Mini Reviews (December 2015)
Tiger House, Sisters, Two Night Stand, Suffragette, Martyrs, Malone
Tiger House (December 6/15)
Tiger House casts Kaya Scodelario as Kelly, a young woman who breaks into her boyfriend's room one fateful evening and must subsequently fend for her life after the house is invaded by armed thugs. It's a stellar, seemingly foolproof premise that's employed to increasingly underwhelming effect by director Thomas Daley and writer Simon Lewis, as the movie suffers from a hopelessly tedious midsection that's centered more around the exploits of one-dimensional characters than cultivating (and sustaining) an atmosphere of tension. This is despite a relatively promising first act that effectively sets up the protagonist and the deadly scenario, with the auspicious vibe perpetuated by an inclusion of gleefully less-than-subtle elements. (We learn, for example, that Kelly is an expert gymnastand that her boyfriend owns a crossbow.) And while the perpetrators' initial assault on the house is quite well done, Tiger House moves into a plodding midsection that's rife with dull spots and slow patches - as much of the narrative revolves around the criminals' yawn-inducing scheming and Kelly's efforts to escape from her confines underneath a bed. The film admittedly improves slightly once Kelly manages to start moving around the house, and yet even this stretch is lacking in the kind of visceral excitement that one might've anticipated and expected (ie the whole thing just feels oddly lifeless). The anticlimactic (and somewhat absurd) finale only confirms Tiger House's total failure, which is too bad, really, given the potential afforded by both the top-notch setup and Scodelario's personable turn as the plucky protagonist.
Sisters (December 17/15)
A slight improvement over Tina Fey and Amy Poehler's last cinematic collaboration, 2008's Baby Mama, Sisters follows siblings Kate (Fey) and Maura (Poehler) as they decide to throw one last big house party at their childhood home before it's sold by their parents (James Brolin's Bucky and Dianne Wiest's Deana). It's perhaps not surprising to note that Sisters fares best in its freewheeling, easy-going first half, as director Jason Moore and scripter Paula Pell have infused the early part of the proceedings with a lighthearted touch that's awfully difficult to resist - with the affable vibe heightened and perpetuated by Fey and Poehler's charismatic work. (This is despite the fact that the former remains unable to wholeheartedly step into the shoes of her loudmouthed, brassy character). The movie's midsection is devoted entirely to the aforementioned house party, and there's little doubt that this stretch is packed with larger-than-life, hilariously over-the-top bits of comedy and silliness. (Bobby Moynihan's turn as an unfunny class clown who goes berserk after accidentally ingesting a handful of drugs remains a highlight.) But as fun as a lot of this stuff admittedly is, Sisters' ludicrously overlong running time (118 minutes!) ensures that one's interest and enthusiasm slowly-but-surely begins to wear thin - with Moore's obstinate refusal to rein in his actors paving the way for a series of padded-out sequences (ie it's fairly obvious that many jokes and gags have been improvised). By the time the endless (and far too maudlin) final stretch rolls around, Sisters has unfortunately established itself as just another post-Apatow comedy that needed a far more stringent hand in the editing room.
Two Night Stand (December 29/15)
Two Night Stand follows Analeigh Tipton's Megan as she decides to embark on a one-night stand with Miles Teller's Alec, with the pair, having squabbled the morning after, forced to spend another day together in the wake of a nasty snowstorm. It's immediately clear that Two Night Stand benefits greatly from the appealing and thoroughly charismatic efforts of its stars, as both Tipton and Teller manage to transform their fairly stereotypical characters - ie he's sloppy and mellow, she's high-strung and quirky - into figures worth caring about and rooting for. (And it certainly doesn't hurt that the actors share a considerable amount of chemistry together.) The predictably meandering narrative ensures that Two Night Stand tends to run hot and cold, with the movie rarely rising above the level of a passable distraction that's riddled with paint-by-numbers romcom elements. Having said that, it's hard to deny the effectiveness of a few key sequences - with the best and most engaging example of this a rather captivating segment in which Megan and Alec critique one another's sex techniques. Two Night Stand unfortunately closes with a decidedly ineffective stretch containing the hoariest of romantic-comedy cliches (ie the fake breakup), and yet it's ultimately the endless charm of the actors that prevents one from checking out completely.
Suffragette (December 30/15)
An astonishingly tedious drama, Suffragette details the true-life efforts of several figures to bring the vote to women in the early 20th century - with the film singling out one such individual (Carey Mulligan's Maud Watts) and her transformation from dutiful mother and wife to rebellious foot soldier in the fight for equality. It's a compelling premise that certainly could (and should) have been employed to superb effect, and yet there's little doubt that director Sarah Gavron and scripter Abi Morgan remain unable to capture the viewer's interest for the duration of Suffragette's often interminable running time. Ranking high on the movie's list of problems is a visual sensibility that's nothing short of disastrous, as cinematographer Eduard Grau offers up a drab, unpleasant look that effectively perpetuates the palpably lifeless feel. Morgan's less-than-subtle screenplay hardly does Suffragette any favors, with the writer's hit-you-over-the-head approach dulling the impact of the movie's few heartwrenching moments and essentially cultivating an atmosphere of high melodrama. It's clear, too, that Mulligan's dour performance does nothing to alleviate the pervasively inert production, while the big, crowd-pleasing developments of the movie's final few minutes fall absolutely and utterly flat - thus securing Suffragette's place as a well-intentioned yet hopelessly (and aggressively) uninvolving piece of work.
Martyrs (December 30/15)
A surprisingly decent horror remake, Martyrs details the carnage that ensues after a young woman (Troian Bellisario's Lucie) tracks down the people responsible for her abduction years earlier - with the narrative primarily detailing the impact Lucie's assault inevitably has on both herself and her best friend (Bailey Noble's Sam). Directors Kevin and Michael Goetz, working from Mark L. Smith's screenplay, offer up a first half that hews closely to the structure of Pascal Laugier's 2008 film, with the added emphasis on the two girls' relationship as children ensuring that their bond, which is seriously tested later on, is developed more thoroughly than it was in the original movie. And although the pervasively familiar atmosphere results in an opening half hour that isn't exactly enthralling, Martyrs pushes into a midsection that captures the spirit of its predecessor while also boasting a number of unexpected twists and turns - with the Goetz siblings punctuating the narrative with several impressively tense sequences. It's worth noting, too, that the movie's comparatively conventional approach isn't as disastrous or troublesome as one might've anticipated, with the decision to eschew the original's extreme torture predecessor paving the way for a far more palatable second half - which ultimately does compensate for the absence of shock value concerning the premise. The end result is a better-than-expected remake of an almost iconic horror effort, with the movie, in the end, more than justifying its existence and almost standing as a template for what to do (and what not to do) when adapting a foreign chiller for the English-language market.
Malone (December 31/15)
Malone casts Burt Reynolds as the title character, a former CIA hitman who finds himself stranded in a small town after his car breaks down. It's in said small town that Malone meets and befriends a kindly mechanic (Scott Wilson's Paul) and his daughter (Cynthia Gibb's Jo), with problems inevitably ensuing as an evil land developer (Cliff Robertson's Delaney) begins causing trouble with Malone and his new acquaintances. It's a decidedly well-worn premise that's employed to underwhelming effect by filmmaker Harley Cokeliss, with the most prominent issue here an almost unreasonably deliberate pace that highlights the various deficiencies within Christopher Frank's hackneyed screenplay. The leaden narrative is, from time to time, alleviated by the inclusion of admittedly stirring action sequences, with Malone's ongoing encounters with Delaney's various thugs certainly as entertaining and violent as one might've expected (and hoped for). Reynolds' solid turn as the tough-as-nails protagonist is matched by a surprisingly solid supporting cast, and there's little doubt that Robertson's smarmy performance stands as a continuing highlight within the proceedings. Despite such positive attributes, however, Malone is simply unable to hold one's interest for more than a few minutes at a time - with the movie's raft of strong action beats, in the end, rendered moot by a hopelessly familiar (and poorly-paced) narrative.