The first three seasons of Search Party reminded my of how Twin Peaks felt when it burst upon the scene in 1990: scary, funny, surreal . . . So I recently watched the two-hour pilot, and sure-enough it feels as innovative as ever.
From the opening credits, which introduce the saw-mill town as a well-oiled machine set in a magnificent landscape, to the introduction of Agent Cooper as a guy who loves cherry pie and is looking for a clean reasonably priced motel, this show puts normalcy under a microscope.
And it finds lots of bacteria. There are the usual small-town diseases, corruption and adultery. And there are bizarre touches: the band at a biker bar plays a euphoric ballad, the local bad boys bark like dogs . . . what does it all mean?
I'm not a binge-watcher, but I think I'll wander through the original two seasons.
Enjoy this thriller as a typical heist movie with plenty of well-choreographed, MIssion-Impossible-style action sequences. The heist is pulled off (pulled off twice, in fact) by a crew of specialists played by A-list stars, headed by Robert Redford. There's plenty of straight-up entertainment value.
It's described as a "comedy caper," and perhaps it was in 1992, but nearly thirty years later some of it is not so funny. The Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, so the movie contains references to an ambiguous relationship between Russia and the USA. The plot is complicated by conflicts among the FBI, CIA, and NSA.
Most of all, it's chilling how the film sees digital networks controlling the globe. As one character says, wars are no longer fought with bullets and bombs, but rather with ones and zeroes.
The movie was made before graphical user interfaces turned the Internet into the World Wide Web. The technology in the film looks primitive today, but the theme could not be more current. Recent events have turned this romp into a dark story. It has improved with age.
In Hitchcock/Truffaut, the first question Francois Truffaut asks Alfred Hitchcock is whether "the incident at the police station" is true.
Hitchcock: Yes, it is. I must have been about four or five years old. My father sent me to the police station with a note. The chief of police read it and locked me in a cell for five or ten minutes, saying, "This is what we do to naughty boys."
Truffaut: Why were you being punished?
Hitchcock: I haven't the faintest idea.
They begin Chapter Two by discussing The Lodger, which the master himself calls "the first true 'Hitchcock movie.'" It is about a man mistakenly suspected of being Jack the Ripper. Truffaut identifies this as "the theme recurs in almost all of your later works: a man accused of a crime of which he's innocent."
The psychology is obvious. As a boy, Hitchcock was put in jail, a punishment he did not deserve. He spent his career mostly making movies about characters falsely accused, chased and punished.
But he did not seem to be repeating himself. Although this theme is present in The Thirty-Nine Steps, North by Northwest, Vertigo, Frenzy and many more, each film has its own personality. I never noticed how consistent this theme is, until I read about it in the Hitchcock/Truffaut interviews.
Season One of Search Party surveys the silliness of creative twenty-somethings in Manhattan and deftly turns the corner from social satire to noir suspense. Season Two turns that development into full-blown noir with our now-not-so-funny (but still entertaining) group of friends living with the horror of what they've done and struggling to keep it secret.
In Season Three, the secret is out and we turn from observing our anti-heroes under a microscope to looking at the world they live in with a wide-angle lens. That world of people who do not have secrets to keep is no less freakish than our heroes. And yet, like our heroes, those people are hilariously unaware of their own monstrous qualities.
This series has a lot in common with Dead to Me with a world view like something imagined by David Lynch.
If you want suspense, this movie delivers it like few I've seen lately. It's not a murder mystery, nor a thriller, nor a crime film. It's not a "disaster" movie or an "action" film. It's about the loneliness of a man who sees things no one else sees.
Michael Shannon plays an average guy whose nightmares and waking hallucinations tell him a storm is coming, a storm unlike anything anyone has seen. That simple premise plays out in his marriage, his work, his health, and his life in a rural Ohio community.
The suspense comes from watching the effect of this premise on him and the people around him. They are people whose lives are about paying the mortgage and keeping their health insurance, and caring for their children. The stakes could not be any higher.
Take Shelter is worth watching if only for the towering performance by Michael Shannon as an everyman as complex and self-aware as Hamlet. His chemistry with Jessica Chastain as his wife is volatile.
The ending may momentarily disappoint you. There is no high-speed chase, no special effects, no heroic triumph over adversity. But, if you pause a moment, you will see that it answers every question the movie raises.
He sneaks out of a diner without paying for his lunch. She follows him out and takes him on a thrill ride. He's a corporate executive ready for a walk on the wild side, and she's his tour guide. It feels a bit noirish because along the way they are victimizing working people, and we know it's going to get darker because Ray Liotta is in the cast list.
We've seen wilder walks than this since 1986, but still this one ain't bad. The scene in the motel room, the car chases, the petty larceny---Melanie Griffith and Jeff Daniels make it all believable.
But the real thrill is keeping up with who's conning whom as the action unfolds. In the end it comes down to a battle between Daniels and Liotta. They outsmart and overpower one another. But along the way there are those delicious moments when we sense that all is not as it seems.
,It would have been so easy to make a comic crime caper based on this true story. Four students at a small, private university in Kentucky are bored and decide to steal books from the the library's rare book collection, including a first edition of Audubon's The Birds of America. None has any experience in crime. Planning the heist includes watching Hollywood movies.
But writer and director Bart Layton does much more. He dramatizes the robbery using actors in their twenties and inserts clips from interviews with the actual criminals, who are in their late thirties at the time of filming. Their reflections on their younger selves are sobering.
There's plenty of time to laugh at the cluelessness of the would-be crooks, especially since no one gets killed or seriously injured, and the books are returned intact. But there is lasting damage to their families, the community, and to four men who spend years of their young lives in prison. It's worth watching as an unusually truthful true-crime film.
o-Season Two of Search Party gets darker. One could say, it goes full Jim Thompson. Or full Patricia Highsmith. Or one could compare it to the second half of Hitchcock's Psycho, when we find ourselves hoping Norman Bates doesn't get caught.
I'm trying to give you an idea of what kind of story this is without giving away any important plot twists. Let's just say at the conclusion of Season One, our kooky band of friends concludes their search for Chantal by doing something they would rather not have to answer questions about. And in Season Two, to keep that secret, they do things that could get them in a lot of trouble. And we wind up rooting for the villain.
But they're such lovable villains. Drew is so predictably clueless. Elliott never fails to exaggerate his own importance. Portia feels everything so deeply, even when she gets it wrong. And Dory, at the center of it all, is quiet, intuitive and decisive. We wonder why she puts up with them. These are the character types of comedy, and they are playing out some deadly business.
Update: see also Search Party (2016) and Search Party (2020).
It's hard to say what kind of show this is. My first impression was satire. The show pokes fun at the preoccupations of creative twenty-somethings in Manhattan. But in the midst of all the laughs a story takes shape in which Dory becomes convinced an acquaintance, Chantal, is still alive, even though her family is grieving her loss.
Dory's friends help her look for Chantal, but the investigation suffers as the friends seem incapable of focusing on anything but themselves. In each episode, just when I'm expecting this to turn into a murder-mystery spoof, something happens that gives me a genuine chill.
Somehow the writers of Search Party have found the tunnel that connects the absurd and the uncanny. In a lot of ways we're in David Lynch territory. I've just finished the first season. Two more are available for streaming, and there's talk of a fourth season. It's a half-hour dramedy, definitely worth a try for something funny, suspenseful, and off-beat.
See also Search Party (2017) and Search Party (2020).
A hit man (Tom Cruise) hires a cab driver (Jamie Foxx) to drive him around Los Angeles because he has several jobs to do in one night. Of course, the hit man has to keep the cab driver on a short leash.
The premise yields plenty of possibilities for complications, reversals, and shoot-outs, and the movie does not disappoint. When you have Tom Cruise in a film, you have to give him more than one chance to run and gun.
The film exceeds expectations when it comes to character development. Jamie Foxx totally convinces as an average guy who wants nothing to do with crime and killing. And he's equally convincing when his character learns that sometimes you do indeed have to kick some ass.
The real star of the show is screenwriter Stuart Beattie who gives these two great actors a lot to work with. Between the action sequences, and sometimes during, their world views collide. They challenge one another to explain their actions.
And, the screenwriter creates a totally original scene when the hit man goes with the cab driver to visit his mother in the hospital and charms her.
Looking for a good thriller? Try this documentary.
As the title suggests, this is a movie about triplets separated at birth. They discover one another by accident when two of them attend the same college. They rejoice and live their adult lives as brothers.
All this comes out near the beginning of this 96-minute film. It's an amazing story, but there's much more. As they discover the circumstances of their birth and their adoptions, the intrigue deepens. In a present-day interview, one of the brothers describes what they discover as "like some Nazi shit."
The way director Tim Wardle tells their story is worthy of Hitchcock. Each segment of the movie reveals the facts of a stage in their lives and includes one loose end, which leads the brothers and those who help them to the next stage. The suspense deepens until the end.
If you didn't know this story is true, you wouldn't believe it. You literally cannot make this stuff up.
If you've been frustrated by travel restrictions and desperate to get on an airplane and go somewhere, viewing Red Eye might make you content to stay home. The opening sequences follow Lisa Reisert (Rachel MacAdams) into an airport where she gets delayed by one cancelled flight after another and winds up on a red-eye flight to Miami. The depiction of the crowded airport and more crowded airplane bring back the horror that is air travel.
It gets worse for Lisa when her seat-mate Jackson Rippner (Cillian Murphy) turns out to be a very bad man prepared to force her into aiding his evil plot by making one, seemingly innocent phone call from the plane while in flight. Too bad for Jackson he has picked a fight with a woman who has vowed never again to be a victim.
Red Eye was a critical and commercial success for director Wes Craven, the highly influential director of horror films. Fifteen years after its release, the viewer still marvels at the section of the film where the two stars are mostly confined to their seats on the airplane. Somehow Craven makes it feel dynamic.
At 85 minutes, it's a perfect length for a suspense thriller. It ticks like a stop watch and offers substantial thrills, relieved by Craven's signature grim humor.
It has horses and six-shooters, and it happens in broad daylight, but this story is as noir as they come. Like suspense classics by Cornell Woolrich, Patricia Highsmith, Jim Thompson, and Charles Williams, this movie has a simple plot, and characters with dark motivations.
Our hero, Paul (Ethan Hawke), is trying to get to Mexico to escape memories of evil deeds in his past. His adversary, the Sheriff of Denton (John Travolta), knows right from wrong but is losing his grip on power.
When Gilly, the sheriff's son (James Ransone), picks a fight with Paul, and follows up with an act of cruelty, Paul decides to stay in town an extra day to settle the score. WARNING: the bad guys do not die quickly or easily. There is blood. ALSO: When the sheriff repeatedly tells you, "Get away from the window," pay attention!
The morality play is made more profound by two sisters (Taissa Farmiga and Karen Gillan). One is a soulmate for Gilly; the other has her sights set on better things.
Credit for pitch perfect story-telling goes to writer and director, Ti West, best known for horror films.
From the beginning, you know this is an homage to Sergio Leone's westerns from the 1960s that starred Clint Eastwood (Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More, and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly). The lonely man on horseback in a desert landscape and the music featuring twangy guitars and a chorus of baritone voices tell you what to expect.
As the movie goes on, the filmmaker winks at you with references to these earlier westerns, and this is not the only source of humor in the movie. As in Alfred Hitchcock's films, these flashes of comedy only make the tragedy darker.
The fiftieth anniversary of Clint Eastwood's directorial debut is right around the corner. Play Misty for Me was released in 1971.
Eastwood had been acting for fifteen years, and had already played his iconic cowboy in A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More, and The Good the Bad and the Ugly, as well as Harry Callahan in Dirty Harry. Yet he cast himself as an exceptionally vulnerable character, a D. J. at a jazz station who is manipulated by an obsessive fan.
In the role of the fan, Jessica Walter left an indelible image as a homicidal maniac. Recently she left an equally indelible image as a boozey matriarch on Arrested Developement. In between, she performed constantly in film, television and theater, and is still performing.
Eastwood's debut as a director was successful partly because of his informal apprenticeship with Don Siegel for whom he acted. Also, the scenes of violence owe a lot to Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho released in 1960. We see a shadowy figure with a knife; we see the knife flashing through the air; the shadowy figures dashes away; the victim discovers a wound.
Some sequences such as close ups on the eyes are asked to carry too much and the lyrical love interlude goes on too long, but Play Misty for Me is still an effective psychological thriller.
Nels Coxman (Liam Neesen) is the solidest of solid citizens in Kehoe, a (fictional) ski-resort town in the Colorado Rockies. He's the contractor who drives the enormous snow plow that keeps the highways clear in winter, when snow drifts to over ten feet.
When he sets out to avenge his son's murder, his method is as powerful and uncomplicated as snowplowing: force a local criminal to give him a name, kill him, find the next man, and repeat the process.
Eventually this gets complicated because his son's murder was ordered by a psychopathic drug lord, who assumes a rival drug lord is killing his men. No one suspects Nels, the snow-plow guy. Chaos ensues.
This grim situation is played for laughs by Hans Peter Moland, the Norwegian director who made In Order of Disappearance (2014) on which this film is based. His sense of humor recalls John Huston's in Prizzi's Honor (1985).
If you don't mind lots of killing, it's an enjoyable, off-beat action film.