31 Days to Scare ~ The Snowman

The Facts:

Synopsis: Detective Harry Hole investigates the disappearance of a woman whose pink scarf is found wrapped around an ominous-looking snowman

Stars: Michael Fassbender, Rebecca Ferguson, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Jonas Karlsson, Toby Jones, Chloë Sevigny, Val Kilmer, James D’Arcy, J.K. Simmons

Director: Tomas Alfredson

Rated: R

Running Length: 119 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (1/10)

Review: Whoa…it’s been a long time since I’ve been to a movie this bad from the get-go. Yes, The Snowman is unquestionably as terrible as you’ve heard it is and it’s likely going to wind up the worst movie released theatrically in 2017. That the film is even getting a wide release is a bit of a miracle and one has to give major chutzpah props to Universal Studios for daring to send out this not even half-baked lame thriller. What’s especially depressing is that so many talented (and Oscar-winning!) people were involved with this both in front of and behind the camera. Collectively, someone should be made to give back one of their Oscars and I’ll leave it to the group to decide who is going to part with their little gold man. A movie this incompetently made demands a sacrifice.

Based on Jo Nesbø’s international bestseller but evidentially substantially changed by the three screenwriters attributed to the script, The Snowman starts on the wrong foot and never recovers. Not that it attempts to, jumping right into introducing boozy Detective Harry Hole (Michael Fassbender, 12 Years a Slave) in Oslo as he stumbles back to the police force after a drunken bender. There’s little in the way of character introduction of any kind, the movie just happens to find recognizable faces along the way and incorporates them into the story when convenient.

There’s Rebecca Ferguson (Life) as, I think, a visiting detective with a secret agenda that still takes on local cases, such as the one with the missing woman that unites her with Harry. This investigation leads them to a possible serial killer who, Ferguson hilariously concludes, is triggered “by the falling snow”. Possible suspects include a suspicious husband of the missing woman (James D’Arcy, Cloud Atlas), a creepy doctor (David Denick, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), and wealthy land developer played by J.K. Simmons (Patriots Day). Simmons is just one of the cast sporting a disastrous British accent, though the entire action takes place in Norway. Are these all just a specific band of ex-pats with a killer in their midst? Nah, all the signs and newspapers are in English…even the police station features no Norwegian signage.

I’ve always said I couldn’t get enough of Chloë Sevigny (Lovelace) but she’s playing twins here and it turns out…one Sevigny is more than enough. Then there’s the mysterious case of the nearly unrecognizable Val Kilmer seen only in flashback as a detective in neighboring Bergen. Looking shockingly sickly (the actor recently survived a throat tumor) and clearly dubbed, his performance is off the rails and just another piece of a puzzle that is just not meant to fit together. I can’t even go there with Charlotte Gainsbourg (Samba) as Fassbender’s old girlfriend, especially after witnessing a clothed sex scene between the two that’s as awkwardly uncomfortable to watch as seeing a lab rat trying to mate with a St. Bernard.

Director Tomas Alfredson (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) has popped up in interviews saying that 15% of the script wound up not being filmed and that does not surprise me in the least. It at least explains how Oscar-winner and longtime Martin Scorsese collaborator Thelma Schoonmaker (Cape Fear) managed to piece together a movie that makes almost entirely no sense. There are no scene transitions or establishing shots so it is impossible to determine where the characters are in relation to not only the plot but each other. There’s one sequence cut so poorly that you think two actors are in the same room but are in fact miles away from each other. Ferguson’s hair changes color several times, about as many times as Fassbender’s hair gets longer then shorter from one moment to the next. While Oscar-winning cinematographer Dion Beebe (Into the Woods) captures some of the gloomier Norwegian vistas with a bit of flair, the visuals are weighed down heavily by the sterile production design from Maria Djurkovic and Tatiana Macdonald (Oscar nominees themselves for The Imitation Game) that heavily favors latte colored IKEA furnishings.

A competent creative team has crafted a truly incompetent film here, even the finale is botched with the suggestion of a sequel so laughably inserted that your heart aches for the Universal Studios executive that must have pleaded for it to be incorporated just in case.  I’m usually not a fan of audiences talking during a movie but as the film progressed the chatter became louder and louder as everyone began to question what in the actual hell was going on. This is terrible filmmaking, an embarrassment for every single person above and below the line.  While it’s bound to be mentioned in the same breath as other Scandinavian-set thrillers, it not even fit to be included in the belch that follows that breath.

Movie Review ~ Dunkirk


The Facts
:

Synopsis: Allied soldiers from Belgium, the British Empire and France are surrounded by the German army and evacuated during a fierce battle in World War II.

Stars: Fionn Whitehead, Tom Glynn-Carney, Jack Lowden, Harry Styles, Aneurin Barnard, James D’Arcy, Barry Keoghan, Kenneth Branagh, Cillian Murphy, Mark Rylance, Tom Hardy

Director: Christopher Nolan

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 106 minutes

TMMM Score: (9/10)

Review: Coming off of the enormous success of The Dark Knight trilogy, director Christopher Nolan stumbled a bit with his next film, Interstellar.  Though far from a complete miss, the movie was a little too smart for its own good and is one of the rare Nolan films to get less interesting with subsequent viewings.  Three years later, Nolan is back in a big way with the release of Dunkirk, a superbly structured World War II adventure that almost assures a long overdue Best Director nomination is headed his way.

Instead of giving you the same old review, I’ve compiled a list of Dunkirk Do’s and Don’ts.

Do bring earplugs.  Nolan has continued his use of IMAX technology to film select scenes and with that comes a sound design that’s positively ear splitting.  Looking around the audience in several key moments I saw numerous movie-goers with their fingers in their ears yet still enraptured with the film.  Bullets whiz by with sharp zings and fighter planes streak across the sky with a sonic boom.  Your teeth will be rattling by the time the credits roll.

Don’t be late.  I’ve had some bad luck with technical problems plaguing screenings lately and the showing of Dunkirk I attended was delayed by almost a half hour due to sound issues.  When we were told that it would be another five or ten minutes before the screening would resume, many audience members (including my guests) headed for the bathroom only to have the movie start up the moment they were out the door.  That left their movie mates to quickly explain to them in loud whispers what was happening when they returned because Nolan’s script doesn’t repeat itself or explain the setting other than short title cards as the movie opens.

Do pay attention. Dunkirk is typically Nolan-esque with multiple overlapping storylines that take place at different times.  There’s three ‘pieces’ to Nolan’s puzzle, each capturing a specific stretch of time during the evacuation of British and French soldiers from a beach in Northern France.  The Mole covers a week stretch, following several young soldiers as they desperately try to escape the sand in any way possible.  The action in The Sea unspools over a day while merely an hour is the length of time The Air covers.  All three start and end at different places/times and if you aren’t fully paying attention you’ll miss the point at which they all convene.

Don’t look for star turns.  While Nolan has cast dependable actors like Kenneth Branagh (Murder on the Orient Express), Mark Rylance (The BFG), Cillian Murphy (Batman Begins), and Tom Hardy (Mad Max: Fury Road), the real stars are the young unknowns that make up the soldiers and civilians that played a part in the withdrawal of the armies from Dunkirk.  Even singer Harry Styles turns up as a tightly wound army man and acquits himself nicely as no mere bit of stunt casting.  Only Hardy could be considered a leading player as his ace airman eventually takes center stage in his storyline.  It’s unfortunate that Nolan didn’t learn from his critics in The Dark Knight Rises that bemoaned not being able to understand Hardy behind Bane’s mask.  Once again, much of Hardy’s performance in covered by an air mask, obstructing his words from coming through clearly.  The good news is that Nolan’s script is fat-free, never too speechy or preachy. So even though you can’t always understand Hardy, you aren’t missing  ton of exposition.

Do bring some kind of stress ball and clip your nails judiciously before the movie starts.  This was one of the tensest movies I’ve seen in some time…and it begins almost as soon as the first images appear onscreen.  With Hans Zimmer’s score switching back and forth between graceful and pulse-racing, the music is almost another character.  Even when nothing of note is happening, the score is always present to remind you that no one is truly safe.

Don’t miss this one on the biggest screen possible.  Cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema (Her) has lensed a staggeringly beautiful film with its overwhelming wide aerial shots of fighter pilots in action and smaller moments between soldiers hoping for a miracle trapped in the hull of a grounded boat.  Another name to mention is editor Lee Smith (The Dark Knight) who has cut Nolan’s film into a lean example of cinematic efficiency.  At 106 minutes, it’s Nolan’s shortest film to date and were it any longer it would lose valuable steam.

Do read up on the real-life story that inspired Nolan’s fictionalized screenplay.  While not a huge WWII buff, even I know that the events that happened on Dunkirk aren’t always mentioned in the same breath as other acts of heroism.  Nolan affords time to take on the perils of war but tops it all off with a message of sincerity and hope that feels justly earned by the characters and audience, considering all we’ve been through together.

In summary…Do go, Don’t delay.

The Silver Bullet ~ Jupiter Ascending

jupiter-ascending

Synopsis: In a universe where humans are near the bottom of the evolutionary ladder, a young destitute human woman is targeted for assassination by the Queen of the Universe because her very existence threatens to end the Queen’s reign.

Release Date:  July 25, 2014

Thoughts: A whole lotta people didn’t get Cloud Atlas, the 2012 film directed by siblings Andy and Lana Wachowski and Tom Tykwer.  I found that epic to be quite ambitious in scope and idea and a film that resisted the urge to be classified in any one genre.  It was a haunting film that gave some very good actors the chance to do something different and signaled a nice return for the Wachowski’s who had seen their star fade with the lackluster sequels to The Matrix and the utter failure of the candy colored trippy Speed Racer.  Even though I wasn’t a fan of the Matrix follow-ups and I needed a week’s worth of Advil after seeing Speed Racer in IMAX, I’ve always appreciated the cinematic flair in which the brother and sister assemble their films.

That’s why it’s nice to see that a little more than two years after Cloud Atlas they’re back (sans Tykwer) for a new space odyssey.  Even if the movie looks a tad more standard that what Cloud Atlas had to offer, it’s still a helluva lot more intriguing than any number of summer movies with big robots and umpteenth sequels to fading franchises.  I’m not totally sold on the assembled cast but Channing Tatum (Magic Mike) and Mila Kunis (Oz The Great and Powerful) are hot stuff and Tatum at least is a huge draw.  Jury’s still out if this will continue the Wachowski’s ascent back into the A-List but this first look indicates they’re on their way.

Movie Review ~ Hitchcock

The Facts:

Synopsis: A love story between influential filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock and wife Alma Reville during the filming of Psycho in 1959.

Stars: Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren, Scarlett Johansson, Danny Huston, Toni Collette, Jessica Biel, Michael Stuhlbarg, James D’Arcy, Michael Wincott, Richard Portnow, Kurtwood Smith

Director: Sacha Gervasi

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 98 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (5.5/10)

Review:  After a disastrous first screening of Psycho, Alfred Hitchcock’s agent (Stuhlbarg) suggests “Maybe we should cut it down and release it as a two-part special for television”.  It was at that point in this breezey but hollow biopic of the Master of Suspense that I thought what a great suggestion that is that the filmmakers should have taken to heart.  Instead of giving us a film that feels like a full meal, we are served appetizers that don’t totally cure our hunger.

That’s not to say Hitchcock (adapted by John McLaughlin from Stephen Rebello’s biography “Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho”) doesn’t have its saving graces because it does acquit itself somewhat with several fine performances and a dishy behind the scenes vibe that movie buffs will enjoy.  On the other hand, I left the film feeling like I watched a movie made up of anecdotes rather than a fully formed idea.  The synopsis indicates it’s a love story between Hitchcock and wife Alma Reville…OK…but then it veers off into a psychoanalysis of Hitchcock and his hang-ups on blonde bombshells….OK…yet it turns again to a behind-the-scenes look at the making of Psycho…OK…or is it really about the greater price of fame and notoriety both Hitchcock and Alma encountered?  All interesting ideas for a picture on their own but somehow they don’t work when layered on top of each other.

Being the movie buff I am, I quite enjoyed peeking into how Hitchcock discovered Psycho and against all odds made one of the classic pictures in American cinema.  Recreating the experience of filming the movie was interesting to watch unfold…as were the performances of D’Arcy (Cloud Atlas) as Anthony Perkins and Scarlett Johansson (Marvel’s The Avengers) as Janet Leigh.  Both actors steer clear of outright imitations and instead deliver convincing performances that really do remind you of these stars.  Johansson in particular doesn’t resemble Janet Leigh but I’ll be darned if I didn’t do a few double takes when hearing her speak in Leigh’s voice and nail her softly nuanced facial expressions.  Biel (Total Recall, The Tall Man) too doesn’t remind me of Vera Miles but the actress is nicely restrained in her brief scenes. 

Supporting actors get the job done, I s’pose but I’d love it if Huston could get out from under these boorish types of characters.  Collette is delightful as always and Wincott is effectively creepy acting as a bizarre muse to Hitchcock in the guise of an imagined Ed Gein. 

In promotional materials and trailers, Hopkins gave off the proper vibe as the famous director of the title.  Still…something about seeing the full performance didn’t ring true if I’m really being honest.  The dimensions are all correct and if you close your eyes the voice is almost there…but it was close but no cigar for me.  With the aid of a portly fat suit, Hopkins fills the room with his presence…but his wildly inconsistent hair and facial make-up spoil it all and you may find yourself wondering why half his face is one color and the other half is another.  While not a big budget film, I think more attention to the make-up detail would have helped Hopkins come to a more fully realized performance.  I’ll add that while the voice was going in the right direction…something about his slow delivery suggested the man was mid-stroke.

That leaves us with Mirren who simply towers above all else in the film.  As inconsistent as the film may be, it’s absolutely saved by her contributions as Hitch’s burdened wife.  Clearly his biggest supporter and best confidant, she never got the recognition she deserved and many credit her influence as the true genius behind the man.  Mirren understands this and never plays the role as so put-upon you couldn’t understand why she’s sticking around.  This is a woman who knows that with every film her husband will obsess over details and fret about success…and she takes it all in and helps him through.  The film is most successful when Mirren is taking control of whatever situation needs to be leveled off.  It probably helps that since Alma isn’t a familiar Hollywood figure, Mirren’s performance isn’t held under the same magnifying glass that Hopkins is. 

Director Gervasi achieves a nicely period looking film that does feel like it was meant for the small screen due in no part to its trim running time.  Had this been released on television (like the recent HBO Hitchcock piece, The Girl) I think it would have been a bit easier to forgive some of the film’s faults.  Like 2011’s My Week with Marilyn and The Iron Lady, this is an uneven film with a powerful female performance at the center.  Everything else just feels like window dressing.

The Silver Bullet ~ Hitchcock

Synopsis: A love story between influential filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock and wife Alma Reville during the filming of Psycho in 1959.

Release Date:  November 23, 2012

Thoughts: The master of the thriller seems to be a hot topic this year.  From a new box set of his work released on BluRay and a HBO biopic on his obsession with Tippi Hedren coming in late October, Alfred Hitchcock is having a nice little renaissance.  This big screen adaptation of Stephen Rebello’s novel “Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho” is high on my list of anticipated 2012 films.  The preview is a nice blend of cheeky exchanges and dramatic fodder that Hitchcock was so very fond of.  Assembling a stellar cast led by two Oscar winners, first time feature director Sacha Gervasi appears to have done his homework and paid homage to the legend.  I have a good feeling about this one.