Mini Reviews (April 2016)
Triangle, The Pyramid, Eden Lake, Cheap Thrills, Precious Cargo, Keanu
Triangle (April 5/16)
An erratic yet ultimately rewarding time-travel tale, Triangle follows several friends as they embark on a pleasure cruise and quickly find themselves caught in a nasty storm - with apparent help arriving in the form of an enormous ocean liner that is, it's soon revealed, completely devoid of people. (Mysterious, time-shifting shenanigans eventually ensue.) Filmmaker Christopher Smith does an admittedly fantastic job of initially establishing the disparate characters and transforming them into fairly vivid protagonists, with the movie's promising initial stretch eventually (and unfortunately) giving way to a repetitive and somewhat tedious midsection detailing the heroes' continued exploration of the aforementioned ship. Smith's efforts to establish a Timecrimes-like temporal loop fare relatively well, admittedly, but it does become more and more difficult to work up any genuine interest in one particular character's (Melissa George's Jess) attempts to escape. The film, then, improves substantially once the action moves to dry land, with Triangle, past that point, finally becoming the engrossing, twist-laden sci-fi chiller that Smith has been striving for since the get-go - which does, in the end, confirm the movie's place as a decent full-length feature that would've been absolutely stellar as a short.
The Pyramid (April 6/16)
The Pyramid follows an archaeological team as they venture into the recently unearthed title locale, with horror ensuing as it becomes clear that they're not alone inside. There's little doubt that The Pyramid fares best in its relatively engrossing first half, as director Grégory Levasseur and scripters Daniel Meersand and Nick Simon effectively establish both the promising setup and the various characters - with, in terms of the latter, actors like Ashley Hinshaw, Christa Nicola, and Denis O'Hare infusing their one-dimensional characters with more depth than one might've anticipated. And although there are a handful of compelling sequences contained within the movie's midsection - eg a character finds herself impaled on spikes while ominous creatures approach - The Pyramid is, to an increasingly distressing degree, riddled with lulls that slowly-but-surely test the viewer's patience. The growing emphasis on infighting and puzzle-solving only exacerbates the movie's less-than-captivating vibe, and it's subsequently not surprising to note that the film fizzles out long before reaching its unimpressive, shoddy-CGI-heavy climax - thus ensuring that The Pyramid is destined to be forgotten almost as soon as the end credits have rolled.
Eden Lake (April 23/16)
Eden Lake follows Michael Fassbender's Steve and Kelly Reilly's Jenny as they arrive in the country for a weekend getaway, with the trip taking a decidedly sinister turn after the couple encounters a group of violent teenagers (led by Jack O'Connell's Brett). It's a well-worn premise that is, at the outset, employed to promising effect by filmmaker James Watkins, as the writer/director does an effective job of establishing the two central characters and their somewhat idealized yet thoroughly compelling relationship. The arrival of the aforementioned teens triggers Eden Lake's slow-but-steady descent into irrelevance, however, with their almost immediate transformation from reckless punks to soulless sociopaths ringing hopelessly false (to put it mildly). There is, as such, no denying that Watkins' subsequent efforts at cultivating an atmosphere of fear and suspense fall flat, with the increasingly tedious cat-and-mouse midsection exacerbating the movie's less-than-engrossing vibe. And while Watkins deserves some credit for offering up a story that becomes more and more grim as time passes, Eden Lake suffers from a third act that's lacking in elements designed to sustain the viewer's interest - with Watkins' refusal to fall back on a few requisite tropes (eg the surviving protagonist exacts his or her revenge on the evil pursuers) ensuring that the movie's final stretch is quite a slog indeed. (And it's hard to deny that the ultra-downbeat finale feels needlessly mean-spirited.)
Cheap Thrills (April 25/16)
A fantastic premise in search of a better movie, Cheap Thrills follows down-on-his-luck family man Craig Daniels (Pat Healy) as he agrees to participate in a series of increasingly lucrative challenges alongside an old friend (Ethan Embry's Vince) - with the couple (David Koechner's Colin and Sara Paxton's Violet) pitting the buddies against each other taking things to increasingly violent heights with each subsequent dare. There's little doubt that Cheap Thrills boasts the feel of a low-key stage play that's been adapted for the big screen, as the movie, past a certain point, transpires entirely within the home of Koechner and Paxton's respective characters - with the effective work by the various actors, for a time, the only thing preventing the movie from completely going off the rails (ie there's a palpable spinning-the-wheels vibe at work here). It's clear, then, that the film improves somewhat as it progresses into its comparatively enthralling second half, with Trent Haaga and David Chirchirillo's screenplay slowly-but-surely emphasizing challenges of a progressively outrageous nature. The escalating atmosphere paves the way for a third act rife with jolts and impressively disgusting feats, which, at the very least, ensures that Cheap Thrills closes on a relatively positive note. But it's ultimately clear that the movie would've been better off as an installment in a horror anthology, as there's just not enough there there to justify a full-length running time.
Precious Cargo (April 26/16)
It's ultimately difficult to recall a more inept and uninvolving actioner than Precious Cargo, as the movie's been suffused with one inept element after another by filmmaker Max Adams - with the decidedly less-than-engrossing atmosphere compounded by a series of underwhelming performances. (It's perhaps not surprising to note that costar Bruce Willis offers up a seriously lazy turn as the movie's far-from-from-threatening villain.) The storyline follows master thief Jack (Mark-Paul Gosselaar) as he reluctantly agrees to help a former lover (Claire Forlani's Karen) pull off a daring heist, with complications inevitably ensuing once a ruthless crime boss (Bruce Willis' Eddie) arrives on the scene. Precious Cargo's overtly hackneyed plot turns out to be the least of its many, many problems, as Adams, working from a screenplay cowritten with Paul V. Seetachitt, proves unable to deliver a single compelling (or even competent) attribute - with the movie's eye-rollingly awful dialogue and uniformly tedious action sequences ranking high atop its list of aggressive deficiencies. And while star Gosselaar acquits himself relatively well here, particularly in comparison to his almost uniformly amateurish costars, Precious Cargo's sluggish midsection paves the way for an action-packed yet hopelessly dull final stretch that confirms the film's place as an excessively pointless piece of work.
Keanu (April 28/16)
A seriously bizarre little movie, Keanu follows Jordan Peele's Rell Williams and Keegan-Michael Key's Clarence Goobril as they embark on a perilous quest to retrieve the former's adorable little kitten from a menacing drug lord (Method Man's Cheddar). Filmmaker Peter Atencio has infused Keanu with an erratic and oddly subdued feel that persists for the duration of the movie's overlong running time, and yet it's clear that the film benefits from an affable first half anchored by Peele and Key's irresistible chemistry together - with the pair's appealing banter generally compensating for an atmosphere essentially devoid of overt laughs. (There's little doubt, as well, that the title kitty, as compelling a screen animal as one can easily recall, plays an integral role in the film's early success.) Atencio's lackadaisical approach ensures that Keanu does begin to run out of steam somewhere around the one-hour mark, however, with the narrative's shift from fish-out-of-water comedy to all-out actioner wreaking havoc on the already-tenuous momentum - with a reveal in the final act also retroactively (and misguidedly) draining a certain mid-movie joke of its impact. The end result is an almost passable comedic endeavor that wears out its welcome to an increasingly prominent degree, and it ultimately does seem as though scripters Peele and Alex Rubens should've spent a little more time honing the narrative.