"88 Minutes"

Al Pacino is terribly miscast in this paint-by-numbers thriller with an ending that severely underwhelms.  When you think of a college girl-wooing, genius forensic psychologist, Al Pacino is probably not the first actor to come to mind.  Given the actor’s age and his character’s propensity for young girls, it is hard to sympathize with him.  The plot is a dragged out mess that has been retread on thrillers for decades.  The “whodunnit” surprise ending is not a shock, nor is it good writing.  The 88 minute time-frame given to the character isn’t well established, respected or utilized by the filmmakers.  It fails to exude the proper sense of urgency.  It’s a mediocre attempt at a thriller with nothing new to offer to the genre.

"November" (2004)

This film will pique your interest with an interesting start but it’s all downhill from the first act twist.  The technical aspects of the film are sophomoric and incredibly dated.  The story is a dreamlike tale similar to “Stay” but it plays as confusing and is poorly paced.  The performances are game but the writing is lackluster and on the nose.  On the whole, it’s a film that is entertaining enough while you watch it but it easy to forget.  

"Angst" (1983)

A simple story, gripping cinematography and a terrifying performance by Erwin Leder make “Angst” (or “Fear”) a horrific opus.  The anchored camera and voiceover combine to truly put the audience in the main character’s head.  It’s a stirring viewing experience and right up there with the best films about serial killers.  If you like films such as “Maniac”, “Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer” or “Tony”, “Angst” will be right up your alley.  Superb filmmaking and stomach turning gore make this one for horror fans only.  The fact that it’s very closely based on a true story is all the more unsettling.  

"Europa" (1991)

A visual masterpiece, “Europa” (or “Zentropa”) is technically stunning and a thrill to watch.  Avant-garde auteur Lars von Trier blends Fritz Lang-esque symbolism with 1940’s Noir imagery to create a dark, frenetic world as foreign and confusing as post-war Germany.  The story is a wonderful, twisted blend of anti-war propaganda, pulp mystery mystique and harlequin romance.  While it’s still a dark von Trier film, it manages to be whimsical and nostalgic.  Although the film may confuse some, the climax is undeniably suspenseful and makes this one of von Trier’s most complete works of art.  

"Hannibal" (2001)

Definitely not the best film in the Hannibal Lecter saga but not as bad as it was initially perceived.  There are some interesting narrative concepts in the film that give the film complexity.  The Hannibal Lecter character makes a leap from sympathetic antagonist to full-on anti-hero.  For a vast majority of the film, the audience will find itself rooting for the mass-murdering, cannibal psychopath.  However, the film seems to spin it’s wheels for too long in the second act and by the time the third act rolls around it’s hard remember what the other storyline is about.  Despite the difficult task of taking on Jodie Foster’s iconic turn as Clarice Starling, Julianne Moore is actually well suited to play the character at this stage of her life.  The thing this film really misses is Hannibal Lecter’s genius insight into another serial-killer’s mind.  The best part about “The Silence of the Lambs” and “Red Dragon” are the interactions between Lecter and the detectives that simultaneously revere and detest him.  

"Manhunter" (1986)

The similarities between this film and the remake that followed sixteen years later are noticeable.  The major delineations between the two are in style and in one element of the protagonist Will Graham.  In “Red Dragon”, Will battles with his inclusion in the case, fearing for a repeat of the past when Hannibal Lecter attacked and nearly killed him.  In “Manhunter”, there is a much more sinister allusion: that perhaps Will Graham possesses a murderer’s mind within him, and the more he allows himself into the mind of Lecter, the further he slips from sanity.  This single element is what makes “Manhunter” tenfold darker than its remake.  Michael Mann is capable of capturing such a dark and sinister world in his films and this one is no different.  It’s a strange and unsettling film, with some superb performances by William Petersen and Tom Noonan in particular.  While this film lacks the dramatic influence of Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal Lecter, it’s still a unique crime thriller that warrants distinction.  

"The Living and the Dead" (2006)

A grim, bleak film, “The Living and the Dead” is difficult to watch and nearly impossible to enjoy.  The circumstances of the story are meant to draw sympathy for its troubled characters caught in a dilemma but instead it is a maddening exercise in testing one’s patience.  While the schizophrenic son isn’t to blame for his misguided acts, his parents are.  Why is this child allowed to cavort around when he is a danger to himself and others?  Why doesn’t the father make sure the help arrives before he has to leave?  Why isn’t this adult child remanded to a hospital that could care for him?  Why is the father insistent on keeping their grandiose manor when the money could be used to care for his desperately ill wife and son?  His pride, and even that of his terminally ill wife, is disgusting and upsetting.  Their pride prevents this from being a tragedy.  Rather, this is a film about a family getting its just desserts for not respecting the value of their own health.  The only tragic character is the son, who is frankly also the most annoying character.  Despite some remarkable performances, “The Living and the Dead” is a film that offers nothing but frustration and annoyance.  

"X-Men: Days of Future Past" (2014)

Hands down, the best film in the X-Men franchise since “X2”.  The film carries all of the elements that fans of the comics and cartoons will love: crazy action sequences, a litany of interesting mutants, the actual war between mutants and humans (not just talk of a war), time travel and of course, Sentinels.  On top of the excellent action and tremendous stakes, there is a great personal storyline that ties the film together on a “human” level.  While some may to umbrage to the film’s liberal adaptation of the timeline and events of the Marvel Universe, “Days of Future Past” captures the heart of the “X-Men” mutant epic.  Regardless of where the series leads, this film can serve as either a satisfying conclusion or excellent new starting point.  With a cast like James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Hugh Jackman, Jennifer Lawrence, Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan, it is a daunting task for another superhero film to trump the performances in this one.  

"Red Lights" (2012)

The biggest problem with “Red Lights” is that the film never makes up its own mind what it’s about.  The last minute twist changes the entire intent of the film and no amount of flashbacks to “justify” the outcome will truly forgive the inconsistent character intentions.  Unfortunately, our protagonist’s true intentions play as weak, convoluted and difficult to sympathize with, which leaves a gaping hole in motivation.  It’s a film that leads to a certain payoff that isn’t cinematic, but would be a satisfying narrative.  Instead, the filmmakers went for the cinematic ending that isn’t a satisfying narrative.  It’s an unfortunate waste of performances and content that could have been so much more interesting and deep.  All told, “Red Lights” is the bite of apple with a worm in it; once you notice the offending party, all that came before it is spoiled as well.  

"Godzilla" (2014)

While this film manages to be exciting enough and even tonally magnificent, “Godzilla” comes up short in the story department.  Perhaps it’s all part of the homage to its predecessors but after a certain character’s death, the remainder of the movie is action and heroics, often highly unbelievable heroics at that.  The action is strong, the visuals are beautiful and the sound design and music are spine-tingling.  If only this film had a truly excellent story to go with the rest of the elements of filmmaking, “Godzilla” might be more than just one of the greatest trailers in modern film history; it could have been a great film.  Unfortunately, it was outdone by recent competitor (some say copier), “Pacific Rim.”  Despite its shortcomings, “Godzilla” is still worth a watch, if only as an A+ popcorn flick.

"The Hand That Rocks the Cradle" (1992)

"The Hand That Rocks the Cradle" is a tight, disturbing film that utilizes archetypal family terror to craft a wild yet believable story.  The events of the film are a summation of a mother’s worst nightmare: sexual assault, loss of a child, child molestation, being unseated from the role of motherhood, loss of sex appeal. loss of a husband.  These themes are so universal and enduring, they resurrect themselves in modern French New-Wave horror film "Inside”.  The action set pieces are well thought out and choreographed.  The writing is intelligent and uses character foils to illustrate themes without being overt or heavy-handed.  While the film is jam-packed with terror, it’s the little things the antagonist does that really set the audiences nerves on edge.  Taut, smart and engaging, “The Hand That Rocks the Cradle” is worth remembering.

"Cruel Intentions" (1999)

Seating itself on the border of the 2000’s, “Cruel Intentions” is not only a teen-drama/thriller but a time capsule for the time period.  It’s an exciting, sexy movie that has an unmistakable late-90’s style.  However, the plot is too reliant on the flashback and the twist.  The performances are often over the top and melodramatic.  It’s a cartoonish, soap-opera type film that rises above a daytime novella purely on star power and sex-appeal.  While entertaining, just don’t expect a tightly woven tapestry.  It’s more like a sloppy braid.  

"28 Weeks Later" (2007)

The very positive side of the follow up to modern zombie masterpiece “28 Days Later” is that it actually advances the story rather than just being the same situation with different interchangeable parts.  Dramatically, the plot advances and there are new difficulties, new goals and new stakes.  The production value is high for what is considered a low-budget film.  In terms of characters and the narrative, the story may actually be stronger than the original.  In “28 Weeks Later” there is backstory and baggage for the protagonists to overcome.  However, once one of the protagonists turns, the story stops and the plot takes over.  While the plot continues to entertain, it could have been more interesting if there was more than just survival at stake.  Regardless, the film maintains the same tension and fear that the original spawned and “28 Weeks Later” is a solid followup.  Excellent performances really nail it home.  

"Enemy" (2013)

An intriguing but slightly uneven thriller, “Enemy” is simultaneously buoyed by excellent performances and weighed down by questionable storytelling choices.  Perhaps the choice to overtly illustrate the underlying traumas of the protagonist was more of a stylistic choice rather than forcing the subtext on the audience, however it feels very heavy-handed.  The source material by Jose Saramago is excellent and timeless, and Denis Villeneuve does a pretty good job staying true to the heart of “The Double”, which plays at some of the deepest fears of man.  Jake Gyllenhaal’s performance is enthralling and incendiary.  All told, “Enemy” is an unsettling and heart-pounding thriller by a director who seems to be churning out quality films.  

"Gattaca" (1997)

A beautiful and smart neo-noir style sci-fi film.  Excellent writing and interesting characters fuel a story driven by a tense future environment.  Visually stunning and emotionally poignant, “Gattaca” is a solid film, start to finish.  Going forward, “Gattaca” will only gain in importance as a film, given humanity’s trajectory toward genetic modification, medical advancements and the advent of sex selection.  Buffered by top-notch performances by Hawke, Law and Thurman, this film remains a unique and powerful science fiction film.