“Black Sea” – Brave the deep. Find the gold. Trust no one.

I was doing a little “boredom reading” at work the other day and naturally one article led to another and so on. All of a sudden I wound up at some webpage offering up the “20 Most Underrated Films of 2014”. Enter “Black Sea”. For a movie about a submarine looking for gold starring Jude Law with a thick Scottish accent, it was pretty good.Black Sea

Jude Law has never been a favorite actor of mine, nor has he been one I don’t like, he’s just…there I guess. But lately (as in for several years now) he’s been gaining my attention with his acting chops. The two Sherlock Holmes movies were pretty awesome, I’ve seen about half of “Dom Hemingway” and so far so good, and then this commercial just hammered home the point that he’s great…and that I want some scotch. But I digress!

So this website listed “Black Sea” as one of the movies that was underrated, which I had to agree with as I hadn’t heard of it. I read the short synopsis it gave, checked it out on IMDB and decided that this was something I wanted to watch. The story is actually pretty simple. Robinson (Law) is laid off from a deep sea salvage company after 30 some years and wants to stick it to the man. Thanks to an old friend he is able to get the backing from a rich dude to rent a submarine, crew it with half British and half Russian men (not a weird half Brit, half Ruskie hybrid, that’d be an entirely different movie) and search for an old WWII sub that sunk in the Black Sea supposedly carrying a large sum of gold. The Russian navy along with the Georgian navy have been fighting over who the sub (and the assumed gold) actually belong to so the whole sub operation has to be done discreetly. After the men get on board, Robinson makes one mistake in telling the crew that they will all have an even share of the gold if they find it…which means that the less men there are, the greater the shares for everyone else. Oops.

Obviously this seems like a film that’s been done before, and naturally as I wrote that none came to mind, but I’m pretty sure I’ve seen this plot device in other films. But “Black Sea” really nails it, and I found myself often holding my own breath as if I was actually outside the sub. The tensions between the two crews really rides high and keeps you guessing what’s going to happen next, and to whom. But the greatest part is that a lot of the chaos arrives without warning, or at least very quickly. The movie doesn’t give you a whole lot of time to think about what “could happen”, more of a “Well that idea isn’t goi-OH MY GOD WHY?!” Plus it’s all underwater, and that’s just one giant nope.

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Why…do you have a gun on a submarine?

Jude Law kicks off this cast as the big name but there are several recognizable faces too, and I imagine that the UK audience probably knows who they all are. We’ve got Scoot McNairy (Argo, 12 Years a Slave), Ben Mendelsohn (The Dark Knight Rises, The Place Beyond the Pines), and Michael Smiley (The World’s End, Black Mirror) to name a few. These guys all did a great job with their roles, starting off hungry for the riches that await them and slowly wanting nothing more than to survive. Really, I can’t stress it enough that this was a great movie. If anything it made me decide that if there’s ever a gold cache at the bottom of the ocean that can be reached only via submarine, I’ll stick to my paycheck.

DIRECTOR’S CUT: If you’re into suspenseful thrillers, check this out. You’ll feel as claustrophobic as the crew. Underrated for sure.

SCENE COLLECTED: This doesn’t have a whole lot to do with the overall plot, but near the beginning of the film Robinson and his Russian friend are about to meet their potential benefactor, and they are told by the man’s assistant, “And whatever you do, don’t ask him his name or how much he’s willing to invest.” Robinson walks into the room and immediately does both. I chuckled.



“Diabolique” – Don’t Reveal the Ending!

Wouldn’t it be great if all movies had this tagline? Sadly this did not hold true for me as someone accidentally revealed a key part to the end, however by the time I finally watched this film (months later) I definitely did not see the end coming the way it did. That being said, don’t go running around telling everyone that Luke’s daddy issues are going to be resolved by the end of “Empire”.Diabolique

Normally I’d say that subtitled films need a lot of draw to get me to watch them and for the most part, that’s almost always true. Even “Pan’s Labyrinth” took some urging from one of my college roommates before I decided to sit down and read the screen for two hours. You would think that after a movie as great as “Pan’s” that I maybe would’ve changed my mind, but not so much. So it wasn’t until my girlfriend Emily persuaded me to see “Diabolique” that I felt ok with watching it. Since I normally force her to watch movies I felt this was an interesting turn and that maybe she had a decent taste after all. That or I would just humor her and watch this crappy French movie from the 50’s. Having finished the movie I can gladly say that I may listen to her film recommendations more closely now, as “Diabolique” is an old thriller done right.

Movies have obviously changed since their inception a little over a century ago, though some would argue for the worse. Thrillers and horror films in particular have turned from actually scaring you and making you fear things like the ocean, or a bathtub to just throwing obscene amounts of blood and gore at you until you can’t keep down that overpriced popcorn anymore. So when we popped in the Criterion Collection edition of “Diabolique”, it was a welcome breath of (old) fresh air to the thriller genre. Set around the same time it came out (1955) it follows two women who work at a boarding school, run by none other than the tyrannical husband of one of our heroine’s. Within the first five minutes of the film we discover that the other woman is in fact the man’s mistress but this is not secret knowledge; both women are friends with each other and have a shared hatred for the man in their lives. As the backstory unfolds we learn that the wife (Christina) purchased the boarding school with the money she inherited from her family, but being 1950’s France is not allowed to run the school, only teach in it. Therefore her brutish husband Michel serves as the principle and rules with an iron fist. The two women are sick and tired of him beating them and treating them both terribly, so they decide to drive to the country and divorce him altogether. Of course once Michel catches wind of this plan he follows them to the country as well and tries to win his wife back by yelling at her and slapping her a few times. Ah, the ways to a woman’s heart. This doesn’t pan out as well as Michel had hoped, because the two ladies decide to retaliate and, you know, kill him.


600full-diabolique-screenshotThis is how divorce used to be handled in 1950’s France.

What follows for the next hour and a half is Christina’s nervousness as they live their lives after the deed, but questions start to arise as well as strange occurrences that point to Michel communicating from beyond the grave. Obviously this is a problem and the film plays it out very well. I was caught completely off guard by the last few minutes of the film, but couldn’t be more pleased at how it turned out. Going back to the beginning of this post, in today’s movies it’s just so hard to not guess the ending of a film by the time you’re half-way through it (“Lincoln” anyone?) whereas “Diabolique” did a wonderful job making you guess up until the reveal. It was eventually remade in 1996 or 1997 with Sharon Stone, so make sure you don’t see that one by mistake. Also if you need anymore of a reason to see it, Hitchcock vied for the rights to make this movie and lost out to Henri-Georges Clouzot by six hours, so there’s that. A great thriller and a well-placed choice for the Criterion Collection, and the lead actress looks super eerily like a French Judy Garland. Creepy.

DIRECTOR’S CUT: Forget that it’s black and white and French (ew) and give it a shot. The only downfall for me was that there is no musical score, so it has a very raw feel but perhaps that plays into the suspense of the whole thing. Oh, and DON’T REVEAL THE ENDING.


“Fermat’s Room” – Think inside the box.

My apologies for not posting recently, but I’ve been busy traveling around Europe. I’m currently in Vienna, Austria using the time here as a detox and more or less a layover before Budapest. During our train ride from Prague yesterday I was able to enjoy “Fermat’s Room”, a Spanish thriller that was released in 2007. I can’t remember why I added it to my Netflix or what made it catch my eye in the first place, but I can easily say that I’m glad it made it’s way to my queue.

Before we move on I do want to point out that this is a Spanish film so if you decide to ever watch it, you will be reading subtitles (unless you’re awesome at Spanish). Hopefully that doesn’t lose you as it really was a great touch to the thriller genre, something fresh besides the gore-porn that we tend to get in America these days. Oh yeah, the story is also about math and solving enigmas. Whenever they were solved in the movie I felt that they flew by the answers too quickly for me to actually comprehend what they actually were, but maybe if you’re a mathematician it’ll make sense to you. Pretty sure the only one I ever picked up on was the 3 gallon/5 gallon jug question from “Die Hard: With a Vengeance”, and that took several viewings before I finally grasped it. Ergo, I’m dumb.

Anyway let’s get a move on. “Fermat’s Room” is about four mathematicians who all receive a letter in the mail with the following question on it:

How are these numbers linked?
5 – 4 – 2 – 9 – 8 – 6 – 7 – 3 – 1

Mind you this movie is in Spanish so the answer presented in the film would not work in English, so for those playing at home I’ll rewrite it for you.

8 – 5 – 4 – 9 – 1 – 7 – 6 – 3 – 2

Just letting you know after you read the rest of the synopsis here, if you ever receive a letter asking you to solve an enigma like this so that you’ll be invited to a secret gathering of mathematicians (which sounds like a barrel of fun in itself), don’t go. So these four mathematicians solve this equation and all receive a second letter asking them to show up at a certain address at a certain time and without cellphones. Each of the mathematicians are given aliases to go by so as not to know anything about one another. The aliases wind up being names of famous mathematicians so it’s quite fitting. They all arrive at a lake where they meet each other and deduce that to reach a car on the other side they must row across in a rowboat entitled “Pithagoras” (Spanish). Once at the car (coche!) they follow a strange GPS to what looks like a large warehouse where they all enter. By the way, at this point I think only one of the characters has actually voiced their concern about how strange this is, so I feel that says something. Once inside this warehouse-esque building they come across a completely decorated and furnished room, complete with piano, chalkboard, and dinner table set with food. Shortly after they enter this room a fifth member arrives wearing the name tag of “Fermat”, so he is presumed to be the host. After they finish eating dinner they start to discuss why they have all been invited to this house when Fermat receives a phone call from what he thinks is the hospital. He quickly explains to the group that his daughter is in a coma and he feels he must leave immediately to see what the hospital wanted as his call was cutoff.


As Fermat is driving away, “Pascal” realizes that Fermat forgot his coat so he runs outside to track him down. Failing to catch his attention he winds up seeing Fermat’s wallet with a picture of his daughter inside. Pascal recognizes the daughter but doesn’t say anything just yet, so he joins the other three in the drawing room and shuts the door. This is when stuff starts to get real. A previously unnoticed PDA goes off so the group gathers around to read it. At the top is a timer counting down from 1 minute and below is an enigma that they must figure out. Granted they seem to pay less attention to the timer and just focus on the riddle, but this allows Pascal to notice that as soon as the timer reaches 00:00, the walls of the room begin to compress. However once the riddle is solved and the answer is entered into the PDA the room stops. After a few minutes another riddle winds up being sent to the PDA and the problem resumes.

As the room shrinks, tempers flare, and everyone starts to realize that they aren’t complete strangers. So take “Clue” and add a dash of “Saw” and you wind up with “Fermat’s Room”. I don’t want to give anymore away since this is actually a really good thinker thriller. If it were to be remade in America I can guarantee that there would be a lot more people in the room and tons more death, so it’s good to keep this Spanish flick as-is. If you aren’t one for foreign films because of “reading” or “Guillermo Del Toro didn’t make it”, I implore you to broaden your horizons and give it a shot because it really is quite entertaining.

DIRECTOR’S CUT: Solid foreign film with great acting, non-cheesy dialogue, and a lot of math (could be a negative thing).