If you go into "The Courier" expecting a feel-good historical drama, you won’t be disappointed.
As literature and media consumers, we’re accustomed to reading stories that fit neatly into one of a few familiar narrative templates. Regardless of genre, even the most unique original screenplays can be reduced down to a basic plot formula that we’ve already encountered a million times (according to author Christopher Booker, there are in fact 7 basic plots, hence the title of his 2004 book). The hero’s journey, for one, is proven cinematic gold, as we’ve seen with the Marvel franchise’s takeover of 21st century cinema. This plot structure not only provides us with a thrilling adventure, but it allows us to indulge in the possibility that we, too, could one day be a hero. With social media personalities plastered all over our screens, it’s nice to escape into a fantasy world where the most ordinary people get the chance to prove their moral strengths. This is the kind of fantasy that screenwriter Tom O'Connor created in his Cold War espionage thriller, The Courier. Working with director Dominic Cooke, O'Connor pulls together a variety of historical sources to craft a classic based-on-true-events story that reminds us why we keep going back to the movies.
“Tell Me Your Secrets” is an emotional whirlwind that eventually runs itself into a wall with Freudian sexual tension
Content Warning: Tell Me Your Secrets involves heavy subject matters that may be triggering to some viewers, including violence and rape. These issues are briefly discussed in the following review.
Available now on Amazon Prime, Tell Me Your Secrets is a mystery/thriller series revolving around two women who have little in common except their unfortunate connection to a convicted serial killer. While it’s not the most original or nuanced thriller, I’d be lying if I said the show wasn’t engaging. The 10 episodes that make up season 1 are so jam-packed with explosive emotions that it almost watches like a desperate attempt to snag viewer attention with drama and shock value amidst the insane amount of streaming content that’s now being produced. One you start watching, you’ll no doubt want to stick around until the end to find out how everything fits together. But you might find yourself rolling your eyes along the way.
Psychological thriller “The Night” masters the familiar haunted hotel setting with technical excellence.
Kourosh Ahari’s psychological thriller, The Night, is a stellar example of a film that may not have the next best original ideas within its genre, but is so well done that it is nonetheless entertaining and worthwhile. Despite a handful of predictable plot points and stereotypical gendered conflicts, The Night’s talented cast and distinct style create a spine-chilling, mind-bending, what-did-I-just-watch experience that reminds us why the horror genre is so exciting.
With a darkly comedic, absurdist and fantastical tone, the style of “The Mimic” is more impressive than its content
The tagline for The Mimic, “the lighter side of being a sociopath,” boasts an intriguing story for anyone interested in representations of mental illness on screen. While this dark comedy from writer/director Thomas F. Mazziotti is not quite the informative and mental health-positive flick you might expect, The Mimic still has several interesting stylistic tidbits to offer. The story’s self-proclaimed narrator (Thomas Sadoski) is a brooding screenwriter and widower who becomes suspicious of the new guy in his neighborhood, referred to as “The Kid” (Jake Robinson). After both men attend a meeting for the community newspaper, The Kid starts following The Narrator around everywhere and popping up in the most unlikely places, leading The Narrator to believe that this unwanted “mimic” is a certified sociopath. However, The Narrator is also pining after The Kid’s young wife, who is characterized as a beauty so perfect that she cannot be shown on screen. As The Narrator takes a deep dive into obsessive research on sociopaths and even begins writing a screenplay about The Kid, it’s hard to tell if he is being stalked by his overeager new neighbor or if The Narrator is turning into a stalker himself. With dark humor and an obscure style, The Mimic is an off-beat, self-referential buddy comedy that touches on psychology and interpersonal relationships.
With strong performances, a compelling story, and a satisfying blend of romance and mystery, all “32 Weeks” needs is a better ending.
Sometimes, writers get a tad bit lazy with their narratives and throw in a character with amnesia as a cheap and easy way to wiggle themselves out of plot holes and avoid the extra work of coming up with a clever twist for their story. Because this predictable soap-opera-style technique is so familiar, it can be easy to dismiss and overlook stories that center around memory loss. However, when used with caution and careful thought, amnesia as a plot device can actually make for compelling storytelling, as is the case with 32 Weeks. This romance/ mystery from writer/director Brian Cavallaro works so well because the protagonist’s memory-loss-inducing-incident occurs right at the start of the story. When Cole (Nicole Souza) wakes up in the hospital after a car accident with no memory of the past 32 weeks of her life, the audience is in pretty much the same boat as Cole with no knowledge of what happened to her during that time. This setup creates a thrilling closed mystery with tons of possibilities that keep us engaged and guessing until the end. However, things begin to fall apart for 32 Weeks when the mystery is revealed with the final “twist,” a somewhat sloppy ending that doesn’t fit with the tone of the rest of the film. Still, the story leading up to that final let-down is a charming journey with some fantastic performances.
After the accident, Cole can remember a lot of things. She remembers her personal information, her apartment, and how to play the violin. She also remembers her best friend and former roommate, Hannah (Nicole Rainteau). What she doesn’t remember, however, is her six-week relationship with the charming, outgoing Simon (Scott Bender). Cheeky but caring, Simon does everything he can to help Cole recover her memories, even though she has absolutely no recollection of him. While Simon knows just about everything about Cole, Cole must essentially start the relationship over from scratch and can only rely on Hannah’s word and her old text messages to be sure that she was even dating Simon before the accident. As flashes from the past begin to come back to Cole like dreams, she gets the thrilling opportunity to get to know the man she had fallen in love with all over again. In soft, romantic sequences with a tinted grainy filter and twinkling music, 32 Weeks takes us back into Cole’s pleasant memories as they all come rolling back to her. However, not all the memories that come back are good ones. As Cole continues to look back through her messages and texts, she realizes that Simon isn’t the only person from her recent past that she has forgotten, and her friends are reluctant to help her fill in the gaps of the more painful memories. Cole is forced to try and put the pieces together herself until the final memory clicks into place.
Tapping into the rich history of water-creature horror flicks, Braden R. Duemmler’s feature debut, “What Lies Below” is quite a mixed bag
As a descendant of the aquatic-creature-horror genre (sub genre? Sub-sub genre?), Braden R. Duemmeler’s feature directorial debut, What Lies Below, naturally inherited some Universal Classic Monsters nostalgia. Besides Creature from the Black Lagoon’s “Gill Man,” (1954) the common ancestor of so many cinematic water-terrors, What Lies Below also takes cues from a handful of other film classics. There’s dashes of Spielburg in the eerie lights that glow from the bottom of the lake, bits of Friday the 13th (1980) in the film’s isolated lake house setting, and echoes of dozens of teen summer camp films in the bright colors of the opening scenes. What Lies Below pulls together an eclectic mix of movie influences, but the question is whether or not all this inspiration actually works together. Although it is an entertaining thriller overall, What Lies Below takes on a bit more than it can handle. The film never quite comes into its own, jumping shakily back and forth between different themes and schemes.
Although its technical aspects are more successful than its plot and characters, torture-horror “Sleepless Beauty” makes for an interesting watch.
Excessive and explicit violence on screen always leads to questions about whether such images are necessary. If a director packs their movie with medieval torture and bodily trauma, does that violence serve a purpose, or is it simply a sadistic celebration of gore that delights in human pain? Is the audience expected to enjoy the blood and torture, or are they likely to have a more complex viewing experience? After watching the trailer for Sleepless Beauty, a torture horror film from director Pavel Khvaleev, I’ll admit that I had low expectations for the film as far as it’s use of violence, and I prepared myself for excessive gore with little meaning or thought behind it. However, I found myself pleasantly surprised by Sleepless Beauty, which, although by no means groundbreaking or flawless, makes a definite attempt to substantiate its numerous torture scenes with a bit of social commentary. While it does not succeed in every instance, Sleepless Beauty aims to create a sympathetic victim, explore her mental state, and ask relevant questions that go beyond the blood and guts on screen.
Although the Fantasia International Film Festival was held virtually this year, it still featured an incredible lineup of wild and visceral films that celebrated everything gory and horrific. Many of the featured titles were loud and boastful with their colorful characters and wacky situations, offering a whirlwind of both dreamy and nightmarish images. On the other hand, some of the films were softer with their style, offering up slow-burning, tense narratives and minimalist imagery that hit with just as strong of an impact. Among this second category of films is the feature debut of director Jeanette Nordahl, Wildland. A tense hybrid of family drama and crime thriller, Wildland is captivating from start to finish, despite its more subdued style.
Originally Published on Elements of Madness
One of film’s unique narrative strengths is the camera’s ability to manipulate perspective. A movie can put us behind the mask of a serial killer on Halloween or on the tip of a shark’s nose just before it attacks. Point-of-view shots are both riveting and revolting. They force us to confront stomach-turning visuals, and yet, as we share the perspective of a character who we care about, we can’t turn away. In the case of Patrick, a selection from this year’s Fantasia International Film Festival, cinematographer Frank van den Eeden capitalizes on the power of perspective to create a detailed and accessible portrait of the emotionally unavailable title character. Patrick is a stylized, darkly comedic thriller that hones in on the anxiety of its antisocial protagonist, exposing (in more ways than one) the ridiculousness of the world around him.
"Our embodied spectator, possibly perverse in her fantasies and diverse in her experience, possesses agency...finally, she must now be held accountable for it."