10 posts categorized "Suspense"

March 03, 2019

THE NINTH GATE

COLE SMITHEY

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Ninth_gateThe Ninth Gate is a well-crafted and entertaining horror film. While director Roman Polanski chooses to lilt over the horrific trajectory that tugs mercenary book dealer Dean Corso (Johnny Depp) toward the gates of Hell, rather than embrace his protagonist's terror as he did with such shockers as Rosemary's Baby (1968) or The Tenant (1976), Polanski stakes out his own ground rules and adheres to them flawlessly.

The sense of suspense is formal as it is purposeful. 

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From the film’s textbook opening scene in which Polanski's subjective camera discerningly divulges aspects of a millionaire's library in which imminent death approaches, to the thorough European pacing over which the devilish story unfolds, The Ninth Gate takes the audience on a joyfully evil descent into perplexing other-worldly shadows.

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Based on Arturo Perez-Reverte's best-selling novel El Club Dumas, this is a modern gothic horror story woven from the proposed power of satanic literature to conjure up the Devil himself. Dean Corso is an unscrupulous book broker hired by Satan scholar Boris Balkan (Frank Langella) to travel from New York to Toledo, Portugal, and Paris to compare Balkin's recently acquired 1666 edition of a rare, hand-bound manual of satanic invocation, supposedly written by Satan himself, against the only two other copies in existence to verify the tome's authenticity.

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Balkan tells the amoral Corso: "There's nothing more reliable than a man who can be bought." Corso's cynical character trait of temptation is written in the sanguine fluid of money from the film's beginning. Corso wears death on his sleeve like a war zone journalist hot for action. Johnny Depp uses a vocal texture that rumbles from the screen in a dark pitch that catches you off guard. His economic but heavy timbre establishes a hollowness in his character, dying to be filled with some unknown organic passion. At times, Depp seems to recede into the film's creaking metal and dry tinder-in-a-box settings. He suggests a precise mortal puppet being manipulated by collaborating evil forces to trace steps he cannot help but follow.

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Polanski and his two collaborating screenwriters, John Brownjohn ("Tess") and Enrique Urbizu, orchestrate their Faustian script in a cinematic shorthand that magnifies tiny details like subtle differences in the nine diabolical engravings which comprise the murderous puzzle that Corso attempts to unravel amidst the three volumes. Polanski drops in sudden repulsive images that give terse nods to such horror films as Hitchcock's Frenzy, and Nicholas Roeg's Don't Look Now. He allows scenes to play without the ersatz aid of musical accompaniment, resulting in a delightfully intimate game of call and response for the audience to conceive while the action unfolds. There are so many highly polished cinematic elements to enjoy in every frame of the movie that repeated viewing beckons.

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Pauline Kael said that "great movies are rarely perfect movies," and this truism certainly applies to The Ninth Gate. Actress Emmanuelle Seigner's (Frantic) sub-plot as Dean Corso's mysterious, dark guardian angel slips through the film as a sexy and enigmatic mascot that Corso accepts too easily. There are plenty of silly bumps and loopy twists that don't sufficiently fulfill a dynamic dramatic arc for the film's slightly long running time, but no jolting scares. Still, there is plenty to enjoy in director of photography, Darius Khondji's ("Seven") hand-in-glove association with the masterful vision of a director who believes that content is more important than form.

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In the end, Dean Corso could readily be an alter-ego fugitive that Polanski recognizes in the mirror of the camera lens. It's an image you can almost imagine.

Rated R. 133 mins. Three Stars

Cozy Cole

Cole Smithey on Patreon

April 18, 2018

A QUIET PLACE

A Quiet PlaceDon’t believe the hype. “A Quiet Place” is a plot-hole filled waste of time. Scary? Not even close. All respect for John Krasinski (making his directorial debut) and his real-life wife Emily Blunt aside, the performances in this film leave much to be desired.

As Graham Parker sings, “Children and dogs will always win, everyone knows that. I won’t work with either one again.” Wise words. Deaf child actor Milicent Simmonds (“Wonderstruck”) seemingly couldn’t act wet in a rain storm. This film’s flaws however reach much further than shoddy portrayals.

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A by-committee minimalist script from three writers (Bryan Woods, Scott Beck, and John Krasinski) drops the audience into day 89 of an alien invasion. The premise is simple, alien monsters with acute hearing, and poor vision, track humans by sound. Sneeze loudly and you’re toast. Needless to say there is very little dialogue in the film. This is not a good time or place for characters to be having babies considering the inevitable cries that will cost you and your would-be infant its life. More on that later.

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Our four-person family unit consists of Blunt and Krasinski playing parents Evelyn and Lee Abbott to adolescents Beau (Cade Woodward), Regan (Simmonds), and Noah (Marcus Abbott). These parents aren’t winning any awards for their responsible parenting skills. The number of children drops to two early on in the action before the remaining kids go missing. Where most parents would be worried sick, Evelyn and Lee are cool to a fault. "The kids will be fine." If the parents don’t care, why should we. Not only that, Evelyn has a fully-baked bun in the oven who, when he’s born, is the quietest baby you’ve ever seen or not heard.

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The tail-chasing narrative comes down to a couple of irresponsible parents searching, or not, for their two missing young kids while bringing another one into an inhospitable world where it will most certainly be eaten within a matter of days if not hours. I suppose you could read the text (and subtext) as a poorly formulated parable about overpopulation in a capitalist society that hears everything you do, but that would be giving this boring film far too much credit.

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So while the groupthink virus continues to consume so-called critics, “A Quiet Place” is on par with M. Night Shyamalan’s (a.k.a. M. Night Shyamalamadingdong — I couldn't resist) insultingly mediocre post “Sixth Sense” overwrought, underdeveloped, and meepy films. Your disappointment awaits.     

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Rated PG-13. 90 mins. 

1 Star

COLE SMITHEY

Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.

This ad-free website is dedicated to Agnès Varda and to Luis Buñuel.

Get cool rewards when you click on the button to pledge your support through Patreon. Thanks a lot pal! Your generosity helps keep the reviews coming!

Cole Smithey on Patreon

November 23, 2016

LA CEREMONIE — CLASSIC FILM PICK

LaCeremonieMoviePosterThe revolution comes from the inside in Claude Chabrol’s exquisite adaptation of Ruth Rendell’s 1977 leftist novel “A Judgement In Stone.”

Not since Luis Bunuel has any filmmaker come so daringly close to enunciating the ideological, ethical, and soulful rift between the bourgeoisie and the rest of us as Chabrol does in this fascinating, if darkly sensuous, picture. Lesbian fires ignite between two would-be murderess[s].

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Rituals such as family dinners or private parties allow for characters to interact, impregnate, and divide. As with Bunuel’s films, food plays a significant part in these daily rites.

The story unfolds in the northwest coast of France where art gallery director Catherine Lelievres (Jacqueline Bisset) lives in French countryside splendor with her recent (opera-obsessed) husband Georges (Jean-Pierre Cassel) and his two teenage children (Melinda and Gilles) from a previous marriage.

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Catherine hires Sophie (Sandrine Bonnaire) as her latest live-in maid to keep her lavish home tidy and cook the family meals. 

Sophie keeps secrets close to her chest. Her illiteracy means that she can't order the weekly groceries because she can't read the list. Help arrives in the magnetic tomboy form of Jeanne (Isabelle Huppert), a local postal clerk with a murderous past. Jeanne knows that Sophie was accused of murdering her handicapped dad but was let go due to a lack of proof. Threat of prison is a mutual experience since Jeanne was accused of killing her four-year-old daughter, but was found innocent. 

La Ceremonie

21st century audiences may be surprised to learn that there was such a thing as a “boy-bun” long before there was a “man-bun” as evidenced by Catherine’s adopted son Gilles (Valentin Merlet).

Addressing Gilles's freshly budding smoking habit, Catherine tells her adopted son, “It’s easier not to start than it is to quit.” Naturally, she offers him a cigarette later on when it suits her. She decrees that Gilles can only smoke in her presence. Careful social coding comes through in every sequence involving the family. Their limited (stereotype) attitudes clash against the intimate (female outlaw) romantic reality that Bonnaire and Huppert share. Their mutual attraction is real. 

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Claude Chabrol deftly uses television as an implement of reality displacement that Sophie learns to use to deny demands that are placed on her, such as when Georges calls requesting that she retrieve a file from his desk. She becomes a robot to the TV in same way that audiences all over the world are. 

“La Ceremonie” is a film that is ahead of its time, just as much as it is of its time. Isabelle Huppert’s determined (read lesbian leftist activist) character speaks the film’s theme lines with sinewy authority.

Regarding Sophie’s discovery of Melinda’s (Virginie Ledoyen) pregnancy, Jeanne says, “It’s no problem for them [the Lelievres), anyway. Keep it or get rid of it, no problem.”

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Indeed, Jeanne’s brief summation of Melinda’s dilemma coincides with the teenaged girl's blasé attitude in the face of her next day's scheduled abortion. Charming Melinda sits happily on the sofa with her snobby family watching a VHS-recorded opera. Virginie Ledoyen is the embodiment of privileged nubility. Incredible, and contemptible.  

Regardless of how much elites (in any country) attempt to buffer themselves from the lower classes, they must always remain at the workers' mercy in the form of service industry jobs. Poison comes in many forms.

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Chabrol’s dream-team cast comes together in a once-in-a-lifetime event. I could wax poetic about Jean-Pierre Cassel, who delivers such a wonderfully bland rendition of veiled white supremacist viewpoints that you could blink and miss it. Jacqueline Bisset reaches microcosmic degrees of restrained emotion like you can’t believe.

Don’t get me started on cinematographer Bernard Zitzermann’s dynamic formalism that works like guitar in a jazz trio, playing against Monique Fardoulis’s snappy editing. This film is a flawless example of French Cinema. Look. There it is.

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Not Rated. 112 mins.

5 Stars

COLE SMITHEY

Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.

This ad-free website is dedicated to Agnès Varda and to Luis Buñuel.

Get cool rewards when you click on the button to pledge your support through Patreon. Thanks a lot pal! Every bit helps keep the reviews coming.

Cole Smithey on Patreon

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