SXSW2016, Part 6: The Penultimate Post (with Still More “Hammer to Nail” Reviews and Interviews, plus “Bmoreart”)

SXSW2016 No 6 Collage

Just when you thought we were done with my reviews and interviews from the 2016 SXSW Festival, I have still more Hammer to Nail pieces to share. Six more, to be exact (and there will be one final post after this):

Be sure to read my firstsecondthirdfourth and fifth posts on SXSW2016, as well!

And before I forget, I also did a general festival wrap-up for Bmoreart. Check it out!

If “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” Is a Dreary Slog, At Least We’ve Still Got Dear Old Mom

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (Zack Snyder, 2016)

In the end, it all comes down to good old Mom. With the fate of the world in the balance, with the forces of good and evil arrayed on either side of the fence (or, in this case, of the shattered skyscraper), with all of the destruction wrought on our planet, is it not reassuring to know that the love of one’s mother can still hold sway? For when Batman faces off against Superman – each presented as morally complicated heroes, with both good and evil within them – it turns out that the mere mention of matricide is enough to stay his hand. What next? A two-man baseball match? An apple-pie-eating contest? What fun could be had!

Sadly, however, fun is the furthest thing from the mind of director Zack Snyder (Man of Steel). Which shouldn’t surprise, given his previous work. From Dawn of the Dead (a remake of George Romero’s original) to 300 to Watchmen, and beyond, Snyder has specialized in an aesthetic – such as it is – that combines ornate comic-inspired visuals with a bone-crunchingly gloomy worldview that manages to be both stimulating (for the eyes) and utterly boring (for the brain). I must confess to enjoying that first feature of his (his take on Romero), but perhaps that is because zombie films actually work well when there is no glimmer of anything but destruction. By now, however, his style has played out, and though we get a strange CGI zombie (of sorts) at the end of Batman v Superman (note the “v” versus “vs,” like a battle between litigants, which might have actually been more interesting …), as if to recall what once worked, it’s a case of excess piled upon excess, and a reminder, instead, of the dearth of genuine human characters, the actual actors notwithstanding.

Which is unfortunate, because there is at least one good performance in this movie, and that is by Ben Affleck (Gone Girl), who does a fine job stepping into Christian Bale’s world-weary shoes as Bruce Wayne. Affleck is by far the best thing here, though Amy Adams (American Hustle) – as Lois Lane, star reporter and Superman’s love interest – is always compulsively watchable, and Gal Gadot (Triple 9), as Wonder Woman – whoops (plot spoiler, though not really), I mean Diana Prince – makes for one kickass superheroine. It’s too bad there isn’t more of the women, as the film is otherwise one big testosterone-laden glowering contest followed by an endless slugfest. Throw a manic Jesse Eisenberg (The End of the Tour) into the mix as Lex Luthor, and it really is all about who’s got the biggest balls. To which I say, who cares?

The plot, such as it is, begins at the end of Man of Steel, during the climactic battle between Superman and General Zod that nearly destroys Metropolis. Bruce Wayne – not in costume as Batman – watches in horror as two extraterrestrials fight without apparent concern over collateral damage. Flash forward 18 months, and Wayne is now intent on laying waste to he who laid waste. Meanwhile, Clark Kent/Superman – Henry Cavill (The Man from U.N.C.L.E.), reprising the role from last time, and fine if unremarkable – has his own concerns about Batman’s vigilante tactics, and is similarly seeking a way to put Gotham’s caped crusader out of business. Luther, on his end, wants to play the two sides against each other, and with the help of some Kryptonite (mineral residue from Superman’s home planet that can destroy him) and a well-intentioned U.S. Senator (Holly Hunter, Saving Grace, good if little-used), is poised to step in as evil overlord once the ostensible good guys are gone. Hence, “Batman v Superman.” And he almost succeeds; he did not, however, count on Mom.

That’s Diane Lane (Trumbo, another underused fine actress), who is back as Ma Kent, the adoptive mother of Kal-El (aka Superman, aka Clark Kent). She’s not on screen for very long, except as a pawn in the plans of men, but her role is pivotal. At least as far as understanding Snyder’s approach to storytelling. When you write yourself into a corner, where all you can do is show one more interminable fight scene after another, what better way to solve the plot conundrum than to use a hokey contrivance like a son’s love for his mother? Add a bit of coincidence involving that mother’s first name – hey, why stop when you’re hacking your way through a screenplay? – and voilà, problem solved! At least until the zombie – excuse me, Doomsday – shows up. Mom’s not much help there, I’m afraid.

I am sure that there are many in this world who will watch this movie and enjoy it. It tackles big themes – life and death, good and evil – in big ways. But those ways are also so repetitively obvious that one quickly begins to long for some nuance. The heroes may be presented as morally complicated (they are not, really), but the movie is constructed with such bombast that there is nothing complex about its approach to the material. Perhaps most disturbing – in this and all of the other over-exposed superhero films of our day – is the neo-fascist acceptance that we, mere non-billionaire mortals, are all helpless in the face of the decisions of our betters. At least with the more irreverent Marvelverse films like Guardians of the GalaxyAnt-Man and Deadpool (and even the more serious Captain America: The Winter Soldier), there is a sense that real people matter, and that the stakes are high because actual lives are at stake; here, we viewers can only cower in our seats like the helpless spectators in the film, urged to worship at the altar of our superiors. “Please, Sir, I want some more“? Next time, I’ll pass.

“Baskin,” an Uneven (and Disgusting) Horror Film, Still Offers a Few Welcome Surprises

Baskin

Baskin (Can Evrenol, 2015)

So I may have not yet had a chance to see (the, by all accounts, overwrought and dreary) Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (it opened last night) – a “problem” that I may or may not rectify (I did not like Zack Snyder’s first Superman installment, Man of Steel),* but I did get a chance to check out an odd Turkish horror film, which opens in New York today and is simultaneously available on VOD. If you like your blood and guts spoken in a foreign language, with some genuinely fresh takes on the genre, than Baskin could be the movie for you. Based on director Can Evrenol’s 2013 short of the same name, this strange and (at times) compellingly repulsive movie offers some genuine (albeit vomitous) thrills, even while being unable to surmount some significant script issues. In other words, this is not a good film, but is a sometimes entertaining one.

In the interest of full disclosure, I must admit that I do not hold great love for horror, particularly of the gory variety. So there is a high threshold for me to overcome before I will find anything to like in a movie filled with severed body parts and spurting arteries. What I do appreciate, however, is an eerie mood and setting, and the occasional high-concept twist. Here, that twist takes the form of a character who is able to shift time and place in a moment of crisis. The fact that he can’t really control this ability makes it all the more interesting, since we never know how much this skill will ultimately help.

In Baskin (title never explained), we find ourselves in the company of a (mostly) deeply unsympathetic group of policemen. They eat dinner in an isolated restaurant while a hooded figure prowls outside, unseen, eventually delivering mysterious meat to the cook. Soon, we begin to wish that the hooded figure would enter the fray earlier, rather than later, as all these guys talk about is sex and their abuse of power. But no, it’s all just set-up, and we can only wonder why. Dinner done, they leave, but not before one of them has had a strange psychotic moment in the bathroom (frog involved) and another has picked a fight with the waiter. Good riddance to them, I say. Which is good, because soon my wish will be granted.

Once on the road, our friends hear a call for help on the police radio that brings them to one of those dark and creepy places that anyone who has ever seen a horror film knows not to go into (but isn’t that why fans of the genre watch?). What awaits them, inside, though fairly disgusting, is, at the very least, not entirely expected, and that almost redeems the whole affair. The Black Mass they stumble upon – and of which they inadvertently become a part – has some well-rendered sequences that are hard not admire. And then there’s that character who keeps flashing back in time to liven up the proceedings. So while I would not recommend this film to the casual viewer of horror films, anyone looking for something even a little new in the genre should check it out, and weather its screenplay flaws.

*[Note from later in the day: I did see it.]

SXSW2016, Part 4 (Friday, March 18 and beyond)

If you missed it earlier in the week, here is the list of the SXSW2016 Jury Awards. And here are the Audience Awards, announced yesterday. The last day of the festival, for me, was Friday, March 18 (we left the next day), and I saw only two films for which I will not be writing reviews for Hammer to Nail, and I have capsule reviews of both, below. Here are the reviews and interviews that have been published on Hammer to Nail since my last post:

Stay tuned for more in the next week!

Richard Linklater Dream Is Destiny

Richard Linklater: Dream Is Destiny (Karen Bernstein/Louis Black, 2016)

If you’re a filmmaker or film fanatic in Austin, Texas, you owe a huge debt of gratitude to director Richard Linklater, who founded the Austin Film Society in 1985 and then continued to make Austin his home even after the indie success of his debut feature, Slacker, which was shot in Austin. Linklater’s insistence on bringing the film industry to him (and to his home), rather than on abandoning his roots, is what has helped make his work feel so personal, even when films like the Before Sunrise/Before Sunset/Before Midnight trilogy have taken him far afield. When, finally, in 2015, he was nominated for an Oscar for his 12-year-odyssey of a movie, Boyhood, it felt like a vindication for everyone who has ever wanted to do it his/her way without compromise. Such is the journey outlined in this decently solid, if not amazing, documentary. Indeed, the story is compelling; it’s the filmmaking that’s a bit pedestrian (Bernstein and Black are no Linklater). Black’s insistence on putting himself in the frame with Linklater during interviews is distracting: the folly of a man who was there when Linklater got his start, and now wants to make sure we all remember. But leaving that aside, the film is definitely worth watching for all who care about independent cinema and who appreciate Linklater’s work.Everybody Wants Some

Everybody Wants Some!! (Richard Linklater, 2016)

Sometimes Linklater is no Linklater, either. This enjoyably breezy nostalgic college-party film is filled with magnificent performances and wonderful set pieces, including a marvelous bit where the lead actors sing and rap along to The Sugarhill Gang’s 1979 hit Rapper’s Delight, but it ultimately feels extraordinarily slight (this review on The Verge sums it up quite well). I had a good time watching it, laughed a lot, but started checking my watch after about an hour. I wish there were more to it than just a celebration of alcohol, drugs and sex (or, at least, an uncritical look back at the joy of when those things felt fresh and new). I dug the cast, though, which includes, from among my favorites, Blake Jenner (Ryder Lynn on Glee), Glen Powell (Chad Radwell on Scream Queens) and Tyler Hoechin (Derek Hale on Teen Wolf) as horny baseball jocks, and Zoey Deutch (Vampire Academy) as the lone (somewhat) fully realized email character. It’s a guy’s movie filled with guy’s guys. Bromance all the way.

Be sure to read my firstsecond and third posts on SXSW2016, as well!

SXSW2016, Part 3 (Wednesday-Thursday, March 16-17)

And so the week at SXSW has continued. Since the last post, I have had only two more pieces published on Hammer to Nail – an interview with the director and producer of The Dwarvenaut and a review of The Bandit – but you can expect many more pieces soon. Here are my capsule reviews of three other films for which I will not be publishing reviews on that site.

Miles Ahead

Miles Ahead (Don Cheadle, 2015)

Actor Don Cheadle (Hotel Rwanda), in his directorial debut, has crafted a brilliant cinematic portrait of jazz musician Miles Davis (1926-1991). At times funny, at others tragic, the film is an improvisatory riff on the great innovator that would make the master proud. Kudos to Cheadle for refusing to make a standard biopic; instead, he has opted for an impressionistic approach that flashes back and forth between different eras in the man’s life. Cheadle, himself, plays Davis, and is riveting in the role. When we first meet our hero, he is deep into booze and cocaine at the end of a self-imposed exile that began in the mid-1970s. Ewan McGregor (Beginners) – a completely fictional free-lance journalist from Rolling Stone – is interviewing him, and just as we settle into a montage of images on a vibrating television screen, we smash cut back to a car chase and gunfire. And so the film goes, jumping around in a style that initially confuses but eventually brings all the disparate elements together at the end to show us, warts and all, what made Davis both great and awful. Human beings are complex, and a monster can still be a genius. A film to be watched by all who love both movies and music.

In Pursuit of Silence

In Pursuit of Silence (Patrick Shen, 2015)

In today’s world, it is harder than ever to escape noise. Some people react to this situation with a vow of silence, like Greg Hindy, one of the many interesting characters we meet in this awe-inspiring new documentary from Patrick Shen (La Source). Others study the phenomenon, such as George Prochnik, author of the book In Pursuit of Silence (from which this film borrows its title). Shen takes us on a global journey – beautifully photographed – in which he explores what it means to be a human being, genetically predisposed to a pre-industrial universe, in a landscape of increasingly loud machines. With a musical score that emphasizes silence as much as it accompanies it, the film even dwells, for a bit, on John Cage‘s seminal 1952 composition 4’33”, in which a pianist walks up to a piano, sets it up, and then does nothing for four and a half minutes. The movie is a majestic achievement in which art and philosophy are blended in a perfect meditative mix. It’s an important film for our time.

SXSW2016_2016-03-17_Pee-wee premiere

Producer Judd Apatow, Star/Co-Writer Paul Reubens, Co-Writer Paul Rust and Director John Lee

What a joy it was to be at the world premiere of the new Pee-wee Herman film! The audience went wild as soon as Paul Reubens – aka, Pee-wee Herman – came out on stage. The film went live on Netflix a few hours after the screening, so everyone can now watch it (and you should), but I am so happy I was there for that first night.

Pee-wee's Big Holiday

Pee-wee’s Big Holiday (John Lee, 2016)

To be honest, I was too old to truly appreciate the phenomenon that was Pee-wee’s Playhouse when it hit it big in the 1980s. But the first feature film, in 1985, starring the titular character –  Pee-wee’s Big Adventure – and directed by Tim Burton (Edward Scissorhands), in his feature debut, did make it on to my radar. Still, I was never a huge fan. I was nevertheless dismayed by the persecution that Reubens suffered after his bust in a porn theater in 1991, as he seemed like an otherwise decent enough human being. Well, let us not shed too many tears for the man, as a close study of his biography reveals the many projects – Pee-wee-related and otherwise – that have kept him busy since that unfortunate incident. And now he’s back in full force with a new cinematic adventure for Pee-wee. And it’s a winner. With jokes both dumb and sophisticated, made with zip and pizzazz, the movie should delight Pee-wee aficionados of all ages. Check it out. You’ll be sure to have a good time.

Be sure to read my first and second posts on SXSW2016!

SXSW2016, Part 2 (Monday-Tuesday, March 14-15)

The last two days of the festival have seen me continue with more of the same – movie screenings and interviews with directors and actors. Here are the reviews and interviews that have been published on Hammer to Nail since Sunday, March 13:

And now, below, are my thoughts on the two films I have seen on the ground for which I will not be writing reviews for Hammer to Nail.

Tony Robbins SXSW 2016

From l-r: Janet Pierson, Head of SXSW Film; Joe Berlinger, Director; Tony Robbins, subject

Tony Robbins: I Am Not Your Guru (Joe Berlinger, 2016)

I am a big fan of the two documentaries by Joe Berlinger I had seen previously – Under African Skies and Whitey: United States of America v. James J. Bulger – in both of which he demonstrated a commitment to journalistic principles that is sorely lacking in this, his new film. Tony Robbins: I Am Not Your Guru is a film about the titular self-help goliath – a titan in both physical size and monetary wealth – about whose life and work I knew nothing before sitting down in the Paramount Theater in Austin, Texas, to watch the film. I assumed that, whatever the subject, I was going to be treated to a solid piece of filmmaking by a man whose credentials were more than solid. During his introduction to the film (pictured above), however, Berlinger quite explicitly stated that this was unlike his earlier work, as he had had a life-changing experience recently and was offering up a positive portrait of a man he has come to admire.

He wasn’t kidding.

But more than a “positive portrayal,” it’s an infomercial. Robbins has made himself wealthy by charging high sums for his six-day “Date with Destiny” workshops, in which he practices his own personal brand of physical, and psycho-, therapy. He seems genuinely interested in people, but since the film never offers up much more than surface-level storytelling, we have no way of really discovering anything other than what Robbins wants us to see. That such a man as Berlinger could make such a movie is, to say the least, disappointing.

sxsw2016learningtosee

Learning to See: The World of Insects (Jake Oelman, 2016)

In this beautiful documentary, which filmmaker Jake Oelman (Dear Sidewalk) has made as a tribute to his father – insect photographer Robert Oelman – we witness the transformation of a dispirited fifty-year-old Bostonian into a lively seventy-something visual chronicler of the South-American rainforest. Instead of going to one of Tony Robbins’ workshops (see, above), Dr. Oelman, a psychotherapist depressed by his work, took off in the 1990s for Colombia, where he fell in love with the people and the landscape. Soon, he bought a house, and has lived there ever since. As he settled in, he took an interest in photography, and eventually in insects, and began working with macro lenses to better capture the natural world around him. Now, over 20 years later, Robert Oelman is a recognized artist and documentary photographer, whose work is seen as vital in the global effort to draw attention to our rapidly vanishing biodiversity. As one expert in the film says, “Until you value something, you’re not going to undertake meaningful action to protect it.” Let this lovely little movie stand as a testament to Oelman’s vital contribution to saving our planet.

To read about how the festival began, for me, check out my first post on SXSW2016.

Welcome to SXSW2016!

SXSW 2016

It’s that time of year again, as it was in 2014 and 2015, when I took my first and second trips, respectively, to the annual SXSW Festival in Austin, TX. As I did last year, I have traveled with a group of Stevenson University Film & Moving Image students, pictured below.

STEVENSON SXSW2016_2016-03-13

This year, however, I am not just attending as a professor and blogger, but as an official member of the press, writing for Hammer to Nail during the festival, and preparing post-fest coverage for Dan Rodricks’ “Roughly SpeakingBaltimore Sun podcast and for Bmoreart. What this means is that I pre-watched 10 films before the festival began, and am interviewing those filmmakers (directors and cast) plus a few more whose films I am watching on the ground. That leaves me with less time (for now) to see movies live, but I have still seen a few. What follows is a list of those films, with brief capsule reviews, plus links to the reviews that have already been posted, as of this writing, on Hammer to Nail. The interviews will take longer to appear on that site, as first someone (that would be me) has to transcribe and condense them . . .

Let’s start with the Hammer to Nail reviews that have been posted, so far:

And now here are my thoughts on the few films I have seen since my arrival in Austin, which will not get their own review at Hammer to Nail:

Hunt for the Wilderpeople

Hunt for the Wilderpeople (Taika Waititi, 2016)

New Zealander Taika Waititi (co-director, What We Do in the Shadows) has made a film that is extremely entertaining in its first 15 minutes, but which completely loses its way after that. Like the young boy at its center, the script needs a a firm adult hand to guide it towards coherence. That hand is stuck in adolescent hyperactivity, however, and so much of the good will of the opening quickly dissipates in the chaos that follows. Which is too bad, as both Julian Dennison – as Ricky Baker, a rebellious tween kid brought to a lonely farmstead foster home as a last resort – and Sam Neill (Backtrack) – as the ornery father figure left to care for him – are good, with an easy and funny rapport. As the hijinks in the bush go on, Waititi cannot seem to manage the mix of comedy and tragedy that works so brilliantly at the start. The film has appeal, but not enough to sustain it through its latter half.

Alive and Kicking

Alive and Kicking (Susan Glatzer, 2016)

Susan Glatzer’s debut documentary takes a look at the popularity of swing dancing since the 1980s, when, according the film, the long-neglected (but never forgotten) dance style began it’s slow return. One of Glatzer’s talking-head interviewees points to the 1990s “trifecta” (as she calls it) of Swing Kids (1993), Swingers (1996) and the Gap Khaki commercial (1998) as the turning point in swing’s revival, kicking it into high gear. Whether you care about this history or not, there’s a lot of great dancing on display, and the film is made with a certain pep that keeps it going, even when its narrative falters. For this is the kind of movie where the filmmaking is not as engaging as the subject matter. Glazer’s – and her subjects’ – hearts are fully in this endeavor, so I feel like a heel being so critical, but there is something profoundly irritating to me about history being told by its participants – of course, partisan to their cause – than by actual historians. In other words, a few actual experts – rather than enthusiasts – would give the film greater heft. Glatzer also sets up a a false dichotomy of work vs. play, where almost everyone in the film seems to hate their day jobs, sneering at those who don’t wish to dance – and be free! – as they do. Still, there’s enough here of interest for a qualified recommendation. Do with that what you will.

And Punching the Clown

And Punching the Clown (Gregori Viens, 2016)

Singer/comedian (and singing comedian) Henry Phillips plays a fictionalized version of himself in this follow-up/sequel to director Gregori Viens’ 2009 Punching the Clown. The events of that previous film (which I haven’t seen) are alluded to here, but this is more or less a stand-alone story, requiring no prior knowledge of Phillips or his sad-sack misadventures. Instead, all one needs is a desire to laugh and a tolerance for comedies of embarrassment. Phillips is an engaging on-screen presence – even if not all of his jokes resonate with me (I get tired of his constant borderline-sexist tales of woeful relationships) – and the gags outside of the stand-up routines are very funny. With great support work from Tig Notaro (Tig), her real-life partner Stephanie Allynne (In a World…), J.K. Simmons (Whiplash) and Sarah Silverman (Take This Waltz), among others, And Punching the Clown is a frequently delightful riff and failure and success . . . and failure.

Hardcore Henry

Hardcore Henry (Ilya Naishuller, 2016)

Now that I have been through the hellish experience that is Hardcore Henry, I look back to my (positive) reaction to its trailer and wonder, “What was I thinking?” Why did I imagine that this would be anything other than one continuous bloodbath with a completely incomprehensible story? While it’s true that the opening 10 to 20 (I can no longer recall) minutes of the film have a certain (fascist) exuberance to them, after that what plot there is descends into mind-numbing repetition of one gruesome (and graphic) killing after another. Shot entirely from the first-person point of view of its titular character, Hardcore Henry mimics the aesthetics of many a first-person-perspective video game, a tactic not without interest as a cinematic exercise, but not enough to sustain the movie for its 90-minute length. Unless, of course, all you want to do is kill, kill, and kill, in which case, welcome to your own private nirvana.

Stay tuned for more SXSW film news throughout the week.

“Reel Talk” – with Chris Reed and Max Weiss – on #Oscars2016, “Hail, Caesar!” and “Deadpool”

HCC-TV Reel Talk_2016-03

Christopher Llewellyn Reed, “Reel Talk” host, w/ Max Weiss, Film Critic, “Baltimore Magazine” & WBAL-TV

Welcome to the fourth episode of the 2015-2016 season of Dragon Digital Media‘s Reel Talk with Christopher Llewellyn Reed . My guest this time was Max Weiss, film critic for Baltimore Magazine and WBAL-TV. We reviewed the 2016 Oscars (the ceremony, itself, and the winners), plus two recent films: Hail, Caesar! and Deadpool. We also discussed the role of the film critic, in general, and whether it is ever acceptable to leave a screening before the end. In Howard County, Maryland, you can watch the show on Channel 41 (if you’re a Verizon customer) or Channel 96 (if you’re a Comcast customer), and you can watch it online from anywhere. You can also still catch the first episodesecond episode and third episode of this season, as well.

As always, the amazing Dragon Digital Media team did a fantastic job putting this together, especially producer Karen Vadnais and director Danielle Maloney. Our next episode will premiere in May of this year (not sure what we’ll review yet, but I promise that the discussion will be great!). Until then, if you want to watch more of our work, you can check out last year’s episodes in full – Episode 1Episode 2Episode 3Episode 4Episode 5Episode 6 – or watch the various segments from each episode on our YouTube channel. Enjoy! And we’ll see you at the movies!

In Clever “10 Cloverfield Lane,” the Demons May Not Be All in Your Head

10 Cloverfield Lane

10 Cloverfield Lane (Dan Trachtenberg, 2016)

Just because you’re paranoid, it doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you. Such is the set-up for 10 Cloverfield Lane, an extremely clever sort-of-sequel to the 2008 hit Cloverfield, itself a nifty little gem of a found-footage mockumentary in which a monstrous alien destroyed New York (and maybe more). That film had no stars and was shot in a shaky-cam home-video style; here, there are no such cinematography tricks, with a much more traditional use of camera. What we get, instead, are three very strong (and relatively well-known) actors – Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Faults), John Goodman (Inside Llewyn Davis) and John Gallagher, Jr. (Short Term 12) – plus a super-smart script and some superb lighting and editing techniques worthy of the best horror films. Eventually, there are also some splendid visual effects, but perhaps the best effect of all is the site of John Goodman boogying to the jukebox in his bunker.

Goodman plays Howard, a survivalist nut who may (or may not) be as crazy as we think. When first we meet him, it is after a catchy opening in which we watch Michelle (Winstead) pack up her life, leave an engagement ring on the table, drive off, and then tumble off the road in an accident. She wakes up with an IV in her arm and her leg bandaged and shackled. The heavy door to her cell opens, and there’s Howard, looming over her with a fiery gleam in his eye. He tells her that he saved her life, and that everyone in the world above is dead. The cause? Some kind of attack – maybe the Russians or the North Koreans, or even extraterrestrials – that has contaminated the air. Better to get used to life in his custom-made shelter. Michelle, who earlier had wanted nothing more than to flee her life, now wants back in. But how?

Trapped underground with her is Emmett, who helped build the place and fought his way through the exterior hatch as Howard was closing it. He’s sweet, but injured. Good company, perhaps (he’s much closer in age to Michelle than is Howard), but not much protection. For a while, however, they all make do. Howard has loaded the bunker with games, puzzles and movies. Not entirely satisfied that he’s not insane, Michelle, leg injury and all, does try to break out (they hear noises above), but what she sees on the threshold stops her cold. Perhaps there is method to Howard’s madness, after all.

What first-time feature-director Dan Trachtenberg has crafted here is a film that takes its time, yet is utterly gripping. There are true surprises in store – even if you have seen the previous film – and a very satisfying ending (which concludes the story while pointing, of course, to future installments). All three actors, at the peak of their game, hold our attention; we feel their mounting claustrophobia even as they do their best to deal with it. If you’re looking for a movie that is both a great psychological thriller and great science fiction, then 10 Cloverfield Lane is just the ticket.