Véra Clouzot and Simone Signoret in Henri-Georges Clouzot's Diabolique
The temps just drastically dropped here in Kansas City, and all I want to do is curl up under a quilt and get the good kind of movie shivers. I’m a sucker for screen suspense. There’s nothing like getting so caught up in a story that you find yourself clutching the person/dog/pillow next to you and yelling at characters who never take your advice: “Don’t! Go! In! There!”
That said, I’m pretty picky about my sources of celluloid scares. I like my goosebumps delivered artfully. I’d rather be creeped-out than grossed-out. And I want there to be a why behind the whoa. Put simply, I want horror with a heart and suspense with a story. Here are several examples you can stream right now over Netflix or Hulu Plus. And if you’re too scared to watch alone, come over to my place. I’ll have a quilt waiting for you.
Prisoners, the first studio flick from indie helmer Denis Villeneuve (Incendies) is a taut crime thriller that allows for deeper interpretations. The script by Aaron Guzikowski (Contraband)slithers and twists, solidly satisfying who-done-it genre rules. The film follows the case of two missing girls, the frustrated officer trying to find them (Jake Gyllenhaal), and their increasingly desperate fathers (Hugh Jackman and Terrence Howard). The deep-bench cast also includes personal favorites Paul Dano, Melissa Leo, Viola Davis and Maria Bello.
If you like your twists uncomplicated with heart or soul, you’ll love this flick. As an exercise in compelling confusion, this mind-heist movie by Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, Slumdog Millionaire, 127 Hours) works. The shooting is stylish, and the acting is intriguing. As Simon, James McAvoy’s baby blues convince you that a bump on the head really did leave him with no memory of where he left that stolen painting. Vincent Cassel delights as Franck, the leader of the scrambling gang of thieves. (If you take one thing away from Trance, make it a resolution to watch Cassel’s back catalogue, especially 1995′s Cannes favorite Le Haine.) And Rosario Dawson appropriately mesmerizes as the hypnotherapist, Elizabeth, hired to retrieve the memory of the robbery from Simon’s troubled mind.
The plot ducks and weaves entertainingly. Early on in the film, I guessed the who but not the how, which let me feel smart for guessing correctly while leaving me with enough questions to be interested until the end. Interested, but not satisfied: (SMALL SPOILER) The beginning of the movie had a playful wit that quickly darkens; when the grimness suddenly flips to sunny at the end—upbeat soundtrack and all—the tonal shift felt un-earned.
Maybe you’re a half of a content pair who believes love should be celebrated every day…without so much emphasis on buying stuff. Maybe you’re currently flying solo and loving your independence…and hating how Heart Day enthusiasts assume you’ll be watching Sleepless in Seattle and sobbing tonight. (I mean Sleepless is great; sobbing, not so much.) Maybe you’re a mysterious stranger with serious stunt driving skills who breaks out of a hermit-ish existence to help his beautiful neighbor…knowing there will be price to pay.
Yep, I’m suggesting you watch Drive today, in celebration of the international day of lovey-dovey-ness. Here’s why the 2011 Nicolas Winding Refn-directed, Gosling-starring wheeled thriller is a great Valentine’s Day choice.
I’m really hoping to get a break from unpacking to go see the film Steven Soderbergh has said will be his last. Soderbergh’s work is always, always interesting, whether he’s going indie arthouse (Che; Sex, Lies and Videotape) or blowing up the box-office with smart takes on popular genres (Oceans 11-13, Erin Brockovich,Magic Mike). (Yes, Magic Mike was a smart film, and a surprisingly moralistic one. It’s a fascinating gender flip on the hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold trope. I’ll write about that some time.) With Side Effects, Soderbergh picked a great team to go out on. The screenplay is written by previous Soderbergh collaborator Scott Z. Burns (Contagion, The Informant!), and it stars Rooney Mara (The Social Network, The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo), Channing Tatum, Jude Law and Catherine Zeta Jones.
The story is a pharmacological thriller of sorts, focusing on the unforeseen consequences a new prescription drug has on a young woman’s life. The film currently has an 82% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Peter Travers, for Rolling Stone, writes “Side Effects is a hell of a thriller, twisty, terrific and packed with surprises you don’t see coming.”
Here’s the problem with award season: As soon as Argo won two Golden Globes (for Best Picture and Best Director) last night, I lost all interest in writing about it. It’s a simple fan-girl grudge. I was rooting for other nominees in both categories. Nominees that I thought had made more interesting, more culturally necessary work.
But here’s the thing about Argo. It’s a solid, well-made thriller. My awards angst doesn’t change that delivering a tightly paced, suspenseful film is a very, very hard thing to do. And Affleck did it. Just like he’s done it twice before, withGone Baby Goneand The Town. The man makes fine movies. So what if they stray toward the by-the-book end of the spectrum? It’s a good book (genre rules are rules for a reason), and one that many filmmakers ignore to their detriment. Affleck balances congruent storylines in multiple locations, times needed insertions of humor wisely, and ratchets up the tension like a pro. Because he is one. And maybe that’s the best word to describe his films: Professional. My friend Bryn mentioned that she would’ve liked to know a little more about the hostages and a little less about the Affleck-acted Mendez, and I agree with her. But it’s a small complaint about a very watchable film. Take it off an awards-show pedestal, and you’ll enjoy the heck outta it.
I saw Zero Dark Thirty earlier than its wide-release January 11th opening by chance. A winter storm delayed my holiday trip and landed me in New York City for 24 hours, so I did what I always do when I have unexpected free time: I found a theatre. And that theatre was one of a few in the country showing Zero Dark Thirty.
I stood in a long line of New Yorkers escaping the cold to settle into the cavernous theatre. I had heard snippets of the film’s background (a second collaboration between The Hurt Locker‘s Oscar-winning director, Kathryn Bigelow, and writer, Mark Boal) and its controversy (allegations of too-lenient CIA-access, its portrayal of torture).
I put this visually imaginative thriller from 2000 into my queue after seeing director Tarsem Singh‘s The Fall. I was enamored with Singh’s surreal dreamscapes, saturated color and artfully composed shots. Along with these delicious visuals was a multi-layered story that had emotional heft.
I don’t know much about The Cell, but the movie stills suggest that the film similarly moves through competing realities and places a premium on eye-popping sets and costumes. I’m hoping for Out of Sight- level Lopez and a window into how Singh developed his signature style. (The Cellwas Singh’s debut feature.)