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The Walking Dead: Stradivarius (2018)
Season 9, Episode 7
I'm starting to forget why I used liked this show.
20 November 2018
Ignore fanboys crying about low ratings. This is the proverbial filler episode with no real plot development and constant hints about a conflict between two characters without telling us what is going on.

The acting is as usual poor. With the loss of many great characters along the way, The Walking Dead has slowed down the kill rate considerably but unfortunately, the characters being preserved are mostly weak. Like the awkward Jesus, whose very name was always completely ridiculous, now taking on a more important role at Hilltop.

Speaking of Jesus, we get to see a cringe-inducing scene where he wrestles in the mud with Aaron. It all ends in laughter and tickles. All that is missing is the Lord of the Rings music and a few hobbit houses in the background. Aaron now has a metal arm which he uses like that villain in the old Enter the Dragon 70s psychedelic classic. You can't make that stuff up.

I don't know who decided Carol should sport a new hairdo but the long hair aren't working. Melissa McBride's wig is laugh-inducing. You see a pattern here? Tickle fights, bad high school drama, people with metal limbs, bad wigs, bad acting... this used to be a bleak, extremely dramatic and mature series. It turned into an average action series with gore. Now it's turning into a boring, predictable soap that's involuntarily funny.

I can see TWD surviving for a tenth season. But it's done after that. And I'm done right now.
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Containment (2016)
So BAD, it's almost good!
12 July 2018
Warning: Spoilers
All hell breaks loose in Atlanta when a mysterious and deadly virus strikes. To contain the outbreak, a "cordon sanitaire" is established, which is a fancy term to say a portion of the city becomes a quarantine zone from which no one enters or leaves.

This self-contained 13 episode mini-series tells the story of several of the people stuck inside the zone, as well as the main outside actors working the crisis. Certain steps are taken by the show runners to show the deadliness of the virus in its gory details but despite the gravity of the situation, this is at all time handled like a poorly written "young adult series".

I won't lie, this is absolutely terrible. It had to be for me to resume writing reviews on imdb, something I used to do frequently ages ago. But the situations, the direction, dialogues and the horrible acting reach the funny side of "bad".

Let's get out the most important piece of entertainment. David Gyasi plays "Lex", a straight arrow cop who has to maintain the integrity of the cordon from the outside, while being worried about his girlfriend who is stuck inside the zone. But Gyasi seems to be acting as if Dave Chappelle was doing a Denzel Washington impersonation. You read that right. He's doing an impression of a guy doing an impression of another guy. Lex is a central character as far as demonstrating the need to remain tough and not allow those in need of assistance inside the zone to go out. He is supposed to be a complex, tortured character but Gyasi atrocious acting skills and his curious interpretation choice become the central comical aspect of the TV series. At times, he's literally trying to be Denzel and fails miserably. You'd swear it's a comedy.

In this drama, everybody has white teeth, most actors are nice looking and recite dumbly their lines. There is a romance striking inside between a rebellious cop and a "single mom" played by Kristen Gotoskie. Problem is, her son is about 11 years old and she's obviously way too young for the part. At one point, her character recites says to her romantic interest "Yeah, I had him extremely young" but you know it's the show producers winking at the audience "We know the actress is too young for the role but she's hot, right?".

At various points, people in the show suffer tragedies that don't seem to register for them as much as they should. People sometimes act carelessly around the virus. Some people suit up for protection, than speak to unprotected people 6 inches away from them. People wear gloves and then throw stuff at others who have bare hands. The cordon zone is constantly compromised. People inside and to get way too close to each other. People buy food from each other. One of the protagonist accepts a water bottle from a complete stranger he just crossed. That guy has one of the best lines later, when his wife just learns of her daughter's death "Oh, my dear... is there something we can do for you?"

I'm pretty sure the poor actress, having to respond to such a stupid line, must have thought: "Yeah, you could find me a better acting gig".
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247°F (2011)
It's difficult to warm to 247°F
15 October 2012
Four friends gather for a weekend trip that turns into a nightmare when three of them end up stuck inside of a sauna.

There's not much to go on other than that for a synopsis but movies banking on a claustrophobic vibe have tackled even bigger challenges. One only has to think about Buried, featuring Ryan Reynolds all alone and six feet under. A good screenplay featuring rich characters and interesting conflicts could probably have carried 247°F but unfortunately, this wasn't the case here.

247°F features cookie-cutter protagonists who follow the usual formula but without much savvy and no heart. Of course, you've got the prototypical troubled girl as the main character. Her carefree hot female friend. The cynical jock who is the hottie's insensitive boyfriend and of course, the more down to earth dude who may or may not hook up with our heroin.

Georgia is a country that more and more international productions are turning to for cost-effective shooting, so I suppose they might as well turn to making their own movies. This one has the look and production values of a typical American straight-to-video. The problem here is the story, the screenplay. The movie begins by highlighting the past of Jenna, a now quiet girl who survived a car accident but lost her boyfriend. 247°F takes place three years later, as a medicated Jenna still struggles to get past that tragedy. Unfortunately, the screenplay and direction never make this gripping.

One could hope the story would finally take off once the three characters get stuck inside but this is not the case either. There is no character development, not much in the way of interesting conflicts. No smart thinking and not much drama unfolding other than the three of them successively losing their temper or arguing pointlessly. All of this intersecting with a few scenes featuring people on the outside going about their business. Will the three find a way out? Will someone on the outside help them? Those two questions are what 247°F is all about but unfortunately, the screenplay doesn't build much suspense. The audience is simply left waiting with very little sense of anticipation being built up.

Scout Taylor-Compton is adequate as Jenna. The other protagonists are played by standard B-movie actors probably picked because they are nice too look at. The music score is decent. There are no major faults as far as cinematography... but as a whole, this is below average film making with no heart, because such a story demands a much richer screenplay.

It should also be mentioned that despite this being listed in the horror genre, there is very little here that qualifies the movie as such. (I personally did not mind and I did not lower the rating for that, but think it deserves to be mentioned so that others won't be disappointed)
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Erased (2012)
A poor man's Bourne
25 September 2012
A US expatriate working as a security expert in Belgium finds out one day he is involved in a conspiracy that may jeopardize his life and that of his teenage daughter.

Director Philipp Stölzl, better known for the highly praised "Nordwand", tries his hand here at a pulse-pounding thriller. Unfortunately, he borrows just about every trick in the Bourne trilogy without ever pulling one off and the story written by Amel is weak at best.

Aaron Eckhart is an incredibly talented and rather versatile actor but once again, makes a bad choice when picking a leading role. Eckhart has absolutely nothing to work with and seems wasted here, despite doing his best. You can even sense there is chemistry with Liana Liberato, who plays his daughter, but to what avail? Liberato plays the token rebellious daughter who you just know will eventually turn around.

Every single person appearing on screen other than these two is a cardboard character reciting lines. This unfortunately includes Olga Kurylenko, playing a possibly corrupt agent who is chasing our hero and seems involved in the conspiracy. Kurylenko usually commands attention on the screen, even in entertaining B movies but here, you barely notice her.

I'm not against knockoffs, certainly not when we're talking about movies as entertaining as the Bourne entries but The Expatriate is a poor knockoff, unworthy of even a single viewing unless you are a fanatic of this type of action thriller. Even then, expect to be disappointed.
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Like Crazy (2011)
23 February 2012
In Los Angeles, Jacob falls for Anna, who is a foreign student. The movie follows the hardships of their relationship when Anna experiences visa problems that could keep her home in the UK.

I was intrigued by the mixed reviews this movie was receiving from IMDb "prolific authors" and after watching Like Crazy for myself, I understand better.

Drake Doremus opts for a stripped down, naturalistic style for this love story that works quite well. A simple structure was built and the actors were allowed to improvised a good part of the dialog. In interviews, the director mentions how he and co-writer Ben York Jones were inspired by their own experiences with long distance relationships and this shows. Doremus captures in many ways the essence of love, the good and the bad of it.

Most reviews, positive or negative have noted the quality acting by the leads, which should tell you something. Yelchin is reliable as usual while Felicity Jones will gain new fans on this side of the Atlantic with a performance showing passion and vulnerability.

If there is something that will divide viewers, it is on the pacing of the story. In around 90 minutes, Doremus packs many, many scenes and events and we see these characters evolve, not only their love lives but their careers. There is a brevity to most scenes which reminds of the structure of a biopic where a lot of material must be covered. You never feel lost through it all but some viewers will probably regret the absence of longer, better structured and scenes that really hit you.

This has been compared to 500 days of summer (probably for its bittersweet take on love) and Blue Valentine (probably for its documentary-style of movie-making) but I was personally reminded of Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, as a film resting squarely on two actors and their chemistry. Unlike Linklater's works however, the script of Like Crazy never really allows us to completely lose ourselves inside this universe and those two characters. It's nonetheless a moving film and very worthwhile.
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A polarizing mixed bag of horror and comedy
21 December 2011
A gang of criminal teenagers team up with a nurse they previously robbed to fight off alien creatures.

Attack the Block takes place mostly in in a UK's council estate (basically, a building apartment that serves as public housing). The movie plays out like a mix between Assault on Precinct 13th (for making their last stand in a building) and Pitch Black (a bickering crew fighting off savage alien critters). And much like those two movies, the protagonists here are not exactly squeaky clean "heroes". In fact, the members of the South London gang are very much portrayed as teenage criminals and the very first thing we see is their entire group robbing a nurse and threatening her with a knife.

Teenage criminality has been a very, very hot topic in the UK lately and it is not surprising that this movie has polarized viewers just for featuring such gang members as "good guys by default". Joe Cornish does tease the audience a bit by first exposing them as harsh criminal but then showing more dimensions to them. The young gang leader, 15-year old Moses somewhat goes through a transformation during the movie, which may be called a redemption by some viewers while stretching credibility for others.

The movie itself plays very much like an 80s creature feature with an extra dose of humor. The aliens are quite silly. And Cornish alternates between gory scenes, comedic elements and at times a little bit of drama. I must say I did not find this blend worked very well but at least, Cornish does try to keep the movie fresh despite the avalanche of clichés on display.

In the end, I thought it was an interesting experiment but not as well done as it could have been.
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Taken (I) (2008)
20 December 2011
When his daughter is kidnapped abroad, a former CIA operative follows the trail of a sex trade ring and stops at nothing to find her.

Taken walks the fine line between "true action movie" entertainment and a a grim thriller. The formula works although there are times when you wish director Morel had made a clear choice between the two.

The movie starts well, establishing ex-CIA operative Bryan Mills as a flawed father with the best of intentions. And once his daughter is kidnapped (during a brilliant iconic scene involving a call between Mills and his daughter) the tension rises considerably. The action sequences impress early on and some people have compared them to the Bourne franchise.

However, the body count starts to pile up at rate that is hard to swallow when the feel and tone of the movie seems like a thriller or procedural flick. This is not Die Hard or Lethal Weapon where you expect a fun romp filled with humor and extravagant scenes and yet, the movie cannot be viewed in a serious tone as Mills leave a huge trail of killing and destruction behind him.

Likewise, the sex slave ring angle gives a grim tone to the entire movie but Taken never fully explores that aspect, keeping the movie fast and furious. The second half of the flick stretches the confine of realism but without ever becoming tongue-in-cheek. Liam Neeson is perfect as Mills but the rest of the cast sleepwalks through the film. Casting Maggie Grace (25 year old during filming) as Mills' 17 year old daughter is very questionable to me. So this is really a Neeson one-man show.

All in all, this is packaged as a tense thriller but is really just a good old action movie where the plot does not make much sense. There is nothing wrong with that but, with a tighter plot and an extra 15 minutes of character development, it could have been an even better movie.

7 out of 10
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Die Hard (1988)
A masterpiece in the action genre
20 December 2011
In Los Angeles, a well-organized group of criminals crash a corporate Christmas party taking place in a high rise building and take everyone hostage, except for one down-on-his luck New-York cop. A bloody cat and mouse game between NYPD officer John McClane and the so-called terrorists ensues.

It's been over two decades since Die Hard was released and having just watched it again, I am amazed at how well it has stood the test of time as a fun action flick. Die Hard created new standards in the action genre that have rarely been achieved this well since then. It all starts with the protagonist John McClane. The character being portrayed as a flawed cop with his own set of problems makes it easy for the audience to relate to his struggles. Director John McTiernan wisely decided to cast Bruce Willis, who was up to that point mostly considered a comedy actor on TV, rather than a big established action star. Willis grabbed this opportunity and turned John McClane into an iconic character in the genre thanks to mixing humor and toughness while still showing the character as fallible. The audience suffers with McClane as the character accumulate bruises and bumps and has to deal not only with the criminals but also with the incompetent authorities.

Another element that explains the movie's success is the vast number of secondary characters who are surprisingly well fleshed out considering the very limited screen time most of them get. Of course, Alan Rickman as the evil mastermind Hans Gruber is perfect. But it is really in the small details given to other characters that we find many great lines.

Die Hard's biggest achievement is probably in how it successfully mixes gritty action while injecting humor at just the right moments. After establishing the scenery in the first 15 minutes, Die Hard begins to gain more and more momentum, seemingly never letting the foot off the gas pedal. But despite that, McTiernan never takes the movie too seriously and we get several memorable lines and humorous moments.

Setting the whole movie inside of a building creates a great sense of claustrophobia for the viewers. The action scenes are brilliant, we wonder how McClane will prevail against a bunch criminals armed with automatic weapons and worse. We share McClane's frustration when the police proves to be clueless, we laugh at the jokes. Technically, the movie is well shot, with few frills and the special effects take a backseat to good old action scenes.

All in all, Die Hard is a brilliant genre movie which will appeal to all action fans but is brilliant enough to entertain viewers who do not usually enjoy this type of film.

A classic.
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Anguish (1987)
A clever idea, poorly executed...
19 December 2011
The core concept of this film is watching a slasher movie about people in a theater... who are watching a slasher movie themselves. The main idea certainly has merits and a lot of potential but alas, writer and director Bigas Luna never achieves it.

The first slasher (the movie within the movie) has occult and psychedelic overtones but is rather silly. It does feature the only two actors worthy of the title in Lerner and Rubinstein. The second film is uninspired at best and features awful acting all around. Both suffer from drawn out scenes that go absolutely nowhere.

The most excitement regarding Anguish is when you first discover you are watching a movie within a movie and then, you wait for something clever to happen... except it never does. Poorly written, shot, acted and edited, Anguish will mostly be remembered as a cool idea that may have been ahead of its time.
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Thesis (1996)
Interesting thriller and commentary
17 December 2011
While working on her Thesis regarding the fascination for violence in the media and entertainment, a student uncovers a snuff movie and suspects the people involved in its making may have ties to her university.

Despite its gruesome subject, this film plays very much like an 80s whodunnit classic. In fact, the camera work in several sequences reminded me of the early thrillers directed by Brian DePalma.

What makes this film is interesting is that for its release time (1996) the film in a way foreshadows what was to come as far as violence and how it is portrayed and promoted in the wave of filmmakers. Amenábar wisely elects to keep most of the violence off screen. Sometimes, it's almost as if you were watching a torture porn film while covering your eyes with your hand during the torture scenes.

The social commentary is great but unfortunately takes a backseat to the whodunnit mystery. We do understand that Angela, the student, is quite conflicted when it comes to violence. She is both fascinated and repulsed by displays of violence and other morbid topics. Two other characters help form a triangle of sort. Angela befriends, Chema an amateur of questionable movies who fully acknowledges his own attraction to violence. Chema is very much a typical, socially awkward person but as the movie progresses, it is nice to see the relationship between him and Angela evolve. The third character is Bosco, played admirably by Eduardo Noriega. Angela suspects Bosco may be involved in the production of snuff movies yet falls for his charming ways.

There are several other characters but Amenábar only brushes on the surface of those. What we are left with is a good movie with some tense scenes but unfortunately also a movie that feels a bit dated. If Amenábar had explored the Thesis angle a little more, this might have been a classic. Instead, he focuses on the mystery aspect and a few thrills.

A solid debut by this director who did much better later in his career.
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Colombiana (2011)
Mildly entertaining but forgettable
30 November 2011
An assassin goes on a killing spree in order to avenge the brutal murder of her parents which she witnessed as a child.

It is not surprising to see Luc Besson producing a film with such a synopsis, as we are in familiar waters here. Once again employing one of his collaborator as director, Olivier Megaton, the story has elements that we often see with Besson. Pure characters whose innocence is lost at the hand of larger than life villains and hyper competent badasses with a heart of gold are a staple of Besson's filmography. You've seen such motifs in Leon, Kiss of the Dragon, The Transporter, Taken and a few others.

Even though the recipe can be overused, it is such a good one that it usually gives an entertaining result and sometimes, even the worse clichés can make a solid entry, such as 2008's Taken. Unfortunately, with Colombiana, something is missing in the ingredients.

On the surface, Colombiana has a lot going for it. Aesthetically, the movie is nice to look at, although no shot is truly memorable. The editing is tight and on par with a standard action movie. Zoe Saldana gives an OK performance but never truly gives the character any depth. The rest of the cast is adequate but have very little to work with. As great as Cliff Curtis can be, you cannot work from a vacuum. But the biggest culprit is the story, which tries to cram a lot of elements and ends up neglecting most of them. Scenes from the protagonist's childhood add very little emotional investment for viewers as they pass by quickly and stretch believability to the extreme. Scenes featuring her uncle-mentor have very little substance, likewise for scenes featuring her romantic interest. All these characters end up eating screen time without adding much to the story.

But Colombiana's cardinal sin may be the way it handles action scenes. Although there are quite a few, none of them is very memorable or handled particularly well. An action movie with a silly story may be redeemed by action scenes but here it isn't the case. Comparatively, Megaton's debut, La Sirene Rouge, had much less action scenes but those few were handled much better.

Colombiana is a good way to kill time for fans of action movies but offers little to anyone else.
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Brothers At War
29 November 2011
As the conflict between North and South Korea reaches a new high in 1950, two brothers are conscripted and forced to abandon the rest of their family in order to defend their country. The younger, Jin-seok, is the pride of his family, a peaceful, quiet student. His older brother, Jin-tae, has a good heart but a more fiery temper and is willing go to any length to protect Jin-seok and send him on his way home as soon as possible. The trials that this war inflicts on both men will transform each of them in different ways.

This above would be Tae Guk Gi in a nutshell, although the film covers a lot of ground and is quite epic in its scale. Many reviewers have mentioned the influence Saving Private Ryan may have had on this movie and although I this this has been exaggerated, I can understand where they are coming from. The battle scenes do seem to borrow stylistically from SVP. They are quite intense, very big yet intensely up close and personal at times. They plunge the viewers right in the middle of all this chaos and can be quite gruesome. There are quite a few battles throughout the movie, and they unfortunately make less of an impact as time goes by due to some repetitiveness.

Having said that, despite the epic scale and quite a few characters being depicted, the bulk of Tae Guk Gi focuses on the two brothers and how war affects them. It is here that the movie scores its better points but also where it fails at times. The changes they both go through are well depicted but unfortunately, from beginning to end the movie is wrapped in melodramatic overtones that make for an awkward viewing at times. Cheesy dialog, overacting and a downright silly score that accentuates it all are all part of the experience.

The movie is nonetheless an intense experience, features likable if flawed protagonists. The characters surrounding them are also interesting and you wish you got to know some of them a little better. The movie gets props for portraying evils done by both sides during a conflict. Around the midway point of the movie, things start becoming interesting as it becomes evident nothing is black and white in war but unfortunately, the script doesn't make the best of this.

This is a recommended war movie as well as a fine film on blood ties and how they cope when everything is on the line.
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Soap opera on film...
14 April 2011
Falsely advertised as a dramedy centering on the relationship between a woman and her stepson, director Don Roos has instead awkwardly mixed genres and themes confusingly, without ever getting to the point.

Nathalie Portman is stunningly beautiful but rings false as a lawyer/grieving mother. There is absolutely no chemistry with Scott Cohen, who is bland to the point of being forgettable. Most of the the actors are mailing their performances with the exception of the kid, Charlie Tahan, who is a nice surprise.

But what this film lacks most of all is a strong story. Instead, we are subjected to what looks like an amalgam of depressing vignettes from the upper middle class in America. On top of being confusing and without purpose, at no point whatsoever can you sympathize with any of the characters. Even the child is obnoxious and unlikable in any way. There are actually few comedy bit and they all fail to even make you smile.

This makes for a film that is devoid of artistic merit and entertainment value. I'll know to avoid Don Roos' work from now on....
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How to make an international thriller on a budget
29 December 2010
Just as his billion dollar financial empire is about to crumble, a scheming businessman evades the authorities and goes on the run. Hot on his trail are two different crime organizations as well as the FBI.

The scope of the story is enormous considering what looks like a shoestring budget but "Across the Line" is what I'd call a straight-to-video thriller done right and much of the credit should go to R. Ellis Frazier who wrote, directed and produced this movie.

Frazier has penned a classic thriller which would end up below average but thanks to the different story threads he has crafted as well as an attention and love for the characters and the setting, it rises from mediocrity. The direction is gritty, down to earth yet tasteful and aesthetic enough for the genre, with tight editing and a great score.

However, where this movie shines the most is probably in the acting department when again, we consider this is a straight-to-video thriller. This movie's casting stands out in all ways. Aidan Quinn stars as Charlie Wright, the con men on the run who now seems haunted by his past. Quinn is simply amazing and it is almost unfortunate to see him give such a performance in a movie that will give him absolutely no chance of recognition at any kind of award ceremony.

Andy Garcia is also breathtaking as a crime lord. Far from the standard caricature of the merciless, threatening boss, Garcia plays up the fragility of his character due to past failures. There is a lot of depth here thanks to Frazier's writing and Garcia's portrayal. Every other cast member is good or even better. Even Van Peebles, who has mailed performances in so many direct-to-video lemons gives a better than usual performance.

Despite Quinn getting the lion's share of screen time, this is very much a story with an ensemble of characters, a dozen or so. Many of those given more attention than we are used to, even in bigger productions.

There are few action sequences here but one stands out in the middle of the film. An intense shootout that may not be as spectacular as Michael Mann's Heat or Christopher McQuarrie's Way of the Gun but is close enough and memorable as well as unpredictable.

The film is not without flaws and unfortunately, loses steam in the last third or so. Clocking at around 90 minutes, there could have been a few more twists and turns and an added 15 to 30 minutes further exploring some of the characters. Perhaps due to the short running time, the film also relies a bit too much on unlikely coincidences and certain characters crossing path a little too often.

But all in all, this is great writing by Frazier (who seems to favor stories taking place south of the border), a solid directorial effort and some smart choices as a producer to surround himself with actors whose stars may have faded a little but are still able to deliver great performances.

I'll be sure to watch Frazier's next effort.
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Amazing Acting and a Good Story
9 December 2010
The dysfunctional family of David Marks appears to have scarred him. His mother's death at a young age seems to haunt him. He is the eldest son of a shady, demanding real estate mogul and seems uncomfortable following in his father's footstep and getting involved in this financial empire. He seems bored, disconnected. One day he meets Katie McCarthy, a sunny and enthusiastic young woman. The story, taking place over several decades, explores their growing relationship and how the weight of David's dark legacy makes it all spiral down.

Andrew Jarecki is better known for the well-received Capturing the Friedmans. This is his first full-feature film and he tackles a difficult project but in many respect, this seems a logical continuation. His past as a documentary maker serves him well, since All Good Things is based on a real story. And much like "Friedmans", once again this is about very scary, dark characters. Jarecki's direction is mostly slick and simple, relying on a script and also an amazing cast

It is David who narrates the story, yet things are kept enigmatic and viewers have to reach certain conclusions. There is an economy in dialogue but everything is put in place for you to have a good idea of what is going on in Marks' life. There's something really powerful yet understated about how David inherited of traits both from his mother and his father, pulling him down. Many people have described the film as a sort of mix of romance and mystery, which is accurate. There are almost noir elements to the film.

What is most remarkable about the film by far is the cast. Ryan Gosling continues his ascension as one of the best actors working today. Kirsten Dunst shows why she has become kind of underrated in a very difficult role. They both play every single emotion perfectly and must use a lot of range and in very few words, we get their characters. Frank Langella as the father steals almost every scene he is in. This is an actor who always took his craft seriously but seems to be getting even better as of late. People talk about the chemistry between Dunst and Gosling but I was amazed by Langella and how he made these two actors better in every scene he was with them. Philip Baker Hall is another veteran who shines here in a smaller role later in the film. It's not easy establishing your character with little screen time but he pulls it. The rest of the supporting cast is excellent. Really strong point (and good for Jarecki, a guy used to film real people and not actors).

Where the film is a little less successful is in drawing the audience in. We feel sometimes as emotionally disconnected from these characters as David and Sanford Marks themselves. Jarecki is almost clinical in his approach. The romance never lifts up and so, the mystery grabs the audience a little less. Visually, the film also ends up a mix bag of more naturalistic shots and weird artsy attempts. There are abrupt flashbacks and forwards that make for an uneven pace and a less engaging experience.

Overall, this is still an interesting take based on a fascinating real-life mystery and a rewarding film if you are patient.
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The Hospital (1971)
Mixed bag
7 December 2010
The Hospital is somewhat of a cult classic for reasons that are obvious but shows unfortunate signs of age and ends up being a mixed bag. The story centers on Dr. Bock (George C. Scott) as well as the rest of the staff and the patients of a Manhattan hospital marred by bureaucratic nightmares while mysterious deaths occur.


Penned by Paddy Chayefsky, this is a rather dark comedy that tackles a lot of issues which, almost 40 years later, are still very relevant. Throughout the story, the apparent flawless nature of science clashes with the failings of the nature of men. The main character Dr. Bock most brilliantly depicts this conflict. Bock is a man with intense desires and a drive to achieve yet is a broken soul. His vocation is to heal and save lives but he suffers himself from illnesses and contemplates suicide.

The main character is amazing but the peripheral characters in The Hospital rarely cut it and most seem like caricatures, lessening the global impact and social commentary of the film. Furthermore, the most interesting parts of the film deal entirely with the bureaucratic aspects and the staff. The mysterious deaths take more and more importance as the story progresses and actually detract from this movie. The last half hour makes the whole almost seem pointless.


On one hand, George C. Scott delivers another performance that demonstrates why he can still be considered one of the greatest actors who ever lived. His character, Dr. Bock, is complex and Scott uses all his range. This is magnificent acting. Unfortunately, the rest of the cast is so-so, due to bad casting choices, weak acting and also uninspiring characters.


Rather bland and unremarkable but still serviceable. We do get a sense of the hospital building but very few shots really grabbed me.

Overall, this is a fine script by Paddy Chayefsky and George C. Scott is amazing, but some of the dialog is badly dated and a better director would have crafted a better overall film. Director Arthur Hiller is mostly renowned for getting great performances out of lead actors but a Kubrick he isn't when it comes to crafting a cinematic masterpiece.
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Lost Souls (2000)
Missed Opportunity For Amazing Cinematographer
23 November 2010
Maya Larkin is the assistant of an exorcist priest. One day, she deciphers what she thinks might be a code in the revelations of one of the possessed victim she interacts with. A code that may lead to unveiling the identity of the man about to become the anti-Christ.

I remember seeing this movie at the time it came out and being terribly disappointed and frustrated because there were flashes of brilliance beneath all the crap. The perspective of seeing the first movie directed by one of the greatest cinematographer of our time, Janusz Kaminski, was enticing for any film buff. Furthermore, it was around the turn of the new millennium and so a lot of horror and occult movie fans were waiting to see a great film tackling those genres. It just seemed... topical. Unfortunately, we were treated to several attempt who all flopped and Lost Souls was one of the worst tries.

At the heart of every movie is a story and here, the writers have done an awful job. A bunch of amateurs wouldn't screw up this bad. Who opens up a movie with a fictional quote from the bible? What kind of awful writer can't come up with genuine material from such a huge book? But here, the writer have come up with an awful story that goes like this. Satan is going to possess a man (born of incest) on his 33rd birthday. Wow.

The central character in the story is Maya Larkin, played by Winona Ryder. I was never a big fan of Ryder but recognize her appeal as a generation X icon. But this role probably was the final nail to her declining A-list status. Larkin is a poorly written character that doesn't make any sense. She doesn't act like a real person nor does her presence around people of the church feels remotely believable. I think Ryder could have done better here but certainly, she started at a disadvantage due to writing.

Opposite Larkin is Peter Kelson, a writer who specializes in demystifying the mind of serial killers. This secondary character is less sketchy and comes alive thanks to actor Ben Chaplin. At the time the movie was shot, Chaplin was an unknown actor. This was on the heels of his role in the acclaimed Thin Red Line. I must say that Chaplin's performance is one of the few redeeming qualities of this movie. He is always believable and his acting in the final scene is what makes Lost Souls still memorable to this day.

Surrounding these two characters are a bunch of nonsensical characters who act pretty like pawns. Most are played by crappy actors although we get two amazing veterans as well in key roles. Philip Baker Hall and John Hurt are wonderful actors but here, they had nothing to work with. Their characters are sketchy, incongruity abounds and it looks like they mailed their performances.

Aside from Chaplin's performance, the other saving grace of this film is the cinematography but here, we have a mixed bag. Many scenes of exteriors and interiors have a jaw-dropping beauty and ethereal quality to them. This movie, it must be said, has aged very well in this respect. There's a timeless quality to the cinematography that is certainly due to director Janusz Kaminski. One of the main person responsible for the look of several Spielberg movies, among others. Many scenes are delightful and atmospheric.

However, this is a mixed bag. Every scene where tension should be present pretty much flops. For instance, all the exorcism scenes are awful. And seem to come straight from a FOX occult show like the X-Files, using black and white image and devoid of absolutely any impact. You never feel scared. Worse, it doesn't even feel tensed. As a viewer, you just sit there and remotely watch was is happening. Kaminski is also totally unable to film kinetic scenes. Any scene where a car bumps into something, or people draw knives or guns is sketchy, unfinished, amateurish and devoid of any life.

Much has been said of "plot twists" within the film. You can read about those in the Lost Souls forum on IMDb but really, none of the theories hold of to any scrutiny. What we have here is not ambiguous writing with possible twists but just plain bad writing. The final scene impacted me as a viewer but can't save a movie that has a nonsensical plot that isn't even remotely based on genuine religious history. It's just made up stuff by awful writers, turned into a movie y a first time director who was way over his head.

It's still heartbreaking because there are things Janusz Kaminski obviously excels at but the overall direction of a film was too much at this point. Maybe a more solid script would have helped him. Since then, Kaminski has been back to his cinematographer gig alongside Spielberg. He never directed a movie again but here we are, ten years later and it appears his next directorial effort is in production. Hopefully he learned from the previous experience!

Avoid Lost Souls at all costs, or skip to the final scene.
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Winter's Bone (2010)
The lesser of two evils...
18 November 2010
I had a very bad feeling about this movie, half expecting a pointless and artsy flick with no semblance of a plot. Boy, was I wrong.

In a nutshell, the movie follows Ree Dolly, a teenage girl stuck in a dirt poor area in Missouri, trying to get by with her younger brother and sister and their depressed, lethargic mother. Their father is an absent figure, known to be involved in the production of meth, like many locals looking for cash in this barren, economically dead area. The environment, the people surrounding her... everything is bleak, harsh and brilliantly depicted by director Debra Granik but that's only the start of this film. One day, she learns her father has jumped bail. Problem is, the house was put on guarantee. Ree and her family will lose what little they have as the house will be seized in a week.

But Ree is convinced her father may well be dead. She embarks on a quest to find out what happened to him and where he is. And in the process, must face and question people no teenage girl should have any business with, ever.

Granik's direction is absolutely brilliant. Gritty, hearty, uncompromising. Some scenes are more chilling and tensed than any horror movie you could imagine. This movie is not for the faint of heart.

Even the whole point of her quest is painfully tragic and without much hope. Which is the lesser of two evils? If Ree finds out and proves her dad is dead, her family is now fatherless and she must continue to be the main provider at the age of 17. If Ree's dad is still alive, it means he jumped bail and is now a fugitive, and Ree and her family are now homeless.

The acting is fantastic. Jennifer Lawrence was a revelation here and has guaranteed herself a career with role. It wold take a string of duds for her to stop having work. The character Bree was a challenging role and it would have been easy to overdo things. The other spectacular performance with much less screen presence is by John Hawkes, who plays Bree's uncle. Teardrop is pretty much as legendary as any character could get in that sort of low-key drama. Hawkes steals every scene he is in and conveys a scary, menacing attitude while leaving a lot of depth and humanity show through. I've seen John Hawkes in tons of movies and I never, ever expected that kind of performance from him. I hope it gets him noticed. Many other performances are great but it would be too long to list.

Winter's Bone is for me, without a doubt, one of the best movies of 2010. The plot is terrific and original, flirting with several genres without ever employing clichés for the sake of it. It is memorable and fresh. All the characters are fascinating, the situations interesting and director Granik's depiction of the Ozarks environment plunges you in this world. Best viewed when you're in the mood for a quite dark movie.
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The Reef (2010)
The Reef reeks...
18 November 2010
In 2003, director Chris Kentis took advantage of the return of low budget movies to unleash something that drew much interest: Open Water. It was a short film, slowly paced, focusing entirely on two characters played by somewhat unknown actors, trying to survive sharks in the water. It was some kind of hit and a few years later, an unrelated sequel (Open Water 2) to cash in was made, following roughly the formula but without the heart. A year after that, we were treated to the same kind low-tech filmmaking but this time featuring a crocodile. It was directed by David Nerlich and Andrew Traucki and aptly titled Black Water (follow the cashing-in pattern here?).

It is now 2010 and the same director Traucki, of Black Water is back. Despite not calling this one "Death Water" or something similarly inane, we're back to the same formula Chris Kentis originally created. What is weird is that Traucki goes even closer to the original Open Water than his previous rip-off did.

The formula is roughly the same. We're quickly introduced to the five main characters without much character development or semblance of a plot. They sail away and end up in a predicament when they must swim their way back to shore. That's when (surprise) they are confronted to a big, fierce shark roaming and looking for a snack.

The pacing is slow, following this sub-genre tropes but there is no tension buildup. Proof that Traucki misses the point of the 2003 original. Alarmingly, this is even a setback for Traucki as Black Water at least featured interesting terrain, giving more options to his characters, who were also more lifelike and interesting. Here, there is very little to redeem the movie.

I would venture to say watching the still classic Jaws, the original Open Water and even Traucki's first rip-off, Black Water, will satisfy viewers much more than watching this new entry. It never makes me happy to give a low score to filmmakers on a budget who must use guerilla marketing and creativity to produce and promote their movies. But at the same time, one has to bring something new to the plate and this movie doesn't.

After seven years of the same film repackaged time after time, these waters aren't fresh anymore and The Reef reeks...
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Red Hill (2010)
16 November 2010
Shane Cooper has just moved to the small town of Red Hill. On his first day as a constable, he must try to stop a very dangerous convict who just escaped and is coming back in town for unfinished business.

In a nutshell, this is Red Hill and those few lines alone are sufficient to understand this plot contains classic western elements. Director Patrick Hughes seems to understand the genre very much and seamlessly blends it to the somewhat modern context.

Taken as a very serious film, Red Hill might not score very high but thankfully, Hughes doesn't take it too seriously and has written a smart script that has great ingredients and builds up the tension gradually. His direction is likewise efficient, mixing contemplative scenes with straight up action/thriller. Overall, it's got some mood to it while never forgetting it's first and foremost a piece of entertainment.

At the heart of the film are the main characters. Hughes doesn't offer much exposition for and still succeeds in giving a lot of life to most of them. This is in part good writing and direction but also due to the very talented cast. Ryan Kwanten stars as young constable Shane Cooper and he conveys very well the "main hero" vibe by being human and vulnerable rather than just a squeaky clean superhero. Steve Bisley plays Bill, his boss who represents the law in town and pretty much seems to run it. Bisley is amazing to watch and steals many of the scenes he is in with great charisma and a domineering personality. When he talks, people listen. Finally, Tommy Lewis plays Jimmy Conway, the convict on the loose. Lewis succeeds in giving his character a brutal, menacing aura without uttering a single word, which I find very impressive.

One of the very impressive element of Red Hill is the stunning music score. Absolutely wonderful work by Dmitri Golovko, who has very few credits to his name. The script shifts through different tones and moods and Golovko is always right on target, never overdoing it. Expect to hear more from this guy in the future.

Despite all the praise, Red Hill is not perfect. The surrounding characters in the story (other officers of the law, various citizens and Cooper's wife) are too sketchy. The cinematography is cool but few scenes are really memorable and absolutely nothing will make your jaw drop. The action scenes range from "pretty cool" to "lacking". The western genre is cleverly revisited and transposed to our times but Hughes doesn't bring anything new at all. What you have a cool film that partly reminded me of classic Walter Hill movies. I wish Hughes had given just another pass to his script, fleshing out some characters and situations just a little more and given slightly more thought to some scenes, including the conclusion which I feel was slightly anti-climactic the way it was shot.

But if you're a fan of classic western or old school action thrillers that do not sacrifice a smart script just to string one action scene after another there is no doubt Red Hill should at least entertain you. Australian cinema keeps on expanding in all directions and I keep on loving it!

For his first full feature, Patrick Hughes has done very well and I am looking forward to more films written and/or directed by him.
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The Dark Hour (2006)
Sci-fi b-movie... the European way
10 October 2010
This lackluster Spanish sci-fi film tells the post-apocalyptic tale of a small group of people trying to survive in an underground complex.

There's no doubt that there is a quirky Euro feel at work here but it isn't enough to save a very weak script and poor direction. Elio Quiroga probably did not have much budget to work with but his use of the environment is unbearably bland compared to filmmakers that preceded him. And there is no doubt that had this movie been produced and shot in the US with American actors, the rating would be much lower.

Some reviews have praised the actors on display when they are in fact terrible. Not that they are entirely to blame because the script itself is ladden with clichés and has a raw, immature feel to it. All the characters are essentially cardboard stereotypes defined by their function or simply (and dumbly) by their demographic. "Here's the scientist, the soldier, the kid, the old loner and oh, the homosexual". Talk about poor writing there.

The film starts abruptly and then unfolds slowly and as an audience, you expect you will gradually understand the stakes here, what these survivors are hiding from. There are various threats to their survival but none make any sense and eventually, you figure out that what you thought would be explained is really just poor writing.

Where the film shines however is with its quirky style of aesthetics. There's definitely a strong Euro flavor to the way this movie was shot, and there's also a lovely vibe of the old cold war sci-fi going. In this sense, director Quiroga is like a poor man's Terry Gilliam.

While La Hora Fria touches upon several genres (drama, sci-fi, horror, action) it unfortunately fails to excel at even one of those and ends up being a major disappointment. The big "reveal" at the end just can't save this movie.

Very disappointed at the rating. I guess IMDb viewers are traditionally more lenient when rating b-movies that are foreign.
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Fears of the middle class...
9 October 2010
A middle class couple's dinner is interrupted when three young men, looking for their son, take them hostage in their suburb home.

Recently, many gritty thrillers mixing elements of horror have originated from the UK portraying the tension and clashes between the middle class and young criminals referred to as "chavs". Eden Lake was a stellar example of this, mixing element of a youth crime thriller and survival.

Cherry Tree Lane is the latest offering of this sub genre, playing on fears of these so-called "chavs", a term that spread like wildfire throughout Britain around 2005 and has been the cause of many debates since then.

Director Paul Andrew Williams attempts to goes back to his first success, 2006's "From London to Brighton" by emphasizing a documentary style with naturalistic dialog in a conventional, claustrophobic home invasion setting. The whole film takes place inside the house, most scenes involving action of some kind are implied and take place off camera and the actors were unknown to me, which suggests a relatively small budget.

Cherry Tree Lane feels terribly clinical as far as the writing and direction is concerned. This is not a bad thing when done well but here, nothing presented feels particularly new in light of the films that came before and nothing is done particularly well either. First and foremost, none of the five main characters are terribly interesting. We barely get to know the couple before the chavs' intrusion and from then on, both of them spend the major part of the movie with tapes on their mouth. The three chavs are sketchy characters and Williams never allow us to learn much about them, their lines being boring and feeling like clichés. Andrews makes it very clear that they are criminally dumb, leaving prints, evidence and DNA which we, as viewers, know will certainly lead to their arrest and yet, their morose, blasé attitude suggests they are accustomed to this level of violence and aggression. Totally implausible as they would have been off the street long before the events taking place in this movie.

Even worse, for the last act of the movie, Andrews introduces three more characters, even more young and again, their attitude seems robotic and artificially detached from the events taking place. I get the social criticism attempted by the writer/director but it is so poorly made I didn't buy it.

Where other films exploring similar themes (Clockwork Orange, Funny Games, Eden Lake, Straw Dogs) are percussive and expansive, this one seems like a bit of a waste despite good intentions. As far as documenting a phenomenon, Andrews fails compared to other directors, as far as sending a particular message, he fails as well.

With more polished writing, this might have gone somewhere but as it is, Cherry Tree Lane has all the substance of Death Wish and none of the entertainment factor.
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Frozen (I) (2010)
Frost, height and wolves: choose your poison
8 September 2010
Warning: Spoilers
Dan, his girlfriend Parker and his best friend Joe are out skiing when the unthinkable happens: they end up stuck on a chairlift, high above the ground. It's freezing and it's Sunday. Nobody might find them before next Friday.

Cult horror director Adam Green uses this simple premise and manages, with only three characters and a static location to build tension and captivate the audience. Green has come a long way since his more ironic indie attempts such as Hatchet. In Frozen, he paces the film extremely well and plays with his characters' psychology, constantly juggling with three different threats.

On one hand, the longer our characters wait, the more they suffer from cold as well as starvation. This particularly menace is well depicted by Green, who puts his characters through hell in that respect. Viewers will cringe seeing some of the effects of frost. On the technical side, however, the characterization and plot seems a little off. Parker, Dan and Joe seem a little too reckless with regards to cold. You would also expect air condensation from people breathing and talking in a sub-zero environment.

The second threat is simply that of height. If our characters do not want to die in the chairlift, they must get to the ground. But how? The film is superb in playing the fear of height at times. There is really a feeling of hopelessness and panic, especially at first. Our characters are terribly isolated and the mood heavy. Again, on the writing and technical side there are weaknesses and solution our characters ignore, which may frustrate certain viewers. There were course of actions taken I felt were stupid but nobody will deny that Green can showcase the gruesome consequences in all their glory.

The third threat of the movie, and the one many have talked about are a pack of wolves underneath, roaming and waiting for our characters should they safely reach the ground. The animals used in the film are impressive, the scenes are ripe with tension and atmosphere. Unfortunately, people more familiar with the woods, nature and these predators will have a hard time buying the ferocity and decisiveness of these wolves. There are virtually no wolf attack on humans, unless you corner them and they would result in death only if you were a young child or infant.

Despite the plot holes and flaws in each of the three "threat angles" I have to commend the filmmaker for making a fine horror movie that runs like an effective thriller most of the time, creating and releasing tension at the right times. The three actors portraying the protagonists, Kevin Zegers, Emma Bell and Shawn Ashmore all give believable and sometimes visceral performances. Ashmore stood out for me. Bell was also good.

This isn't the finest written or directed film of the year. There will be no Oscars for the actors either. But as far as an indie movie, this is a great ride that will make you sometimes cringe, sometimes feel sorry for the characters. Although the start makes you think you're watching yet another teenage vanilla horror flick, things quickly take a very dark turn and there is enough character building for you to care about these folks. The cinematography is also very nice and there is effective, if sparse, use of music.

The film has been compared to a "Ski resort jaws" but the effects of the frost sometimes make it play almost like a "Cabin Fever", where people are slowly eaten away. What makes the film enjoyable is that each solution might bring a new problem, without the need to artificially build unbelievable plot twists.

The reason I give it such a high rating is that, for a film that doesn't rely on cheap stunts, it is particularly horrific at times and stomach-churning. I truly would never want to be in the predicament these three are facing...
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Centurion (2010)
Playing cat and mouse with the Picts
24 August 2010
A group of Roman soldiers who survived an ambush are chased relentlessly by a hunting party of Picts. As with every other movie by Neil Marshall (The Descent, Doomsday) this big screen epic attempts to mix the grittiness of European filmmaking with the entertainment values of Hollywood movie-making. And as is becoming signature with this director, Centurion pursues his tradition to feature very strong and memorable female characters.

While it is Centurion Quintus Dias (Michael Fassbender) who is the protagonist as the somewhat reluctant leader of our heroes, the most memorable character on screen is Etain, a Brigantian tracker played by Olga Kurylenko. Etain's tribe was massacred by the Romans and she took refuge with the Picts. Her backstory is a powerful device that explains all the hatred she has for Romans and the length she will go to exact revenge. Neil Marshall makes great use of actress Kurylenko and she literally eats the screen in almost every scene she is in, despite her character being mute. Etain reaches iconic status as far as I'm concerned, much like Karl Vreski (Die Hard).

The actual plot, despite its historical context, is less Gladiator and more Apocalypto. Several battles are extremely gritty, entering gory territory as blood flows. There are a lot of CGI sequences mixed with traditional effects but they do not detract from the experience too much. Quintus' bunch of survivors are portrayed by a group of effective actors but the movie's short length prevents much characterization. Where Marshall is more effective is in the portrayal of the Picts. In very few words, several characters stand out throughout the movie.

Everything is fairly entertaining but the movie never quite reaches classic epic status due to its short length and several incongruities. For instance, I still don't understand why two healthy and armed soldiers would run away from wolves, nor why wolves would pursue them (that simply flies in the face of anything we know about the behavior of wolves). Etain is also ordered to severe the heads of the men she is chasing but conveniently omits certain characters so that they survive their injuries, which makes no sense and is transparent bad writing. Likewise, when the Romans have a chance to steal or kill the Picts' horses, they simply ignore this opportunity. These plot holes add up pretty fast and detract from our experience, turning what could have been a classic into just a great pop corn flick.

But an entertaining pop corn flick it is, despite its faults! I wish Marshall would be slightly less ambitious, as it seems he is at his best working on smaller scale movies but he still has a knack to shoot fun films and create engaging characters. Special kudos for not glorifying the Roman empire and especially, for not portraying the Picts as clear-cut villains. Although the structure of the film firmly puts the Picts in the "baddies" slot, there are several hints and a lot of subtext that, on the contrary, showcases the Roman empire as bloodthirsty invaders, plotting backstabbers and savages themselves.

Every amateur of sword epic will want to see this one at least once, possibly several times.
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Traceless (2010)
Downward spiral
24 August 2010
Étienne Meunier (Benoît Magimel) is a young executive who has everything going for him. His career is skyrocketing and he is about to become #1 at work, he is married to a picture-perfect wife, has a dream home and money. To top it off, he's charming, healthy and everyone likes him and seems to consider him "a great guy". But beneath the surface, not everything is perfect. Meunier feels some pressure at work, knowing others eye his future position and he and his wife have been unable to have children so far. One day, Meunier bumps into a childhood friend, Patrick Chambon (François-Xavier Demaison) and the two resume their friendship, despite Chambon having struggled as a petty criminal. With mounting pressure on him, Meunier confides to Chambon the secret of his success. He built his career on a lie, stealing a soap formula from someone and can't get over it. His long lost friend tries to help but sets off a chain of events that threatens everything Meunier holds dear.

At its heart, Sans laisser de traces is very much the classic story of a protagonist being held back by another character close to him. The more Chambon tries to help, the more complicated things get for Meunier but the more difficult it is to dissociate himself from his "friend". Despite the story being constructed like a fairly conventional thriller, director Grégoire Vigneron does a good job building characters in shades of grey, never taking things over the top and turning this into a clear cut situation.

At the center of it all is Étienne Meunier, played expertly by Magimel, who sheds his blockbuster aura for this character, much like Harrison Ford did in the early 90s by taking on more fallible roles (Regarding Henry and Presumed Innocent). At no point are we manipulated into thinking Meunier is pure as snow, nor does he turn into a simple crook. We simply witness a man who is willing to do the right thing but also explores the possibility of wronging others if it might help him save his own skin.

Other elements throughout the story also hint that Meunier may not be such a great guy. After all, the woman he married is the daughter of his current (soon former) boss and a lot of his pleasant personality may seem calculating at times. All these things prevent the movie from simply being "another thriller" and instead offer a more dramatic experience.

If there was something missing for me, it was in the character of Chambon, Meunier's friend. For one, actor Demaison did not wow me with this performance and I felt at times, the chemistry was a bit lacking between these two actors. Much of the plot and events unfolding depend on Chambon's actions and suggestions and the actor did not "sell me" on the character.

Overall, Sans laisser de traces remains a fairly entertaining take on a somewhat classic plot structure. It never becomes embarrassing or too far-fetched. Several peripheral characters (played by a solid cast) keep things interesting and lifelike. However, nothing here is truly memorable and its resolution feels a little too neatly tied up for my liking.

Because of this, I recommend it as a rent but I doubt I would watch it more than once.
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