant cameo roles on the poster, where’s William Sadler’s face? He was in it too, and was actually marginally more relevant. Anyhow anger aside, it stars Elisabeth Harnois, and a lot of fresh faces.

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Holly Teller (Elizabeth Harnois) is a sensible do-gooder who has a very healthy relationship with her brother. One day at school, her brother Nathan is harassed by two bullies. They take him for a ride in their car, as the one driving heads straight into a truck only to swerve away at the last second. Nathan urinates himself, as they stop at a gas station so he can clean up. A few seconds later Nathan is missing. 3 years later, her brother is still missing, as Holly believes she sees him drive away in a truck with a strange looking man. She finds out where Nathan is living and uncovers a ‘mystery’ to find him much to the discomfort of Sheriff Richards (Val Kilmer). The inhabitants of Riddle become unsettled as Holly roots around, along with her friend, and the two guys who lost him in the first place. Holly and her brother were adopted, he was taken by their original father, and that’s about it.

The old burning man finish. The 1980's wants their set piece back.

The old burning man finish. The 1980’s wants their set piece back.

So what’s wrong with Riddle? Let’s start with a plot analysis. First of all, if you’re a bully and you don’t like someone, why would you ever want them to go for a ride with you? Why abandon the old tried and true methods of assaulting the kid or verbal abuse, but asking if he wants to go for a joyride? Why would you ever possibly want that. What were they intending to do? leave him in the woods or something? Second of all, how did their biological father happen to conveniently be there at the right time in all of 20 seconds when he was in the toilet. Was he stalking them? Why did the people of Riddle never see the boy around town considering Holly saw them driving in a different town. Riddle is a mess of basic plot errors, and logic knots but quite fundamentally the premise isn’t even vaguely entertaining. The Thriller is a genre that has such rich roots in it’s genealogy and it really is a shame to see films try and emulate the Hitchcock-esque style so badly.

The performances surprisingly weren’t bad, not good by any stretch of the imagination, but satisfactory. The film had barely enough engagement to keep me watching just because I was more curious than anything. What else is there to say really? A horribly deformed father who killed his wive, sought to reclaim his son and did, and attempted to kill his daughter, murdering many of her newly made friends in the process. I can’t help but think the story wouldn’t have happened if Nathan wasn’t seemingly incapable of the most basic of motor functions. Riddle is a catastrophe of a film, suffering from incredibly basic errors in casting, writing, and direction. It clearly tried to plug the film solely based on the cameos by Val Kilmer and William Sadler (Why did you bother guys!?) What riles me most is how bizarre the poster is in all of it’s completely irrelevance. Well, that’s all for this time. I may review something that’s not a complete waste of time later today. But we’ll see. Follow me @Sams_Reel_Views.

Cape Fear (1991), Modern Law, and Police Procedure.

cape_fearCape Fear (1991) is a fairly nontraditional thriller in a sense. Mainly in that, at points it’s very subversive with it’s ideas of morality and justification. Obviously ideas of ideological punishment are always evident in this genre, often people’s pasts come back to haunt them. As a lawyer, what is Sam Bowden’s ‘job’? Any definition isn’t very clear, more than ‘one who practices the law’. However, is it his sworn duty to due whatever he can to protect and alleviate his client? Or ultimately is it to fulfill that whilst maintaining a certain degree of justice by his own accord? There have been a multitude of reasons for revenge in films. Rape, the murder of a family member, assault, or them being framed for examples. The motive in this case is that Sam Bowden didn’t get his client off on a technicality, when he could have. The same moral code is very grey instead of black and white. 

Sam Bowden (Nick Nolte) was working as a defense attorney, as it became his duty to take on the case of Mr.Max Cady convicted of rape, and battery. There was a report detailing that the victim was incredibly promiscuous which Sam withheld from court and ‘buried’ as Max put it. Max couldn’t read at this point, and had no idea of what it detailed. Max learns to read and write, and gains a thorough understanding of the law once in prison, even assuming his own defense when appealing his conviction. Max finally serves his 14 years, as he begins to stalk the family of his former lawyer, seeking to execute the crimes that sent him to jail on the first place on the women of the Bowden household.

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The film is very involved with themes of law and religion. Often it contrasts ideas of lawful justice, in juxtaposition to religious justice, in particular the vengeful ways of the old testament that Max loves to recite. At points I almost felt a drop of sympathy for Max, before realizing that’s completely illogical. He harps and rants like a preacher about justice, but what justice would there have been if he walked away after battering and raping an innocent 15 year old girl, no matter how promiscuous? The film could be seen as an indictment of the American police system with nothing really being done about the issue from Sam’s perspective. Max gets a lot farther with his vigilantism, and the irony is in the fact that by the end of the film Sam is the fugitive, not Max. 

The film in a nutshell.

The film in a nutshell.

The film’s score is incredibly atonal, brooding, and looming very much in the style of Alfred Hitchcock. Ultimate that’s where the thriller began, and it’s unsurprising to see those same elements called upon. The same could be said for the film’s conventions, particular in the death of Sam’s P.I, typically a sacrificial lamb in the classic thriller, a good example of this is Detective Aubergast in Psycho (1960).  It could be said it’s casting feels a bit off. I would have said Nolte would have made a much better villain than Deniro, simply from the compositions of the two men’s faces and their overall looks. However you could say this is to make it more subversive, with the characters moderately balanced. For the film Deniro beefed up, while Nolte lost weight to make Deniro look like more of a physical better to Nolte. Overall Cape Fear is a good, solid thriller with some interesting unorthodox themes, apparently heavily inspired by Night of the Hunter (1955) starring Robert Mitchum, who also appears in both renditions of Cape Fear. A solid directorial piece, but nothing truly spectacular. Follow me @Sams_Reel_Views on Twitter. 

An incredibly biblical way to end.

An incredibly biblical way to end.

Hitchcock and Dramatic Tension, Side Effects (2013)

Side-Effects-2013-Movie-Poster1Side Effects (2013) is a neatly woven, macabre and psychological masterpiece of a film. It truly redefines what a ‘twist’ is and when it’s appropriate to use one, offering a very harrowing and unpredictable narrative journey. It’s the penultimate film from the apparently retiring director Steven Soderberg starring Rooney Mara, Channing Tatum, Jude Law, and Catherine Zeta-Jones. I haven’t had a lot of experience with Soderberg’s films prior to this one, but judging from it he has a very honed directorial style. Side Effects is intensely directed with some incredibly morose emotion emitting from everyone of it’s main characters, except for the ever dull phoned in performance from one Channing Tatum. The score, the incredibly gentle elements of manipulation in addition to it’s marginal directorial style, and very tight script make Side Effects a Hitchcock-esque masterpiece of a film, one that is not to be taken lightly.

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The story entails Emily (Rooney Mara) a woman depressed as when her husband (Channing Tatum) is finally released from prison, she’s not as happy as she hoped. She drives her car straight into a wall, out of compulsion in a need to hurt herself. A doctor at the ward becomes concerned about her and starts to treat her. Dr.Banks (Jude Law) is a very warm doctor, who takes his career very seriously. He tries numerous medications in order to try and normalize her with little success. From a suggestion of her former doctor (Catherine Zeta-Jones) he tries brand new anti-depressant Aflixa. The side effects are disastrous as she sleepwalks about her apartment. Her partner approaches her in a bizarre subconscious as catastrophe happens. Dr.Bank’s careers is on a line as he burrows to the bottom of a dark and unlikely conspiracy. 

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The story pacing in Side Effects is incredibly well paced, with each plot-point being masterfully placed upon the film’s narrative framework like notes on a fine orchestral score. The story unfolds at exactly the right tempo as we see Dr.Banks lose more and more of himself, almost mimicking the same symptoms he was trying to cure. The tension and suspense is almost tangible as we delve deeper into the plot’s inner crux.  A word often used to describe Side Effects is ‘Hitchcockian’, many saw it as an homage to the great master of suspense in it’s style and narrative structure. Soderberg is often known for his ‘almost documentary’ style. More specifically, as the audience we feel less engaged in the plot as if we know the characters, and take on the role of the spectator, to deduct and investigate in order to find our own probable solution to the film’s conundrum. 

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The lighting and contrast in the film is quite dull, grey and bland and at times quite yellow. It gives the image an off-putting almost clinical feel, and the deep sepia tones in my mind relates to ideas of illness, and off-colour skin like kidney failure. Even the minor details in Side Effects build to the overall affect and motif which creates this wonderful textured feel. 

vlcsnap-2013-06-03-12h10m55s28The characters and performances were mostly fantastic. Jude Law played a brilliant duality in his character, one of the warm doctor, the enthusiastic family man. But then there’s also the distressed doctor about to lose his career, with qualms about abusing his power and the situation to his advantage. Also the film does a good job of making us question him, particularly about this mysterious ex-patient who killed her self, that seemed to mostly be a red herring. Rooney Mara is outstanding in Side Effects. She further cements herself as this sadistic and neurotic leading woman, with sexually charged undertones. She plays the damaged but misleading damsel in distress so well, and is becoming one of Hollywood’s best leading women, in my eyes at least. Catherine Zeta-Jones also does a good job, playing the lusty and seemingly inconspicuous former doctor. Channing Tatum is completely forgettable, I don’t really understand why he’s an actor, or people cast him.

Even the duality of the Film’s title is one to be admired, the concept matter of pills and medication, but also the side effect of Dr.Banks career being mostly left to shambles. Side Effects has everything and can certainly appeal to a wide audience. It has a gripping and tense story for the casual film-goers, and very technical and nurtured cinematography and aesthetics for those more academically inclined. Though received well by critics the film made a fairly dull splash in terms of profit. Regardless if you haven’t seen Side Effects, do. You won’t be disappointed.  

From Russia With Love (1963) – Bond Collection Part 2!

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Just a brief foreword: Really glad to be back here, been doing assignments and such, all finished now! Will be firing these out soon enough, getting on with lots of in-depth series, and will be releasing a little case study piece I’ve worked a lot on recently. Anyway, glad to be back, and thanks for tuning in, and sorry for the hiatus. Let’s continue!

Use of a chess tournament to develop a Villain as maniacal is something you wouldn't think would work, but it really does, to an absurd level.

Use of a chess tournament to develop a Villain as maniacal is something you wouldn’t think would work, but it really does, to an absurd level.

Film number 2 in the bond collection, as I watch From Russia With Love (1963) once again directed by Terence Young. I saw From Russia With Love a few months before buying the collection, but I watched it again, to revisit the finer details. So, just as a foreword, gunna plough through all of these at some point, balancing with more modern films, and the Woody Allen analysis, with some form of ranking as to my favorite bond film so far at the end of each one. So, for some context, the book was only released six years before the film, and was still quite fresh, which shows that it wasn’t necessary the obligatory adaptation of a bestseller we see today, as opposed to the beginning of a formula that worked, as Dr.No (1962) had quite positive respond regardless of it’s low budgets, and arguable flaws and relatively unknown cast.

Yes, that is a periscope.

Yes, that is a periscope.

The story line revolves around SPECTRE, as we see one of the first, and very brief appearances of Blofeld in the series, in which he puts General Klobb up to the task of killing James Bond (Sean Connery) for foiling the plan in Dr.No. Klobb fools  incredibly attractive Russian girl Tatania Romanova (Daniela Binachi) into seducing Bond, as she sends a letter to the British embassy claiming that she is a clerk for the Russian embassy, and has fallen in love with James Bond via a picture she saw on file. Thus, she is willing to give them the ever so valuable LECTOR decoder the embassy has been wanting if James comes to pick up her and the device. Thus Bond goes, and succeeds in traditional fashion, surviving his encounter with deadly agent Grant, a helicopter, several boats, and an attack from the desperate General Klobb herself.

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One thing From Russia with Love did incredibly well, was Bond’s support characters, Ali Karim Bey (Pedro Armendariz) and Titania really add some depth, and change the kind of dialogue and chemistry we see from Bond. Ali Karim is an elderly Turkish gent and hotel owner who lives in Istanbul, who essentially is a mentor figure to Bond, as he guides him through various pitfalls and helps him with this investigation. It’s quite an unusual relationship for Bond, and is actually quite refreshing as an idea, and his tragic death is certainly near to tear-jerking when we see him die on the train at the hands of the maniacal agent Grant. Titania isn’t the best character, she’s awfully cliche, incredibly predictable, and quite frankly the acting is pretty appalling. However, the eye candy primarily does her job and serves as bait, and another chip on the table as Bond attempts to escape Istanbul alive. On an off note, I found my self addicted to this track from the score:

One real gem in From Russia with Love is Donald ‘Red’ Grant, or Agent Grant (Robert Shaw). He exists as the essential counter-part for Bond, a highly trained agent, like Bond only more ruthless and ultimately more of an assassin as him, although that’s the role Bond often serves himself. Their encounter and final battle is built up to expertly, having Grant trace him through the story, saving Bond on many occasions just so he can have the kill himself. The opening sequence even foreshadows the event by having Grant in a training exercise hunting someone down with a mask of Bond over their face. I think what made the battle it’s self so good is the fact that, ultimately Grant had Bond dead to rights, and could have pulled the trigger on many occasions, and it was ultimately greed that killed him. Grant is my favourite Bond villain of all the ones i’ve seen, no ridiculous gimmick, motive, or otherwise, just an agent matched to Bond’s skillset, one arguably better than him. Another minor thing From Russia With Love did expertly is it’s use of gadgets. Gadgets are often a small element in spy films, especially Bond and the later ones certainly let the idea get out of hand, and Dr.No didn’t really have any involved, on this mission Bond has…a briefcase. Oh, just a briefcase you say? Oh not just a briefcase. Inside is a secret tab, containing fifty gold bouillon, the tabs of the case must be turned a particular away, otherwise tear gas will erupt from inside, from a seemingly innocuous bottle of talcum powder. My personal favorite, a detachable handle that is actually a knife. Here’s my favorite scene from From Russia With Love, the incredibly visceral fight scene between Bond and Grant.

In summary, From Russia With Love is one of my favorite Bond films, one a fan of any installment of series should seriously watch, it’s fantastic even by regular films standards. Anyway, give it a watch, it’s superb, and please Follow/Comment/Like if you like what you saw. Join me tomorrow as I watch Interiors, the next Woody Allen film in the chronology. Also, Follow me on Twitter @Sams_Reel_Views. Cheers!

The incredibly seductive, Tatiana Romanova (Daniela Binachi)

The incredibly seductive, Tatiana Romanova (Daniela Binachi)

– Sam.

Dr.No (1962) – Bond Collection!

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Hello there people, I’m baaaaack (from doing multiple assignments) and should have more time available now. Anyway, I recently bought BOND50 (Every Eon Bond-film remastered with glorious picture) So I figured i’d go through the bonds, in motion and do a full review of the series. So some subtext, Dr.No is the first Eon Film, but came after Casino Royale if i’m not wrong, which was essentially a parody without the permission of Ian Fleming which isn’t really consider great. Dr.No was a fairly low budget film, and not a lot of faith was put in the cast to successfully bring the series to life. However, it’s kind of a misconception that Fleming’s novels where massively heralded upon Dr.No’s release and the original few films, in fact there’s been multiple marketing campaigns and many reprintings to try and justify the quality of Fleming’s work, up to the acclaim of the films. Regardless I love Dr.No as a film regardless of it’s flaws, though it does have many. 

The first, and debatable best portrayal of Bond.

The first, and debatable best portrayal of Bond.

Dr.No first foreshadows Bond, the first appearance of the characters as we see him flirting with women, playing poker, living up to the bond we know today. However his first mission takes place in Jamaica, as Bond (Sean Connery) in typical fashion works his way to the final confrontation with the arch-nemesis of the day. The scientist Dr.Strangways has gone missing as bond investigates, being endangered in various fashions, a particular favorite of mine is an assassin posing as a cheffeur, as Bond makes a phonecall and confirms no one sent him, immediately rousing his plan. It’s that kind of writing, the small clever things that really make Bond a remarkable spy thriller in most of it’s stories. And the Judo. Don’t forget the Judo. He almost dies to a generic henchman, as he plants an incredibly venomous spider in his room, as Bond wakes during the night and slaughters it with a shoe (how tense!). He bumps into Felix his often useful American friend, and his trusty sidekick Quarrel (I assume this is the spelling?). He becomes infatuated with the beautiful Honey Ryder as he travels to the island of Crab Key to find Dr.No. Soon after, he is spotted by the island patrol, and Quarrel is incinerated by a metal APC with a flamethrower posing as a dragon. Honey and Bond are captured and taken to the base, as Dr. Julius No reveals his plan to disrupt the Project Mercury space launch from Cape Canaveral with his atomic-powered radio beam. Soon after, Bond confronts No, as they fight above a nuclear reactor, in which No is knocked off the scaffolding, into the bubbling atomic waters, as he faces his demise.

Ursula Andress as Honey Ryder.

Ursula Andress as Honey Ryder.

So, a fairly formulaic, but clean-cut narrative. However, while the narrative runs smoothly, and the performances are mostly fine, this Bond film in particular in my eyes is a big example of character flaws. I’ll work my way through them, first of all, you have Quarrel. Now, Quarrel is a native Jamaican who don’t talk too good, and me and a friend upon watching Dr.No for the first time found the depiction incredibly racist. Bond constantly corrects, and lambastes Quarrel though he tries to be helpful, at one point Bond even utters the line ‘Quarrel, fetch my shoes’, and also he’s shown to be completely dispensable as he is incinerated by a giant fucking metal dragon tank. Honey Ryder (Ursula Andress) is often referred to as one of the most attractive women to appear in bond, however… throughout the narrative she never really has a purpose. I know you could say this for most bond girls?, but even in From Russia With Love Romanov has a lot to do with the narrative and is a focal point, and in Goldfinger obviously Pussy Galore is a big factor in Bond’s plans too. So, clearly the formula and bond and his accomplices hadn’t really been mastered yet. The final character flaw that gets me is Dr.No himself. The acting is fantastic, the plan is fine, and the whole industrial laboratory base is quite cool, however we don’t see him before the last 20 minutes of the film, and that’s a massive shame for such a seemingly interesting character who’s gone before we ever really met him.

Dr. Julius No.

Dr. Julius No.

Regardless, Dr.No has an incredibly good pacing to it, some really good use of scenery and sets, and some relatively good action set-pieces, and sequences. The highlight has to be Connery, just being pure Bond, really showing the charming, suave, yet forceful roots of the agent.  Dr.No is a basic film in the Bond canon, but good, and if remade in modern times as per the rumors, I think it’d be fantastic with some modernization. Right, that’s it for this time, will be more discussion as I get deeper into the collection, particularly in bond comparisons, join me next time for Annie Hall as I talk more about seminal director Woody Allen. Please Follow/Like/Comment if you feel need, and follow me @Sams_Reel_Views on the twit-twoos. Until next time.

– Sam.