Red Lights (2012): Little Things That You Do

Written and directed by Rodrigo Cortés (BuriedThe ContestantRed Lights is really a psychological  cum paranormal thriller. Rodrigo’s last film Buried did so well, that the studios obviously trusted him to work with the big money, aka star actors. You cannot really get much bigger than veteran actors Robert De NiroSigourney Weaver, and Joely Richardson.

Add into this already heady mix, the more ‘recent’ dependable actors in the guise of Cillian MurphyElizabeth Olsen and Toby Jones and you have a vehicle that just smacks of success. The “Readers Digest” version of the plot is as follows:

Sigourney Weaver

Dr Matheson (Weaver) is a psychologist who is also a veteran paranormal “debunker.” She works with her assistant  Dr Buckley (Murphy) who is a physicist. The beginning of the film sees the two “debunking” a typical haunting. That the two are fond of each other is apparent; these two are not just colleagues, they are friends.

After they finish, Matheson asks Buckley to drop her off at the hospital to see her comatose son, who is hooked up to a life support machine.

We next see the two presenting a class to university students. They are “teaching” them how to ‘fake’ a seance. We are introduced very briefly to Sally Owen (Olsen) who after the class approaches Dr Buckley to turn in an assignment. She clearly likes him and they go out  to a diner.  Buckley explains to Sally about  “red lights” which are the subtle tricks that fraudsters use to fool the gullible.

Robert De Niro at the premiere of Tennessee at...

Enter Simon Silver (De Niro) a blind older version of Uri Geller. He can bend spoons, practice telepathy and apparently can levitate. He is making his first public appearance in over thirty years. He ‘retired’ when one of his most fervent denouncers dramatically had a heart attack and died during Silver’s last public appearance.

Buckley wants to immediately investigate Silver and prove that he is a fraud. Dr Matheson urges Buckley to leave it alone. She had faced Silver thirty years ago and she maintains that he is too powerful to be touched. She also reveals that when she had gone up against Silver before, her young son suddenly toppled over and he has never regained conciousness.

Buckley ignores Matheson’s warning and starts investigating Silver anyway.

The build up of suspense in this film was brilliant. It played more like a mystery/thriller for three quarters of the film. The characters of Matheson and Buckley and Owen were drawn so well that we immediately felt a connection with them. In essence before the first twenty minutes of the film we found that we liked them and cared about what they were doing.

I was a little disappointed that Joely Richardson did not have more to do. She played Silver’s manager/agent and she came across as malevolent and not a little scary. De Niro did what he does best. He dominates the screen with his presence alone. He is still capable of catching our attention without saying a word.

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Elizabeth Olsen gave a very sturdy performance as Buckley’s love interest/partner in crime. Cillian Murphy was the stand-out performance in this film. He has come a long way since 28 Days Later and Inception.

English: Actor Cillian Murphy in 2010.

IMDb gives Red Lights a 6.6 out of  10. I would rate it higher just for the high quality of the acting and for the well woven plot. It is one of those films that you should see at least twice to catch every nuance the film has to offer. Just like the “red lights” mentioned by Buckley, the film will mislead you and trick you.

Despite the mediocre and misleading marketing of the film, it is worth the price of admission and splashing out for a bag of popcorn and a coke.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins Appetizing Fare

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins is the story of sixteen year old  Katniss Everdeen, the sole provider for her family; a family of three since her father died in a mine accident. Set in the ruins of North America, is a country called Panem and it is made up of twelve Districts ruled by the  harsh dictatorship of the Capital. The Capital equals rich extravagant lifestyle and power. The Districts are the metaphorical workhorses of the country and they must follow the orders of Capital or face severe punishment.

There were originally thirteen Districts. They banded together to revolt against the Capital. District 13 was completely obliterated by the Capital. The remaining Districts now must participate in The Hunger Games. The Capital requires all young people in the Districts to register for a lottery. Two children, a male and a female are then chosen by a draw called ‘The Reaping.’ They are then transported to the Capital, wined, dined, trained and interviewed. The purpose of these Games is twofold, to constantly reinforce the dictatorship of the Capital and to provide entertainment to the citizens of the country.

The young people from each District attempt to impress the rich people of Capital to get sponsorship for themselves and also for their District. Some of the “richer” Districts train their young people for the games.When Katiniss Everdeen’s eleven year old sister Prim gets chosen to attend the games, Katniss volunteers to go in her place. Katniss comes from District 12. The Districts are separated into what they provide for the Capital, District 12 provides coal. It is a  poor  district that has had only one winner of the games since they started.

The rules of the game are simple, the children must kill each other until there is only one survivor. The survivor is that year’s winner and they and their District are rewarded. The entire game is televised and the Capital populace make bets on who will win. If they are lucky the participants will gain a sponsor who gives them things during the game to improve their chances of winning.

For four hundred and fifty-four pages I was Katniss Everdean. A sixteen year old girl who had been taught by her father to hunt and by her mother to gather herbs. Hunting illegally in the off-limits woodland surrounding her District she keeps her family fed. A girl who volunteers immediately when her younger sister’s name is called on the day of the Reaping.

Suzanne Collins has written a book that literally moves with so much speed that I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough. From the moment I sat down, opened the book and read the first page, I was hooked. I finished the book in one reading and immediately wished I had purchased the other two books in the trilogy. Through her skilful writing, Collins has created a world so real that it seems to leap off the page alive and breathing.

The book has been made into a film and I am almost afraid to see it. The images that filled my mind while I read the book can never be captured fully. The scene where the two children enter the Capital on chariots was so moving that I got goose bumps while reading it. I can only say, “Welcome Suzanne Collins to the world of literature. May you be here for a long time.”

The Glass House (2001): Teen Troubles

Cover of "The Glass House"
Cover of The Glass House

Teenager Ruby Baker is out on the town and past her curfew. As she says goodbye to her friend and explains that she is going to be in trouble again for being late she hurriedly leaves. While this is going on, her parents are in a car crash and both of them die. She arrives home to find two policemen in her home. When they try to tell her about her parents, she faints.

The beginning of this film leaps into action. Before the first reel has been changed over by the projectionist, Ruby and her younger brother Rhett have been orphaned and now must live with their old neighbours acting as their guardians. The ‘best friends’ have moved to a huge glass house in an exclusive area. This will be their new home.

Once the two children move into the glass mansion, things  start getting strange and it seems the ‘old friends’ have changed from the nice people that used to live next door.

While not anywhere near blockbuster territory, The Glass House delivers very well. For a start Tom Hanks‘s missus Rita Wilson is in an uncredited cameo that must surely classify as the smallest in the world. Ms Wilson plays Ruby and Rhett’s mother and dies roughly about ten minutes into the film with her husband Michael O’Keefe the other candidate for the worlds smallest cameo award. Both Wilson and O’Keefe are seen later in the film when their daughter Ruby visualises their death, over and over.

Ruby is played by the very capable Leelee Sobieski a young actress that make me think of a young Helen Hunt. With two awards under her belt and quite a few more nominations this young lady is not lightweight. She had no trouble convincing me that her character was grieving, confused, and finally suspicious about this couple that she and her brother were wards of. When she takes action, it does not jar or stretch belief.

Diane Lane attending the premiere of True Grit...
Diane Lane attending the premiere of True Grit at the Berlin Film Festival 2011 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Glass couple that take over as the children’s guardians are played by Diane Lane and Stellan Skarsgård. My only complaint about the film has to do with the fact that I felt that Ms Lane was not used enough. That is most likely my problem only as I have been a huge fan of this talented lady’s work for years. Stellan Skarsgård does a great job as the devious and slight scary Mr Glass. Glass, it seems, can only afford the grand lifestyle he and his wife have by less than legal means.

English: Swedish actor Stellan Skarsgård.

The nicest thing about the film was seeing Bruce Dern as  Ruby’s family lawyer. Dern has been acting since grass was green it seems and the old boy has still got the chops. Although it was a change to see him playing a ‘normal’ good guy part instead of the usual eccentric parts he is famous for.

Bruce Dern at Super-Con 2009 in San Jose, Cali...
Bruce Dern at Super-Con 2009 in San Jose, California. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

All in all a film worth watching. Released in 2001 it is recent enough that it doesn’t suffer from being too outdated. Add the fact that the film is easily available via Netflix and other streaming film sites, it won’t cost you the earth to give it a look.

Long Weekend: Horror in the Outback

Directed by  Colin Eggleston (b:1941 – d:2002) Long Weekend is a piece of low budget genius.  This was only the second feature film helmed by Eggleston and despite the fact that the film bombed in Australia, it went on to win five awards. Part of the reason the film did so badly was probably down to the public placing it in the category of “Ozploitation.”

 John Hargreaves and Briony Behets play Peter and Marcia a young urban couple who are going on holiday. We notice very quickly that Peter and Marcia are a “chalk and cheese” couple. Peter has decided that they are going to ‘rough it’ on a beach in the outback. Marcia has her heart set on staying in a nice hotel somewhere. Somewhat begrudgingly Marcia agrees to try the camping trip idea, but with the proviso that if she really doesn’t like it they can spend the rest of the holiday in a hotel.

From the minute they get into their Jeep and start driving, we the audience can feel the tension between the couple. This tension fluctuates through most of the film and even before Peter runs over a ‘Joey’ leaving it to die in the road, we get a sense of foreboding. A feeling that this trip is not really a good idea.

Long Weekend is mostly a “fish-out-of-water” film. Peter and Marcia do not belong in the countryside.  City dwellers first and foremost they really have no idea what they should be doing once they reach their ‘supposed’ destination.  On their way to the beach they get lost, mainly because the locals at the petrol station do not go out of their way to give them directions, but also because they are careless.

Both Peter and Marcia have a complete disregard about the wildlife they encounter and it’s  natural habitat. John Hargreaves as Peter shows us a man who is basically selfish and immature. He thinks nothing of killing the local flora and fauna or leaving his litter scattered about the previously pristine area.

Brioney Behets (who was married to the director at the time) gives Marcia an edge, a feeling of loss and the willingness to bridge the distance between her and Peter. Initially we sympathize Marcia but unfortunately she suffers from the same problems as Peter, selfishness and immaturity. She also has little respect or knowledge of how the countryside works. They are both completely out of their comfort zone and it shows. But only Marcia is smart enough to vocalise her fear and distaste of the great outdoors.

The only time in the film the two characters unite is in their mutual fear of a huge black shape in the water. Marcia hears a downright scary cry or call from an unknown animal. She goes down to the beach to tell Peter and she sees the black shape moving towards him. Marcia begins screaming hysterically for Peter to get out of the water. Peter, in true urban fashion, shoots the black shape repeatedly.

I can honestly say that when I first watched this film, it made me so uneasy that even I did not want to venture into the great outdoors and I grew up there. The sense of foreboding that we feel at the beginning of the film hits fever pitch after the couple arrive at their destination.  When nature begins to exact a toll from the couple for their criminal behaviour, fever pitch rises to a frenzy.

Long Weekend was remade in 2008 and it is almost a complete frame for frame re-imaging, of the original, but the remake, believe it or not, cranks up the action considerably. It is one of the few remakes that I enjoyed as much as the original.

But I leave you with one request, if at all possible, watch the original first.

Another Blog??

So, here I go. Opening up yet another blogging format. First I just had to try Blogger. Then I had to try Tumblr. Now I am trying WordPress. Why. Do I have a lot to say? Do I have  a lot of ideas rumbling around in my head? Do I feel I have something special to offer anyone who reads these blogs? And of course  most importantly; do I think anyone will even want to read my musings?

Well the answers are: yes, yes, maybe, and I don’t know. I do know that I feel like I have to make up for lost time. I spent a lot of years wanting to write about everything and anything. But writing requires a certain amount of discipline and solitude. Although I will admit that  solitude  is not the most important, I am discovering that with  discipline, I can write just about anywhere. I cannot write “longhand,” so it is a case of “have laptop, will write.” I know it’s not as catchy as “Have gun, will travel” but I can live with that.

The hardest thing to come up with was a title for my many different blogs.  I started with Random Thoughts for a Random World for both my other blogs. Because they are, in essence, the same blog. So far I have been satisfied with writing something on Blogger and then just copying it onto Tumblr. I feel that I can reach twice the amount of people that way.

I think that my WordPress blog will keep the moniker of MikesFilmTalk, mainly so I force myself to write something a bit different from the other blogs. I think I will probably write about films and film related things here just to make things a bit more diverse.

So hello WordPress, let’s see how we get on together. Oh, and I’ll make a small confession. The first film “review” I put on here will be one (like Blue Peter) that I did earlier.