(On Cable TV, October 2017) The mid-nineties were a surprisingly good time for solid thrillers, and Sleepers works not because of its atypical revenge plot or unobtrusive direction but largely because it managed to bring together an impressive group of actors. In-between Kevin Bacon, Jason Patric, Brad Pitt, Robert De Niro, Dustin Hoffman and the always-compelling Minnie Driver, it’s a nice mixture of generations and styles. It helps that the script is built solidly around an unusual conceit, with an ambitious lawyer doing his best to lose a case but make sure it’s widely publicized to take revenge upon childhood enemies. A blend of courtroom thriller and working-class drama, Sleepers may or may not be based on a true story, but it works well as fiction. Despite revolving around difficult subjects such as child abuse, Sleepers manages to be slightly comforting in how it ensures a victory of sorts for its characters, present a solid underdog story in an accessible fashion, and largely depends on familiar actors doing what they do best. Director Barry Levinson mostly stays out of the way of his actors, and the result is curiously easy to watch despite harsh sequences.
(On Cable TV, December 2014) Now that we have entered the third or fourth stage of found-footage horror movies, it’s obvious that one camera isn’t enough: The Bay shows how a collage of personal video recording, TV footage, security cameras, dashcams, recorded video chats has become the state-of-the-art in showing how a small town is overrun by gross slimy monsters. To its credit, The Bay does feature a striking monster and a deeper environmental them. The problem is that The Bay doesn’t quite know what to do with what it has at its disposal. It overplays some cards, underplays others, does itself no favours by blending its editing into fragments and calls attention to itself without actually deserving acclaim. While the environmentally-conscious card is fine, it’s played far too often and far too stridently, making the same point long after the premise has been established. Similarly, The Bay fools no one by making a claim to real events having occurred and being covered up. While director Barry Levinson earns points by splitting its story in multiple found-footage streams, the film doesn’t actually present that many interesting characters –the most interesting story, featuring a family with a young baby, ends up concluding weakly without much of a climax. The Bay repeatedly squanders what’s most interesting about itself to the point where it becomes just another runoff-the-mill horror film, perhaps a bit more annoying than most in how mediocre it ends up.