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The Architect (2016)
A strange mix of the familiar and the offbeat
This is a movie with a story that, while far from being a cliché, contains elements we've seen before--the most familiar of which is the ostensibly happy suburban couple whose lives are upended by the intrusion of a stranger who causes the couple to realize that they aren't quite as happy as they thought. In the formula, one of the partners almost always welcomes the interloper, while the other is immediately suspicious. That's the case, here.
This film is billed as a comedy, and it has several quite funny moments, but nothing that's going to have you rolling in the aisles. It's consistently amusing. The performances are uniformly excellent, the characters are well drawn, it's got a really strong soundtrack, it's well shot, and seems to have been done on a tight budget--a budget kept low thanks, in part, to some seamless and smart visual effects.
The movie has an unusual tone--set right from the start by the animated credit sequence. The odd and arresting soundtrack also contributes to the strange tone. I doubt it will get much of a regular release (I saw it at the Vancouver Film Festival) because of its determinedly indy tone.
SPOILER IN THE NEXT PARAGRAPH: The script has some problems. The situation is just never pushed far enough, and the sense of jeopardy to the protagonists--the distressed couple--never becomes as dire as it should be. I was never really rooting for them, never feared for their marriage. Not because I didn't believe it could disintegrate, but because I just didn't care that much whether it failed or not. And the resolution is very weak. In the end, it seems the Parker Posey character returns to her husband not because she realizes that her marriage is worth saving, but because the architect turns out to be a fraud. Whatever happened to her complaint that her husband was stifling her? Of course, if that was the writer's intent--to point out that the couple's marriage held together only because of a lack of better alternatives--then I suppose the point is made. But it doesn't exactly leave you with a warm fuzzy feeling that a comedy is supposed to.
Operation Avalanche (2016)
An Amazing Feat of Filmmaking
This film starts as a comedy and ends as a thriller, a neat trick if you can pull it off, and these filmmakers pull it off with style! This might just be the most ambitious and audacious low-budget film I've ever seen.
At the VIFF showing where I saw it, someone in the audience at the Q & A asked the director if he was a fan of the 1977 conspiracy thriller Capricorn One. Matt Johnson answered that he was, although he didn't find it a terribly plausible thriller. He did admire it for the aerial chase scenes.
I'm in complete agreement with him. The helicopter/biplane chase scene is one of the best chase scenes of any kind ever filmed, IMHO. But, overall, the story is pretty hard to swallow.
What Operation Avalanche shares with that film are some wonderful plot reversals and a thrilling escalation of the stakes as the movie develops. The scheme at its heart is considerably more plausible than the one in the Peter Hyams film. Plus, the dialogue in Avalanche is way better.
The only thing about Operation Avalanche that I found hard to accept was *why* some of the scenes were being filmed and who was filming them (it's a "found footage" movie) but the story was so well structured that I easily forgave that hiccup. There were also a few anachronistic dialogue slips that gave away that the film was written by a millennial (for example, at one point, a character says "And I'm like. . . " instead of "And then I said. . . ", an idiom that didn't appear until about 15 years ago) but that, I suppose, is one of the hazards of improvised dialogue. Visually, the film is very convincing looking.
The director's stories of how he pulled off filming it right under NASA's nose is the icing on the cake. Hopefully, some of those behind-the-scene stories will find their way onto this movie's eventual release on BluRay or DVD.
What a gem.
A compendium of cop-show clichés
This show has them all. I'll just list my favorites:
1) The cop who's trying to quit smoking. 2) The cop whose character is being unjustly smeared in court by the pit bull lady lawyer. 3) The cop who, at moments of emotional stress, retreats to the nearest public bathroom to splash water on his face and give himself a long, hard look in the mirror. 4) The attractive, much-younger woman who just can't help throwing herself at this dead-eyed lug. 5) And probably my favorite: The cop who can somehow afford the house with the $5 million view of the out-of-focus lights of Los Angeles twinkling below. While he swills scotch and listens to jazz. Played on his vinyl turntable.
And all of that in episode one! If I were to watch the rest of this season I would look forward to him driving through a vegetable stand during a car chase. Or getting shot one week before retirement.
There's some good acting, here. But so far, the tired story is unfolding at a snail's pace.
It's not enough to bring me back.
A good film, just way, way too slow--especially the first hour
This film could have been an eight or a nine. It's well acted, shot and directed. Loved that opening shot. I found that the story events stretched credulity just the right amount for a thriller. And I loved the gimmick of having high school level English the common language of the main characters, who would otherwise be unable to communicate with each other.
The drawback of this hyper-realistic, one-shot filming technique is that everything has to happen in real time--including the getting-to-know-you first hour, which is essential to make the improbable things that Victoria does in the second hour believable. So I understand the dilemma.
The problem is that this first hour of chit-chat and bonding is excruciatingly slow. Watching it was like being the only sober person at a drunken frat party. Clearly, a lot of people (and certainly the critics) didn't mind.
Me, I watched it and at about the 30-minute mark I found myself thinking, "And *that's* why we have cuts in movies. So that it doesn't take two-and-a-half hours to tell a 50-minute story."
Inventive, Suspenseful Film spoiled by Baffling Character Behavior
There's a lot to like about Coherence. It has an original premise. It's well acted and the dialogue has a nice naturalistic feel.
Unfortunately, the conflict and paranoid atmosphere felt forced to me. It's all well and good to have one character, Mike, who has a drinking problem and such hostility toward himself that he assumes that his Doppelganger will try to kill him. But why are all the other characters in this film so paranoid and on edge from the beginning? They're a bunch of self-absorbed yuppies, not escaped murderers from a maximum-security prison.
You're at a dinner party, there's a power outage so the lights go out, and then there's a knock at the door so. . . you startle as if they threw a rock through your window? And then grab a baseball bat before answering? This seems odd, especially when two members of your party have just left to go investigate the house up the street with the intention of asking to use the phone. If it were me, I'd just assume that someone was probably coming to my door to ask the very same thing.
And once these characters figure out that reality has fractured and that there are duplicates of themselves from another reality running around--I still don't understand what they're so afraid of. I mean, obviously that would be a freaky and unsettling situation. But once your doppelganger has demonstrated, by leaving exactly the same note that you wrote on your front door, that he behaves exactly as you do, wouldn't you at least be somewhat curious to meet him or her? Most of these characters seemed reasonably intelligent and rational. Why should they be so automatically fearful of these alternative selves--even after they've accidentally spent time with them and found them to be benign.
I think the writer needed a stronger trigger for all the fear and hostility.
And as several commenters here have mentioned, the camera work is bad. I understand that hand-held is used to add energy and tension to a scene, but there's no excuse for things like that interminable opening shot in which no part of the frame is in focus. It's just annoying.
The Last Ship: SOS (2014)
I'm With Devilsgerbil on this one
Another episode spoiled by completely unbelievable moments.
For example, they bring the Jamaican Typhoid Mary aboard the Nathan James without any quarantine or examination at all. Sure, she appears to be immune to the plague, herself, but did anyone ever think that she might still be a carrier of the disease? Apparently not. They just pipe her aboard in the clothes she was wearing when they found her. Not so much as a hot shower--even though she came from a boatload of corpses that have died from the plague.
Give me a break. I can understand fudging naval protocol to some degree to heighten the drama but you have to at least maintain the main antagonist in this story--the plague itself.
The Last Ship: Dead Reckoning (2014)
tasic from Thailand is absolutely right
This show has a great premise, strong, suspenseful story lines and some likable, layered characters. Admittedly, I'm a sucker for apocalyptic plague thrillers.
But after watching the first season, I have to say that almost every episode is sabotaged by one or two moments of complete unbelievability--either in the behavior of the characters or the workings of a naval warship (and I'm no authority on naval procedures, but I can rub two thoughts together).
In addition to the ridiculous moments tasic described (which I also noticed as I was watching the show) there was the moment where the crew of the Nathan James use about ten feet of Reynolds Wrap and a couple of light stands to replicate the radar signature of a ship that must be at least 200 feet long and four stories tall, and another where they try to convince us that a Soviet destroyer doesn't have the capability to detect when another ship floating within view has started or stopped its engines through hydrophones.
In another episode, a small team of commandos is able to infiltrate a Russian warship (who are expecting them to arrive) and sneak through half its length without encountering a single Russian sailor. It was pretty ludicrous.
It's a pity, because these moments just take you out of what could be a very good series and make you say, "Oh, come on. Do you really expect me to believe this?"
The Finest Hours (2016)
The moments of high suspense work, troughs between the waves not so much
The main story worked well. The action scenes and effects were great. I found it quite suspenseful.
The attempts to wring every last bit of emotion out of the quieter character moments were sometimes forced and made me want to shout at the screen, "So get on with it!"--Like the moment when all the freighter crew are aboard the rescue vessel and Casey Afleck is asking Chris Pine if he knows the way back to shore and Pine's explaining to him, "Well the wind was coming from my left on the way out, so I figure if I keep it to my right I'll be heading back in and if we just look out for some lights. . . " Which seems like a reasonable enough plan. However, in the meantime, some of these men have actually fallen overboard and must be dying of hypothermia but Captain Pine stands there brooding over the helm with the boat's motor idling, discussing his plan instead of JUST GETTING ON WITH IT. You can talk and drive at the same time, right Chris . . ? Same with a lot of scenes with fishermen huddled over coffee mugs telling us how dangerous it is to be out there on the water on a night like this instead of just getting the camera out there and showing it (which eventually the movie does; it just takes its sweet time about it).
SPOILER ALERT: So, was anyone else bothered by the fact that, as the rescued freighter crew climbs, one by one, off the rescue boat and onto the dock that they all (with the exception of Pine) appear to be BONE DRY? I mean, some of these crewmen were actually overboard, floundering in the ocean, just a half an hour earlier. And it's been snowing ever since.
So how did they dry off in an open boat? An open boat that, by the way, appears to have the abilities of a submarine in a few scenes. How does an internal-combustion engine run underwater like that? Without air?
Could've used one of those on the freighter.
A Film in Which the Protagonist has no actual problems
I had little empathy for the heroine of this story because she has almost no obstacles to overcome. Okay, she's got a cranky boss. Fortunately, her sister has saved up enough money to send her to America--where the parish priest has already found accommodation for her. And, where everybody is nice to her. And where a sincere, kind and handsome man courts her and proposes marriage. Oh, and the parish priest pays for her schooling. And she breezes through her exams because she's smart as a whip.
Then, about halfway through the movie, tragedy strikes. But it's an event so sudden and so far away that there's really nothing our heroine can--or is expected to--do anything about it. So while it's sad and unfortunate, it's nothing she can act on.
Phew! For a moment there, I thought our protagonist might actually have to do something besides accept the next kind offer of assistance.
Returning to Ireland, she's courted by considerate, handsome fella #2. But to make matters worse. . . she's offered a high-paying office job--doing the very thing she aced all her exams in! Will the tribulations of this woman never end? For a while, I was afraid she might win the lottery.
The worst thing to happen to her is that she gets seasick and is locked out of the head. SHE HAS TO USE A BUCKET. Oh, the humanity! Someone should have told the screenwriter that this is an insufficient problem to build a drama around.
How Wrong I Was
So I remember watching this series as a child (through the ages of about 10 to 14)--although I have no recollection of this particular episode. I recall clearly that I didn't think much of it at the time. I found the kids cloyingly cute, the score somewhat mawkish and overbearing, and the laugh track intrusive.
I do remember John Byner's hilarious stand-up bit in which he does an impression of Brian Keith, kneading his face at every opportunity as if it were a lump of bread dough. That, and the MAD Magazine satire pretty well sealed the deal for me. I thought it must be a pretty bad show.
I saw a re-run of this episode today, and am a little embarrassed to admit that I was practically moved to tears. Admittedly, the subject of terminal illness in children is a pretty easy way to get me. But I was stunned by the *economy* of the writing. There isn't a wasted word or moment in the whole thing. There isn't a scene that goes a second beyond the instant that its point has been made.
The acting, especially by Keith, was great.
And that ending (really a twist ending) in which French and Uncle Bill think they've pulled the wool over the eyes of the kids (with the most noble of intentions) only to find out that Buffy has figured out exactly what's going on--all without a word of dialogue. It was, as one of the other reviewers here put it, heartbreaking.
There's never a point at which any of the characters says, "The kid is going to die." There are no tender homilies or lectures to the kids explaining to them the essential tragedy of the biological condition. None of the on-the-nose, expository, radio-with-pictures dialogue that burdens the worst TV dramas I see today: "You know, Ashley, all your father and I--who died in a tragic drug overdose when you were a baby--ever wanted was for you to be happy, even though I could never blah blah blah."
Here, it's all communicated through reaction shots and people doing their best to protect each other from the inescapable and awful truth.