Films I Neglected To Review: Take A Picture, It'll Last Longer.
By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 09/18/20 00:42:01
Please enjoy short reviews of "The Nest," "No Escape" and "The Way I See It."
Although the concept of dark and increasingly nightmarish things happening to a seemingly happy once they move into a dark and forbidding old mansion may make "The Nest" sound like a run-of-the-mill horror film, those going into it should be warned ahead of time that all of the terrors on display are of a decidedly human nature. Set in the go-go 1980s, the film begins with Rory O'Hara (Jude Law), a British-born and American-based stock trader who decides to move his family--horse trainer wife Alison (Carrie Coon), her daughter Samantha (Oona Roche) and their young son Benjamin (Charlie Shotwell)--back to London and rejoin the firm he once worked for in order to take advantage of the imminent deregulation of the U.K. market and make a ton of money. He even finds a rambling Gothic mansion in a mild state of disrepair on the outskirts of town for them to move into as a public show of his apparent wealth. The problem is that, much like the home that Rory has stuck his family in, he may look good at first but anyone going in for a second glance will notice glaring cracks in the facade. In fact, he is not nearly as successful as he presents himself to be and the combination of deals falling through, mounting debts and his own overwhelming ambition begin to have dark repercussions back home as the others begin acting strangely in the face of his assurances that everything is going to be fine.
"The Nest" was written and directed by Sean Durkin, his first big screen effort since making his directorial debut nearly a decade ago with the highly acclaimed drama "Martha Marcy May Marlene" and shares a number of similarities with that earlier effort in terms of its cooly creepy visual style and his ability to subtly generate enormous amounts of tension out of seemingly ordinary events and spaces. The difference is that in the earlier film, which dealt with a young woman struggling to reintegrate with her sister after escaping from the thrall of a cult, he was telling a story that we hadn't really seen before, at least not in that form, and the results were fairly spellbinding. With this film, however, he is telling a story that is far more familiar in both structure and execution and once we are finally assured that there is no actual supernatural element to be add, despite suggestions to the contrary, it begins to grow a bit tedious after a while. What does work--to the degree that I find myself recommending it despite its obvious shortcomings--are the performances by Law and Coon. Law, who has always tended to be somewhat overlooked as an actor, does some of the best work of his entire career as Rory, perfectly nailing both the man's I'm-dancing-as-fast-as-I-can quality and the quieter moments when he can no longer believe the horseshit that he slings without hesitation. Coon is just as good as Alison, perhaps better because she has not been given as strong of a part to work with as Law (the screenplay cannot readily answer why Alison continues to stay with Rory when it is obvious that she can see right through his never-ending deceit and then makes matters worse by giving her an ultra-symbolic chain-smoking habit to boot). Their performances ultimately make "The Nest" worthy of notice, even if they cannot make it into something as profound and thoughtful as it clearly wishes to be.
"No Escape" is a film that offers viewers the extremely dubious pleasure of spending 90 minutes watching idiotic and unlikable characters muddle their way through a plot composed almost entirely of elements lifted wholesale from other and better film before arriving at a supposedly mind-blowing final twist that even the least observant viewers will be able to spot coming a mile away.To commemorate the 10th anniversary of his wildly popular Vlog, social media personality/jackass Cole Turner (Keegan Allen) and his friends are being flown to Moscow on the dime of a Russian billionaire fan to partake in a super-exclusive and personalized escape room experience that will be simulcast to all of his fans. Once the gang arrives at the abandoned prison being used as the location, Cole's friends find themselves in a number of torture devices--including an electric chair and a water tank--and he has to figure out how to get them out of their traps, only to discover that what was supposed to be a game has now become a genuine struggle to stay alive against the unknown forces pulling the strings. In other words, this film from writer-director Will Wernick (whose previous film evidently also dealt with an escape room experience gone sideways) is little more than a lackluster combination of the lesser entries in the "Saw" series, "Hostel" and "The Game," albeit one with a total lack of genuine suspense, characters that you would want to hang around with for more than ten seconds or even anything in the way of creative gore. As for the big twist at the finale, it is underlined so baldly throughout (the film practically nudges you in the ribs at certain points) that you might be convinced that it is just doing a bit of misdirection before getting to the real twist. No such luck and the attempt to put a dark spin on it is more laughable than mind blowing. Little more than a ersatz Blumhouse production without that company's notoriously strict degree of quality control, "No Escape" is a film that contains no thrills, no chills and no earthly reason to even exist.
When it comes to politically oriented documentaries, I have occasionally been accused of giving good reviews to the ones that more closely conform to my own personal beliefs while deliberately panning those that don't. Needless to say, this is not true as I can cite any number of recent documentaries where I have been sympathetic to their sensibilities but cannot recommend them because they simply do not work as films. The latest case in point in this regard is "The Way I See It," a well-meaning but ultimately softly ineffective work that takes a potentially interesting concept--a look at the Obama years as seen through the eyes of official White House photographer Pete Souza--and reduces it to a meandering bit of hagiography. A film looking at what goes into serving as a photographer with total access to the most powerful person in the world, even in times of crisis, sounds fascinating and Souza, who also worked as the photographer for Ronald Reagan during his presidency, would seem to be just the person to guide us through it. Strangely, there is precious little of the actual nuts and bolts of what the job entails or Souza's thoughts about the enormous weight of documenting history as it unfolds before his eyes. Instead, it begins to devolve into a combination of Souza's admiring anecdotes about the Obama years and withering critiques about his successor, both of which are sincerely felt, of course, but which come across as playing to the choir. The Trump angle does yield one fascinating moment in which Souza--who has gone on to become an increasingly public and vocal critic of his administration--presents a photo of Trump looking all powerful in the Situation Room and using his knowledge of both photography and the location to show that it was clearly and clumsily staged in an attempt to make him come off as more presidential. In the end, "The Way I See It" is a pleasant but ultimately ineffectual film that too often comes across like a cinematic version of an expensive coffee table book chronicling the Obama era. That may be enough to satisfy some viewers but I, for one, wanted more.