Tag Archives: Thor

A Bit of a Punishment — “No Good Deed”

No Good Deed lead

by Gabe Valdez

Movies are all about expectations. If I’d rented No Good Deed straight-to-DVD, having no idea what it was, I still wouldn’t think it’s a good movie but I’d applaud the effort. Seeing it in the theater, however, magnifies all its flaws 30 feet tall.

Most of my expectations come from the leads. Idris Elba and Taraji P. Henson typically define quality. You’ll recognize Elba from Thor and Pacific Rim (or the BBC’s Luther), Henson from TV’s Person of Interest. Elba plays an escaped convict, Colin Evans, who we’re told is a malignant narcissist. Think Jeffrey Dahmer – all charm and intellect in the service of murdering women. Henson is Terri, a mother of two children whose home he finds after driving off the road in a rainstorm.

What follows is a cat-and-mouse game as Colin ingratiates himself more and more into Terri’s evening, learning information about her, whether her husband will be returning, earning the momentary trust of her daughter.

So what are these flaws? The script by Aimee Lagos is awful. The concepts are good, but the dialogue just isn’t there. You’ll never see a more underlit movie in your life. There’s realism and then there’s watching actors in permanent silhouette for 90 minutes. Ever wonder what the moody, droning synth music they play in crime procedurals sounds like in an entire theater? The answer is “overwrought.”

Worse yet, director Sam Miller doesn’t know when to cut. Elba and Henson do a great job of saving the tension of the film later on, but in the service of realism, Miller extends scenes and shots too long, taking nicely acted emotional beats into the dreaded realm of overacting. He does his actors a disservice.

No Good Deed mid

Worst of all (I feel like we’re doing a countdown here), there’s a major twist near the end of the film. Now, twists are great. I love twists. One of the saddest days in recent film history is when M. Night Shyamalan got self-conscious and stopped using them. When you add a twist in the last act of a movie, however, you have to give your viewer space to process it. The best twists – those in Fight Club, The Usual Suspects, and Shyamalan’s early career – are foreshadowed expertly and delivered so precisely that they seem obvious to the viewer the moment they’re revealed. The only thing you want an audience to think in that moment is: “How could I not see that earlier?”

The twist in No Good Deed still has you figuring out how it works as you walk out of the theater. It’s not a bad concept. In fact, it’s the most interesting element of the movie – it changes Colin’s entire motive and presents an even more warped and frightening vision of his moral compass. It’s delivered in such a clunky manner and feels so far out of left field, however, that the shaky suspense Elba and Henson have fought to develop across the rest of the film evaporates in a heartbeat. It’s the single worst moment I’ve seen in a movie this year.

On a side note, No Good Deed is getting slammed by some because it’s a movie about a man’s violence toward women in a news week dominated by the NFL’s Ray Rice and other players being investigated for domestic abuse. I’ll credit a movie for coming out in a timely manner and having social presence, but I’ll hardly blame one for coming out during the wrong news cycle. (I’d also tell ESPN that while they’re tearing down the NFL – and rightly so, despite my love for the game – that it seems disingenuous to champion Floyd Mayweather and athletes in other sports free of the context of their domestic violence histories.)

Getting back on task, No Good Deed is a mess, but is it an interesting mess? It has its moments, primarily because Elba and Henson keep recovering the film’s tension. One scene in particular, involving a shower and Colin forcing Terri to change, was uncomfortably close to the domestic violence a friend of mine recently suffered. It captured my attention. Another scene involving a traffic stop is very solid. The film keeps coming frustratingly close to mattering, but it undermines itself on every technical and story level possible. I’ll applaud the effort, but its execution is disastrously bad.

Does it Pass the Bechdel Test?

All new reviews going forward will have a section on whether the movie passes the Bechdel Test. This helps us discuss one aspect of movies that we’d like to see improved – the representation of women. Read why we’re including this section here.

1. Does “No Good Deed” have more than one woman in it?
Yes. Terri’s best friend Meg (Leslie Bibb) and daughter Ryan (Mirage Moonschein), as well as Colin’s unnamed ex (Kate Del Castillo).

2. Do they talk to each other?
Yes. Terri speaks with Ryan and Meg at different points in the movie.

3. About something other than a man?
Technically, yes.

I’ll go into this last answer. Terri speaks with her daughter Ryan, telling her to do chores or get ready for bed. The only conversation she has with another adult is with Meg. These conversations have one-line asides about other matters, but always focus squarely on men – Terri’s husband, the mysterious Colin.

Meg is a fairly empowered character – she ogles a construction worker, she’s sexually assertive, and she’s clever about ferreting out Colin’s lies. Ryan is a little girl and doesn’t have much to do outside of being in danger. She’s never once scared, but I think this has more to do with bad direction of a child actor than any statement the movie’s making. Terri herself is presented as having given away much of her independence and power to her husband, and regretting this. Within the confines of horror movie cliches, she’s very smart in how she fights back against Colin and protects her children – it’s safe to say she’s a strong role model.

The genre itself (home invasion) requires every character get beaten, terrorized, or killed at some point. Everyone but the villain being a woman presents a danger in adopting the villain’s misogyny from a cinematic standpoint. For all its other faults (and there are many), the movie does avoid this trap. Its women are terrorized, but that never feels like the point. Terri and Meg are strong, capable women with their own lives, although I do wish their friendship had been explored a bit more.

Wednesday Collective…Blue is the Warmest Color – Gravity – Thor: The Dark World

I figure it’s time for another regular series. Tuesday is the day that new movies come out on DVD and Blu-ray, and Wednesday is the day we remember that. Maybe it’s because that’s when the week’s work-to-enjoyment ratio starts flipping in our favor. If you have to work the weekend, I don’t know what to tell you. Maybe reading about the Soviet calendar will make you feel better.

Every week, I’ll collect the best articles from here and others on this week’s new releases for home viewing. A link for each excerpt takes you to the full article…click away, and bring the internet a little closer together!

ARTICLE OF THE WEEK
Blue is the Warmest Color

Blue is the Warmest Color

If Blue is the Warmest Color didn’t dominate the international festival circuit, it at least took over the media coming out of it. The NC-17 film about two women who fall in love took the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival and, for the first time, the award was also given not just to the director, but to the film’s two actors.

Over at Camera Obscura, film theorist Alessia Palanti felt strongly about it, too: “Kechiche’s genius is that he deceivingly gives the audience the answer to the, by now, nauseatingly predictable question: ‘What do women do in bed?’ It is as if the Cannes award justified this kind of fetishism. And I ask myself if anyone stopped to consider their source: a heterosexual male director. If sexual explicitness is what credits the film’s ‘daring’ and (by god), ‘revolutionary’ quality (i.e. standing as a new mascot for LGBT, and specifically the ‘L’ community), then the notion of daring and revolutionary have been lost. It offends truly courageous cinematic endeavors…”

BRILLIANT, BUT DOES IT CONNECT?
Gravity

Gravity a

It almost never happens that a science-fiction movie stands a good shot at winning Best Picture. If you’re still wondering why Gravity, the story of an astronaut stranded in orbit, is one of the few, you’re in luck – nearly everyone wrote about it.

Blu-ray Downlow has a thorough write-up on the – you guessed it – Blu-ray release: “None of this sounds terribly different from any number of the other space films that have come out of Hollywood in the past, but Alfonso Cuaron’s direction and Emmanuel Lubezki’s cinematography take the film into uncharted territory. The film’s aesthetics bring to mind Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, but the story itself is more digestible to a mainstream audience.”

Erin Snyder at The Middle Room offered a unique take, comparing Gravity to a ride as much as a movie. “It’s definitely pushing boundaries. This has elements from video games, amusement park rides, and – yes – films. As such, it doesn’t deliver everything we’re used to getting from a movie, but instead gives us something a bit different.” He added, “There’s very little here that would survive being viewed at home.” The previews on my laptop still make me catch my breath, so I might be in the minority on that one.

Jordan and Eddie (The Movie Guys) are a pair of Australian bloggers who each raved about it, but did have issues with the story itself. “This is dazzling filmmaking and a journey you can’t afford to miss,” wrote Jordan. “However, whilst it is impossible to fault it on a production level…there is one area in which it is unfortunately left wanting: lasting emotional connection.” Eddie was more forgiving: “It could be any range of things from script conveniences through to some misguided character driven scenes, but really these are slight missteps in a movie universe that is totally and enthrallingly enjoyable for every last minute of its running time.”

I felt more connected to it and enjoyed it beyond the thrill ride level. “I can’t remember rooting for a character so hard, not just wanting but needing Bullock’s Stone to make it through. It’s not because she’s special or heroic. She is certainly those things, but it’s because she responds so very much like the rest of us. Her impossible tasks may happen in space, but her hopelessness and frustration feel just like yours and mine.”

SHARING THE SAME QUALITIES AS A LAVA LAMP
Thor: The Dark World

Thor 2 Brothers

Thor: The Dark World, Marvel’s 8th movie in their Avengers universe, also comes out on home release today. Coincidentally, it’s the 8th time the Earth must be saved in as many movies.

The Middle Room’s Erin Snyder succinctly summed up something many of us are feeling. “I was about ready to write this one off when a funny thing happened. About forty minutes in, Loki stole the whole damn movie.”

I was similarly frustrated by the film. Funny enough, I couldn’t help but compare it to a B-movie Erin had introduced me to years earlier. “There’s a scene in Hudson Hawk, a 1991 action parody starring Bruce Willis, in which the hero leaps off a building. He survives by crashing through a roof and falling directly into the next scene. Everything continues without missing a beat. This is how Thor: The Dark World is written.”

What’s This? What’s This? There’s Color Everywhere

I’ve been reconnecting with my love for Scandinavian pop this week, so the inaugural Music Video of the Week is “The Drummer” by Niki and the Dove.