Category Archives: Thriller Movies

Transsiberian (2008) Movie Review

Transsiberian (2008)

Movie Review by Debbie Winkler

Starring: Woody Harrelson, Emily Mortimer, Ben Kingsley, Kate Mara, Eduardo Noriega
Director: Brad Anderson
Release Date: 18 January 2008
Language: English
Length: 111 minutes
Movie Rating: R
View Format: Online Streaming
My Rating: image_thumb84_thumb1_thumb

Synopsis:

Americans Roy (Woody Harrelson) and Jessie (Emily Mortimer) just finished their volunteer work in China and are taking the Transsiberian railroad to Moscow as a kind of mini-vacation before they return home.  They end up sharing a cabin with Carlos (Eduardo Noriega) and his girlfriend Abby (Kate Mara).  Experienced travelers, Carlos and Abby stay close by Roy and Jessie, but it doesn’t seem to be for innocent reasons.  Jessie suspects that Carlos is running drugs, but Roy harbors no such suspicions.  Roy and Jessie were hoping to reconnect and invigorate their marriage over the duration of this trip, but Carlos seems to be driving a bigger wedge between them.  Jessie cannot stay away from Carlos’s dark charms and, when Roy is accidentally left behind on a brief train stop, Jessie gives into temptation, which changes her life forever.

Review:

Transsiberian is a taut, atmospheric thriller.  One aspect of the storyline seemed pretty obvious so I was waiting for the penny to drop on that one, but other Roy and Jessieplotlines came out of nowhere and smacked me in the face.  The movie begins with a couple that is clearly struggling in their marriage.  Woody Harrelson plays Roy, a sunshiny optimist who never even suspects the bad in other people, let alone believe it.  A typical American, he is big and loud and obvious while traveling, but he makes friends easily and everyone seems to like him.  Woody Harrelson was a delight to watch in this role as an over-grown boy who recommends that you keep your eye on the doughnut and not the hole while indulging his inner geek with all kinds of fun train facts.  Roy appears to be completely unaware of all of the undercurrents between Jessie and Carlos and I was really worried about him!  Emily Mortimer was the central focus of the movie as Jessie.  She is married to Roy, who seems Carlos and Abbyher polar opposite in every way.  Jessie has struggled to fight off her addictions and to change her life, but now she feels like she is stuck in boredom.  Emily Mortimer plays Jessie as an intriguing mix of world-weary élan and naivety.   She is clearly unhappy and ripe for the picking, which draws the sharks closer to her character and sets all of the grief in motion.  When the exotic Carlos (Eduardo Noriega) starts flirting with her, I knew it was only a matter of time before Jessie succumbed to temptation.  Eduardo Noriega plays his role with a hint of danger and a vein of unpredictability.  He was a wild card and I never knew quite what was going to happen.  Oh, I knew that he would find a way to get Jessie to smuggle drugs for him, but I had no idea how bad things would turn out for Jessie and Roy!

The best part about this movie is the surprising story.  I knew that someone was Roy and Jessie Flee for Their Livesmurdered and that drugs were involved, but I was completely wrong in guessing who killed whom, as well as when and why.  I felt an almost claustrophobic sense of anticipation while I was waiting to find out who was going to turn out to be the killer.  The couples are on a small, enclosed space on the train and have little privacy.  In addition, no one else on the train seems to speak English aside from these four, which keeps them further isolated.  You also feel a great deal of vulnerability as the Russian police are portrayed in a very negative light.  So where do you go for help?  Who do you trust to share an incredible story with Ben Kingsley as Russian Policemanand hope that they believe you are innocent?  Roy puts his trust in Grinko, a Russian detective portrayed by Ben Kingsley.  I thought it was a good move, I mean, come on, its Ben Kingsley, how could you not trust him?  But the good moves turn out to be bad and the bad moves turn out to be good.  I was practically breathless with anticipation as I waited for the movie to come to its close and then was still a little surprised.  There is a lot of trust involved in traveling in foreign countries and I never felt more of a foreigner than I did while watching Roy and Jessie trying to escape the train that had become a type of prison to them.

Russia is shown to possess a kind of spare, stark beauty.  It is wintertime and Siberia is bitterly cold.  I completely understand why Communist Russia used to Cold Wintertimeuse this section of Russia as a prison as it was difficult to survive.  Buildings and people are worn down and just accept life at face value.  There is no hope or happiness that is found without a touch of alcohol to raise it.  Beautiful monuments of the past are at the mercy of the elements and are in crumbling ruins.  Brad Anderson really captured this transitional country that is still trying to find its footing after the collapse of Communism.  Jessie’s camera highlights bits and pieces of the Russian culture that are still alive, but the monochromatic vistas definitely wear on you after a time, just like they did on the travelers.  The music enhances and supports the movie brilliantly.  It is subtle, but very well done.

If you are looking for a movie that will surprise and horrify you, Transsiberian is a good choice.  It is an independent film so they have no agenda in what they are presenting and this movie will definitely keep you guessing!  Every time Roy Shocking Ending!and Jessie’s troubles appear to be over, there is something far worse on the horizon waiting for them.  The movie is a bit depressing and has a sense of heaviness or doom about it that stays with you for a time after you watch it, which is probably why most viewers give this movie a lower rating.  This movie is one of those films that is really well crafted – it has a strong storyline, good acting and a great mystery going for it – but it has some quality about it that makes this a one-time viewing for me.  While I can appreciate the quality of this movie, I found it disturbing in such a way that I will probably not be watching it again anytime soon!

Content:

This movie contains several scenes of violence.  Characters are tortured, killed, shot, bludgeoned, terrified and injured.  Dead bodies and blood are shown.  Drug smuggling is a major plot in the movie and tis brings in corrupt cops and drug enforcers who keep track of the smugglers and their money.  There are scenes of drinking, smoking, and strong language.  There are some scenes of sensuality and sexuality, though nothing explicit is shown.  The nude full male rear is shown in a shower scene.  Police brutality is shown while they beat up a suspect.  Recommended for ages 18 and up.

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The Ladykillers (2004) Movie Review

The Ladykillers

Movie Review by Debbie Winkler

Starring: Tom Hanks, Marlon Wayans, Irma P. Hall, J.K. Simmons, Tzi Ma
Director: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
Release Date: 26 March 2004
Language: English
Length: 104 minutes
Movie Rating: R
View Format: DVD
My Ratingimage_thumb82_thumb1_thumb1

Synopsis:

“A Southern professor-turned-criminal-mastermind (Tom Hanks) puts together a group of thieves to help him rob a New Orleans riverboat casino. But when the old lady (Irma P. Hall) who’s renting them a room gets a whiff of their plan, they have no choice but to kill her. ” — Netflix.com

Review:

I was disappointed with this “remake” of The Ladykillers.  I thought the original film was clever, emotional and a surprisingly engrossing crime Ladykillers Criminalsthriller.  This remake does not come even close to that.  Most of this is due to the fact that the characters are fairly flat and one note.  Tom Hanks, who reprises The Professor’s role (made famous by Alec Guinness), was definitely not his usual, lovable self.  I despised his tittering laugh and thought he was way too smarmy.  Irma P. Hall was a huge disappointment as the “sweet old lady.”  I did not like her and would probably not have had such a difficult time killing her.  I don’t think it was any surprise that one of the characters equated her with his abusive mother!  The other characters are merely shadows of real people and are sketched out very briefly.  I felt that the writers and director relied more on stereotypes than clever writing to create their characters.

I was definitely put off by the crude humor and strong language in this film.  J.K. Simmons’s character suffers from IBS (Irritable Bowel Ladykillers Old LadySyndrome), Tzi Ma’s character constantly swallows his cigarette because there is no smoking allowed in the house, Ryan Hurst keeps his mouth open the whole time to try to make himself look dumb and Marlon Wayans’s character is busy living up to every black-man-in-the-hood stereotype that has ever been created.  There is crude sexual humor, potty jokes, and Asian and black stereotypes to try to make the audience laugh.  Well, I wasn’t laughing.  The cat, Pickles, was probably the most entertaining character in the film.  I got a kick out of watching the men scramble to try to catch him and keep in the house to appease their grouchy landlady.

I am not sure why the directors and creators of this film decided to bill this film as a remake of The Ladykillers.  They would have been much Ladykillers Cover Bandbetter served to create a new title and claim that the movie was inspired by the original, but not a remake of the original.  The basic plot is the same and they played an homage to the original film by playing the same chamber music to conceal their crime, but the original is far superior to the updated version. Truthfully, the best part is watching the criminals patiently wait to drop the dead bodies onto a passing trash barge, but waiting for a train to pass by is so much better! If you enjoy crime capers, you will find something in this movie to enjoy, but there are many better crime thrillers out there to watch.

Content:

This movie contains several scenes of death and violence.  Characters die of gunshot wounds, falling down the stairs, and hanging.  Crude jokes including sexual humor and racial stereotypes are common.  There is a lot of swearing in the movie.  Recommended for ages 18 and up.

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Dead Lines (2010) Movie Review

Dead Lines (2010)

Movie Review by Debbie Winkler

Dead Lines

Starring: Jeri Ryan, Anthony Lemke, Bruno Verdoni, Tiera Skovbye, Natalie Vansier
Director: Louis Bélanger
Release Date: 25 December 2010
Language: English
Length: 95 minutes
Movie Rating: Not Rated
View Format: TV
My Rating: 1/5 stars

Synopsis:

Sophie Fyne (Jeri Ryan) is thrilled to present her new fashion line with its eco-friendly message and empowerment of women.  With her husband, Adam (Anthony Lemke), as the money man, a good-friend, Ian (Eugene Brotto), playing the ideas guy and Sophie designing the clothes, it seems like this trio is on the fast track to success.  But everything starts going wrong when one of the women who makes fabric for the company is found murdered in a shipping container.  The police start an investigation and match the DNA under the dead woman’s fingernails to Sophie’s husband.  Several disasters ensue after the initial murder and Sophie must find a way to keep her business afloat, uncover the truth behind the disasters and protect those she loves.

Review:

This movie had some potential, but it just ended up a hot mess.  The story is so far-fetched that is loses all credibility early on.  It starts with the dead woman in the shipping container (a container which almost crushes the inspector) and just keeps spiraling downward from there.  Credit cards are denied, suppliers start requesting COD payments for materials, construction workers refuse to come back to work because they haven’t been paid in months, the Fyne loft has a lien placed on it because the mortgage hasn’t been paid for 4 months, a $2 million deposit was made in their joint account and then suddenly pulled, etc.  And these are just the financial difficulties that Sophie is having!  There is a strange man in a black SUV tailing her daughter, a bald guy who seems to be turning up on every street where Sophie is, a missing coworker (Ian) whom no one has heard from and a general feeling of unease.  Fellow fashion designers show up with threatening, nasty messages about making everyone else look bad.  A Chanel book of original sketches is focused on, dropped then picked up again later.  Then there is Sophie’s daughter, Spencer, who has suddenly decided that she wants to be a model and doesn’t understand why her mother won’t let her model some of her clothing line.  There are way too many plot lines and mysteries introduced in a short period of time.  When the villains start coming in hot and heavy at the, the plot gets completely out of control and ended on a whimper for me.  I won’t spoil the surprise (in case you plan on watching this trainwreck…), but the villains of the piece are the not the kind to mess around with the psychological warfare that this movie shows the characters going through.  Seriously, when you are dealing with people in this line of work, they just kill you or your family or come in and take what is theirs.

The acting was also subpar, at best.  The main attraction in this movie is the lovely Jeri Ryan, who is used to great effect in the new Body of Proof series.  Here, she plays fashion designer Sophie Fyne, who is getting ready to open up her own fashion house featuring her own line.  She talks a lot about empowering women to support themselves and earn money by supplying Sophie with fabrics and embellishments from around the world, but she knows nothing about her own finances.  I mean, I am all for trusting your spouse, but you should keep an eye on things just the same in case something happens or goes wrong.  Jeri Ryan did look lovely in the movie, even though her look seemed a bit dated at times.  I mean, I am not what anyone would call fashion forward (cue laughter from everyone who knows me), but some of Sophie’s outfits seemed downright clunky for an up-and-coming fashion designer.  I would expect something more avant garde or classic for her to be wearing and felt like some of her outfits missed the mark.  Still, Jeri Ryan did look beautiful, if a bit vapid.  Tiera Skovbye plays Spencer Fyne, Sophie’s spoiled brat of a daughter.  Spencer goes from expressing disdain for her mother’s line of work and objectification of women to wanting to be a model and refusing to eat.  I did not find her a likeable character at all, but she was at least a believable source of distraction and frustration for Sophie!  Anthony Lemke was ham-handed in his handling of his role of Adam Fyne.  I did not at all understand how Adam and Sophie got together, married and stayed married for over a decade.  They seemed to have nothing in common and Adam did not seem to be in love with Sophie at all or to be very handsome or charming.  In fact, now that I think about it, this movie was notably lacking in some male eye candy for the female audiences!  I know that tastes differ, but the men in this movie are not what I would call particularly attractive.

I spotted the villain the moment he walked on the screen and then I just waited it out to see if I was proved correct and/or why he committed the crimes.  This was incredibly disappointing as the plot would have been a bit more bearable if there was some surprise reveal waiting for me at the end of the film.  I don’t know if this is due to the actor’s mishandling of his character and his scenes or if it was a deliberate move on the director’s part to plant the seed of suspicion in the viewer’s mind.  As it stands, there really is not much to recommend this movie to anyone.  Some of the scenes were interesting and I enjoyed the fashion show at the end, but that is about all.  If you do choose to watch this movie, make sure that you watch it late at night when your thinking is slightly impaired so that you will be a bit more forgiving.  Otherwise, I would consider this movie, which I watched on Lifetime, as a piece of skippable made-for-TV drivel.

Content:

This movie contains scenes of murder, gunshots, strangling, dead bodies, embezzlement, kidnapping, attempted murder, drugs and some violence.  There are scenes involving models and fashion shoots with some almost bare shots of the models.  There are mentions of eating disorders among models and Spencer’s character is extremely thin and mentions fainting due to not eating.  The police are actively investigating the case and they use guns in a few scenes.  There is some mild language.  Recommended for ages 12 and up.

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The Carey Treatment (1972) Movie Review

The Carey Treatment (1972)

Movie Review by Debbie Winkler

The Carey Treatment

Starring: James Coburn, Pat Hingle, Skye Aubrey, James Hong, Jennifer O’Neill
Director: Blake Edwards
Release Date: 29 March 1972
Language: English
Length: 101 minutes
Movie Rating: PG
View Format: TV
My Rating: 3/5 stars

Synopsis:

“Dr. Peter Carey (James Coburn) is a pathologist at a Boston hospital. The daughter of the hospital’s Chief of Staff dies after an illegal abortion goes wrong, and Carey’s friend and colleague Dr. David Tao (James Hong) is accused of performing the abortion. Carey doesn’t buy it, and so he digs deeper, angering the girl’s father in the process. Questions abound: Who performed the abortion? Was the girl really pregnant? And what does it have to do with stolen morphine, blackmail attempts, and a mysterious and dangerous masseur?” — Imdb.com

Review:

This movie is made much more interesting by knowing some of the background surrounding the film.  Michael Crichton wrote the novel that the movie was based on, but the screenwriters who adapted the novel into the screenplay were so embarrassed by the results that they begged to be removed from the credits.  Instead, they created a completely fictional writer to put in the credits so that their reputations would not suffer from this movie.  The director, Blake Edwards, also was extremely upset with the way that the studio edited the movie and requested that his name be removed from the credits, but he was not so successful.  When I found out these details, I was expecting the movie to be absolutely terrible, but was pleasantly surprised with this movie.  Of course, I had relatively low expectations going in so that probably helped!  I feel like this movie was ahead of its time in many ways.  It was one of the first medical thrillers that are so prevalent today.  It also deals mainly with abortion, an extremely hot topic for the time as abortions were still considered illegal.  For these two reasons alone, this movie is worth watching for those who enjoy medical/mystery thrillers as seen on the small screen today.

The story is a bit disjointed, but the mystery was very interesting.  A 15-year-old girl is brought in to the emergency room with her stepmother.  She’s unconscious and bleeding heavily.  It is apparent to the doctors that she is the victim of a botched abortion.  Suspicions immediately falls on Dr. Tao (James Hong), as the girl’s stepmother claims that her stepdaughter mentioned his name several times before she fell unconscious.  Word them comes out that Dr. Tao has been performing illegal abortions at the hospital for some time so that young girls won’t suffer at the hands of back alley butchers.  For killing this patient, he could go to jail for 5 years to life!  Dr. Carey (James Coburn) was just hired at the hospital, but he knows that Dr. Tao didn’t kill the girl and is determined to discover who did!  If they had just stuck with this main story, the movie would have been a solid thriller and would have sucked viewers right in, but they had to pad it with too many other subplots.  Dr. Carey starts dating a dietitian, a single mother with an absent husband.  He also is determined to stay a swinging, ‘70s-style bachelor and throws wild parties.  Dr. Carey tools around Boston in his groovy wood-paneled station wagon, hunting down clues and upsetting the local chief of police.  I get that they were trying to make Dr. Carey’s character a cool, likeable guy – and they succeeded for the most part – but there were too many subplots to fit in to a movie.  I think that all of the plots in this movie would have fit in to a TV series or a mini-series better than a solid movie as there is a lot of story to squeeze into such a short amount of time.

The styling of this movie is very much from the 1970s.  It was kind of fun to see all of the clothes, the hair and everything from that time period without dipping into the hippie movement or disco-mania.  Aside from the parties, everyone was dressed relatively conservatively .  The especially enjoyed the hospital setting and enjoyed observing their uniforms, their equipment, and all of the other techniques that they would use in a top-of-the-line hospital at the time.  Even though we have come a long way since then, doctors still played god with their patients and felt like they were above everyone else.  Dr. Carey very much followed this type and he used every tool in his arsenal to get the results that he was looking for.  He was not afraid to fight, threaten, cajole, plead, lie or seduce the answers out of anyone involved in the case to pry information out of even the most reluctant witness.  As he wasn’t a policeman, he wasn’t technically breaking the law in most instances.  For the most part, I liked Dr. Carey’s bulldogged determination to get at the truth and would have wanted him on my side if I were in trouble!  James Coburn was very much the star of this film and, even though it wasn’t his best work, I would be interested in seeing more of him in other movies.  I thought he was very good in this role and managed to take a character that very easily could have been too cocky and unlikeable to root for and turn him into a confident, intelligent man who was determined to get to the bottom of the mystery – and fall in love along the way!  The rest of the characters in this movie were very much secondary characters and all of them took a backseat to his dominating presence.  That said, I did enjoy the verbal sparring that Dr. Carey had with the Chief of Police (Pat Hingle) and thought they had some clever dialogue and veiled threats that they bantered back and forth.

All in all, this was an interesting movie, but it just didn’t manage to entirely succeed.  I thought the acting was fine and the mystery was interesting, but the storyline was too disjointed for me.  I would have appreciated it if they tried to release a cutting-edge medical thriller that stayed taut and streamlined rather than make a mystery that would appeal to the masses by throwing a bit of everything in.  Though this movie received decent reviews and did okay at the box office, I think that it could have been a critical darling or a box office smash, but instead was neither.  This movie is not available on DVD at this time so you have to catch it on TV and I recommend that you do if you enjoy watching mysteries.  I didn’t know whodunit until the very end when it was revealed so the mystery is very enjoyable – just disregard all of the fluff surrounding the main plot and you will have a good time!

Content:

This movie contains some autopsy scenes, including a nude body on the slab.  The main plot of this movie deals with a murder mystery dealing with a botched abortion.  There is quite a bit of information regarding abortions, sex, out-of-wedlock pregnancy, and underage promiscuity.  There are some scenes of violence, fighting, stabbing, blood and suspense.  This movie contains scenes of strong language, smoking, drinking, drug use, stealing drugs from the hospital, surgeries, and lots of blood.  Recommended for ages 14 and up.

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Berserk! (1967) Movie Review

Berserk! (1967)

Movie Review by Debbie Winkler

Starring: Joan Crawford, Ty Hardin, Diana Dors, Michael Gough, Judy Geeson, Robert Hardy
Director: Jim O’Connolly
Release Date: 11 January 1968
Language: English
Length: 96 minutes
Movie Rating: Not Rated
View Format: TV
My Rating: 3/5 stars

Synopsis:

Monica Rivers (Joan Crawford), owner and ringmaster of a small traveling circus, will stop at nothing to create publicity and fill the seats.  When her star high-wire performer dies gruesomely during his act, Rivers gets the publicity she has been craving and profits soar.  She hires Frank Hawkins (Ty Hardin), an up-and-coming high-wire acrobat, and quickly falls into a torrid affair with the younger, handsome man.  Her previous lover and partner, Durando (Michael Gough), is found murdered shortly thereafter.  Many circus performers suspect that Monica had something to with both deaths, but nothing is proven.  When Monica’s most outspoken accuser, Matilda (Diana Dors), a magician’s assistant, dies after being sawed in half, everyone becomes afraid of the terror stalking the circus.  While audiences continue to pack in to see the horrors live, Scotland Yard sends an investigator (Robert Hardy) to look into the suspicious deaths.  The investigator struggles to break in to the insular world of the circus performers and the bodies continue to pile up as everyone in the circus becomes a suspect…

Review:

This was an interesting movie.  I would not necessarily say that it was good, but I didn’t think it was terrible either.  It is definitely a low-budget horror movie, but there were some moments of charm.  My favorite part of the film was probably the live circus performances that were shown throughout the movie.  I have only been to see the circus once before so I still enjoy seeing old-fashioned circus performances on TV in movies and other shows.  There is something so fascinating of seeing the sawdust and the glitter involved with these circus performances.  You see some amazing feats performed by freaky, weird people.  I think that there is something oddly fascinating and repulsive about circuses and their performers.  Though this movie does not focus on the more freakish performers in the circus, it does highlight the fact that outward appearances don’t really reflect on inner turmoil and darkness.  Another one of my favorite parts were the deliciously snarky lines stabbed at characters by Joan Crawford.  She has some terrific one-liners that were so mean and so cutting that it was just delightful to hear someone say what they really think and not be afraid of repercussions.  While her character will never be considered loveable, she is a still a very strong, powerful woman who is not afraid to go after what she wants.

One of my least favorite aspects of this movie was the villain.  I will not tell you who did it, but I will tell you to not waste your time trying to figure out who the killer is as they are a character that is only featured in the last few minutes of the movie.  I always feel like this is a cop-out as I would much rather have a villain or a killer that is hiding in plain sight so that I can try and figure out whodunit than to be surprised at the end.  Well, I must say that some people might have been surprised, but I thought the killer was pretty obvious.  I don’t know why I felt like I knew who it was, I just had an aha moment when the killer showed up on the screen.  Most people will feel like it is Frank Hawkins (Ty Hardin), as he is a charming, young man determined to make a way for himself.  He manages to finagle his way into Monica Rivers’ (Joan Crawford) heart and talks her into signing over part of the circus ownership to him so that they become partners.  I was a bit taken aback at their relationship as Joan Crawford is pretty old in this movie (and looks it) while Ty Hardin is a handsome, blond stud, but it suited the crazy, over-the-top world of the circus.  Anyway, sorry to disappoint that suspect for you, but he didn’t do it so look elsewhere!

I thought the acting was a bit hammy in this movie, but it didn’t really bother me.  I know a lot of people didn’t like Joan Crawford in this movie, and she is not really one of my favorite actresses from this time period, but I felt like she did the most with this character that she could.  I think that she had a lot of fun playing her part and knowing that she would be under constant suspicion by viewing audiences had to be a little thrill.  This is not one of her better movies, but women of a certain age don’t get too many acting offers.  I was really amused to see that many viewers thought the costumes were trashy, too revealing, and didn’t suit Joan Crawford’s character as she was wearing her own clothes.  This was a movie with a very low budget and she brought her own wardrobe to try and save them money so don’t blame the stylists!  The other actors in the movie were decent in their roles, though nothing spectacular.  None of them were really able to stand up to Joan Crawford when she was sharing the screen with them.  She just overpowered them all or they were too in awe of her to stand up to her and really put themselves out there.  I felt like the men especially seemed to kind of shrink back from her as if she was very intimidating and a real force to be reckoned with.

I didn’t think this was a great movie, but there are some moments to enjoy.  As a rule, I don’t typically enjoy horror movies as I get scared too easily, but I could handle this one!  The murders were kind of funny, as well as gruesome, and the circus atmosphere was oddly fascinating.  The acting wasn’t the best, but I didn’t really expect much of a low-budget horror movie so I wasn’t disappointed.  If you like circus movies with a dark side, this is a fun one to catch and watch late night on TV (it is not available on DVD at this time).

Content:

There are several murders in this film.  People die from falling off a high wire, being stabbed, sawed in half, being electrocuted and other, fairly gruesome, painful methods of dying.  The bodies are briefly shown and there is some blood, but they leave most of it up to the power of suggestion and show people screaming so you know something horrible happened.  There is a love affair between the ringmaster and several of the men in the circus.  There are several scenes of flirtation and sensuality.   There are scenes of smoking and drinking alcohol.  Recommended for ages 12 and up.

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True Crime (1999) Movie Review

True Crime (1999)

Movie Review by Debbie Winkler

Starring: Clint Eastwood, Isaiah Washington, Lisa Gay Hamilton, James Woods, Denis Leary
Director: Clint Eastwood
Release Date: 19 March 1999
Language: English
Length: 127 minutes
Movie Rating: R
View Format: TV
My Rating: 3.5/5 stars

Synopsis:

“Steve Everett (Clint Eastwood) is on the brink of ruining his marriage and journalism career with his alcoholism and womanizing when he’s assigned to write a human-interest story about a death-row inmate (Isaiah Washington) – and learns the conviction was built on shaky evidence. Now, with 12 hours left until the execution, Everett embarks on a quest to save a man he’s convinced is innocent. James Woods and Denis Leary co-star.” — Netflix.com

Review:

This is a fairly intense crime drama starring Clint Eastwood.  I typically do not like watching movies about journalism as I don’t like very many journalists, but I really like Clint Eastwood so I decided to give this movie a whirl.  I still like Clint Eastwood, but I didn’t really like the character he played in this movie very much.  He is a recovering alcoholic, separated from his wife & daughter, sleeping with his boss’s wife, and stuck with a colleague’s human interest story on a convicted killer.  Steve Everett (Clint Eastwood) doesn’t want to interview the man on death row, scheduled to die in less than a day, but he takes a look at the case and can tell that something is wrong.  He throws all of his second chances out the window to try and help this stranger and I had to respect that.  Still, in the end, life doesn’t really end up happily ever after for Steve and so I found the story a bit bittersweet.

The characters were interesting in this movie and well acted by some big names, but I found the story to be the most intriguing part.  My interest was caught and held by the idea that a man could be sentenced to lethal injection for something that he didn’t do.  I wish that it didn’t have so much to do with race, but I guess it added another layer to the mystery and injustice here.  The convicted killer is black and some kid buying a soda is black, but the pregnant victim and the two witnesses were white.  What was interesting about this movie is that Steve Everett’s regular life was progressing forward while he was trying to break the story and solve the mystery.  He had to take his daughter to the zoo, fight over smoking in the office, confess his affair to his boss, deal with his alienated wife, and all kinds of other little details that come up in a regular day in the life of a journalist.  What was not as captivating in this movie was the fact that no one noticed any of the details that Everett identified immediately after being assigned the case.  I understand that the police and the DA were handed Frank Beechum (Isaiah Washington), the convicted killer, on a platter, but I also like to think that there are some open minds in those departments that would have asked the same questions that Everett & the 23-year-old journalist who died in a car accident came up with.

If you enjoy suspenseful crime dramas, you will enjoy this one.  Even though it is a bit dated, there is still a fresh feeling about this movie and you will get sucked in to the plot line before you know it, just like I did.  The acting is very well done and there are several poignant moments in this film.  I got all teary-eyed as Beechum said goodbye to his family for the last time and it was difficult to see him interact with his young daughter and his wife, who believed in his innocence, but still had to stand by and wait for him to be killed.  Clint Eastwood also had a few touching moments as I watched his life continue on its downward spiral, even though he was able to give some strangers a happy ending.  Unfortunately, I felt like there were a lot of terrific actors that were underutilized in this movie, such as James Woods and Denis Leary, who were only in a few scenes.  This movie is on TV pretty regularly so it should be easy enough to catch it, which I recommend that you do.

Content:

This movie contains a reenactment of the murder of a pregnant woman, who is shot while a liquor store is robbed.  There are scenes of smoking and drinking.  There is a reporter who dies in a car accident at the beginning of the movie.  There is also some language (not sure how strong the language is as I watched this movie on TV).  This movie deals with racism, discrimination, cheating spouses, broken marriages, street violence, and other adult themes.

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Knight and Day (2010) Movie Review

Knight and Day (2010)

Movie Review by Debbie Winkler

Starring: Tom Cruise, Cameron Diaz, Peter Sarsgaard, Paul Dano, Jordi Mollà
Director: James Mangold
Release Date: 23 June 2010
Language: English
Length: 110 minutes
Movie Rating: PG-13
View Format: Movie Theatre
My Rating: 4.5/5 stars

Synopsis:

“Perpetually unlucky in love, June (Cameron Diaz) becomes intrigued by a mysterious man (Tom Cruise), who unexpectedly drags her into a whirlwind adventure involving devious enemies, life-threatening confrontations and a major discovery that may alter the future of humankind. Directed by James Mangold, this exhilarating action-comedy also features Peter Sarsgaard, Paul Dano, Maggie Grace and Viola Davis.” — Netflix.com

Review:

Wow.  And I mean wow.  What a great summer blockbuster movie!  This is just what the doctor ordered for an entertaining action thriller.  I enjoyed watching the previews and thought that this movie might be a fun one to watch, but I was not expecting to have such a great time!  I was feeling a little low and needed something to pick up my mood and this was the perfect movie for that.  It started off a little bit slow and I was concerned that it was not going to be such a great show, but I needn’t have worried as the pace picked up about 15 minutes into the movie and then just kept me going the whole time!  The action sequences are well done and pretty classically styled in this movie.  You have a lot of gunfights, car chases and, of course, a killer motorcycle chase.  I mean, come on, when is the last time you saw a Tom Cruise action thriller without a motorcycle chase?  I thought that the action, while relatively unimaginative, was well done and suited the film’s characters.  There are a couple of interesting screen shots, but the cinematography is pretty average, in my opinion.  Still, the director made the car chases and the action on the road memorable and a real thrill to watch!  Make sure to watch your speed on your way home from the theatre or you will find yourself going just a bit too fast, like I was.

The best part of the movie, for me, was the comedy.  I was not expecting to laugh as much as I did during this movie!  There are some great one liners and a lot of funny sequences.  I was really surprised by the chemistry between Cameron Diaz and Tom Cruise as I saw them as a pretty odd pairing, but they really made the romance and the witty banter work between them.  I think that the main complaint that most people will have with this movie is that Tom Cruise’s character is indistinguishable from his other spy characters.  I am reminded of a quote by someone saying that John Wayne played one character his whole career: John Wayne.  There is quite a bit of truth to that with Tom Cruise’s action career, as well, but stick with what you do well and you will succeed.  He was the character that I know and love and expected so I was happy with it.  He is a little bit older and his body is a little bit older, but he is still looking pretty good in this movie!  Cameron Diaz was adorable as a regular tomboy who was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.  She finds a way to be cute, bubbly, slightly awkward, but with great instincts and some inherent spy talents.  I loved her in this movie and now have to reevaluate my opinion of her as an actress.  There are also a few standout supporting actors in this movie, including Celia Weston and Jack O’Connell, who play Tom Cruise’s parents.  They are not in the movie for very much of it, but they are hilarious and I loved the way they chose to close out the movie with them!

If you are looking for a great action movie that has plenty of laughs, some good stunt sequences, a delightful romance and just everything you are looking for in a perfect summer movie, look no further than this one!  There is a good chance that you will miss this movie in the theatres as it is sandwiched in between Toy Story 3 and Twilight: Eclipse so take the time to look it up when it comes out on DVD.  This is not only a great action thriller, but it is a funny comedy, a cute romance, and a terrific spy drama.  There really aren’t any surprises here, but the formula is tried and true and they manage to make a memorable, fun movie out of all the pieces.  Don’t miss it!

Content:

This movie involves a lot of violence including gunfights, car chases, motorcycle chases, the running of the bulls, hand-to-hand combat (kicking, punching, karate, boxing, etc.), stabbing, explosions, and being tied up and “questioned” (off screen).  There are also scenes of mild sensuality, some strong language (including the “f” word), drugging people to knock them out, and plenty of double-crossing spy action.  Recommended for ages 13 and up.

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Max Payne (2008) Review

Max Payne (2008)

Movie Review by Debbie Winkler

Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Mila Kunis, Beau Bridges, Ludacris, Chris O’Donnell
Director: John Moore
Release Date: 17 October 2008
Language: English
Length: 100 minutes
Movie Rating: PG-13
View Format: DVD
My Rating: 3/5 stars

Synopsis:

Mark Wahlberg stars as title character Max Payne in this gritty noir crime thriller that centers on an undercover New York City DEA agent (Mila Kunis) who teams up with a female assassin to avenge the murder of her family. Filmmaker John Moore directs this big-screen video game adaptation with supporting performances from Beau Bridges, Christopher “Ludacris” Bridges, Chris O’Donnell and Donal Logue.” — Netflix.com

Review:

This movie is loosely based on a video game by the same name.  Unfortunately, that is about all that they have in common.  I probably will never understand why they choose to make movies based on video games if they are not going to improve on them or make them special in some way.  Still, I like Mark Wahlberg and I thought the trailer was mildly interesting so I decided to check this movie out.  I was pleasantly surprised as I thought this movie was going to be perfectly awful, but I do wish that they didn’t mislead me with the official trailer.  I thought that this movie was going to be an action movie with an urban fantasy touch, but all of the cool special effects showing the flying angels and demons are actually drug-induced hallucinations.  This was a disappointment for me as I do love fantasy movies!  The special effects creating these creatures were very good, however, and I thought they added an unworldly touch to this otherwise all-too-real world the rest of the movie takes place in.

Mark Wahlberg is essentially a blank canvas in this movie.  He seems oddly empty of any emotions for someone who has lost his wife and baby in a horrific crime.  I guess that they were trying to go for a man who had lost everything that mattered to him and so he operated in a kind of fog.  I found that the secondary characters were much more “real” and would have liked to spend more time with them.  I especially enjoyed Donal Logue‘s performance as Wahlberg‘s ex-partner who was doggedly pursuing the crime that no one could solve.  Ludacris is in this movie and I thought that he performed his part admirably, if without distinction.  Chris O’Donnell has a small role in this movie as well.  He seemed sad, lumpy and worn out.  You could tell that his role in the murders really was eating at him and he made the most of the small part he was given.  I often wonder what happens to actors like this – where has he been all these years?  Anyway, the supporting actors make this movie better than the lead actors, which is never really a good thing.  The women in the film are tough, beautiful, and deadly.  Gotta love that combination!

The storyline is interesting, if made more complicated than it really needed to be.  There are all kinds of subplots and surprising revelations where you find out that friends are really enemies and enemies are really friends.  I guess I was supposed to be shocked, but these plot twists have been done so many times that I could see some of them coming.  The ones that I didn’t see coming I just kind of accepted as they were presented in a matter-of-fact manner.  The action sequences are what Hollywood loves to call “gritty.”  This to me just means bloody, violent and gory.  The last 20 minutes of the movie or so is all about blood and death.  The movie turns into a first-person-shooter-like game for a time period where you see Wahlberg killing every security guard he comes across in the building.  I can’t help but think that this is a perfect waste as these guys really have no idea what is going on and are just doing their jobs.  There were not a lot of these killing sprees, but these sequences provide the only action that you find in the movie.

Anyway, if you like video game movies, you will want to check this one out, but it is just okay as an action movie.  The set is very dark and grimy.  The color palette is essentially black, gray and white.  There is very little color and almost nothing uplifting or happy about this movie.  It also leaves you hanging a bit at the end.  I think that they were hoping this would turn into a franchise and so they left room for a sequel, but, in the end, this character simply is not interesting enough to continue with.  They could give Max Payne a fresh reboot and try again, with more success, if they are able to make things a bit more interesting.  I enjoyed the movie for what it was and have certainly seen worse so I can tell you that it is decent, but nothing more.

Content:

This movie contains a lot of blood, death, dying, fighting, violence, and drug usage.  There is also torture, some partial nudity, some strong language and dark hallucinations involving angels and demons.  Recommended for ages 16 and up.

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Scandal Sheet (1952) Movie Review

Scandal Sheet (1952)

Movie Review by Debbie Winkler

scandal sheet

Starring: Broderick Crawford, Donna Reed, John Derek, Rosemary DeCamp, Henry O’Neill
Director: Phil Karlson
Release Date: 16 January 1952
Language: English
Length: 82 minutes
Movie Rating: Not Rated
View Format: TV
My Rating: 3/5 stars

Synopsis:

“New York tabloid editor Mark Chapman (Broderick Crawford) organizes a Lonely Hearts ball to sell more papers, but is shocked when he meets the wife (Rosemary DeCamp) he abandoned years ago. When she threatens to expose his dubious past, Chapman accidentally kills her. Ace reporter Steve McCleary (John Derek) starts looking into the case, and Chapman is forced to put the exciting story on the front page while secretly trying to hinder the investigation.” — Netflix.com

Review:

I surprised myself a bit in watching this movie as I don’t typically watch films that are mainly about reporters, especially when they are tabloid reporters.  Still, I decided to watch this one and I was glad I did as the story was pretty good.  In this instance, having a couple of tabloid reporters who will stop at nothing to get the story is a good thing as the murderer is actually their boss!  It was interesting to watch what the villain was trying to do to keep the truth from being discovered.  He tried to squash the story, but he had taught his lead reporter too well and could not keep him off of the case.  Watching Broderick Crawford sweat it out and try to find a way to keep everything he had obtained before his past caught up with him was the best part of the film for me.

I was not familiar with the actor who played the lead reporter, John Derek, but he was very handsome.  He also managed to pull off being the top reporter with a kind of cocky brashness that took a beating when the truth was finally revealed.  Donna Reed was quite lovely as a features reporter who was having a tough time adjusting to working on a tabloid newspaper.  She never really took to the new editor and clearly showed this in the way she acted toward him.  The editor, Broderick Crawford,  did a really good job in his role as a very unlikeable character who was desperate to hide what he had done.  I also liked the old drunk Charlie (Henry O’Neill).  He was an alcoholic who used to be a top reporter, but I guess you cannot take the reporter out of the man no matter what happens.

This is a good mystery, but not in the traditional sense.  You don’t have to guess who the villain is as you see the killer and how it happens at the beginning of the movie.  Usually this really takes away from my enjoyment of the movie, but not this time.  Instead, it was kind of interesting to see what a killer would do to hide his crime, especially when he was not willing to leave town to save his hide.  This old black-and-white “thriller” is nothing special, but it is enjoyable and interesting.  I am glad that I got a chance to catch this on TV.

Content:

This movie shows a murder taking place in pretty general terms.  Multiple murders are discussed and details printed or reviewed.  There are policemen and an M.E. who weigh in on the cases.  Still, there are no gory details shown or discussed so it is much tamer than most of what you would catch on TV these days.  There are several scenes that show drinking and several old drunk men who are clearly smashed.  Appropriate for ages 6 and up, recommended for ages 10 and up.

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The Whole Truth (1958) Movie Review

The Whole Truth (1958)

Movie Review by Debbie Winkler

Starring: Stewart Granger, Donna Reed, George Sanders, Gianna Maria Canale, Michael Shillo
Director: Dan Cohen & John Guillermin
Release Date: September 1958
Language: English
Length: 84 minutes
Movie Rating: Not Rated
View Format: TV
My Rating: 3/5 stars

Synopsis:

In a small town on the French Riviera, movie producer Max Poulton (Stewart Granger) tries to deal with his tempestuous leading lady, Gina Bertini (Gianna Maria Canale).  To complicate their relationship, Max had an affair with Gina while his wife (Donna Reed) was in Montana during their separation.  When Gina is found murdered, Max is the #1 suspect, even though Max knows the murderer is actually Carliss (George Sanders) because he confessed everything to Max!  Will Max’s wife be able to help him come up with the evidence he needs to prove his innocence?

Review:

This was an interesting movie in that the murderer confesses pretty early into the film, but he confesses to the lead suspect in the murder, not to the police.  The lead suspect just happens to be a wealthy producer who had an affair with the victim, a spoiled movie star and was one of the last people to see her alive.  The real killer is the victim’s husband, who was humiliated and frustrated that his beautiful, young wife took so many lovers and that he wasn’t enough for her.  The murderer does a really good job at setting up the movie producer, but he wasn’t quite good enough…

The plot was intriguing and it held my interest throughout most of the movie.  I appreciated the fact that Donna Reed, who played the movie producer’s wife, believed in her husband (Stewart Granger) and worked with him to prove his innocence.  The true villain of the piece, played by George Sanders, was great in his role.  He is this sophisticated, urbane, charming, handsome, older gentleman who is last person that you would suspect of stabbing his wife to death.  He really did a good job of setting up Stewart Granger, who played the movie producer.  If Stewart Granger hadn’t had some help, he would have been convicted of the crime for sure as the evidence was so overwhelming.

There are a few slow parts in the movie and I didn’t believe many of the scenes as they were just too unbelievable.  For example, why on earth would you agree to meet the man who you believed set you up for murder?  No good could come of it and you still had no proof of the crime, although you did discover the motive.  They took quite a bit of time to set the movie up and the middle sagged a bit, but the ending was quite good.  There are all kinds of car chases, threats and dastardly deeds that happen at the end and end the movie with a bang!  This is a relatively interesting murder mystery with a twist.  If you have the chance to catch it on TV and enjoy this type of movie (black and white mysteries), this is worth your time to watch.

Content:

This movie has a lot of discussions about murder, but there are no gory details shown.  They also talk about an extramarital affair, a preliminary separation between husband and wife, and smuggling religious artifacts out of Europe.  Lethal car chases, drinking, and smoking are shown.  Appropriate for ages 10 and up.

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