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.
Two brothers (Chris Pine and Ben Foster) rob banks to save the family farm.
Two Texas rangers (Jeff Bridges and Gil Birmingham) track down the bank robbers.
While the plot stays focused on catching the bad guys, the movie develops a larger theme with simple lines of dialogue. When the ranger (Bridges) asks the local cowboys hanging out at a diner whether they saw who robbed the bank, one of them says, "That bank's been robbing me for years."
Every scene has a momentary reference to the world within which the cops and robbers operate. The injustice of that world mocks the simplistic morality of good-guys and bad-guys.
There's only one speech about the world they live in. The other ranger (Birmingham), who is part-Comanche, describes how his ancestors lost the land to white men and now the white men have lost the land to "them" (he points to the bank). Simple. Eloquent.
We learn how the "good" brother (Pine) ruined his marriage when he tells his teen-age son not to make the same mistakes he made. The son says, "You hand me a beer and then tell me not to be like you. Which is it?" There's the whole story in one line.
The "bad" brother (Foster) mostly rides the adrenaline rush of the robberies, but, in the end, without saying anything, he redeems himself with one snap decision. No words needed.
I don't usually go for stories about cops-and-robbers. This movie is an exception because it is so nearly perfect and because in the end you can hardly tell the cop and the robber apart. I mean that literally. Watch for the way Chris Pine and Jeff Bridges are costumed in the last scene.
The Bling Ring is based on a true story as reported in Vanity Fair. From October 2008 through August, 2009, a group of teenagers, who met in an alternative high school, burglarized the homes of A-list celebrities such as Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan, taking away jewelry, designer handbags, and loose cash.
As written and directed by Sofia Coppola, the narcissism of the victims is exceeded only by the shallowness of the criminals.
As in many noir tales such as The Talented Mr. Ripley, it's hard to decide whom we dislike more: the criminal or the victim. As in Gone Girl, there's not a single likable character. The spectacle of evil feeding upon evil has a grim fascination.
And yet, The Bling Ring doesn't feel all that dark because the crime seems so inconsequential. Do we really care if they stole about one per cent of Paris Hilton's shoe collection?
This theme recalls Sofia Coppola's film from 2006, Marie Antoinette, about another young woman isolated in a world of wealth and glamour, oblivious to the dark implications of her privilege.
In A Simple Plan, an average guy, Hank Mitchell, finds a small airplane, crashed in the woods. Inside he finds the pilot dead and a bag of money---lots of money.
Hank thinks of calling the police, but instead makes a simple plan: hide the money for a few months and see if anyone comes looking for it.
His plan is immediately complicated because his brother and a friend are with him and they are not people one wants to be in business with. But they agree to the plan.
What could go wrong?
Noir is full of stories that begin with honest citizens, a bit down on their luck, having a chance to make a big score by doing something a little dishonest with little risk. On the Movie index page for my blog there is Dangerous Lies, 2020. On my Novels Index page: After Dark My Sweet by Jim Thompson, A Touch of Death by Charles Williams, and Out of the Black by John Rector,
A Simple Plan is based on the novel of the same title by Scott Smith. It was his first novel, and he also wrote the screenplay. His success with both is well-deserved. Both are well-crafted exercises in watching it all go wrong.
This movie feels good largely because of the chemistry between Camila Mendes and Jessie T. Usher as her husband. They are the young couple you have to love: hard-working, passionate, a little bit naive. It doesn't hurt that the rest of the cast is solidly believable with strong performances by Sasha Alexander as a police detective, Jamie Chung as a lawyer, and Cam Gigandet as a realtor. And it's delightful as always to see Elliott Gould in a cameo.
Dangerous Lies also feels good because it teases the viewer's expectations. It starts out as a story about an average person, down on her luck, who has a chance at a windfall that's not entirely legit. That puts it in a category with A Touch of Death by Charles Williams, and Out of the Black by John Rector.
Soon we're not sure how accidental the windfall is. Are all the friendly people really villains? Are all the suspicious people dangerous or just a little off? Is Katie (Camilla Mendes) as innocent and good as she seems or is she fooling everyone including the audience? I'll admit the movie kept me guessing.
It's not a perfect movie. There were moments when I thought, "Wait . . . What just happened?" And when it was done several things made me wonder, "Why didn't she just . . . ?" But it was plenty entertaining.
The writers of Dead to Me have proven they can invent enough nightmare complications to keep their plot alive for two seasons. Repeatedly, they give two women a reason to hate one another and a complication that binds them together for survival.
And yet, the show provokes laughs with the rapport of the two principal characters---a wealthy suburban widow and a new-agey free spirit---who read each other's minds and finish each other's sentences,
Christina Applegate, who plays the widow, is known for light comedy. She played the daughter in 259 episodes of Married with Children, Gwendolyn in Bad Moms, and Courtney n The Sweetest Thing. Yet she brings real terror to the scenes in which she is threatened.
Linda Cardellini, who plays Judy Hale has appeared in another darkly comic story, A Simple Favor, as a SoHo artist with lots of tatoos and a fascination with big, sharp knives. In Green Book she played the wife of Tony Lip (Viggo Mortensen).
James Marsden does some wonderful work, but to say any more would ruin one of the show's best surprises.
If you enjoy the suspense of someone trapped in a nightmare only partly of their own making mixed with the hilarity of someone tripped up by complications they couldn't foresee, Dead to Me is for you. If you start with season one and continue through season two, you can stream twenty half-hour episodes back to back, and hope for a third season.
The only thing unsatisfying about Season 3 of Ozark is watching it 18 months after watching Season 2. The writing, directing, acting, design---everything about this show is so tight, it's like a book you hate to put down.
It's my kind of story. A family flees Chicago after dad (Jason Bateman) fails to deliver on a deal for a Mexican drug cartel. His best shot at saving himself and his family is setting up a money-laundering operation fronted by a casino in the the Ozark mountains of Missouri.
By Season 3, it's not only dad trying to get out of a tight spot, Mom (Laura Linney) and both kids are involved and looking beyond surviving to making a big score. Things do not go well. In fact, things go badly in increasingly complicated ways.
The makers of the show have a five-season plot planned. If you haven't started watching Ozark, enjoy the first three seasons back to back. You might be tempted to wait until the series is complete, but it's too good to postpone.
If you like heist movies, you will like Thief, a 2006 TV series from FX. Andre Braugher stars as Nick Atwater, a smart, empathetic thief who contracts jobs such as cleaning out deposit boxes in a bank vault and "redirecting" new $100-dollar bills being moved by the Treasury Department.
In addition to a star performance by Braugher, the show offers a motley crew of specialists, a complicated personal life for Atwater, and it doesn't hurt that the legitimate business that fronts the criminal operation is a used car dealership for classic Detroit muscle cars.
Thief lasted only six episodes. At the time, the LA Times called this "puzzling." There was speculation that scripted drama may not have a future on cable networks, which were relatively new then. Not true, as it turned out.
Thanks to streaming, it's a six-hour mini-series that is smart, funny, scary and tense. It reminds me that heist movies have some something in common with noir suspense: the perfect plan that inevitably goes wrong. We buy in when the boss tells the crew how it will go down. We hold our breath as loose ends start to unravel. We groan as it all comes apart.
The story begins with a husband throwing a surprise anniversary party for his wife. As the evening proceeds, little things don't make sense. The wife is appalled at the amount of money spent. The husband tries a little too hard to seem happy. Odd looks and gestures pass between guests. One of the caterers seems more than curious about the couple.
When the evening is over, there's body on the floor and we hear complicated explanations of what happened. As the story proceeds, we wonder who did what and whom to believe.
Alibi plays out in three, 45-minute episodes. The action is remarkable not only for elaborate schemes, but also for the range of feeling from noir to farce. The acting is superb with Michael Kitchen, Phyllis Logan, and Sophie Okonedo in the principal roles.
For fans of noir nightmares from Double Indemnity to A Simple Plan---especially those who like a dash of absurdity as in Blood Simple---Prime Video's Blow the Man Down is a very interesting little film.
We start with a volatile situation: two sisters at their mother's funeral inherit nothing but problems. One doubles down on taking charge; the other goes wild. There's a murder, and covering it up turns into a farce. We are deep into noir territory.
But, there's a chorus of fisherman with surprisingly operatic voices singing sea chanteys. The movie is set in a New England fishing town, so, I guess, they're musical scenery.
And there's a trio of older woman who keep turning up . . . at the funeral . . . out for a walk in the village . . . they're always around. And there's Margo Martindale playing a matriarch as few other can.
There are plot twists. There are surprises. Ominous things turn out to be unimportant. Little things loom large. When it was done, I had to mentally reverse-engineer some developments to see if they made sense. But I was always fascinated.
We went to the Balboa Theater, one of San Francisco's remaining neighborhood movie houses, to see Bullitt, the 1968 action film starring Steve McQueen and green, Mustang fastback.
You don't see the title on the marquee, because it's on the other side. I could have photographed the other side, but then you wouldn't have seen that glorious sunset.
The car chase in Bullitt is rightly famous and more than fifty years later it still works. I had not remembered that the movie is a series of chases. Earlier in the film, McQueen chases the killer through the stairwells and basement corridors of a hospital. Later, he chases a different bad buy across the runways of SFO while planes are taking off.
This showing was part of the Total SF series hosted by two writers for the San Francisco Chronicle, Peter Hartlaub and Heather Knight. There pre-show trivia contests are fun and it's fun to see films shot in San Francisco with a home-town audience turning out to see how the place looks on screen. We previously saw The Rock and Sister Act in this series.
The numbers don't add up for the financing of a film production because it's really a front for human trafficking and drug dealing. An uptight bank investigator gets framed for the crime he is investigating.
We expect him to be no match for the Russian mob and their psychopathic enforcers, but he applies his analytical mind to each situation and beats them at their own game.
Michael Keaton deserves a lot of credit for pulling this off. The easy choice would have shown this numbers nerd discovering a side of himself he never knew existed and becoming an action hero. Instead Keaton remains the same guy throughout the film. He's just solving different kinds of problems. Very cool.
Michael Caine is predictably wonderful as the star of the fake film and Judith Godreche provides credible support in the always thankless role of the girl in the action film.
This film from 2003 went "straight-to-video." Back then no theatrical release meant no one believed in the film enough to back it. Fortunately it's still around for streaming. It's a conventional thriller with more light moments than usual. I found it entertaining.