22 September 2017

Top Ten: Modern Vampire Movies!

Welcome to our new Top Tens series in celebration of I Think, Therefore I Review's Tenth Anniversary! These monthly lists will highlight special themes and topics from our extensive archive of reviews. 


This time I Think, Therefore I Review presents in reverse chronological order...

Our Top Ten Modern Vampire Movies!

Please see our Vampire tag for much, much more or browse our Horror page and Viewing Lists for yet more scary analysis!

I Think, Therefore I Review began as the blog home for previously published reviews and reprinted critiques by horror author Kristin Battestella. Naturally older articles linked here may be out of date and codes or formatting may be broken. Please excuse any errors and remember our Top Tens will generally only include films, shows, books, or music previously reviewed at I Think, Therefore I Review.

17 September 2017

Recent Iffy Lady Thrillers

Recent but Iffy Lady Thrillers
by Kristin Battestella

I'm not seeking bad horror and suspense. I don't really like the so bad it's good perspective either. However, it just seems like recently this genre, be it foreign or domestic, has more than its fair share of big name ladies in peril trapped inside some unimpressive thrillers.

Two Emily Blunt Questionables

The Girl on the Train – Emily Blunt stars in this 2016 adaptation opening with a specific narration on particular addresses, passenger observations, and former neighbors. Our titular lost, lonely drunk has built up a fictitious biography, living vicariously through these strangers, and the voiceover lays the idealized history on thick before changing viewpoints to the objectified fitness guru getting on her naughty and her blonde boss – who also has ties to our original voyeur. These detailed character vignettes and grass is greener parallels make it tough to tell who is the main character while the unnecessary narrations and herky jerky inebriated flashes detract from the hurt reactions, spastic mirrors, and heartbreaking therapy sessions. Testy conversations between ex-husbands or new wives show the intertwined histories and on edge fantasies better, and bitter ladies do some good old fashion social media stalking when not blacking out and waking up with mysterious injuries. Interrogations reveal the commutes to nowhere, but the too brief female detective rightfully calling out the neighborly lookalike coincidences is made a nonentity. Uneven pacing and time jumps going from six months, two years, last week, and more back and forths reset the emotional abuse and spousal possession, deflating the intersecting stories with decoy characters, red herrings, and self inserting Mary Sue meddling. The aimless, drunken film frame disservices the terse conversations and straightforward mystery, leaving hollow affairs and creepy therapist temptations falling back on how you got him is how you lose him trite that's ridiculously easy to solve. The tacked on gaslighting comes with omnipresent evidence breaking the movie's previous viewpoints while our eponymous lady has several opportunities to get herself together but instead intrudes further into the sloppy out of order revelations and disjointed plot holes. Why not go to the scene of the crime to recover your memory sooner or call the police as you race to aide another woman? Why don't the police check on the male boss of a woman after clearing her husband and lover? There are five women in this cast, yet they are all still talking about men, babies, and sex. A potentially interesting discussion on the three stages of women as the has been, the happy wife, and the unhappy lover becomes unfortunately typical in defining a woman by marriage or motherhood: the has been because she can't have kids, the happy wife who has a kid, and the unhappy lover that doesn't want any. One can tell this was written by women but directed by a man, for there should be more to the mother or whore complex – a gal must be a lover in order to be a mother after all, and it shouldn't take being a victim to bring a woman to empowerment. The irony that Blunt was pregnant while playing a barren drinker adds more dimension, for this piece forgets its own clues and under utilizes its potential as a character study on how we think we know the stranger we see every day and how we may actually know the people closest to us the least. This is a very fine ensemble and fans of the cast may enjoy the puzzle, but the taut unravels too much and Mortal Thoughts did it better.

Wind Chill – Before she really came on in the last few years, Blunt did this prerequisite 2007 coeds going home for Christmas horror movie complete with little outerwear despite the frosty Vancouver locales standing in for rural PA and a too cool for school attitude via her super old cell phone and primitive texting. There are actual bulletin boards, nerdy classmates, and a crappy old front wheel drive sedan amid the bad accents, conceited philosophies, painted toe nails, and complaints about wearing glasses. Retro holiday tunes and clock countdowns create better highway monotony as idle chit chat reveals personal information and skeptical directions. The older protagonists do have some realistic conversations, arguments, and accusations – there's no need for time wasting music montages thanks to scenic detours, spin outs, snowy roads, and luring suspicions. What's romantic surprise to one is stalkerish orchestration to another, but a nor'easter's bringing thirty degrees below numbers and our hungry pair is trapped in their shoddy car overnight with nearby cemeteries and apparitions in the storm. Bodies in the snowdrift, abandoned monasteries, and bizarre police twists have all kinds of ghostly victims stopping by this overpass! Unfortunately, the fake outs, flashbacks, need to pee, and conserving body heat winks get typical alongside “I'll be right back” resets and false rescue hopes. The don't know why this is Rated R gore is laughable rather than scary, and the melodramatic conversations over a conveniently found newspaper giving the fifties history take too many leaps for the suspension of disbelief. Not naming the characters likewise hampers personality and character development – its not could be anybody relatable disaster bonding when the generic horror players can't even call each other by name. The natural dilemma and individual suspicions are dropped long before they decide to use the telephone pole box, and this confusion over being supernatural horror or natural thriller lacks a much needed zing. Cliche what doesn't kill you only makes you stronger growth goes on too long, and it all ends up too convenient when nobody bothered to try getting the car out of the snowbank in the first place.

And Two Star Vehicles to Skip

Shut In – Widowed Maine psychologist Naomi Watts (The Ring) is trapped in a storm while being haunted by little Jacob Tremblay (Room) in this 2016 international but already problematic PG-13 paint-by-numbers crammed with the isolated blonde, ghosts, kids horrors, weather perils, and one spooky basement. Accidents and home movies on the cell phone also laden the start before the lakeside locales, snowy blankets, and paraplegic burdens. The grief and inability to care for an invalid teen is understandable, and our step-mom considers sending him to a facility. However, the frazzled woman increasingly replacing her sick son with a younger therapy patient and the creepy temptations on holding the invalid under the bath water become hollow thanks to the obligatory it was just a dream jump cuts. Unnecessary technology and time wasting glances at watches and clocks are also intrusive – the camera focuses on dialing 911 with the finger poised over the send button and intercutting person to person like a traditional phone call flows much better than up close Skype screens. Weatherman warnings and news reports as the research montage lead to flashlights outside, icy footprints, and car alarms, but again the tension falls back on textbook raccoon scares with round and round scenes outside in the snow or inside on the phone doing little. Maybe one doesn't think straight in the panic, but most of those frosty searches include shouting for a deaf mute boy who can't hear you nor answer back. The psychology is also common fluff, i.e. teens have difficulty with divorce, you don't say – Skyping Oliver Platt (Chicago Med) provides better therapy, so we know what's going to happen to his character! Besides, all the shadows in the hallway, hidden wall panels, unexplained scratches, locked doors opening by themselves, and ghostly little hands in the bedroom yet the women still end up talking about a man. Fading in and out transitions mirror the sleeping pills and drinking, but such shifts break the world immersion before the storm even hits. When the doctor says her bloodwork indicates she's being drugged, mom doesn't even care – because the twist is for the audience not the main character. Lanterns, black out attacks, and video evidence right before the power failure could be good, but random people arrive despite blocked roads and the oedipal sociopath jealously provides a dumb chase finale as the stalker conveniently sing songs “Hush Little Baby” so we know where he is when he's coming for you. Good thing that foreboding blizzard talked about the entire movie stops in time for the lakeside happy ending that apparently has no legal, medical, or parental consequences.

The Tall Man – The northwestern blue collar and downtrodden mining town rustic set the scene for disappearing children and eponymous tales in this 2012 international co-production. Cool looking credits and an obligatory driving montage interrupt the opening thirty-six hours before flashback, sputtering the story with no point of view anchoring the disjointedness. Are we following widowed nurse Jessica Biel (A Kind of Murder) or deflecting with the shady townsfolk and family secrets? Not to mention the unnecessary, cryptic voiceover waxing on some dangerous evil and terrifying legend tells rather than shows – and it's the inner monologue of a willfully mute emo teen writing down what she wants to say in a journal. Well filmed household attacks and road perils add scrapes and bruises thanks to shadowed abductors, rusty vans, and killer dogs while abandoned factory buildings, creepy infrastructure, and hidden tunnels add atmosphere. A cobwebbed chapel, fire and brimstone sermons on the radio, and spooky wooded altars seem to be going somewhere with cult or supernatural aspects, but unfortunately, they remain mere red herrings. The You Go Girl action is also convenient to free bonds, track footprints, knockout attackers, or accidentally find the bad guy's hideout. Spying on officials and town mobs lead to reverse pursuits, and the 180 degree plot twists change the movie into something entirely different to what it says on the tin. More flashbacks and narrations give explanations that don't make much sense, and the perspective should have been one side of the story or the other – not an attempting to be clever deception between the two. For that switcharoo, I'd rather follow crusty sheriff William B. Davis (The X-Files) and desperate FBI agent Stephen McHattie (Orphan Black) investigating this supposed serial killer instead of some warped elitist white woman turned self proclaimed savior giving barren ladies a bad name. Whatever message being sent here is unclear thanks to this “good” child trafficking organization spin, and the finale tacks on another voiceover questioning whether kidnapping poor children and covertly placing them in rich homes is good or bad. o_O

08 September 2017

Top Ten: Charlton Heston!

Welcome to our new Top Tens series in celebration of I Think, Therefore I Review's Tenth Anniversary! These monthly lists will highlight special themes and topics from our extensive archive of reviews.

This time I Think, Therefore I Review presents in chronological order...

Our Top Ten Charlton Heston!

Please see our Classics tag for more or our Charlton Heston label for yet more old school analysis!

I Think, Therefore I Review began as the blog home for previously published reviews and reprinted critiques by horror author Kristin Battestella. Naturally older articles linked here may be out of date and codes or formatting may be broken. Please excuse any errors and remember our Top Tens will generally only include films, shows, books, or music previously reviewed at I Think, Therefore I Review


29 August 2017

Top Ten: Tom Hiddleston!

Welcome to our new Top Tens series in celebration of I Think, Therefore I Review's Tenth Anniversary! These monthly lists will highlight special themes and topics from our extensive archive of reviews.

This time I Think, Therefore I Review presents in ranked order...

Our Top Ten Tom Hiddleston Shows!

7. Thor

Please see our Tom Hiddleston tag for yet more pictures or our Shakespeare label for further theatrical analysis! 

I Think, Therefore I Review began as the blog home for previously published reviews and reprinted critiques by horror author Kristin Battestella. Naturally older articles linked here may be out of date and codes or formatting may be broken. Please excuse any errors and remember our Top Tens will generally only include films, shows, books, or music previously reviewed at I Think, Therefore I Review


27 August 2017

The Night Manager

The Night Manager Brings Cinematic Espionage to the Small Screen
by Kristin Battestella

The Nefertiti Hotel's night manager Jonathan Pine (Tom Hiddleston) receives documents implementing arms dealer Richard Roper (Hugh Laurie) and is later recruited by International Enforcement Chief Angela Burr (Olivia Colman) in Switzerland to infiltrate Roper's criminal organization. Pine builds his rap sheet in Devon as Jack Linden before becoming the injured Thomas Quince welcomed into Roper's island fortress in Mallorca. There, Pine becomes Andrew Birch – the front man in Roper's latest shell company buying and selling chemical weapons. Unfortunately, bureaucratic red tape, dalliances with Roper's girlfriend Jed (Elizabeth Debicki), and suspicious right hand man Corky (Tom Hollander) put the operation at risk as Pine is cut off from his handler and falls deeper into this lavish but deadly enterprise.

BBC and AMC's 2016 co-production of John Le Carre's The Night Manager is an impressive six hour adaptation brimming with sophisticated espionage and cinematic flair thanks to Emmy winning director Susanne Bier (In a Better World) and screenwriting nominee David Farr's (MI-5) update on the 1993 novel's Caribbean cartels turned contemporary Mediterranean arms. The Night Manager begins with the 2011 Egyptian Revolution, intercutting the hotbed protests in the street with video clips of our corrupt entrepreneur. The luxury hotel isn't much safer with complimentary cocktails, seductive clientele, and confidential documents, but early conversations layer what the audience needs to know – naming the bad boys, our titular employee's history, and redacted weapons manifests. There's a buttoned up formality in the nighttime bustle accented by unique through the water fountain camera angles, and zooming in on the eyes brings us closer but not within the eponymous inner workings as breathy lips near the phone receiver escalate the room service flirtation. This desert subtlety is well framed as silhouetted men walk through door frames or archways, entering deeper as critical information goes to the wrong source. Interfering with weapons deals, swapping rooms, and having a little hideaway romance leads to bruised faces and consequences while bureaucratic paper work prevents the outdated government agency with no lift or heat from pursuing its quarry. Warning phone calls come too late, and fatalities linger into the chilly present with mysterious packages and testy confrontations as our hotelier must make his choice. Unfortunately, the island luxury, continental travel, and sailing to fancy dinner parties turns into family terror. Although this second hour's opening hostage exotic is somewhat Bondian, there's relationship drama, female character developments, and depth to the ruses with disturbing give a sip of wine to the young boy and see if he likes it then give the kid a rifle and watch what happens jokes. Indoctrinating speeches and spy placements take The Night Manager back six months, and as the eponymous blank slate steps into the out of focus field office, the camera angle and his new identity become clear. This agency needs the perfect psychopath performance, and rules don't apply to the good guys if they need to get the bad guys. Infiltrating the Devon underground with motorcycles, slapping around pimps, bad drug deals, bar fights, and bloody crime scenes trump up a legend as broken bones take the put on violence too far – leaving our asset injured with the enemy seeing to his care. MI-6 and the CIA go back and forth on if they are playing ball or stonewalling each other, and each hour of The Night Manager builds its own well paced narrative with the overarching mission details and the play within a play questions on who's off the undercover script, cut off, or in too deep, thus intertwining the at home drama amid the slight of hand espionage.

Family consequences and fatal fractures come for the middle man by Episode Three, for there's a price to pay in being friendly with the worst man in the world. Business dealings are done at children's parties with the magic tricks, and tennis, beach side runs, and infinity pools come along with hefty threats – you are not a prisoner so long as one abides the house rules and doesn't tug on the leash. The bodyguards come along when going out for ice cream, and kids are used in making covert handler contact as veiled conversations say one thing and mean another amid house alarms, stolen phones, secret rooms, and keys hidden in the peppermints. Information passed outside goes back inside, creating a wedge at this Tudor-eqsue court with whispers on the balcony, deals disguised as entertainment, and strolls planting the seeds of doubt. Revelations lie behind every closed door, scorned women know too much, couples are tested, and new dalliances made – thinking about the ladies keeps a man up at night but the transparent politicians offer a different bribe in this multi-level game played with bedroom intimacy and continental meetings. The snooping gets damn risky as code names, client lists revealed, new signatures, and company facades bring our insider to the forefront. Truths said to be told in anger and spread as manure are believed by one where others are dismissed as a smear campaign when they are just as true. The circumvention almost seems too easy, but sweet selling speeches on how to win by keeping the losers guessing are said directly to the camera. Anonymous partners don't know what they are buying and selling and don't care so they can sleep at night, but paper trail leaks and revealing nighttime encounters upset this perilous balance. Kisses create complications, officials are strong armed with roadside perils, and details on the big money operation are given to the audience with envelope drops and innocuous park bench chats. Our hotelier's smoothing over panache comes in handy for the illegal trade alongside decoy cargo ships, tapped phone lines, and exposed eyes only materials. Who's double crossing whom? Rogue agents and collateral assets get caught in the complicated crossfire while handshakes and quips about the contraband remain as simple as a briefcase full of money and looking the other way on the wink.

Game faces, questions asked but answers not given, and call outs on who would betray whom come to a head in Episode Five as The Night Manager's bait and switch suspicions put the viewer in on the game being played. Refugee camps cover the deals really happening – some aide given for the ironic photo op provides a heartbreaking realization on how much these millions could do if they were really done for good. Instead, crooks move into the vacuum created by a country's chaos with spectacular demonstrations of the fatal weaponry for sale. It's an impressive fireworks display, for war is a spectator's sport and napalm looks pretty at night. Though only eighteen months old, it's a bit creepy these days to watch this shrewd, timely update waxing on mercenaries, privatized warfare, false flags, and conveniently created coups. Risks and tensions rise while the on edge entourage points fingers at each other – warrants come and funding goes thanks to lies on the fly, deliberate power outages, and violence at home. The technicalities of the snare are well explained as interrogations escalate into your word versus mine silence. The luxury hotels and exotic veneer are less lush by the final hour as The Night Manager returns to the desert where this escapade began. Global enmity folds into government inquiries, potentially false intelligence, and mothballed agencies amid private vengeance and local drug lords hung out to dry. It's time for the millionaire transfer and final client exchange, but a cowboy and a pregnant woman are all that stand beside our ex-manager against the close calls, combinations to the safe, decoy parcels, and clues at the roulette table. Cover blowing confrontations have everyone looking over their shoulders as the lose ends are caught in the expensive, explosive just deserts.

Pine, Linden, Quince, Birch – executive producer Tom Hiddleston's (Kong: Skull Island) former soldier doesn't miss warfare but he doesn't know who he really is, either. Pine hibernates in the cold anonymity of hospitality, a relatable every man willfully hiding in a luxurious shadow with nothing but a backpack and a spartan room. He has a formal, controlled facade for every situation, but when he does stick his neck out against the morally wrong weapons trade and pass along information to his former military friends, the consequences isolate the newly cut to the core Pine even further. He uses that emotion to get Roper when he has the chance, gathering useful intel while keeping his cool on the fly and thinking fast with the right smile or wink. Up close signatures are different names but the same tell tale cursive, and the name tag uniform, leather jacket, and tailored suits match each persona as Pine plays spy in Roper's world – a lavish playground for his many sides to maneuver. “Linden's” happy he can summon a fake passport, “Quince” roughs people up to make it look really authentic, and “Birch” clearly enjoys everyone calling him handsome. A guy can get used to this deception, and the camera plays to Hiddleston's strengths – panning up as he struts across the screen and fills the whole canvas with his close shaves, shirtless muscles, steamy sheets, and piercing blue palette. Pine has a soft spot for count 'em three fallen women but ultimately ends up using them as well. He's the perfect front man with his debonair answers tricking people into speaking freely, unaware he is the dark horse topsy-turvying Roper's household. He gives bitter info about his father – it wouldn't be a Hiddleston role without daddy issues! – while playing chess with mentor Roper as he likewise puts the smolder on Jed. The cracking cat and mouse worsens as half alive Pine embraces the brutality of Roper's organization and has nothing left to lose when staring at the end of the gun barrel. The double crossing roles add to the life imitating art wink, and since he's again wearing his own wardrobe, Golden Globe winner Hiddleston can seem like he's just playing his blue steel self. While Loki requires a full transformative appearance, the performance in The Night Manager has merit enough to move Hiddleston beyond the Marvel wig. Ironically, he didn't need to try so hard with that summer tabloid fiasco said to have already cost him a chance at being the next James Bond. Could he be 007 in the same gritty vein as Daniel Craig? No. However, if the franchise returns to the lighthearted charm of the Roger Moore era, than yes. After all, Pine drinks martinis, too.

We hear tell of fellow EP and Globe winner Hugh Laurie's (House) charismatic “worst man in the world” Richard Roper before we meet him thanks to his rah rah videos – his photo ops say one thing and mean another, never mind that it isn't really farm equipment his shell companies are transporting behind the jolly good, what fun lifestyle. His dry wit and cool entourage stay at ease so long as one doesn't cross Dickie, but he will test or toy with people for his bemusement, talking to Pine as a paying custom to a subservient manager before taking to his English moxie. Roper pays the bills, so he gets to draw the map, and there's almost an admiration for his self-made if illegal hard work. He's calm when his son is threatened, expecting that what he says goes, yet Roper sentimentally repays Pine for his heroics, embracing him as someone not content with life who could be worthy of his operation. Roper can groom Pine in his own image, but warns him of what will happen if you don't follow daddy's rules. Dickie sees that the world is rotten and a truly free man embraces the cruelty to stay on top – a bleak but sadly not wrong notion. He doesn't lie, just merely says the right things until you don't notice the truth isn't one of them. Such shady work comes before Jed and his little Danny, but Roper can impart his tactics on the “young prince” Birch. While he's aware one shouldn't trust a man who has no appetite or vices and keeps some of his business mysteries from Andrew, he's almost impressed by one who might outwit him. Roper sips tea during some nonchalant bathtub torture, but mistakenly believes his own cheeky hype in this caper, calling his privatized warfare one big happy kingdom where he is Caesar sitting back as others do the violence for him. However, he dislikes being double crossed, and when Roper says it is borrowed time for anyone who betrays him, we believe it.

Olivia Colman's (Broadchurch) Angela Burr may be such a super role because the character was originally a man, but the pregnant actress makes it all the more juicy and numerous awards followed. Burr uses the personal against people with no qualms because she is in the right to do so, and she pushes Pine out of his element as both a maternal figure tapping into his duty and the devil on his shoulder playing his emotion over Roper. She likes that he is a clean slate she can muck up with a fake dossier and tests Pine with his father's past – casually saying she didn't know it meant that much to him, which he counters yes, she did. Angela jokes that being a pregnant woman is the perfect cover but as an Englishwoman balks at the idea of carrying a gun. She lays her plan to infiltrate Roper's circle on thick while insisting Pine eat a cookie, and Burr turns another asset by preying on his Catholicism with her pregnant woman guardian angel Madonna veneer. Only she can wash the blood from his hands with this deceptive womanly warmth, and though her condition adds to the tough travel, hot temperatures, and stakeout waiting; the entirety of the woman's existence is not her being with child. Huzzah! Angela admits to not really loving her decent, understanding husband and may have been a little naughty along the way it seems. Upon first viewing The Night Manager, her still unmistakably pregnant despite the timeline skips may be confusing, however we can forgive the film making trickery because she has to be fresh, pushy, and loud to get her way regardless thanks to nasty bureaucrats who don't want Burr digging further. She's always one step behind Roper, and this off the books operation is a risky venture that brings consequences close to home. Angela's scared, but she won't concede to an ignorant, stay a home life, giving the reason why she despises Roper in a stunning, heartfelt scene done with nothing but one woman retelling a terrible witness to another.

Perhaps Elizabeth Debicki (The Man from U.N.C.L.E) is an unconventional beauty to Hollywood standards, but she's a lady as tall as her men with an edgy haircut and sexy slip in or slip out effortless, elegant styles. Her Jed is initially blissfully unaware of Roper's ways – but she's not afraid to show her body to keep up the heated pools, lavish furs, and tubs of champagne. The subtle camera pans suggest what the men are thinking without being mere titillation to make the audience drool, and maybe it takes a woman director to know the difference. Jed has a family history that doesn't match the lingerie and satin robes brochure, and she won't let anyone see her tears, taking pills to cope and staying so cool on the outside as angry calls from home risk revealing her baggage to Roper. She's deluded herself into thinking this is a loving relationship rather than another one of Roper's arrangements, telling Pine knowing Roper's business would drive her mad and dropping dress to test him with her body because maybe that is the only way she knows how. However, Jed's doubts do blossom with Jonathan there to help her escape. She objects to being just another employee in Roper's shady deals, getting pissy and finding it more and more difficult to play along in keeping him happy. Jed becomes emotional – being in love makes her slip up, and she isn't as good at this covert fine line as the boys and her pretty face pays. Though at times the camera is too obvious in the lovebirds' stolen glances, that mirrors their increasing notice to others, and Tom Hollander's (Rev.) Lance “Corky” Corkoran sees Pine for exactly what he is. Initially, Corky's rare loyalty and ruthless skills are worth any bemusing faux pas. He enjoys getting under everyone's skin, flirting with Pine to gauge a response while remaining suave in his threats. Corky suggests big deals go down at family parties and seems unfettered by potential harm to the children, but he's rightfully suspicious of the employee from Switzerland with an international rap sheet posing as a chef in Mallorca who rescued the Chief's kid. His own vices, unfortunately, become an embarrassing liability – Roper can only overlook the $100 a pop “uncorking” expenses for so long until Corky's left home and pushed out of the business in favor of Birch. He warns him to back off romancing Jed and sobers up to confront Andrew. Unfortunately, there isn't room in Roper's court for both of them, and it is ridiculous that Hollander won the Supporting Actor Bafta yet received no other nominations.

The Night Manager has fine support all around, including David Harewood (Homeland) as Angela's likewise red taped American ally Joel Steadman. She needs him under the rug and on her side, and the implication of a past fling and his still having a soft spot for our hard dame is a wonderful touch contrasting the snobby smooth of Alistair Petri's (Rogue One) Lord Langbourne. He enjoys the viola in doing Roper's deals, liking Pine's suave front even if a simple hotel man raised up can't have the same elan as his aristocratic self. Sadly, Natasha Little (Another Life) as his wife Caroline is aware of the trade secrets and patting on the young nanny's bottom, gossiping to Pine because she wants to talk with someone else who sees everything. She dislikes him becoming Roper's “acolyte,” but Dickie humiliates her into reporting on Jed. Young Noah Jupe's (Suburbicon) Danny also factors into the plot as needed with Pine using Roper's son for information and connections – an unenviable situation for the only genuine and innocent person in this world who just likes having Jonathan as a friend. Aure Atika's (Mademoiselle Chambon) Sophie is also a bittersweet, trying to be brave, classy dame in with the wrong crowd both saved and ruined by the men around her. Frisky and Tabby bodyguards Michael Nardone (Rome) and Hovik Keuchkerian (Assassin's Creed) are sardonic but appropriately violent, while Douglas Hodge's Rex Mayhew (Penny Dreadful) is a good politician screwed over, and man, River House bad Tobias Menzies (Outlander) is once again so shady and smug, belittling Burr's agency as nothing more than her personal obsession with Roper, GTFO.

From Cairo and the Pyramids, Swiss resorts, or Mallorca palaces to British countrysides, London skylines, and Turkish hideaways; wherever The Night Manager roams there are sweet, sweet locales. Title cards giving time and place add to the assorted languages as sweeping overhead shots and wide lenses make people small against the scene setting grandeur – be it Spanish churches symbolizing guilt and repentance or snowy mountaintops touching the humbling night sky. Click click snapshots match spying camera views of SUV entourages while up close photography draws the viewer into the heist action. While the steeped in the plot technology will be dated soon, such security scanning, encrypted messages, retina recognition, and voice transfers are high tech enough to be slightly fantastic yet believably slick. So what if sliding tablet screens and thumbs poised over the green send call button aren't the slammed receiver from the days of old – criminal satellite visuals and night vision screens contrast the less tricked out official outfits using fax machines, older televisions, and big computers. Interiors are likewise warmed with fire lit glows or sunny island windows for the lavish compared to frigid government offices. The brief nudity is sexy but demure, however brief ghostly flashes are unnecessary thanks to better editing and photography already reflecting internal character angst. Pine also smokes in one scene purely to show his willpower against Roper, but it is such a fine mano y mano moment we can allow it. The Night Manager is shot like a film, and while some viewers may find the stylish transitions irrelevant, it's nice to have a series setting itself apart with visual flair looking more expensive than it actually is. The haunting melodies and simmering music fit this beautiful but dangerous edge, and the excellent opening credits sum up the series perfectly with a mirage of bombs, firepower, and explosive clouds merging with alluring diamonds, champagne, and crashing chandeliers.

Although the stateside AMC airing of The Night Manager made slight editing and censoring changes – international screenings also changed the series from six solid hours to eight, forty-five minute episodes for some markets – there are behind the scenes features and bonuses available amid several uncut video releases and streaming options. In contrast to that other MI-6 agent, The Night Manager combines the individual spy, larger mission, team at hand, and female characters better than Spectre without sacrificing any extravagance. I still say Spectre's formula of MI-6 getting the job done largely without Bond can be a 008 Netflix series in between movies, but The Night Manager works as both one cinematic binge or an episodic pace. It's great on the first viewing for all the surprises, but the allure grows the more times you watch all the slight of hand, drool worthy people, and pretty places. Though not a totally faithful adaptation for novel purists, the miniseries ends well with awards acclaim and continued success necessitating rumblings of a follow up season. I'd love to see more, but a sequel has to be as good as this debut, and The Night Manager is difficult act to follow. Rather than weekly flash a minute, for the cool fake outs, The Night Manager updates Le Carre's espionage into a contemporary, relevant, and well balanced but no less enticing potboiler.

22 August 2017

We're Hitchcock Certified!

We're Hitchcock Certified!

Hitchcock Certified – or is that Certified Hitchcock?

Either way, I Think, Therefore I Review has it thanks to my participation in Turner Classic Movies and Ball State University's The Master of Suspense: 50 Years of Hitchcock

Over 16,000 students participated through the Canvas Network. I wasn't super active on the Twitter front or in the TCM forums, but it was amazing to read new insights on Hitchock's films with so many other movie fans and rewatch Sir Alfred favorites as well as less familiar Hitch pictures with fresh eyes. 

Thanks again to Professor Richard Edwards for a course that wasn't super collegiate pace pressure to complete the weekly badges yet had plenty enough lectures, videos, and multi media to make the course both thought provoking and fun. 


Whether you are a writer and film enthusiast or one who just likes to keep enjoying classic cinema, I highly recommend you keep an eye out for more opportunities like this from TCM. I know I will! 


20 August 2017

More Writers in Peril!

More Writers in Peril
by Kristin Battestella

Once again it's time to ditch pen and paper as these vintage novelists, retro reporters, and contemporary screenwriters face murder, ghosts, aliens, and writer's block. You know, the usual.

Black Butterfly РThis 2017 thriller opens with handcuffed to the chair foreshadowing before vintage typewriters and booze for bearded, graying, and stressed screenwriter Antonio Banderas (The Mask of Zorro). The picnics and missing women are a little piecemeal to start with a driving montage because of course, but the pleasing greenery, misty dew, aerial photography, and log cabin pans build the Denver outskirts, no reception isolation. This for sale but messy bachelor pad is in need of repair, our writer can't pay his tab at the country store, angry phone calls from his agent want him to go along with script changes or else, and Paul spends more time hunting Рprocrastinating since his wife left him in this secluded writing retreat. The fifteen year age difference between our leading man and lady is clich̩, but lunch with realtor Piper Perabo (Coyote Ugly) strikes out before radio reports of murdered women and unexpected road rage. Instead, Paul offers mysterious drifter Jonathan Rhys Meyers (The Tudors) a hot shower for his act of kindness, lulling the viewer into a casual tour of the home amid older jadedness versus young cynicism quiet burn chats. Our guest cooks, cleans, and makes repairs for free, but saws, axes, and guns suggest an ominous РJack swims in the cold pond, his tattoos are part of the plot, and Meyers is always at his best in such ambiguous, half-crazed roles. The camera moves with the cast rather than creating an unneeded, false hectic, but the outdoors are traded for increasingly congested interiors with filming through railings, windows, and doors questioning who is on which side of the threats, slaps, or paranoia. We're suspicious but this handyman is actually helpful in telling Paul to pour out the bottle and write Рa well cast irony with Meyers' past addiction problems adding to the meta instead of trite twenty-somethings battling unrealistic frights. This frank play within a play addresses how dismissed writers often are with only the title kept as their story changes into cinematic veneer, winking but not underestimating the audience as our drifter suggests Paul's write their story with the regrets, embellishments, and surprises needed of course. Was their meeting pre-planned or are these hostage threats merely script fodder? Where does what's suppose to be on the page and the secrets we see diverge? It's just a story and nothing happens unless the writer says so, right? The ending is what you make it, isn't it? Natural sounds, blank laptop screen glows, gunshots, and failed escapes play into the jokes on film fakery Рthe ease in hot wiring a car, the time people have to plead for their lives, inconvenient deliverymen arrivals, or a girl hurting her ankle on the run. That broken glass to cut those binds is certainly convenient, and the pieces keep us guessing with attacks behind closed doors, screams we thought we heard, and gunshots we thought we saw. The upfront twists don't pull the rug out from under the audience yet we're invested in the game being played. It's sad that this impressive cast and its winking frights need a dozen different film by who, production of, in association with titles at the beginning because such small thrillers are so financially strapped when they are often better than mainstream releases. Some things here may be obvious to shout at the television viewers, but that overkill is part of the dark satire, keeping this an entertaining thriller on the art of deception and that onscreen hiding in plain sight we love so much.

The Nesting – A mystery writer moves into the spooky mansion of her titular novel with cluttered bookcases, a typewriter, and tea on the balcony but this 1981 psychological slow burn lays on the fearful staircases, distorted city streets, paranoia, and agoraphobia. Up close camerawork and out of body overlays reflect tense therapy and warped dreams as relaxation cassettes don't help against visions of glam parties, saucy soldiers, boas, long stem cigarettes, shattering beads, sweet jazz, and gunshots. Are the familiar mirrors, candlesticks, verandas, perfumes, and visions just deja vu or something more? Phantoms bangs, noisy pipes, no phone, and electricity in only one room add to the stunning architecture alongside ominous orange lights, great silhouettes, and maybe maybe not outside looking in windows. There are vintage station wagons and roadside perils, too. You gotta roll up the car window faster, girl! Storms, flashlights, old fashioned lamps, and four poster beds make the patina tangible as objects dreamed of are found thanks to attic footsteps, dangerous spires, superb rooftop suspense, and fatal twists. Morbid birds, quality shocks, and lighthearted jokes alleviate the simmering mood with a cranky handyman and kooky grandpa John Carradine (Bluebeard), and there's nudity of course – a lady has to feel herself up in front of the bureau you know! Unfortunately, Robin Groves' (Silver Bullet) therapist thinks ghosts and any quantum physics versus paranormal debates are a bunch of hooey. Is this hysteria or an interconnected phenomena? Although the phantom whooshing, stereotypical town creeps, and fiery ghost fake outs can be laughable amid evident brothel history and old people who were there scoops; the rough assaults, bloody surprises, and lakeside terrors invoke wicked ghostly responses. This won't be anything new for old school horror viewers, but the now doubled nostalgia accents the eerie mystery atmosphere. The ghostly ladies of ill repute are out for revenge, and all kinds of shady pieces in this sleepy inlet puzzle are brought to light. Lengthy chases lead to creepy farm buildings, pitchforks, sickles, and impressive gore with freaky spectral revelations coming full circle for a violent finish.

Could Be Better

A Kind of Murder – Fedoras, typewriters, newspapers, and record players invoke a seemingly classy mid century time for writer Patrick Wilson (The Conjuring) and his realtor wife Jessica Biel (The Sinner) in this 2016 Patricia Highsmith adaptation further accented with retro skyscrapers, vintage travel, neon lighting, and a sweet mod house. Unfortunately, there's talk of murders on the radio, the bookstore sells nefarious brown bag magazines, and back alley stairs lead to segregated jazz clubs. Cigarettes, swanky melodies, and husky mellow voices fittingly contrast the pearls, white gloves, pillbox hats, and concern about fancy shoes getting wet in the snow for an interesting mix of the changing times. Our would be novelist is feeling the new sixties with his mod turtlenecks and wanting to do it in every room in the house – but his cold, porcelain doll fifties wife won't see a therapist and belittles his stories in favor of his real architect job and Frank Lloyd Wright references. The Mrs. wears pink and white like a little girl, and Biel looks out of place in the fifties dress up, which may be intentional thanks to the character's diva fakery with a giant bun, false eyelashes, and making bitchy jealous accusations out of nothing in a rocky four year marriage. The colorful lighting, bright snow, and interior patinas are well done schemes reflecting each mood, but the choice reds to signify anything saucy or scandalous are a little too obvious. The tale also intercuts between an obsessive, Dragnet dry detective making us too aware we are watching a picture emulating a specific cinematic era and the more interesting writer using the wife killer crime in the news for inspiration. Is he fantasizing about how to kill his wife or just writing a story? Sleeping on the couch, suicide attempts, and divorce threats lead to guilt tripping traps, suspicious deaths, juicy alibis, lying phone calls, and too many did he or didn't he coincidences. Whom do we trust in this murder or suicide shady? Although the audience might enjoy figuring out how these crimes don't add up, the uneven pace plays it's hand by revealing the suspense and drawing out boring casework. The “they know that we know that they know that we know” yadda yadda loses viewer interest as our would be writer cum murder suspect chills with his martinis, lying to cover up his illicit and giving a different story every time he tells it. He'll act weird but won't get a lawyer because that would mean he has something to hide, and the cat and mouse drags on until everyone is chasing their tails. Just because he wanted his wife dead does that mean he killed her? Or if he walked away from helping her is her death his fault? The plodding speculation underestimates the audience, and the who killed their wives and why details, blackmail confrontations, and questions about whether it is proof or doubt that seals the deal build to a showdown that runs out of time. This has a fine noir mood complete with well filmed silhouettes in dark alleys and a Hitchcockian double chase finale raising tension. However, the mystery remains run of the mill despite the period flair, and the ending doesn't quite give viewers the finish needed.

An Unfortunate Skip

The Dark – Reporter Cathy Lee Crosby (Wonder Woman before Lynda Carter was even Wonder Woman) kind of sort of teams up with a psychic and a detective to solve some serial killer mutilations in this 1979 alien mishmash with a hokey opening scroll warning of animal defense mechanisms and extraterrestrial chameleons. Passe music, laser eye beams, and poor voice effects add a slow to get going old TV movie feeling while that titular near black screen makes it often impossible to see the back alley attacks. The gay jokes are lame, the case exposition's wooden, and a white bearded old boss jumps out shouting “Boo!” just to get his kicks by scaring our lady reporter. Old lights, green hues, and colorful skylines going dark build better ominous as a young girl is said to be beheaded in the creepy morgue as family gags over the unseen victim. Retro video designs, projectors, and forensic evidence accent elevator scares, flashlights, and zombie or vampire conjecture – but wow, fifteen cents for the newspaper and needing to put another quarter in the payphone before the operator interrupts! The streets and pool halls look even seedier because of the low budget Los Angeles realism, but white cops less interested in black crime with the jive and epitaphs to match their “38 caliber justice” is unfortunately not dated. One obnoxious ass asks if color can be told by the alien blood samples, and cranky cops disbelieve the medium even when they have nothing else. Today audiences are so accustomed to investigative dramas that this law enforcement seems particularly stupid – although a captain more worried about family pressure, public panic, and avoiding media scandal remains all too common. Wise people counter that obscuring such freedom of the press is wasting time while the killer strikes again, but the tacked on alien connection ruins any would be statements. Everyone is so dry and too much time is spent away from Cathy Lee when she should be our viewpoint anchor. Choppy editing doesn't know where it is going between attacks, culminating in a logistically nonsensical shootout. The fantastic clues and psychic visions are underutilized, and the drama is better when the spooky, journalism, and law come to a head. This had potential – I kept waiting for this ninety minutes to get going – but there's not enough science fiction, horror, or procedural actually happening.