Movie Roundup – April / June 2021

Here are some other films I watched from April to June, in alphabetical order.

All Is Lost (2013)

written and directed by J.C. Chandor

A man (Robert Redford) sailing alone on the Indian Ocean wakes up to find his boat has crashed with a floating shipping container. He repairs the hole in the hull as best he can, but the flooding has damaged his radio; there’s no way to call for help. And this is just the beginning of the mariner’s problems, as a tropical storm draws near. All Is Lost is a one-man survival show, with Redford carrying the whole movie on his shoulders with barely one word. It’s a hard thing to pull off, and while sometimes engrossing, All is Lost lacks that desperate quality of other man-against-nature films in which one wrong decision could be your last. Still worth checking out.

Rating: **½

Blue Thunder (1983)

written by Dan O’Bannon and Don Jakoby

directed by John Badham

I had a Blue Thunder poster in my bedroom when I was growing up. To me, this movie about an air police officer who gets chosen to test a military helicopter over Los Angeles was slam-bang entertainment: The conspiracy plot was exciting, it had awesome aerial scenes, and Arthur B. Rubinstein’s synthesizer/orchestral score was the absolute shit. It also had Roy Scheider as PTSD-suffering cop Frank Murphy, an Everyman hero who likes to check his sanity with a Casio digital watch. Thirty-eight years later, I still think this is a forgotten gem, even if the plot about citizen surveillance and control comes across as a bit silly. Then again, it’s largely irrelevant. What matters is getting to that whopper of an ending, as Murphy steals Blue Thunder, faces off against police and F-16’s, fucking flips it, and then lands it in front of a train to get destroyed. Badass. They don’t make action stuff like this anymore.

Rating: ***

Carnage (2011)

written by Yasmina Reza and Roman Polanski

based on the play Le Dieu du carnage by Yasmina Reza

directed by Roman Polanski

In this adaptation of the French play Le Dieu du carnage, two sets of parents (Jodie Foster, John C. Reilly, Kate Winslet, and Christoph Waltz) reluctantly meet to discuss what to do about their young sons after they get involved in a fight. What follows is a satire on class, wealth, parenthood, and human behavior that pokes its finger at our collective moral foibles. Yet even in the hands of director Roman Polanski – no stranger to black humor – Carnage‘s single-set aesthetic never transcends its theatrical origins, feeling rather dull and overacted.

Rating: **

Coherence (2013)

written by James Ward Byrkit

from a story by James Ward Byrkit and Alex Manugian

directed by James Ward Byrkit

Eight friends get together for dinner on the eve of a comet passing over Earth. Suddenly, the whole neighborhood loses power… except for another house in the distance. As the group investigates, they start to realize there are alternate versions of themselves – indeed, different universes – that the comet has somehow brought together. But just how many? Coherence is a micro-budget sci-fi brainteaser that cleverly limits its action to one location, with largely improvised dialogue à la The Blair Witch Project (1999). The result is not without its flaws (I kept wondering why the characters wouldn’t just get on their cars and leave), but it’s intriguing enough to keep you watching. For more dinner party mayhem, pair this with The Invitation (2015).

Rating: **½

Dragonslayer (1981)

written by Hal Barwood and Matthew Robbins

directed by Matthew Robbins

Sometime in the late 70s/early 80s, Disney decided to start making “edgier” films. Stuff like The Black Hole (1979), The Watcher in the Woods (1980), and Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983) got a little darker, and while we can debate whether or not these movies were any good (I like them all), it’s clear they ushered in a new era for the studio. Dragonslayer is part of this strange period, a medieval fantasy tale about a young wizard (Peter MacNicol) tasked with killing a 400-year-old dragon. I thought it was a cool adventure when I watched it in my boyhood years, and I was equally impressed seeing it again with my 9-year-old son. The action is fairly realistic, the special effects top-notch for their time, and the score (by Alex North) a marvel of atmospheric orchestration. And hey, the dragon’s offspring even eat the guilt-ridden princess! Disney wasn’t fucking around.

Rating: ***

The Empty Man (2020)

written by David Prior

based on the graphic novel The Empty Man by Cullen Bunn and Vanessa R. Del Rey

directed by David Prior

The Empty Man begins with an intriguing prologue set in the Himalayas, in which four hikers come across a strange skeleton and then are stalked by some evil entity. It continues twenty-three years later in Missouri, as a group of teenagers summon the being – the Empty Man – and a former detective (James Badge Dale) investigates. It’s all stylish enough, with first-time writer/director David Prior showing off all he learned from his mentor, David Fincher. But it’s also an overlong mess, with an implausible ending even harder to accept than the actual existence of the supernatural killer. Kinda empty indeed.

Rating: **

Escape Room (2019)

written by Bragi F. Schut and Maria Melnik

from a story by Bragi Schut

directed by Adam Robitel

There’s a whole subgenre of horror films – from Cube (1997) to Saw (2004) – in which the characters are trapped in closed spaces and have to solve puzzles in order to survive. Being a horror film aficionado, I love watching these movies to see if they can actually pull off their premises. In Escape Room, six people try to find the right clues so they can move from room to room before some booby trap – heat, cold, poison – kills them. It’s moderately entertaining, but the idea is stronger than the execution. Escape Room lacks the atmosphere of dread and shock value to really make it stand out (it’s rated PG-13). Skip this and watch Final Destination (2000) again.

Rating: **

Carlos I. Cuevas

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