FlixChatter: THE RENTAL (2020)

When Ruth asked me if I wanted to cover The Rental, I said yes as soon as I saw that Dan Stevens was in it; I enjoyed him in 2017’s Beauty and the Beast, and my boyfriend and I have been on a Downton Abbey kick (we just finished season three and I am HEARTBROKEN), so I thought it could be fun to see him in a horror movie. Unfortunately, while he (and the rest of the cast) give great performances, there’s not much else that’s fun about it.

Dan Stevens with Alison Brie

In The Rental, married couple Charlie (Dan Stevens) and Michelle (Alison Brie), Charlie’s younger brother Josh (Jeremy Allen White), and Josh’s girlfriend/Charlie’s business partner Mina (Sheila Vand) rent a vacation home for a weekend trip. While the weekend should be fun and relaxing, personal tensions mount, and the group might not be as alone as they thought.

This movie is a weird mashup of a romantic drama, psychological thriller, and slasher. That’s not to say that a movie can’t incorporate all of these genres, but The Rental doesn’t do it well. Rather than blending them together, the first half of the movie focuses on the relationship drama, the next chunk turns into a thriller, and the last ten-ish minutes is a lazy slasher. It’s a clunky, jarring way of telling the story and makes the end feel somewhat underwhelming after the buildup earlier in the movie.

There’s also a decision a couple of the characters make that is obviously there to move the thriller part forward, but it’s incredibly dumb to the point of being unbelievable. I don’t like being too nitpicky about plotholes, and I understand suspending my disbelief is important to a certain point, but if characters act more stupid than people would in real life, especially when the characters have seemed relatively intelligent up until that point, it’s disappointing.

Alison Brie in The Rental

Despite the underwhelming and frustrating writing, the cast does well with what they’re given. Dan Stevens is both funny and infuriating, and it’s kind of fun hearing him use an American accent. Allison Brie is likeable and sympathetic, as is Jeremy Allen White. Sheila Vand gives an understated but intense performance. And Toby Huss as Taylor, the creepy caretaker of the rental home, is excellent; he keeps you guessing whether he’s just a weird, unpleasant guy or if he has more nefarious intentions. The fact that they had a competent director must have helped too; Dave Franco does well in his directing debut here. Not only are the performances well done, but there are some well-composed shots that help keep the suspense high. It’s just unfortunate that his (and the other writers’) screenwriting skills weren’t as impressive.

Overall, The Rental is an underwhelming and messily-written movie. If you especially like any of the actors, maybe check it out; otherwise, I would recommend skipping this one.

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Have you seen The Rental? Well, what did you think?

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Weekend Roundup Reviews: Now You See Me & The Kid With a Bike

First weekend of June and apparently the box office came crashing down after a strong Memorial weekend. According to Box Office Mojo, Fast & Furious 6 fell 65% to about $34 mil, but yet it still took the top spot with Now You See Me ($28 mil) and After Earth ($27 mil) rounding up the top three. I had no interest in seeing the Will Smith (& son) movie, so even with two press screenings, I didn’t attend either one of them. Anyway, here are my reviews of the two I saw this past weekend:

NowYouSeeMePosterNow You See Me (2013)

An FBI agent and an Interpol detective track a team of illusionists who pull off bank heists during their performances and reward their audiences with the money.

This movie wasn’t even on my radar until I saw the trailer in front of Oblivion last month. It looks like a fun caper with a pretty decent cast, though I was mostly amused by the fact that Christopher Nolan’s Batman alums Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine are together again on screen. Well, after seeing the movie, I actually find this interview of the two of them where Freeman dozed off right in the middle of it far more entertaining, ahah.

The movie started off promising enough, with a brief ‘origin’ story of sort how the world’s most popular team of illusionists The Four Horsemen came into being. Jesse Eisenberg, Isla Fisher, Dave Franco and Woody Harrelson made up the four of them, with Harrelson being the most amusing of them all by a small margin. The first magic trick that takes place certainly piques your interest and makes you go, ‘how the heck did they do that??‘ If you’ve seen the trailer, you might’ve seen the clip of thousands of dollar bills showering the audience of a live magic show. Well, the trick is a pretty cool one involving a French guy being teleported to his bank in Paris! A theft this big surely gets the attention of the FBI and the agent assigned to the case, Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) is hot on their trail. He gets help from pretty Interpol agent Alma (Mélanie Laurent) and there’s a hint of romance in their interaction which falls flat to me.

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The last movie by French director Louis Leterrier was the horrible Clash of the Titans. Now this isn’t as bad as that one but really, that’s not saying much. I usually like caper action films and with the whole magic theme interwoven in it, the story is definitely promising. But Leterrier’s direction is so scatterbrained that the movie elicits eye rolls and gaping yawns [no wonder Freeman dozed off promoting this movie, ahah]. A few times during the movie I whispered to my hubby that this movie has a serious identity crisis. I mean, it’s trying to hard to be a mystery thriller, fast-paced action, romance drama, but it fails in all fronts. It also shifts its focus from the various characters in such a frenetic fashion that I barely care just who’s tricking who and what’s really at stake here. Then, as the heists gets even more daring and the action more bombastic, the film throws this big twist at the end that’s supposed be this huge shocker. Unfortunately, I’ve stopped caring by that point. The climax just isn’t all that rewarding after all the disconcerting ride this movie’s put us through. Plus, the flashback reveal is so lame and preposterous I practically threw my hands up in the air.

There are some cool scenes here and there but overall Now You See Me‘s is such a big waste of talents and material. I don’t care about any of the characters either. I mean, the fact that I kept referring to Freeman and Caine’s characters as Lucious Fox and Alfred should tell you just how memorable these characters are. I only remember Ruffalo’s character’s name as it’s cool enough to be a superhero alter ego, but Rhodes is so daft that his superiors must’ve been in a trance when they hired him, ahah. Apart from some cool scenes of the magic show that made me feel as if I were actually in Vegas watching a show, there’s barely any cinematic magic to speak of here. Even the action scenes are nothing groundbreaking, even the rather long car chase scene is nowhere near as exciting as the one Leterrier did in the first Transporter movie. Eisenberg’s character said that the first rule of magic is always be the smartest person in the room. Well, seems like such a person went ‘poof’ in the making of this movie!


2 out of 5 reels


TheKidwithaBikePosterThe Kid With a Bike (2011)

Abandoned by his father, a young boy is left in a state-run youth farm. In a random act of kindness, the town hairdresser agrees to foster him on weekends.

This film came highly recommended by a few of my closest bloggers. The story definitely appeals to me and right of the bat it reminds me of one of my favorite indie Dear Frankie as the protagonist is also abandoned by his father. The difference is, the 11-year-old Cyril doesn’t have a mother either and he reluctantly lives at a foster institution. Kids like Cyril are so broken that a life of delinquency seems inevitable, even if the stubborn and impulsive boy is actually a good kid at heart.

Seemingly by chance, Cyril runs into Samantha [literally!] as he was running away from his foster counselors. He’s been looking for his missing dad and his bike. Samantha (Cécile De France), a hairdresser in town, somehow finds out where his bike was sold and buys it back for Cyril. Her kind gesture doesn’t end there, she even offers to take Cyril with her on weekends, and she even agrees to take Cyril to find his dad.

What strikes me about this French film is how matter-of-fact the story goes right from the beginning. It doesn’t pull any punches on showing the pain and despair Cyril (Thomas Doret) goes through in his young life, and the cruelty of his own father in when he gives him up in order to start a fresh new life. Even as someone who grew up without a father myself, I don’t think I could fathom being deserted by my own parent in this manner. The scenes of Cyril and his dad who’s now moved to another town and works at a restaurant is heart-wrenching. It’s not just painful to see how his dad blatantly rejects him, but more so because Cyril refuse to accept that fact and is denial that his dad no longer wants him in his life.

TheKidwithaBikeStills

It’s almost inevitable that a kid like Cyril would fall into a bad crowd. So when a charismatic gang leader known as The Dealer practically recruits Cyril, I was terrified for what’s in store for this young boy. Thankfully, the film didn’t descent into some real sinister territory, and the resolution proves to be quite a turning point for the young protagonist. Even though it has an open-ended finale, I think we could guess just which path Cyril is finally on to. It’s nice to see something of substance after the vapid one I saw days before. It’s a simple film with barely any frills, but the story is really the *star* of the film.

I must admit though, that I didn’t quite connect with Cyril as much as I had hoped I would. I find myself quite frustrated with Cyril as he doesn’t warm up to Samantha despite her kindness towards her, and Doret’s not an expressive performer (I guess this being his first film is understandable). I do appreciate the fact that the filmmaker is perhaps presenting his character just the way he is, without manipulation or making him to be a sympathetic character. As with Samantha, I wish there’s more background on her character as there could be more time spent on why she was so adamant to help Cyril.

That said, I’m curious to see more from the Belgian filmmaker duo, brothers Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne. Since making films in the late 70s, they’ve been garnering numerous awards and multiple Palme d’Or honors. This film won the Grand Prix at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival and was nominated for a Golden Globe in Best Foreign Language Film. The cinematography of the city of Seraing (which happens to be the birthplace of the Dardennes), a French-speaking region in Belgium, is pretty scenic. Now, the use of music is so sparse that when it appears it almost took me out of the movie. From what I read about the filmmakers, they apparently rarely use music in their films which I find quite odd.

According to Wikipedia, the screenplay had a structure inspired by fairy tales. No wonder Samantha is portrayed like a fairy godmother. Yet the message of humanity in this film is quite inspiring, we could use more people like her in this world.


4 out of 5 reels


Have you seen either one of these films? I’d love to hear what you think!