Tagged Maria Bello

Secret Window: A Mixed Bag of Stephen King Treats

Secret Window. 2004. Directed & Written by David Koepp; based on the novella Secret Window, Secret Garden by Stephen King from the collection Four Past Midnight.
Starring Johnny Depp, John Turturro, Maria Bello, Timothy Hutton, Charles S. Dutton, Len Cariou, Joan Heney, John Dunn-Hill, Vlasta Vrana, Matt Holland, Gillian Ferrabee, Bronwen Mantel, & Elizabeth Marleau. Grand Slam Productions/Columbia Pictures Corporation/Mel’s Cite du Cinema.
Rated 14A. 96 minutes.
Mystery/Thriller

★★★1/2
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While I do love Stephen King’s full length novels, some of his deeper, more penetrating work is found in the novels and short stories with which he fills the rest of his time aside from writing epic, sprawling books. I’ve read almost everything King has done, except for a few books here or there. As far as the short story and novella collections, I’ve run the gamut. So many great tales, such compelling writing. The collection from which Secret Garden is adapted, Four Past Midnight, also contains The Langoliers, which has also seen a tv movie treatment. It further has two more novellas, though neither of those has been adapted on film or for television.
The novella Secret Window, Secret Garden tells the story of Mort Rainey (played here by Johnny Depp), a novelist who one day is visited by a man named John Shooter (the ever wonderful John Turturro) accusing him of having plagiarised a story of his own. Mix in a failed marriage, an ex-wife (Maria Bello) that cheated on him that’s currently in a relationship with the same man, Ted (Timothy Hutton), and there’s plenty of psychological tension, as well as real life horror. Although there are a few portions of the movie that could have been tighter, some dialogue that doesn’t work properly or well as it should, Secret Window improves on a couple aspects of the novella, mainly the ending; I do like the source, but this adaptation makes things more sinister, more eerie. Not everything works. What does work is the gradual sense of reality slipping away, as the script leans deep into the perspective of Mort and Depp is able to carry that with a top notch performance. Even if there wasn’t enough to ultimately feel as scary as it ought to, writer-director David Koepp does well by coming to a different conclusion than the original story and at least pulls the tension tight for most of the runtime. Far as King adaptations go this is absolutely better than most.R199-24 002Something I love about both the writing of Mort’s character and the performance by Depp is that the feeling of being a writer comes across effortlessly. As someone whose days have been filled before by naps, the lure of that comfy couch, food, cigarettes (and before I went sober, booze and so on), Mort feels impossibly real. Of course that comes from King as an author himself, putting what he knows into the character. He knows exactly what it’s like. More than that, Depp ingrains a sense of that writer’s life in the performance. This could actually come off easily as a standard character, and in a way he is, but Depp allows for more than that and brings his talent to the table in spades. Just how he sulks, heading back to the couch for comfort, picking away at his food, and even laying on the floor with his dog, all in lieu of actually being productive and doing some writing.
Overall, the cinematography is solid, courtesy of Fred Murphy (Auto FocusThe Mothman PropheciesStir of Echoes & more). The look of the film has a rich look, and at the same time the colours are muted; not too bright, yet not muddled either. It goes well with the mood of the story. On top of that, Murphy captures certain shots interestingly, and Koepp makes nice choices as director to keep the visual aspect of the movie exciting. At times, you could almost see this falling into a melodramatic tv-styled production. What saves it is the production value itself. In addition to the nice look, the score is phenomenal. There are foreboding scenes filled with tension, suspense enough to choke you, and a large part of this is due to the music from Philip Glass and Geoff Zanelli. On one hand, Zanelli is more of a blockbuster type composer, some nice titles under his belt. On the other hand, Glass has done some large scale stuff, but his strengths lie in the smaller, more heart-filled stories, working on everything from the recent Leviathan to Errol Morris’ groundbreaking (and life changing) The Thin Blue Line. Somewhere between the two men their talent converges to become a pulsating wall of sound. Many moments are the typical mystery-thriller sounding pieces. At other times Glass and his sensibilities ring through, an ambient and soft glow of music hovering around the scene, and then there are those unexpected bursts of sonic goodness which are expected of the unusual, talented composer.
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A lot of people, that don’t read his books enough, usually peg King as a horror writer. As if he does nothing else. Secret Window doesn’t contain much horror, other than the psychological sort and a slice of existential dread. Most of what becomes scary in this story concerns watching poor Mort try and distinguish what is reality, and what is fiction. There’s a large focus on the theme of fiction blurring into reality, which ultimately plays into the very end of the plot. Before that we already see how the story Shooter confronts Mort about parallels the life of the author, his failed marriage and subsequent divorce, the paranoia and suspicion, et cetera. Best of all is that psychological deterioration of Mort into which Koepp allows the viewer to fall. His talents for character and plot are what makes him capable of actually adapting King, a task not many who take on one of his stories are capable of achieving. He doesn’t write it all perfectly, some of the comedic elements come off too cheesy even for King. But the mystery and the thriller elements of the screenplay are well done. You may predict how some things play out before the end. Regardless, getting there is mostly a treat.
This is a better novella than it is a film. I don’t think it’s a bad movie, and it’s definitely worthy of 3&1/2 stars. There’s something missing, which I can’t exactly put my finger on. I really dig King’s writing. Again, that novella is a solid read I’ve gone through a couple times. And I even enjoy the adapted end Koepp comes up with better, as I mentioned. So why is it that Secret Window comes up short? Depp’s performance can’t hold up everything. The look and feel of the movie is good, the score comes off fantastic. Yet other than a sequence nearing the end when Mort figures everything out, there isn’t any overtly innovative filmmaking at play, nothing other than a bit of interesting camera work to compliment the storytelling. No matter how good some of the shots are and despite the atmosphere, the nice colouring all around, Secret Window is mostly just the Depp show. Were there more interesting, bold choices by Koepp, aside from the changed ending, this could be great. The directing isn’t bad, at all. King and his storytelling simply deserve more than run of the mill thrills. I can say all this, and still I own the DVD, I pop it on once every so often. It isn’t bad. Just could be much more.

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Prisoners: Guzikowski & Villeneuve Subvert the Usual Thriller

Prisoners. 2013. Dir. Denis Villeneuve. Written by Aaron Guzikowski.
Starring Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Viola Davis, Terrence Howard, Maria Bello, Melissa Leo, and Paul Dano. Warner Brothers Pictures. 14A. 153 minutes.
Drama/Mystery/Thriller

★★★★★ (Movie)
★★★ (Blu ray release)

Denis Villeneuve has been on my radar ever since I was first able to see Polytechnique; a great little film about the awful Montreal Massacre on December 6th in 1989. Of course he’s also directed several other fascinating films including Incendies and another recent film again with Jake Gyllenhaal, the unique and, for some, the confusing Enemy. When I heard he was doing a film with both Hugh Jackman and Gyllenhaal, I got really interested. First of all because Villeneuve has a real talent for dark subject matter. Second, I love Gyllenhaal. After first seeing photos from production and the trailer, I couldn’t believe the look he had going for this film; it was thrilling. And last but not least, I think Jackman is underrated. Sure, he’s in tons of big budget films, and people know him very well, but I don’t think he exactly gets the praise he deserves. However, Prisoners changes the trajectory of his career, and I believe people should notice how good an actor he really is. While the entire film is also just about perfect, all these things come together to make Prisoners a dark modern classic.
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We’ve seen the story here probably more than we care to: young girls are kidnapped, police except for one crusader are inept, one of the parents takes the law into their own hands. Yet even though the story seems familiar, the plot Guzikowski weaves through it goes into very deep, dark territory. It isn’t the same thing we see time and time again. There’s something in Prisoners that taps into our fears, and it does so easily.

Essentially this is a lot like other thrillers on the same subject. Where Prisoners excels is the acting, cinematography, and of course the writing. The script is tight. Honestly, it kept me guessing until late in the game. What really gets me here is Roger Deakins. If you don’t know the Deak then what are you doing to yourself? I don’t even want to start listing the great films he has done as Director of Photography. Okay, okay, here’s a few: Sid and NancyHomicideBarton FinkThe Shawshank RedemptionThe Hudsucker ProxyFargo, O Brother Where Art Thou?House of Sand and Fog, JarheadNo Country for Old Men, and the film adaptation of Doubt, among many others. Deakins has an absolutely flawless eye for beauty on film. The way he does things is phenomenal. Prisoners has a very dark, gritty quality to it, but yet it is still pristine looking. The tone is absolutely set with the way Deakins shoots things. Villeneuve and Deakins must have had a grand time working together.
PrisonersAlthough Jackman is probably seen to be the star of the show, as his role is central to the plot, I think Gyllenhaal is the real star. Not that his performance is actually better than Jackman’s own, I just think his character is the most important.

Gyllenhaal plays Detective David Loki, although his first name can only be seen on his business card. Of course, a lot of people automatically pinned Loki as the eventual culprit in the kidnapping of the two girls; his surname is deceptive, and naturally many thought it was a key to some answers. First off, any screenwriter who would actually name the villain in their film Loki is way too ham fisted. It should be obvious, sooner than later, Detective Loki’s name is just a red herring. The character is far too interesting to write off with simple character nims. We get glimpses of Loki’s tattoos, as they’re all over his body. At one point, you can clearly tell Loki is wearing a Masonic ring implying he is most likely a member of the Masonic Lodge (for those conspiracy theorists out there this is just another herring – regular Masons, such as my father and grandfather and a ton of other people I know, are not taking over the world, they are meeting at lodges and doing community work such as fundraising and other things – but here it is meant, again, to throw you off from figuring out the real criminal). There are so many tiny eccentricities about Gyllnehaal’s portrayal of Detective Loki you could go on and on for days. It’s just one of the things, aside from Gyllnehaal’s excellent performance, that makes Loki work perfectly as a character in this film.
THE-PRISONERS9-1024x542Jackman, on the other hand, plays the simple character of Keller Dover. I only say simple because he doesn’t have any flair; there are no little mysterious bits about Dover. He is a man who has lost his daughter, and is willing to go to any lengths necessary needed to find her and bring her home. The intensity Jackman brings is no surprise. He strikes me as an intense actor once he gets going. What does surprise me are the quieter moments. And they are there. Some people pass the performance off as all brash, loud scenes with Jackman yelling, growling, et cetera.
What they neglect are the small moments. The few in the beginning with his son. Little moments in the middle. As well as some powerful, subtle scenes nearing the very end. It isn’t all outright intensity. There are some really small and touching bits we get out of Jackman. Although, my favourite scene is when Dover is interrogating a man he believes to be the kidnapper of his and his friend’s children, and there’s a hammer involved. I don’t want to ruin it – it’s not really violent in the sense someone gets hurt with the hammer – but it is totally worth it to see this part. I didn’t expect it. It was one of those scenes I actually paused and imagined how the other actors reacted to his performance. I can’t imagine there wasn’t at least ONE person who was genuinely frightened by Jackman after those takes. Apparently Villeneuve coaxed Jackman into being more vicious, and this take was the next one he did; of course, it made its way right into the film. Rightfully so.
p5I cannot find anything I don’t like about Prisoners. As a film, I can happily and confidently give it a 5 star rating. There will always be differing opinions, on any movie. I just don’t see how you can’t enjoy this one. The acting, even the supporting roles and smaller bits, was wonderful. The script, while centered on a topic often covered in film, is fresh, and doesn’t go down all the same roads other films tend to travel on; some may disagree again, but we’ll have to amiably agree to disagree. I think the plot here, the writing, the acting – it all works to create a really amazing, dark, and exciting film.

I especially love the end. Villeneuve could have went several ways on it, but the ending is beautiful. It is a quiet, subdued ending. It even gives an air of hope, even if things are grim. Even if they may still come out grim after all. But the finale gives a glimmer of hope, and I enjoy that. Though I do enjoy all things dark and gritty, this film really gave the ending the right touch with just enough hope while still leaving things on an ambiguous note.
prisoners-image02On the contrary, I can only give Prisoners a 3 out of 5 stars in regards to the Blu ray release. The picture itself? Absolutely gorgeous. The cinematography really jumps out at you on this release. I can’t complain whatsoever about the picture or the sound; it’s all perfect. Though there is a complete lack of any real interesting extras on the disc. There are two small featurettes which give you some interviews with the cast and crew, but other than that there isn’t anything. They aren’t particularly long either. So the release itself isn’t amazing, aside from the picture quality of course, and if that wasn’t perfect then there’d be no real reason to want the Blu ray anyways – quality is expected when it comes to the visuals. I just wish they had some more special features to dive into. Alas, no such thing.

I highly recommend this Blu ray. Even though the extras don’t really fill out the release, the picture is still absolutely worth it. What you’re coming for is the movie either way, and the movie definitely delivers. The running time is long, but it doesn’t feel long when you’re sitting there watching it. And the picture is really stellar, again – I can’t stress that enough. While I wanted more extras, I’m absolutely okay with the release simply on the basis that it looks incredible, sounds great, and the film is spot on.
What I’m rambling on about? Pay more attention to the rating I gave Prisoners as a film and less about the Blu ray release – and go get yourself a copy of this brilliant, thrilling masterpiece! It’s a real modern work of dark and thrilling art.