Tag: Thriller

The Player: Flawed yet entertaining

The first frame of NBC’s new show, The Player, encases Wesley Snipes on the outskirts of Las Vegas standing over a dead body. Yeah, that Wesley. Formerly known as Blade among other action hero roles, Snipes has taken his talent to the smaller screen in hopes of kicking the dust off a once strong career that got rerouted by ego, taxes and bad decisions. Does it work? Is this Thursday cheeseburger undercooked or decent tasting?

Yes and no. The show co-stars Philip Winchester(who just finished off Cinemax’s Strikeback) and pairs the two man up as two parts of an elaborate “game” where Vegas billionaires place bets on “true crime”. As Snipes’ character says when first uttered, “Be ready to not believe me when I say it.” It’s not a bad idea. True crime, predicted by gamblers, and being held in check by Snipes’ mystery man in a suit and another woman Cassandra who may have ties to Winchester’s security analyst. Winchester’s Alex is their “player”, a man who must prevent crime and other than the lives at stake, there is also a wager hanging over his adventures.

This show suffers from a ton of coincidence(things happening right in time and characters predictability) and far fetched plot. It’s a show you have to buy into if you are going to like it. It also depends on the likability of Winchester, a man trained in the theater who folks may only know from the relatively underwatched Strikeback series which just concluded. He is new to network television and given a large chunk of this pie to eat. It may also depend if you like Snipes, who is the cover man for the show, the face you will see on posters and ads.

While flawed, The Player is entertaining in parts and sets up a riddle at the end of its pilot that may suck you in for a couple more hours. Is this show going to get picked up or last past 10 episodes? It’s so hard to tell. It doesn’t do anything particularly well or present a new premise but it’s got decent action and Vegas behind it.

Like it’s main face, Snipes, The Player is fun to look at but you question its longevity and ultimate goal. Is he enough? Can the thin plot hold our attention and will Winchester be anything more than a muscled hero to get behind? Lots of questions that 42 minutes can’t answer. I will tell you this. Next Thursday, I will be watching. Will you?

Blindspot is an intriguing blend of thriller and mystery

blindspotNBC’s new show Blindspot gets right to the point in its pilot. The hour opens in Times Square where a police officer comes upon a bag lying in the street. It’s a large bag and seems to be moving. The bomb squad comes in and when the bag is opened, a beautiful scared woman(Jaimie Alexander) crawls out of it. She is covered in tattoos, doesn’t know who she is and has an FBI agent’s name(Sullivan Stapleton) on her back in black ink. This is the jumping off point of NBC’s Blindspot.

Immediately, the FBI wants to know why Kurt Weller’s name is on this Jane Doe’s back. Is he a clue or is there a connection to her past? It doesn’t help that her memory is shot and she can’t recall how she got there. The hour sets off a chase around the city as the agents locate and decipher addresses, names and clues on her body.

She can fight and handle a gun, as Weller finds out. Is she a Navy Seal? Is she a member of a secret militia? Are there plans in NYC for a terrorist attack? At first she seems harmless but as the minutes go by, her skill set is revealed and she becomes more interesting and dangerous. The show ends with a big clue as to what happened to her and how she got into that bag in Times Square and will likely be the crux of the show. That is what is her allegiance? Which side is she working for and will it be revealed too late?

ABC’s Quantico is trying something similar, putting a group of young agents in the aftermath of a bombed federal building and seeing which one is guilty? Blindspot is keeping it more simple and encasing Weller and this woman into the center of the story. If she knows what is going on, why is his name on her back? What’s the catch there?

The actors are perfectly cast, which doesn’t mean they will be up for Emmy’s. This is entertainment folks and nothing more. This won’t replace your Mad Men fix but it may give you a different shade of Showtime’s Homeland without the melodrama of Claire Danes’ bipolar CIA agent. Alexander is beautiful but has a sexy combo of Lena Headey and Angelina Jolie action to her forte and Stapleton is an easy hero to like and sympathize with.

How long can Blindspot go? My wife commented about the limited shelf life of a story about a woman covering in tattoos and she is on to something. What happens when all the connections are made and the bad guys are found? Does the show run out of bullets? I don’t think so and I will explain.

Each season, if picked up, will be around 26 episodes. One of the pros and cons of a network show is an extremely long season(premium cable’s 10-12 episode format is much better) so Blindspot will be a slow reveal but there are directions to go. What if in the end they find the baddies but Jane Doe has a secret plan? What if she gets away and becomes the antagonist? What if there is a mole in the FBI? Terrorism plots carry tons of juice and threads so stay tuned.

The show has shot 8 episodes and will probably not shoot more until NBC asks for more. Network shows don’t give a long leash to a fall prime time show so Blindspot has some lifting to do. I think it has potential but only time will tell.

After one hour, are you in or out?

Tweet me @buffa82.

“No Escape” is a nonstop thrill ride

No Escape is a classic “what would you do if this were you” thriller. There are no superheroes, robots or otherworldly characters. There are no tough guy cops or mobsters. Just a family stuck in a foreign city that is being ransacked by rebels staging a coup. Nail bitingly suspenseful and well paced, this B movie styled thriller works on three strengths.

First, the casting of Owen Wilson as the unlikely heroic dad. Here is the comedy star’s second serious role(next to Behind Enemy Lines)and it’s a slam dunk decision. When the trailers came out, people were shaking their head at the front and center part given to the Texas guy with the crooked nose, wacky sense of humor and mostly one speed resume. However, people forget what the role required. An everyman who we didn’t expect to fight and that’s where Wilson thrives. He has pocketed emotion and unsettling rage on display here. He’s going to surprise you. Don’t forget the man brought a country to tears in Marley and Me and was very fine in Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris. He can do more than comedy and he shows his skills here, playing a husband and father of two daughters who just needs to get them to safety.

Second, Lake Bell is equally effective as the wife and mother. This isn’t just a damsel in distress. This momma won’t be trifled with and it’s a fun experience watching Bell go from overworked and tired wife to survival mode queen bee. Bell is an experienced actress who can play many speeds. A poor woman’s Rachel McAdams with more depth. She blazes a quiet trail here as the ying to Wilson’s yang. They make a great convincing seemingly hopeless couple. It really makes the film run full bore.

Third, Writer/Director John Erick Dowdle(an experienced horror director with As Above, So Below, Quarantine, Devil) brings the violence and thrills right up to the bridge of your nose. The gunshots sound real and ring around the theater. The explosions are unsettling. The surprises in this easy to digest story raise the stakes just right and the suspense isn’t overbearing yet chilling. He doesn’t shy away from a good kill or a gruesome end for a main character. It’s all out and in your face.

Stop worrying about why the film was delayed and just enjoy the thrills. The pacing is excellent, and the slow motion shots work better here than in most films. As he displayed in the underrated Devil, Dowdle knows how to put your fingernails into your mouth, get your tendencies as a filmgoer broiling and turn up the tension. There are sequences in No Escape that just make you move right up to the edge of your seat.

Pierce Brosnan showing up as a seemingly friendly yet mysterious adventure ally adds an extra kick to the film. This is the first time I can remember the actor actually having fun with a role and showing some shades of his James Bond days. The gray beard, sharp wit, easy going charm and action mobility haven’t been dazed with age yet when it comes to the 62 year old Irishman and it helps the film run when the original tank of gas gets low.

All in all, you won’t see No Escape coming. The Weinstein Company seemed to dump it at the end of the summer season because they didn’t know how to properly market it. The shoot saw some delays and it wasn’t a smooth operation but what Dowdle, Wilson, Bell and Brosnan carved out here is an enjoyable suspenseful potboiler. If you take a chance with it, the payoff is there.

Instead of doodling with a sequel in Sinister 2 or a clumsy video game film in Agent 47, place a bet on No Escape, an action film that aims to please, thrill and keep things moving. Right before the heavy hitters step up to the plate in September, this old school thriller will settle in just right and just might floor you.

BIG GAME is a huge Samuel L. Jackson mistake

I need to speak with Sam L. Jackson’s agent. It won’t take long.  I am going to ask him why he passes on these dreadful scripts to his popular client. Jackson has done some drivel in recent years, but Big Game takes the cake. It’s a riff on Air Force One with Jackson’s President being stranded in the woods after his plane is blown out of the sky and it’s up to him and a young kid to survive and defeat the bad guys.

Jalmari Helander writes and directs a movie that may have been digestible in 1987, because back then trash dialogue and kindergarten special effects weren’t frowned upon yet swallowed whole like a McDonald’s double cheeseburger at 11 o’ clock at night.

Hey, there’s cool bad guy Ray Stevenson(Rome and Dexter) slumming it as a man who wants a piece of the Executive Chief. There’s highly respected actor Jim Broadbent, the man back home in the Pentagon who knows what is going on and chews on an apple for the entire film. Felicity Huffman and Victor Garber show up as well. Onni Tommila is the Finnish kid who helps our guy but he can’t even work a bow and arrow. How did so many good actors find their way into this film? Was it code named “Marvel spinoff” and they got duped?

There’s one cool shot of a man diving out of a plane and as he falls to the ground missiles fly past him up into the sky. That’s it. Everything else is bad music, lazy editing, laughable dialogue, corny action and slow motion amateur hour. I’m getting tired of the President in duress plots as well. It’s been done, overcooked, deep fried and saturated in muddy cinematic waters. Let’s can it.

Is there any delight here to be had? Sure. If you ever wanted to watch a movie while typing away on your phone or while cooking dinner in the other room, this is the one for you. It’s only 90 minutes and doesn’t stay on your mind long afterwards. All you will think about as this film concludes is why all these fine actors partake in this mischief. What was the catch? It didn’t cost much to make but it reined in some big names. Did it get lost in the editing room? Did the Cliffhanger/Air Force One aspect get lost quickly? I am not sure.

I can tell you this. Big Game is a big waste of your time.

Tom Cruise makes “Rogue Nation” feel fresh

Mission 5Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation‘s sign outside reads like this. Welcome to the Tom Cruise show. Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to walk into Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation without an ounce of cynicism or pre-existing opinion of Cruise’s off screen persona and just enjoy a good old fashioned spy flick.

Let me tell you right now. The reason these films work so well, no matter the director, is the star. The face on the poster. The man carrying all the marbles and the boulders of pressure on this summer blockbuster scale. Cruise doesn’t just do his own fight scenes. He also hangs off the side of departing airplanes as they take off. He also rides motorcycles around roads hanging off steep cliffs. He also dives into large bodies or water and does all this at the ripe age of 50. When I think of Cruise and Mission Impossible films, the pursuit of authenticity comes to mind. He wants to make it as real as possible and he wants the audience to have as much fun as he did filming it.

The plot isn’t too distracting and has just the right amount of juice dripping from the grill at this cinematic barbecue. Cruise’s IMF team(Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames) are being hunted by a rogue “Syndicate”, who wish to destroy the unit and also make a lot of money in the process. This is a film where the bad guy isn’t really noteworthy. He’s got an accent, a nasally voice and an ability to tuck the bottom part of his face into a snarl. He wants to take Cruise’s Hunt down and do it all flashy like, which makes for amazingly rendered action sequences.

You don’t come to a Mission Impossible film to be wooed by Oscar caliber acting. You want to see what these guys do this time. They didn’t disappoint. Writer/Director Christopher McQuarrie(who wrote a past Mission film and is the creator of Usual Suspects) ups the ante here with Cruise and company. Leading up to the release, the scene where Cruise literally hangs off the side of a plane carried all the energy of the marketing campaign. That stunt is pretty cool and sets off the pre-credits sequence. It pales in comparison to the other stunts.

The sequence that takes the cake is a scene where Hunt dives into a government facility that is guarded by 100 feet of concrete and protected by a pool of water that whips around like a hurricane when you are in it. Hunt’s desperate plea to extract a chip, card or whatever is revealed slowly and raises the stakes as the three minute timer on his watch counts down. Folks, we all fear drowning but what the filmmakers do here is create a truly harrowing yet fun experience. We are sucking the oxygen out of our own lungs watching Hunt try to dangle.

The motorcycle chase is filmed extremely well, and all the gun fights sound authentic, ringing off a Michael Mann like echo in your ears. It’s almost as if the Fast and Furious gang challenged Cruise and company to create the most outrageous action set pieces, and the veterans just winked and went to town. I’m sorry, Vin Diesel, but when it comes to real action stunt work, Cruise has you beat big boy.

Rogue Nation is just smart enough to make us forget about the outlandish stunts, plot threads and somewhat uneven pacing at times. It’s alert, confident and delivers the goods you come to expect when seeing the trailer.

The cast is cool as silk, with Renner and Baldwin providing some levity with biting one liners and humor. It’sRebecca Ferg good to see Rhames back and Pegg is always a reliable comedic presence. The steal here though is newcomer Rebecca Ferguson, a gorgeous Swede who takes turns helping and betraying Hunt’s crew. Ferguson isn’t just a pretty face. She’s athletic enough to fulfill the action duties and has a naturally beautiful body that doesn’t seem anything overly fancy or anywhere near ordinary. Whether she’s climbing up her opponents to wrap her legs around their neck and stab them in the chest or she is racing on a motorcycle, Ferguson holds her own and then some and her co-stars know it. There’s something about a pretty lady with an European accent who can throw a punch and take one as well that just knocks me out. You’ve been warned, Emily Blunt and Kate Beckinsale.

While it’s not as polished as the first one or as slick as the last, this 5th round of Mission Impossible daredevil work is a worthy piece of summer entertainment. Whenever the plot starts to spin out of control and everybody is wearing fake masks and throwing kicks and shooting all over, Cruise grounds it all with his hard work and dedication to the character and the series. He’s a thinking man’s action hero and is all the fuel this Mission needs.

Also, Rebecca Ferguson doesn’t hurt.

A Dose of Buffa Special-PRISONERS review

There comes a time when I must spotlight a little of my Film-Addict work on the blog because I can’t trust everybody that needs to hear about a certain film to go to the site.  Consider this a Dose of Buffa Special.

PRISONERS

Movie-Prisoners

Rating-R

Running Time-153 minutes

Directed by Denis Villenueve

Cast-Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Maria Bello, Viola Davis, Terrence Howard, Melissa Leo and Paul Dano

Plot-How far would you go to protect your family?  Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) is facing every parent’s worst nightmare.  His six-year-old daughter, Anna, is missing, together with her young friend, Joy, and as minutes turn to hours, panic sets in.  The only lead is a dilapidated RV that had earlier been parked on their street.  Heading the investigation, Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) arrests its driver, Alex Jones (Paul Dano), but a lack of evidence forces his release.  As the police pursue multiple leads and pressure mounts, knowing his child’s life is at stake the frantic Dover decides he has no choice but to take matters into his own hands.  But just how far will this desperate father go to protect his family?

 

 

Buffa’s Take-When I left this movie, the first thing I wanted to do was go home and hug my son.  The second thing I wanted and needed to do was inform everyone within a ten mile radius how important it is for this movie, Prisoners, to be seen.   Easily one of the year’s best films, French Canadian director Denis Villenueve’s spellbinding tale will get inside your bones and stay there a while.  Few movies have the power to be present you with a moral dilemma and take the necessary time to lay out their story while inserting every scene with authentic tension.  Never mind the trailer that some believe gives away too much.  What you get there is a basic setup that covers a third of the film’s running time.  Prisoners is full of juicy compelling moral questions and features the best ensemble cast of 2013.  Let’s dig in.

Hugh Jackman’s work as Keller Dover deserves Oscar attention.  It goes without saying that the actor is as versatile a talent in Hollywood as one can find, but here he puts on display his best screen work to date.  He turns it all up a notch.  Forget his Oscar nominated work in Les Miserables last year.  That is surface imitational work compared to what he does here as Dover, a father who won’t be stopped until he finds out where his daughter is.  A survival specialist who keeps natural selection close to heart, Dover won’t be stopped and Jackman electrifies with his portrayal.   This is the same man who grows claws out of his hands as Marvel’s Wolverine and dances on Broadway.  Jackman is astounding and the emotional glue that holds the film together.

Gyllenhaal is nearly as brilliant, playing a detective who fills his whole life up with police work.   He doesn’t have a home he dares to sleep in nor a vacation to seek.  Detective Loki’s life is consumed by his cases and Gyllenhaal doesn’t fake a second of it.   Concentration as sharp as a knife even though his eyes continue to blink and beg for starvation, the actor becomes this character and doesn’t stop at merely impersonating an officer.  Gyllenhaal’s work in End of Watch must have helped him greatly here.

The rest of the cast is stellar.   Bello, showing loads of despair but never creeping towards manipulation, turns in her best work since The Cooler.  Davis and Howard, parents looking for their child with less hostile maneuvers, turn in solid work.  Dano cranks up his quirky weird vibe on the outside yet slowly reveals a tortured soul beneath as his story line collides with Jackman’s.  Melissa Leo, in a few scenes, creates someone that doesn’t leave your head far after the credits roll.  She is the picture of realism.

Villenueve has only done a handful of films, but one can only hope he trusts the Hollywood system to deliver more of these style of films.   The film is shot beautifully by Roger Deakins, covering the dark tale in perfectly set grey tones.  Editor Joel Cox doesn’t waste a single frame in conveying the director’s message.  The production work here is aces across the board right down to the understated and powerful score by Johann Johannsson.

If art’s goal is to imitate life, this film comes pretty close.  Prisoners is a truly complete cinematic experience. The story is pulverizing and shocking.  It won’t just take a piece of parents, but any soul with warm blood flowing through it.  It’s challenging for moviegoers because it presents lingering questions that begin and end with emotional response.  The end isn’t tied up like a cute little knot.  A very deserving film of your attention, Prisoners may be the best film I have seen in 2013.

 

Buffa Rating-5/5

 

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