Searching (incl audio)

This film reminds me of any cutting edge upgrade that truly wows consumers. It’s also a great story told in a highly effective, suspenseful way. All this with the screen never shifting from a laptop display.

Searching (2018)
PG-13 | 1h 42min | Drama, Mystery, Thriller | 31 August 2018 (USA)

After his 16-year-old daughter goes missing, a desperate father breaks into her laptop to look for clues to find her.
Director: Aneesh Chaganty
Writers: Aneesh Chaganty, Sev Ohanian
Stars: John Cho, Debra Messing, Joseph Lee

It’s being compared to Hitchcock in its Thriller presentation. It’s the type of Maverick “laptop screen genre” we saw in the “Unfriended” franchise, “The Den,” “Open Windows,” and “Friend Request.” Of those, I only like “Unfriended” and “Open Windows.”

This film is something powerful. I like it best of any in this genre. I should note, director Aneesh Chaganty has not made a horror film here. It is a PG-13 narrative about a father who breaks into his daughter’s laptop once she goes missing. He finds clues to begin a search for his daughter who has gone missing irl.

Jon Chow as Dad and Debra Messing as police detective are stellar. Once again, everything is seen through the view of a laptop computer screen. This is the best film of its genre to date.

To avoid spoilers, I will leave my review at that. and with the invitation to listen to my podcast episode of “Searching.” I will say it is possibly my best film pick of 2018!

Below is a player and Link to my podcast episode where I review this film.

Below is a transcript excerpt from the show. I hope you listen and enjoy!

Here is an excerpt from the episode:

I’m gonna talk about 3 films in this episode but mostly just 1, “Searching.” Well, I just saw this and it’s a drama/mystery/thriller. So when I first looked at this and some of the ads and trailers I didn’t know what to think. I saw a solid choice of casting with John Cho and Debra Messing. The Director is Aneesh Chaganty. He is a first time director. He really took on a lot with this film. I can’t imagine all the little technical notes and screens that needed to be used in the direction of this film. The actors were good so that likely it helped his to do list but still, I think directing this required a lot of extra skills and talents.

[…]

If you want to say something spoilerish in the comments, go for it and I always respond to comments as well.

We see John Cho’s character go from a loving but somewhat distant dad to a highly dedicated Dad searching for his daughter. His daughter’s name is Margot and she is played by several “as she grows up” actresses. The final Margot is played by Michelle La, she is very beautiful and does an excellent job.

[..]

The Story of Us

Some movies are feel-good the whole way through. Others are just sad. Others still take you through ups and downs to leave you sighing because you have just experienced life as it is, or almost anyway. This film is definitely one of those. I won’t call it feel good but it can still be called a romantic comedy. Hat tip on this one to Rob Reiner.

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Bruce Willis and Michelle Pfeiffer play a couple who have been married for 15 years and have reached the breaking point. It’s a series of flashblacks intermingled with present day challenges. There are some real keen insights into marriage: what works and what takes years to work out.

The rest of the review may contain spoilers

They have two kids, which makes the film more heart-rending. In one scene their daughter lays in bed with them pulling their hands together, very touching. You go through the whole movie asking yourself if they will get back together. In fact, you sometimes hope they won’t, the fighting is stressful to watch. You ask yourself if she has a real gripe with him because he “talked intimately” with another woman at work. She caught wind of it and initiated the separation. The issue of affairs and what really constitutes one comes up again and again.

It seems to me there were a lot of conflicts prior to the questionable “talking.” As you watch the film it seems questionable whether they should have ever gotten together at all. She is a mathematical, ordered thinker whereas his head is in the cloud. Can an analytical type ever be happy with an artist? That’s another question brought up here again and again.

It’s a movie singles and couples can enjoy. If you don’t identify with the couple, perhaps you were the children at a younger age. The great thing about this film is that it dares to present real people. I’ll take that over a fake romance, unless I want to watch fake romance, which from time to time I do, then I wouldn’t watch this. Still, I’m glad it’s here, I’m glad this film was made.

Diabolique (1955)

Header image
An abused, neglected wife and her husband’s jaded mistress plot the perfect murder.

The biggest pat on the back for this film goes to the writers. The way the characters are developed turns the screw of intensity until finally the ending is revealed. If you haven’t seen it, let me say it is not like other endings, it is a magnificent one, set apart.

Many writers were involved in starting and completing this film. After the final scenes’ power, you will likely agree with me it shows! The director is Henri-Georges Clouzot. He is known for other intensely dark yet compelling thrillers like this one. The films he has done as listed in his IMDB bio are: “Le Corbeau and “The Wages of Fear.” I admit to not seeing these films, but I want to after seeing “Les Diabolique.” He is compared in the bio to Hitchcock except with films that “do not have as much light relief.”

Le Corbeau got Georges in a lot of trouble. The French government thought he presented France in a dark and bad light so he was banned from making films for several years. Though there are many other stories about this director, I feel that one is the most telling about his honesty and integrity as a filmmaker. Thank goodness I don’t live in a censored state like he did. I don’t think I would be able to stand for it. Inevitably, this made him tough and thoughtful about his craft.

The brutal scene pictured here is a good followup to the director who crafted this amazing film. By today’s standards, it’s tame but for 1955 it was more brutal & mysterious than Hitchcock and that’s why people still love it to this day.

This film takes place in a French boys’ school where most the characters work. The Headmaster has been cheating on his wife for years and his mistress as well as the wife, work at the school. This is where the story is told and the exquisite tension begins.

You see a far different school than ours in America today. The teachers are smoking in the presence of the students, the kids food fight regularly, although it is smart how they just don’t feed them for the malfeasance. It seems to be ameliorated the next day. Funny what a schoolmaster hunger can be right? The headmaster is a womanizer, a rapist (in theory), and an all around unlikable guy. We start to see right away he needs to be killed, or at least we hope. As the two women drive together, they discuss a plan to get rid of this guy once and for all. For all intents and purposes, it seems like a perfect plan for murder.

I want to make a comment about the practical effects. Obviously back then it was all they had to work with but they are so much fun to watch. I recently watched “Eyes Without a Face,” another classic horror, and the car scenes were so funny to me. It looks so fake and yet they probably thought it was so real for the time. The scenes in these cars are even more archaic and also more funny to me. It really shows how far we’ve come with effects. Now back to the idea of this plot, with no spoilers.

The film is black and white of course and filmed almost entirely at the house which is the school for boys. The swimming pool that is part of their plan is at the school. They do a great job distracting the viewer with activities of the children. We find that the husband/headmaster has a lot to lose if his wife divorces him. He hits her and treats her miserably. As the viewer it’s hard to not imagine killing him, he’s that bad. BUT as we all know in the civilized world, it’s never appropriate to kill someone. We watch these two women make their plans, as he equally humiliates the mistress though not as badly, and their path takes them to another location: a holiday hotel.

The little couple that manage the hotel are side-splittingly funny. They are innocents and it’s funny how people intending to kill can look at innocents with such jealousy. Once the deed is done, there’ll be no going back.

I’ll leave my summary there for you. I haven’t given anything away except the fact that there is a great ending. I would challenge you to be brave and watch this old film. It’s better than so many modern murder mysteries.  If you’ve seen it, do leave some thoughts in the comments. I enjoy discussing this and other murder mysteries in this genre. Thos eare my thoughts, what did you think of this film?

 

Cemetery of Splendor

I won’t try to overstep my grasp of this film. I figure readers like to read something by a guy who knows what he is talking about and at the very least comprehends what is happening. I can’t say I do 100% in this film. BUT, I will take this review opportunity to tell you exactly how I took this film and the hedonic components as they revealed themselves to me. I call this sort of film impressionistic hedonism and let me tell you, it’s not for everyone. Note this partial genre: fantasy. Available From $2.99 (SD) on Prime Video.

Cemetery of Splendor (2015)
Rak ti Khon Kaen (original title)
Unrated | 2h 2min | Drama, Fantasy | 2 September 2015 (France)

From $2.99 (SD) on Prime Video
A group of soldiers in a small town on the Mekong River in northern Thailand are struck with a bizarre sleeping illness.
Director: Apichatpong Weerasethakul
Writer: Apichatpong Weerasethakul
Stars: Jenjira Pongpas, Banlop Lomnoi, Jarinpattra Rueangram

I love Thai food. I also love Buddhist temples. There’s one close to us here in Southern California that I have gone to many times “when I was confused” (quote from the film and also my life). What was I confused about you might ask? As in the film, the answer would be “love.”

In the last 1/4 of the film there is this contraption that propels water and yet doesn’t move. Actually it’s impossible to tell if it is propelling or being propelled. It make the sound of a free shooting sprinkler and it’s magnificent. There were many times in this film I got that relaxed feeling you get after a good meditation or even a massage. Thailand appears to be so beautiful. There are numerous scenes that appear chosen in color and framing as if to hang in a temple. The only thing missing is a padded stool and lovely incense. Is there a story here? Oh yes but it’s a lot like the hedonic imagery, you better not make a judgment, better to just relax and accept that everyone around us is dead. Not sad, dead.

Shall we pretend that we’re dead? Like the water propellers, there are a dozen or more deeply fascinating and ethereal objects & images. I collect these types of images in my mind. If you don’t, you won’t get it.

There are a few women, one in particular, who take care of men in a comatose state. We find out why they will never wake up at some point. Then we learn more about the living women and what their life is all about. Or is it life? This film was great for breathing exercises and armchair traveling in my lazy boy. For those who would like that and “get that” I recommend to you 8/10.

Still Waiting for First Reformed and Some of My Predictions

If you are a fundamentalist Christian who puts the Bible before humanitarianism and reason, you may be offended by my article below. You’ve been warned. That’s not to say it will offend all Christians. I am a person raised Christian but somewhat dissatisfied with the current state of it in my country. It still lives in my heart.

I’ve been really interested in this movie, it sounds like a challenge against modern Christianity. Challenge breaks up the soil and either kill the weak crop or make it stronger through reform. Most Christians making headlines and faith-based social media statements fear challenge. I say: you’re killing people and even worse, people’s inspiration to live, be challenged.

I still haven’t seen the film but it sounds like a story of a weak preacher played by Ethan Hawke who is a small part of a large mega-church machine. When people really need help, he is like “I got nothing.” Amanda Seyfried is part of his choir and her husband wants her to get an abortion because the world is doomed and they shouldn’t bring a baby into it. There are some explosive moments and religion is challenged. The director Paul Schrader is legendary for a 40 year career in writing and directing films. He wrote the script and story for Taxi Driver in the 70’s.

This is the first preview I’ve written in quite sometime. I feel our world needs a “come to the table of sanity” rebuke film towards Christianity. Some of these Christian films that have come out like “God is Not Dead 2” are borderline embarrassing to our human race. I don’t think this mass of Chrstians running around blessing each others’ day are healthy for the world. Things could change of course, when free thought outweighs the dusty black book.

The best rule is to expect nothing, some of my favorite movies were seen that way. When it does come out you can expect to see my review right here at “Riley on Film.”

21 Grams

No, this film isn’t about drugs as the title hints. It’s a people study. In this heroic film by Alejandro G. Iñárritu, a handful of characters are under the microscope for us to try to analyze. Their lives intersect in odd ways but that really isn’t the amazing thing to watch for. It’s their drives and why they do things that should captivate the viewer. I know it did that for me.

21 Grams (2003)
R | 2h 4min | Crime, Drama, Thriller | 16 January 2004 (USA)

A freak accident brings together a critically ill mathematician, a grieving mother, and a born-again ex-con.
Director: Alejandro G. Iñárritu (as Alejandro González Iñárritu)
Writer: Guillermo Arriaga
Stars: Sean Penn, Benicio Del Toro, Naomi Watts

Sean Penn, Benicio Del Toro, & Naomi Watts are the top stars in this dramatic film about what drives people. The writer Guillermo Arriaga has done a fantastic job giving us a dollhouse type view of these normal people engaged in their lives. I first became interested in the director when I saw “Birdman,” another film that puts regular people right up to the screen larger than life. In watching what they do, we can quietly and privately look at ourselves. These films cause us to question our motives.He is an excellent director but I find some of his formulaic conventions unnecessary to make us introspective.

If you like deeply portrayed characters, look no further. I greatly enjoyed this film but personally didn’t need all the “coincidences” to make it powerful for me. I give this film an 8/10.

Sami Blood: Audio Film Review

One review I read before watching this movie said, “Open up to this film.” That’s what I did and I am glad. It is beautiful to look at and it contains a timeless tale.

The haves vs the have-nots: one of the most ageless templates of humankind. This is a Swedish film with English subtitles. That’s what’s going on here in “Sami Blood.” Elle Marja is an old woman reflecting on her life as a young woman who is part of the “Sami Blood” or the reindeer farming peasants. After foul treatment at “school” and discovering a general malaise in the life style she was born into, she decides to impersonate someone in the upper echelon. She is desperate, she will do anything to be part of the higher society.

Sami Blood (2016)
Sameblod (original title)
1h 50min | Drama | 2 June 2017 (USA)

NOW STREAMING on Prime Video
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A reindeer-breeding Sámi girl who is exposed to the racism of the 1930’s at her boarding school, starts dreaming of another life. But to achieve it, she has to become someone else and break all ties with her family and culture.
Director: Amanda Kernell
Writer: Amanda Kernell
Stars: Lene Cecilia Sparrok, Mia Erika Sparrok, Maj-Doris Rimpi

The Swedish landscapes are incredible and the hardworking director/writer Amanda Kernell makes sure they are in many scenes as background or even just filling the entire frame. These hills tell a story. In interviews she says she had to make decisions similar to this young character. Many of her culture had to decide where they would live. There is a powerful scene where the young woman demands an heirloom from her family so she can continue going to private school under a dead girl’s identity. The mother is torn as to what she should do. The “low people” are like native Americans the way they live. They do need money though so this is a demand that borders on insult.

She falls into a relationship with a young man. At first it appears as if they love each other. The cinematography of them dancing and enchanted time time together is wonderfully mesmerizing. Later though, his parents in whose home they are having their affair question her motives and they force him to turn her out. On her way out, she doesn’t state her love for him, she is desperate. She only pleads, “Tell them I can work here cleaning.” While a sad scene, it goes to show the invisible wall between these two castes of the Swedish countryside.

My daughters are going to “Vid-con” in a few months. We paid for their tickets at Christmas. There, they will see “The Gabby Show” and other of their favorite Youtube stars. These rich famous people are their stars. I couldn’t help but draw a parallel to the lower and upper people in this film. Maybe America hasn’t come very far in its middle class. Still, I am happy my kids have tickets to something they feel excited about.

As the film concludes, we aren’t given a nicely wrapped conclusion. This is one of those films you have to make your own mind up about. For me, it is about the age=old controversy between upper and lower class. The middle class is a new thing America has produced. THrough time people have been either “Haves” or “Have-nots.” Can we judge Elle Marja for wanting something better? Was this her only option? He young sister stayed faithfully with the Sami Blood. At a point near the end, at her sister’s funeral, Elle Marja rips off the casket lid and her sister’s weathered face is revealed. Which lived a truly happier life? This is a longer, historical period piece in a foreign language. It won’t appeal to everyone. As for me, I was deeply touched. It lost one point because several scenes took longer than they should have. Beyond that, it’s excellent. I give this film a 9/10.

‘Ashby’ – Legendary Mickey Rourke as Mentor

My Rating: 6/10 – Mickey Rourke is an irresistible performer. I’ve been watching his movies since I was a kid and his presence in movies had drawn audiences for years and up to the present day. Is Ashby a welcome presence? Hmmm.

ashby-poster

Ashby (2015)
Cast

Mickey Rourke, Nat Wolff, Emma Roberts

Directed by

Tony McNamara

Written by

Tony McNamara

Other Info

Comedy, Drama, Romance
Rated R
1h 40min

Ashby is one of those movies you keep questioning whether it’s an independent or major studio motion picture. You think it must suck as the latter and might be hip and cool if it’s the former. Turns out, neither platform can save this film, it comes up empty on several levels.

The premise is that a High-school student Ed Wallis (Nat Wolff) enters into a friendship with his neighbor, Ashby, (Mickey Rourke) a retired CIA assassin who only has a few months left to live.

The basic plot bears similarities to Scent of a Woman. The main difference is that Mickey Rourke doesn’t play the role as deftly as Al Pacino. In fact, his character is boring and without charisma. It’s hard to believe we are watching the same Mickey Rourke that kicked ass in Iron Man 2. Maybe he came off as lucid there because he was playing with a thick accent. His character could have been performed much better. The film’s biggest weakness is in him being mis-cast. He’s a great actor and I have huge respect for him. Another film I truly loved him in was The Wrestler. This is not The Wrestler. Unfortunately his performance falls short and almost nonsensical in this film. The romance present in the film can’t save it either. Emma Roberts and Nat Wolff are both charming but the other story overshadows everything and mostly, you want to forget it. I actually chose to watch this film because it was a romance but I think that is another “mis” in the movie along with miscast: a mislabeled.

It’s a fun idea for a story and for a while, I wanted to see what was going to happen. Soon however I lost interest in the characters and the predictable story unraveling before me. When a high school kid is mentored by an old dude, cool things can happen. I guess the trouble here is that not enough cool things happen. The film weaves a high school film into a hit-man drama with another “coming of age” cord woven in. If each were like seasoning, I’d say each overpowers the other. Nothing is subtle. I’ll be a Mickey Rourke fan to the end but this is not one of his films I can wholeheartedly recommend. I wanted deeper, more rounded characters and a better story. I see what they tried to do but in the end they missed it. It’s not a total bomb so if you are a fan, you may enjoy it because hey … it’s MICKEY ROURKE! Still, Ashby doesn’t pack the punch of some of his other hit films.

‘High Rise’ – Style Over Accessibility

My Rating: 6/10 – *This review contains spoilers.

In the future, everyone might live in communal buildings. If you’ve ever lived in a tiny apartment in a big city, you know these can have their drawbacks. This film shows some of those potential problems in the form of a drama. It all looks great but it somehow lost me in its fragmented plot.

highrise-poster

High Rise (2015)
Cast

Tom Hiddleston, Jeremy Irons, Sienna Miller

Directed by

Ben Wheatley

Written by

J.G. Ballard (novel), Amy Jump

Other Info

Drama
Rated R
1h 59min

Did you “get” this film? Imagine you live, work, swim, workout, shop, and recreate in a London high-rise building. That’s what’s going on here. The cover almost looks like the game “Clue” since it has all the characters posed sardonically as if to say “I could have done it, but I didn’t.” But this isn’t a “whodunnit.” Instead, it’s a drama about things that go on in said high rise. One facet that’s really weird and alluring is the way the futuristic stuff is all retro 70’s looking. It’s like a trip into a sort of “James Bond” land on a movie studio theme park tour. I also reminded me of Ray Bradbury’s writing. He wrote in the 50’s about a future he imagined from 50’s stuff (phones, analog computers, telescreens, monorails). What’s different here is you have a move made in 2016 that portrays a future using 70’s stuff. It really needs to be seen to be understood. I call it futuristic retro.

Tom Hiddleston plays the main character, Laing. He is the protagonist in the real life novel of the same name by J.G. Ballard. I would assume the novel provided some of the retro visual motivation. The film was directed by Bean Wheatley who is known for Kill List and Sight Seers. He is joined by his wife as screenplay writer on this film once again. Jeremy Irons plays “the architect.” He represents the older gentleman who knows everything about the building. Sienna Miller also stars in the film.

High-Rise is a story about surviving and thriving in a futuristic high-rise. It’s as much about human technology as it is about its failures. Were people meant to live this closely together? One might decide not after watching this film. Then again, it could be the fault of a few bad applies that spoils it for everyone. When Laing first moves in to the building, I asked myself “Why would he ever need to leave?” There is even a floor that serves as a grocery store. On its face it seems a novel idea, but perhaps we do need to go out from time to time and mingle?

Luke Evans (known for Dracula) plays a scary Wilder. He is the antagonist and the constant fly in the ointment. At the same time, he was the character I enjoyed watching the most. He bares a similar resemblance to Michael Shannon, who has a similar demeanor as well. It’s impossible to rule out whether a certain person or the faulty plans of the architect pave the way for anarchy in this London high-rise. despite the contained setting, there is sex, violence, vengeance, and science fiction that keeps the plot interesting. By the way, does anyone agree the sex scene was way too long? Is Tom Hiddleston gunning for a new genre here? Unfortunately, the structure and slick look is fragmented. I don’t think I “got it” as I was supposed to.

Lots of time movies look really slick but I just can’t get into them. It happened with the remake of The Man Called Uncle and some others I reviewed last year. I could probably go back and understand this film better a second time but I probably won’t anytime soon. For the visuals and futuristic/retro ideas, I gave it a 3/5. This is one however that I think will depend a lot on the individual as to whether it’s “gotten” or not. Part of being a “spoilers” reviewer as I am these days is being honest about my gut response. On a gut level, this movie scores lower with me. I try to avoid rating film by my gut so for the look, acting, and structure, I give it 3/5.

Passchendaele

My Rating: 6/10 – This is a good film that lacks in its script and there is no clearly discernable message. I think great war movies have that. It’s meant to show the passion of a country for its cause, namely Canada in WWI.

Passchendaele (2008)
Cast
Paul Gross

as Michael Dunne

Caroline Dhavernas

as Sarah Mann

Joe Dinicol

as David Mann

Directed by
Paul Gross
Written by
Paul Gross
Other Info

Drama, History, Romance
Rated R
1h 54min

A war film should have a tangible, good story woven throughout and I didn’t feel like one existed here. We see the empty eyes of a woman bereft of her lover. We also see a man who survives war and loves the best way he knows how. The road to these conclusions is peppered with war violence and reverie of a war long past and I wasn’t really into it.

This film is a pride to the Canadians. It shows the role Canada played in the war. That was an important factor of this film and I liked it for that. Did I mention Canadian pride in war is rampant here? If you’re Canadian or you treasure grim war scenes, you will like it for that reason. Otherwise, you might agree with me that the writing was thin and there was no universal, apart from Canada, message being put forth in the story.

I don’t normally put a caveat on my reviews but in this case I think it’s appropriate to inform the reader that I am a pacifist. I try to discourage my kids from joining any military system.

I do think that my global view on war affects my interpretation of war movies so, there’s my caveat.

I do enjoy some war movies when their message is clear and well delivered. I don’t like being among the bombs and bayonets when I see no real purpose. An example of a war film that gets its message out clearly is “Apocalypse Now.” This is no “Apocalypse Now.” People talk quickly and there were no real memorable dialogs or monologues in my opinion. Stabs with a bayonet don’t count as intriguing moments for me.

There is excellent cinematography and the wardrobe is all retro and in sync with the time being portrayed. There is a romance, it’s not thrilling.

War is hell and this film takes you there.

I did get some positive messages from it but overall I found it to be a dismal account with no apparent purpose or moral at the end. For that reason along with poor acting and script, I took away a few stars. Some may like it but this is definitely not a pacifist’s film. I am glad I saw it for the historical aspects and the cinematography. I never knew Canada had such a role in the war, I didn’t need a two hour History Channel TV movie to understand that though.