Michael Shamberg

Michael Shamberg

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A Walk Among The Tombstones Review


Very Good

Although the plot isn't particularly original, a darkly internalised tone makes this low-key thriller oddly compelling. It may be the usual serial killer nastiness, but it also pays attention to earthier themes like morality and the futility of revenge. Meanwhile, Liam Neeson is able to combine his more recent action-hero persona with his serious acting chops this time. And writer-director Scott Frank infuses the film with moody grit, quietly subverting each cliche of the genre.

The action picks up eight years after Matt (Neeson) stopped drinking and quit the police force, following a shootout that went horribly wrong. It's now 1999, and New York is in the grip of Y2K paranoia. Matt is working as an unlicensed private detective who uses word-of-mouth to find clients. So Matt is intrigued when one of his 12-step friends (Boyd Holbrook) introduces his brother Kenny (Dan Stevens), a wealthy drug trafficker whose wife was kidnapped and then murdered even though he paid the ransom. As Matt digs into the case, he realises that the two killers (David Harbour and Adam David Thompson) have a left a string of similar victims in their wake, and that the murders are connected. Meanwhile, Matt takes in homeless teen TJ (Brian "Astro" Bradley), an observant kid who helps him work piece together the clues. And together they try to figure out where the killers will strike next.

This story unfolds with a remarkably gloomy tone, combining horrific violence with introspective drama. This mixture can feel rather jarring, especially as it wallows in the nastier side of human existence. Every character is tortured in more ways than one, with lost loves, physical afflictions and internal demons. Even the smaller side roles are packed with detail, including Olafur Darri Olafsson's creepy cemetery worker and Sebastian Roche's frazzled Russian mobster. All of this adds texture to the film, a welcome distraction from the grisly central plot, which is never played as a mystery, but rather as an inevitability.

Continue reading: A Walk Among The Tombstones Review

Runner Runner Review


Bad

Clearly something went horribly wrong as this thriller was being made, because despite a solid cast, gorgeous locations and an intriguing premise, the film is an incoherent mess. Sure, it looks achingly cool, but there isn't a single moment when the characters' motivations make any sense. And there's never a hint of suspense or danger.

It doesn't help that the set-up revolves around two of the least cinematic things on earth: finances and computers. Timberlake plays Princeton grad student Richie, who runs a gambling website to pay his tuition but loses his savings when another site cheats him. So he heads to Costa Rica to confront the online casino boss Ivan (Affleck). Impressed with his initiative, Ivan offers him a job, and soon Richie has more cash than he can possibly spend. But for some reason, all he wants is Ivan's colleague-girlfriend Rebecca (Arterton). Then a nosey FBI agent (Mackie) forces Richie to help him take Ivan down.

Director Fuhrman showed considerable promise with another renegade loner in The Lincoln Lawyer, but this film simply refuses to fill in enough of the gaps. Nothing that happens here is remotely convincing, as the characters are continually thrust into half-developed scenarios. Perhaps there's a more coherent longer version out there, because this one feels like it was edited with a machete. Even as a cautionary tale about the dangers of greed, this story has nothing relevant to say.

Continue reading: Runner Runner Review

Contagion Review


Excellent
Soderbergh applies his brainier brand of filmmaking to the global outbreak thriller genre, and the result is a hugely gripping blockbuster that never talks down to its audience. It's also terrifyingly believable as we watch a deadly flu virus spread around the world.

In Minneapolis, Mitch (Damon) is horrified when his wife (Paltrow) comes home from a business trip to China, collapses with the flu and dies. But she's only the first of a series of similar cases around the world, and soon officials from the Centers for Disease Control (Winslet, Fishburne and Ehle) and the World Health Organisation (Cotillard) are on the case, trying to manage emerging clusters while tracing the disease back to its source. Meanwhile, a blog hack (Law) is pestering a San Francisco scientist (Gould) for a cure.

Continue reading: Contagion Review

Freedom Writers Review


Very Good
It's always satisfying when a movie defies an obvious formula and delivers something better. Freedom Writers is the first such surprise of 2007, a genuinely touching entry in a genre that often wallows in cliché: a motivational teacher inspiring a group of troubled kids.

The list in this category is long, and the quality broad, ranging from To Sir, with Love (Sidney Poitier straightens up hooligans) to Sunset Park (Rhea Perlman coaches hoops!). Instead of sliding into pitfalls of predictability, writer Richard LaGravenese (The Fisher King, Beloved), who also directs, relies on straight, unforced dialogue delivered by a fine cast. Like many similar films, this one happens to be based on truth.

Continue reading: Freedom Writers Review

Michael Shamberg

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Michael Shamberg Movies

A Walk Among the Tombstones Movie Review

A Walk Among the Tombstones Movie Review

Although the plot isn't particularly original, a darkly internalised tone makes this low-key thriller oddly...

Runner Runner Movie Review

Runner Runner Movie Review

Clearly something went horribly wrong as this thriller was being made, because despite a solid...

Contagion Movie Review

Contagion Movie Review

Soderbergh applies his brainier brand of filmmaking to the global outbreak thriller genre, and the...

Freedom Writers Movie Review

Freedom Writers Movie Review

It's always satisfying when a movie defies an obvious formula and delivers something better. Freedom...

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