David Koepp’s The Trigger Effect

What if the power in an entire state/province all went out at once, for an indefinite amount of time? David Koepp’s The Trigger Effect shows you just what would happen in this scenario, albeit in the 90’s before everyone had a smartphone to keep them on the grid. After a mass blackout across California, one suburban couple (Kyle MaClachlan and Elizabeth Shue) attempt to weather the storm of confusion, vandalism and eventual madness that sweeps across the region. It starts with subtle domestic friction between the two, but as they venture out for provisions they bear witness to the lawless, frenzied chaos that such an event can do to the populous. It doesn’t help when Maclachlan’s roughneck buddy Dermot Mulroney shows up to turn an already strained marriage into an outright deceptive love triangle, adding to the tension. Some of the finer plot points and scenarios can be a bit silly but the aura of unease that covers everything is quite well done, and the acting is solid. Supporting turns include William Lucking as a gruff pharmacist, Richard T. Jones as a desperate father, Richard Schiff, Jack Noseworthy, Bill Smitrovich and more as various individuals affected by the widespread panic. The best performance of the film, however, comes from an explosive, scary Michael Rooker as a mysterious hitchhiker who may or may not be friendly. His extended cameo blasts the energy level of the film from mellow to frenetic in a matter of seconds, leaving us shellshocked in his wake. This isn’t a knock your socks off thriller by any means, and has it’s own strange way of pacing itself that may leave some cold, but I really enjoyed the atmosphere it offered, the eclectic cast and how immersive the experience was from that first blackout until the resolution. Good stuff.

-Nate Hill

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James Ward Byrkit’s Coherence

Like your SciFi smart, slick, realistic and extremely trippy? Don’t miss James Ward Byrkit’s Coherence, a voyage into the twilight zone that will push the limits of your lateral thinking until you feel your brain lashing out at the paradoxical borders of it’s realm of thought, an effect brought on by only the most challenging films out there. Like many stories it begins at a lively dinner party somewhere in the Hollywood hills, as a group of old friends talk, laugh, gossip and reconnect. There’s a comet passing by over the night skies of LA though, a phenomenon that has, shall we say, a unique and very disturbing effect on those below. I really don’t want to say anything about what happens to these people, but it’s weird and warped in that kind of metaphysical way that keeps your rooted to the screen and has your spine shivering with each new development. Adding to the immersive atmosphere is the fact that most of this seems to have been improvised with the actors around the general core of the story, so we have a very naturalistic, humorous vibe among the group that doesn’t feel scripted or staged at all, and more or less plays out in real time, while there’s initially still linear time anyways (oops). The cool thing is that this film could be made for like, five hundred bucks, shot on an iPhone over a spare weekend with your friends. It’s that barebones and simple in the technical department and there are zero special effects save for one brief shot of the comet (hello stock footage), but the implications and function of the story are infinitely complicated, and that’s where the wealth of the film lives. If you find yourself sitting around one night wishing for a flick that really will blow your mind, give this little gem a go, while it’s still on Netflix.

-Nate Hill

B Movie Glory: iMurders

iMurders. Just let that title sink in. It’s worse than it sounds. A movie about a series of murders related to an online internet chat room should at least have the trashy decency of something like Pulse or One Missed Call, but this thing plays like a soap opera that got cancelled after the pilot. Cheap, lazy and ridiculous, the only saving grace is the comforting presence of a few character actors to brighten your day. It’s a roundtable whodunit with a series of characters, all who might be the killer stalking them via ‘cutting edge’ technology that resembles nothing Apple has actually ever put out. There’s a tragic shooting from years before that has somehow spurred this lunatic to torment a MySpace group like this, but honestly it’s all a bunch of narrative mud. There’s a scandalous college professor (the great William Forsythe), Gabrielle Anwar (who honestly deserves better than this) as a girl with a few skeletons in her closet, a detective (Frank Grillo) with some personal ties to the case, and more. The one decent strand sees a mysterious psychiatrist (Charles Durning) interviewing a girl (Miranda Kwok), and the two appear to be in some weird other dimension, probably one where the horror films are better than stuff like this. Tony ‘Candyman’ Todd shows up as a sarcastic FBI agent. The whole thing has a silly Fisher Price feel to it and we never buy anything as legit, and even on the standards set by B Movies this is shameless, and that’s all I have to say. Oh and Billy Dee Williams is apparently in it too, but I’ll be fucked if I remember who he is.

-Nate Hill

The Disappearance Of Eleanor Rigby: Him & Her

I’ve written about The Disappearance Of Eleanor Rigby before, but I feel like it’s still one of those diamonds that flew under the radar and no one really saw. This is one of the most important films out there if you are interested in studying grief, the effects of loss, the healing passage of time and enduring love as themes in cinema. Heavy stuff, I know, but the film patiently leads you along and never throws histrionics or melodrama right in your face like some would. James McAvoy and Jessica Chastain give perhaps the performances of their careers as Conor and Eleanor, a couple dealing with the traumatic after effects of a recent miscarriage. Eleanor distances herself from everyone after a suicide attempt that just alienates her further and tries to find a new path, Conor misses her like crazy, throws himself into his work and gets a tad self destructive. Everyone deals with this sort of thing in their own way, and the film uses a nonjudgmental lens to observe how these two cope, revolve around each other and try to salvage the love that seemed brighter and stronger before the incident. ****NOW READ THIS PART VERY CAREFULLY!!**** Now that I’ve got your attention, this is incredibly important: there are in facet three radically different cuts of this film, each with their own sub heading after the title. Her is a feature length cut that focuses primarily on Chastain, her side of the story, and what she goes through, with brief appearances from McAvoy. The other side of that coin is another edit called Him, which does the same for McAvoy, and his side of the whole situation. This is a brilliant, very thoughtful tactic on the filmmaker’s part as it brings us closer to both characters, makes us genuinely feel the time going by through realistic pacing and lets the story flourish in a free flowing way that few films ever achieve. Now the third cut, no doubt assembled under studio duress for the lazy among us, is simply a truncated edit of both of these aforementioned versions, and all it succeeds in doing is making the uniqueness of the other two diminish, dulling the experience and turning something special into a pedestrian telling that’s just like every other flick out there. This third cut is unnecessary, pointless and should be ignored. The vitality of the material lies in the way the two cuts run parallel, how these two souls that were once together are now separated, and the energies we feel between them both together and apart. Others revolve around them too; William Hurt gives a small powerhouse as Eleanor’s loving father, Ciaran Hinds is equally as implosive as Conor’s supportive father, Isabelle Huppert is Eleanor’s mother, Viola Davis is excellent as a stern college professor who helps her through some of the tough times, Bill Hader is Conor’s best friend and business partner, and so on. They’re all wonderful but the core of it lies with the two of them, and their process from hurt, to grief, to losing each other and finding each other again, and it’s a brilliantly told story that you won’t want to miss.

-Nate Hill

Rodrigo Garcia’s Nine Lives

Rodrigo Garcia’s Nine Lives is a fascinating one, if a bit too cluttered with spare vignettes for a feature film. It’s one of those mosaic pieces where we see a string of unrelated episodes about various people here and there in the midst of some life changing moments, and as is usually the case with these, it is absolutely star studded. There’s two formats for these, the one where everyone’s story is interwoven and the vignettes collide and weave (ie Paul Haggis’s Crash) and the linear template where each story is a standalone piece, with no blurred lines or cross crossing. This film falls into the latter category, and themes itself on nine different women in various instances of their lives, be it tragic, joyful, passionate, penultimate or simply everyday life. The issue is, nine of these stories is just too much for a film that runs under two hours. Or perhaps it’s not and what I meant to say was that nine stories that are this thoughtful, complex and important shouldn’t have shared the same compacted narrative, for its too much to keep up with from scene to scene. Anyways there’s quality to be found, some actors cast brilliantly against type and any flick that rounds up a cast of this pedigree deserves a high five. My favourite by far of the bunch is a two person scene between Jason Isaacs and Robin Wright Penn as two former lovers who meet in a supermarket after being apart for many years and try to reconcile their feelings. Both actors are tender, attentive to one another and it’s some of the most affecting work I’ve seen from either. A more lurid one involving Amy Brenneman and William Fichtner lands more with a questionable thud, both are great as well but their scene needed some backstory. My second favourite stars a young Amanda Seyfried as a girl who alternates speaking with her father (the excellent Ian McShane) and mother (Sissy Spacek) who are in different rooms of the house. It’s intimate family drama through a prism of casualty and works quite well. Other sequences, including one that sees Glenn Close on a picnic with her granddaughter (Dakota Fanning), aren’t as memorable or striking. But the cast alone is enough to stick along for the ride, and includes Lisa Gay Hamilton, Mary Kay Place, Holly Hunter, Kathy Baker, Sydney Tamiia Poitier, Stephen Dillane, Molly Parker, Aiden Quinn, Joe Montegna and more. A worthwhile watch for the handful of stories that have some weight, but falters here and there and could have axed some of the commotion of too many solo narratives buzzing about.

-Nate Hill

Gone

I’ve never understood the dislike or lacklustre reception for Gone, a moody, propulsive suspense thriller starring Amanda Seyfried. It’s not especially groundbreaking or crazy in any way but it’s a solid genre piece with a lead performance that proves once again what kind of pure star-power she has, enough to carry a film and then some. She plays a girl that allegedly escaped the clutches of a serial kidnapper/killer who tossed her down a hole somewhere way out in the wilderness. The cops never really believed her as there was no actual proof and their searches turned up fuck all, but she won’t be deterred, especially when her older sister (Emily Wickersham) seems to vanish into thin air one night and she’s convinced the guy has returned. Once again the lead detectives on her case (Daniel Sunjata and Ray Donovan’s Katherine Moennig) give her the skeptics eye and she has no choice but to launch her own solo investigation, a dangerous option but the girl has no shortage of bravery. Inherently creepy looking Wes Bentley plays another cop who is decidedly more helpful for his own reasons, but he exists mainly as a red herring and ultimately doesn’t do much of anything useful. This film is about her journey and not so much her destination, as it’s essentially a heightened Nancy Drew yarn fuelled by a constant vibe of suspense and blanketed in the thick atmosphere of the Pacific Northwest region where it was filmed. When her eventual confrontation with the killer does come, it seems a bit after the fact and even rushed, but it was never the point anyways, as the story’s effectiveness lies in her relentless search and resilient, charismatic tactics to discern each clue along the way. The cast here is full of gems, including Dexter’s Jennifer Carpenter as her waitress boss, Joel David Moore, a very young Sebastian ‘Bucky Barnes’ Stan, Nick Searcy, Socratis Otto and legendary tough guy Michael Paré as the Lieutenant of the local precinct who is helpful but stern and concerned about Seyfried’s seemingly drastic actions. Don’t let any negativity spoil a fun evening in with this one, there’s really nothing to hate about it. Tightly wound, nicely acted by everyone, and shot with the benefit of the Northern locale. Admittedly broad and farfetched in terms of plotting, but what thriller isn’t here and there anyways, get over it. Mainly it worked so well for me because Amanda is such a vivid, present actress who can hold a scene like nobody’s business and really commits to her craft. A diamond of a flick in my books.

-Nate Hill

B Movie Glory: Femme Fatale

Femme Fatale is a gong show, and not in a good way. I’m not talking about the De Palma film of the same name, which is a gong show in a good way. This thing is a sad, no budget little tv flick from back in the day starring Colin Firth, who has seen better days than he has here. It’s a strange psycho sexual ‘mystery’ in which none of the plot points really make sense and each scenario gets a little more ridiculous than the last. Firth plays a fairly meek dude who’s recently married a mysterious girl (Lisa Zane) that he doesn’t know much about, and she turns out to be someone different entirely, leading him on a dull goose chase across the country to find out just who he tied the knot with. Zane is Billy Zane’s sister by the way, and speaking of him he’s on this too as Firth’s eccentric friend, which is a hoot because you get to hear him refer to his sister as a ‘diesel dyke.’ The central mystery involves several identities she takes up and more than a few multiple personalities brought by by unconventional therapy from a shady psychiatrist (the great Scott Wilson in a hammy extended cameo), but ultimately its hard to care about a story this loosely threaded, far fetched and just plain silly. Watch for some gem cameos though from the likes of Danny Trejo as a worldly tattoo artist, Catherine Coulson (the beloved Log Lady on Twin Peaks) as a nun who delivers some exposition and then peaces out and character actor Pat Skipper as a rowdy henchman who steals scenes like nobody’s business. Overall it’s a fairly useless piece of fluff though, painfully average and inconsequential.

-Nate Hill

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