Movie Review – Ava (Alliance Francaise French Film Festival 2018)


EXPECTATIONS: A unique, hard-hitting coming-of-age story.

REVIEW: Coming-of-age films are really coming along nicely (I know, that was lame) over the past few years, with many great films that understand what makes the genre such a well-liked genre. We have plenty of stand-out entries like Kelly Fremon Craig‘s Edge of Seventeen, Greta Gerwig‘s Lady Bird and Marielle Heller‘s The Diary of a Teenage Girl.

But in recent years, we’ve also have gotten more unorthodox or unique entries like Julia Ducornau‘s Raw or Jaochim Trier‘s Thelma, which both mixed horror tropes with womanhood and teenage angst beautifully; David Wnendt‘s Wetlands, which combined graphic raunchiness and bodily fluids to create a hilarious and compelling character study; Celine Sciamma‘s Girlhood, which shows the lives of young French black women; and then there’s Deniz Gamze Ergüven‘s Mustang, which shows the lives of young Turkish women living in a conservative (which is an understatement) society.

And among those prior entries, we have Lea MysiusAva, an off-kilter entry that combines teenage sexual exploration, loss of youthful innocence and filial relationships with surrealism with a strong visual eye. But does it rank well with films like Raw and Lady Bird?


The film starts off in a crowded beach, where the titular character (Noee Abita) lies under the hot sun, where a black foreboding figure stands in the distance. It turns out to be a dog, but in the eyes of Ava, it hints of her impending fate, which is she is gradually becoming blind.

Her mother (Laure Calamy) reacts to the news by ignoring it, but Ava approaches the problem on her own terms, which leads her to prepare for the worst, as well as discovering new things about herself due to her turbulent teenage life.


Much like the off-kilter entries of coming-of-age, Ava is a visually striking and thematically challenging piece of work that never sugarcoats the character and the conditions she lives in. Neither Lea Mysius or actress Noee Abita ever try to make Ava likable, but they do manage to engender empathy for her. Director Mysius gives the film a thrilling sense of anarchy, as we feel troubled, never sensing where Ava would go or end up in throughout the course of the film.

Shot on 35mm by cinematographer and surprisingly, co-screenwriter Paul Guilhaume, the film has a vibrant visual touch that meshes seamlessly with the subplot about the Ava‘s loss of sight. Dream sequences hinting of sexual discovery, worlds falling apart (in tandem with her sight) and especially her views about her mother are downright haunting, even with a visual cue that was reminiscent of a moment in Nobuhiko Obayashi‘s House. It could be a way that shows her deteriorating sight is a metaphor for her dwindling youthful optimism and both Mysius and Guilhaume do a wonderful job in conveying such psychological shades.


Even with the visuals, the characters themselves are well-developed, intriguing and thankfully, real. The relationship between Ava and her mother, Maud, is quite similar to most mother-daughter relationships in coming-of-age films as they show estrangement and hostility, but in the case of Ava, it’s not about what is said to each other, but what’s not being said.

There’s a scene in the film where Maud tells Ava about falling in love, the film focuses on Ava and what she hears and the voice of Maud fades out and what the audience only hears is the mutterings of strangers in the distance. Not only that, Maud is out of focus in the shot as she goes on and on about her story, being oblivious about the fact that Ava is ignoring her.

This subtle approach does wonders for the film as well as the gradual character development, as it hints that to look for some sort of excitement or solidarity, Ava turns to a more radical approach like petty crime (which involves petty theft in a scene that is reminiscent of Bonnie and Clyde) and going out with rebels, leading to a path of prurience.

And of course, major credit goes to the actress Noee Abita. Following the path of young French female talent like Garance Marillier (Raw), Marine Vacth (Young and Beautiful) and Adele Exarchopoulos (Blue is the Warmest Colour), Abita is absolutely fearless as Ava. Considering the tolls that her character goes through (like sexual exploration) and her strikingly youthful appearance (her character is 13 years old but Abita was 17 during filming), Abita takes it upon herself to portray those facets as honest as possible and she pulls it off brilliantly.

But let’s not forget Laure Calamy as Maud, Ava‘s mother, who is a character that is just as complex and filled with contradictions as Ava. She isn’t exactly the lovable mother, but she isn’t the cruel mother either; nor is she either devoted or a slacker. But through it all, she tries her best to provide Ava a great vacation, but she’s preoccupied with her romantic entanglement. This provides a nice compliment to Ava‘s story, showing a contrast that makes it feel like Maud is going through a new chapter of her own, and Calamy does a great job in conveying those contradictions convincingly.


As for flaws, the change in tone due to the visuals can be quite jarring, particularly during a scene that involves Ava and her boyfriend, donning mud and sticks to disguise themselves while robbing beachgoers. And there is also the more controversial elements like seeing the titular character go through stages of sexual exploration with the character’s age in consideration, which can be quite be upsetting to some.

And last but not least, the ending. It ends inconclusively, leaving Ava in the air, which will throw off some. But it does seem deliberate and in a way, it makes perfect sense, considering that it seems to reflect Ava‘s gradual loss of sight and how it hints that she would not know what is on the horizon after her sight is gone.

However the ending may be, it still doesn’t take away the fact that Ava is one hell of a  feature-length directorial debut for Lea Mysius. It’s hazy, it’s hypnotic, it’s unruly, it’s unpredictable and yet it’s grounded in reality and it has fantastic performances from Abita and Calamy. If you like coming-of-age stories with an experimental approach, Ava is your best bet.

Quickie Review


Fantastic performances from Abita and Calamy

Daring direction from director Mysius

Fantastic cinematography and visuals, thanks to cinematographer/co-writer Guilhaume


Controversial elements and jarring moments that don’t always coalesce

Lack of a real ending

SCORE: 7.5/10


This review can be also seen at THE IRIS. Visit the site by pressing the picture above.

Cast: Noée Abita, Laure Calamy, Juan Cano, Tamara Cano, Daouda Diakhate, Baptiste Archimbaud, Franck Beckmann, Ismaël Capelot, Valentine Cadic
Director: Lea Mysius
Screenwriter: Lea Mysius, Paul Guilhaume


Movie Review – Double Lover (Alliance Francaise French Film Festival 2018)


EXPECTATIONS: A prurient, sexy and salacious hell of a time.

REVIEW: There are two pleasures in life that without them, we living things would never exist: gastronomy and sexuality. And there are many talented people out there that try their best to portray their interest for it on many artistic endeavours, especially in cinema.

Such talented auteurs out there are Paul Verhoeven (Basic Instinct, The Third Man), Catherine Breillat (Romance, Fat Girl), Lars von Trier (Nymphomaniac); and we have the newcomers like Park Chan-wook (Thirst, The Handmaiden) and we have the terrible entries like the 50 Shades of Grey films. But the directors that do it right execute the portrayal of sex with character, style and most importantly, passion. And that is where French director Francois Ozon comes in.

Famous for his witty films about the human condition, whether it’s about strength, survival or sexuality, he’s made many great films like Swimming Pool, Frantz, Young and Beautiful and many others. And now we have the 2017 psychosexual drama Double Lover. Will it succeed in being a throwback entry to the days of Swimming Pool?


The film stars Chloe (Marine Vacth), a former model who recently quit the modelling world due to her growing dissatisfaction with the modelling world. Recently, she has been having strong abdominal, ongoing pains and she thinks that they may be happening due to a psychological nature.

She decides to go on an appointment with a therapist, Dr Paul Meyer (Jeremie Renier). But little does she know, the sessions will go from awkward, intimate and eventually romantic. Not long after, they move in together and live happily until Paul’s past catches up to Chloe, taking her into a world of surrealistic sensual delights, body horror, mistaken identities and possibly clarifications of her own past.


It’s been a while since Francois Ozon ventured into psycho-sexual thriller territory of Under the Sand and Swimming Pool but after a genre detour into subtle melodrama in Frantz, Double Lover marks a return and thankfully, Ozon hasn’t lost much of a step over time. Clearly influenced by acclaimed filmmakers like Alfred Hitchcock, Roman Polanski, David Cronenberg and Paul Verhoeven, Double Lover is jam-packed with gloriously lurid Ozon goodness.

From the beginning of the film, you can tell where Ozon is going with his storytelling, as the film opens during a gynecological exam with an extreme closeup of something pink and wet and then you realize what it is as it zooms back, you can’t help but laugh at the audacity. And it follows on by match-cutting from this POV to that of a blinking eye turned sideways, which is similar to a shot in Lars von Trier‘s drama, Nymphomaniac. And that’s just the first five minutes!

The pacing of the film is a lot like foreplay, slowly toying with the audience as it goes through the scenes where Claire goes through her therapy sessions with Paul, which are downright funny in how blatant they are. But when we see the double of Paul (also played by Jeremie Renier, duh!), it gets enjoyably frisky, as indicated by a shot that closes in on Chloe’s mouth as she climaxes and then zooms into the female body during orgasm, like the scene in a Fast and Furious film where the camera zooms into the car engine!


And then the sex scenes gets psychologically surreal, like in a scene when Chloe fantasizes that she’s having a threesome with the brothers (or doubles), first as herself and then as a pair of Siamese twins. That would be a foursome, right? The bizarre, disorienting and prurient vibe that pervades throughout is supported by cinematographer Manu Dacosse (who’s done post-modern giallo films like Amer and The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears) and Philippe Rombi‘s careering score.

In contrast to films like Frantz and In the House, Double Lover is definitely a more unruly work of Ozon’s, as he turns the film in a mischievous circus of sensual and surreal delights that the story basically becomes second nature. Yet even with that in mind, the craftmanship in display thankfully is intact and he does keep his characters on track and the actors assembled all do a great job with what they’re given.


Marine Vacth, who previously worked with Ozon on Young and Beautiful, is fantastic as Chloe, as she displays the many facets of her character like her fragility in the first act, her strength, her curiosity (finding out about Louis and sexual exploration) and definitely her duplicity (turning the tables on her oppression) very well. She’s quite reminiscent of both Stacy Martin and Charlotte Gainsbourg (both in Nymphomaniac as the same character of different ages, coincidentally) in both her youthfulness and her bravery in her acting and I can’t wait to see what she does next in the future.

As for Jeremie Renier, he’s clearly having fun in his dual roles of Paul and Louis, playing the cool, calm and collected side with ease and the Lacanian (yes, I got that term from Basic Instinct 2, sue me!), dark and aggressive side in an entertaining fashion and it only goes further when the two eventually meet in some shape or form. In what could be seen as sly, the casting of Jacqueline Bisset, the former sex symbol, has fun in her role (or roles?) while Myriam Boyer is a hoot as a neighbour who takes care of Claire’s cat (which funnily enough, is the same breed of cat that featured in Paul Verhoeven‘s 2016 film, Elle).

Double Lover is a great return to psychosexual territory that Ozon is known for and it is an entertainingly juicy time for erotica lovers, with great performances from the cast, great contributions by cinematographer Manu Dacosse and composer Philippe Rombi and very infectiously mischievous direction by Ozon. Like one of the characters in the film, strap on for a rewarding and sensuous ride.

Quickie Review


The cast give great performances

Ozon’s cheeky yet professional direction

Vibrant cinematography and an effectively careering score


The story is second nature

SCORE: 8/10


This review can be also seen at THE IRIS. Visit the site by pressing the picture above.

Cast: Marine Vacth, Jeremie Renier, Jacqueline Bisset, Myriam Boyer, Dominique Reymond
Director: Francois Ozon
Screenwriter: Francois Ozon (loosely based on the novel Lives of the Twins by Joyce Carol Oates)

Movie Review – Game Night


EXPECTATIONS: An unfunny comedy along the lines of the disastrous film, Vacation (2015).

REVIEW: Murder mysteries have been a long-time staple for many people in the world in terms of literature as well as films and it is a well-deserved staple. Whether it’s an old-fashioned detective story (Murder on the Orient Express), a children’s adventure (Young Sherlock Holmes), a romantic farce (Blind Detective) or a flat-out comedy (Clue), it’s the type of genre staple that can result in lots of fun, particularly if it involves audience participation. If 2018’s comedy, Game Night could live up to those examples, that would be great.

But the directors of Game Night are John Francis Daley & Jonathan Goldstein and as the Bard would say, “therein lies the rub”. Some of their contributions to film haven’t been well-regarded. In the case of their screenwriting efforts, Horrible Bosses was okay, if quite overrated, but the sequel was horrible; The Incredible Burt Wonderstone was an unfunny mess and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 was a disappointment, particularly in comparison to the first film.

But they did contribute to last year’s enjoyably frothy comic-book effort, Spider-Man Homecoming, which does give signs of hope. And yet we have their feature film directorial debut of theirs, which is Vacation, a reboot of John Hughes’ original comedy, which was horrid. With a mixed bag of a filmography, it is understandable that one would hesitate to watch Game Night, even with the talented cast assembled. Does the film exceed expectations and provide tons of fun or will it topple over like a Jenga tower?


Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams star as Max and Annie, a happily married couple whose modus operandi is to plan weekly couples game nights, where they get their much-needed thrills in their lives.

It is only until one night when it gets kicked up a notch when Max’s charismatic wealthy-as brother, Brooks (Kyle Chandler), arranges a murder mystery party, complete with fake scenarios, props actors. But when Brooks gets beaten up and kidnapped (in front of the guests), it’s all part of the game. Is it?


So does the film exceed expectations? Thankfully, it does and it is massive props to the cast, the fun premise and the improved direction from Daley and Goldstein. Although it helps that the filmmakers know their mysteries (references of David Fincher’s The Game and the TV series Murder, She Wrote are everywhere), it’s quite clear on the screen that Daley and Goldstein has upped their directing game between 2015’s Vacation to Game Night, as they adopt filmmaking techniques (especially the visual comedy of filmmaker Edgar Wright) to amp up the comedy and it works for the most part.

Fast editing, a propulsive score (from Cliff Martinez, of course) creative cinematography (used to visually convey the look of a miniature board game convincingly), long takes (involving a game of hot potato that’s quite funny) and funny visual cues like subjects appearing into frame or out of frame; all of these techniques add to the film.

They even apply some subtlety to the jokes (like not showing the bodily fluids) and that pays off beautifully in a scene that involves a bullet extraction that is reminiscent of Hong Kong director Stephen Chow‘s spy comedy, From Beijing With Love. Speaking of Chinese subjects, there’s a dialogue exchange in the climax that had me laughing so hard, that I literally had to look up IMDB to see if the film was a Chinese co-production.

Back on topic, unlike Edgar Wright, Daley and Goldstein don’t have the skills to foreshadow small moments to big payoffs. Pop culture jokes are repeatedly told almost to the point of ad nauseum that it becomes quite predictable that it will pay off the way it does later in the film. But overall, it is an improvement over their last film, and that deserves positive recognition.


What also deserves positive recognition is the cast, and they are all on point, even if some are playing the same character types they did in prior projects. Jason Bateman does the straight-man performance that he does ever since he started the TV series, Arrested Development, and it still works well. And he’s paired well with Rachel McAdams, who looks like she’s having the time of her life, being animated and spirited with all the hijinks, and enjoyably so.

With a game supporting cast consisting of Kyle Chandler (making fun of his salt-of-the-earth image), Billy Magnussen (capably dorky and oblivious, as opposed to his scumbag-type role in Ingrid Goes West), Lamorne Morris and Kylie Bunbury (a likable double act, with the former doing a killer Denzel Washington impression) and Sharon Horgan (capably satirizing the token character), the best person in the film is Jesse Plemons.

Clearly making fun of his psychotic persona from the TV series, Breaking Bad, his creepy presence (including a scene where he slowly saunters off-screen) and deadpan delivery guarantee many laughs. He truly looks like a character that just wandered into the set of this film, but I mean that as a compliment. But what makes him a great character is that Plemons always retains a sense of humanity, making him believable as well as approachable. Kind of.

As for the flaws, aside from the direction, the third act does drag quite a bit due to the excessive amount of twists (despite the 100 minute runtime), some of the pop culture references are quite dated (Fight Club? The Green Mile?), some running jokes don’t really land (including a guess-the-celeb) and lastly, the cameos (which I won’t spoil) don’t really amount to much.

Overall, Game Night is nice surprise from the directors of Vacation, with a fun premise, a capably comedic cast and the improved direction of Daley and Goldstein. Their next project is the superhero film, Flashpoint and if Game Night is any indication, there is a chance that they might pull it off.

Quickie Review


A fantastic ensemble cast

A clever premise and sharp script

Improved filmmaking from co-directors Daley and Goldstein

Great score from Cliff Martinez


Too many twists

Ineffective cameos

Some running jokes don’t work

Dated references

SCORE: 7/10


This review can be also seen at THE IRIS. Visit the site by pressing the picture above.

Cast: Jason Bateman, Rachel McAdams, Billy Magnussen, Sharon Horgan, Lamorne Morris, Kylie Bunbury, Jesse Plemons, Danny Huston, Chelsea Peretti, Michael C. Hall, Kyle Chandler
Director: John Francis Daley & Jonathan Goldstein
Screenwriters: Mark Perez

Movie Review – Guardians of the Tomb


EXPECTATIONS: A fun B-movie creature feature along the lines of Big-Ass Spider.

REVIEW: It is great to watch films that stimulate the mind and dazzle the eye through fantastic filmmaking chops and directorial skill, but sometimes it’s nice to sit back and watch an unpretentious B-movie that simply exists to entertain. And one of the best genres to provide just that are creature features.

With recent films like Kong: Skull Island and Big-Ass Spider; or classics like Jaws and Alien; or even so-bad-it’s-good efforts like Troll 2 and Zombeavers, these are films that know what they are, achieve what they say on the tin and they do it well, with genuine effort.

But these types of films can go very wrong and it can be narrowed down to two reasons: putting in a bad effort and putting effort to be bad. Putting in a bad effort would result in films like The Swarm, which was ripe with potential, but ended up being boring. Or there are films that are deliberately terrible like Sharknado, which adds a sour taste of post-modernism and self-awareness that excuses bad filmmaking and shoddy skills.

So where does the China/Australian creature feature Guardians of the Tomb fit in? The film is directed by Kimble Rendall, who directed the goofy shark film, Bait 3D and it stars a mix of Chinese, American and Australian talent. So will it be an entertaining film for earned or unearned reasons? Or will it be a costly and incompetent bore?


A team of scientists who lose a colleague in an ancient labyrinth while trying to make the discovery of a century. The group must battle their way through a swarm of deadly, man-eating funnel web spiders and discover the secret behind the arachnid’s power and intelligence.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. Did I just copy that synopsis word-for-word from Wikipedia? Why yes, yes I did. At least in this case, I admitted it and I credited it where it’s from but in the case of Guardians of the Tomb, which steals from many, many films, it just comes off as lazy and stupid. To think that this film was credited to four writers. Four people wrote this thing!

You could make a drinking game out of it, pointing out things like this part is from Jurassic Park (the helicopter landing), this part is from Jurassic World (Kellan Lutz’s character), this part is from Aliens (the introduction of Eva Liu’s character), this part is from Psycho (the jump scare involving a corpse and a revolving chair), it just goes on and on and on. You can just hear the producers of the film high-fiving each other as they came up with this thing. Funnily enough, two of the credited writers are film producers themselves, so I guess it’s quite a fitting analogy.


But first, let’s start off positively before an aneurysm might start off. The CGI of the spiders themselves is quite well-executed (yet jarring with the practical effects surrounding then) and Li Bingbing treats the film with utmost sincerity, as she seems to be the only actor in the film that’s actually trying to make the film good. Or it could be that her acting efforts (as well as her producing efforts) were made to make China look good due to news that she tried to incite propaganda about medical care in China and Australia. But that’s another story.

And that is it for the positives because Guardians of the Tomb is complete garbage. Known under many titles like 7 Guardians of the Tomb aka Nest 3D aka Funnel-Web aka Nest 3D and the Search for the Venom of Eternity, that alone shows that the filmmakers (or anyone really) had no clue with what they wanted to make.


Let’s start with the actors. While Li Bingbing is fine, the rest of the cast are all either slumming it or clearly can’t act to save their life. Kellan Lutz, whom I have nothing against as a person, has always been a block of wood in films like The Legend of Hercules and the Twilight series, but in the case of Guardians of the Tomb or whatever the hell it’s called, he is saddled with a character that is clearly Chris Pratt’s character in Jurassic World. The entrance is the same, the costumes are the same and even some of the dialogue is the same, word-for-word. But clearly without the charisma or indeed the talent.

At one point, he introduces himself to Li’s character and he says to her to follow his rules because he’s the man. And it was at this point that I wanted Li’s character to punch him in the face for that chauvinistic, self-entitled attitude. And his character is practically drooled on by Stef Dawson’s character, which is just annoying, despite Dawson’s likable presence.

Shane Jacobson can be a good comedic actor with films like the mockumentary Kenny, but here he’s saddled with terrible lines of dialogue (involving Twitter and Willy Wonka of all things), but what makes it worse is that half of the lines are thrown in the film via ADR (additional dialogue recording) but it’s done so badly, it feels like leftovers from an audio commentary that was meant to disparage the film. And the other half of his lines are variations of “We should leave now.” Boy, did I regret not listening to him.

And then there’s Kelsey Grammer, who has a character that might as well have “I AM EVIL, PAY ME NOW!” tattooed on his forehead. He genuinely looks angry to be in the film and it becomes a waiting game just to see him let loose and when he does, it’s too little, too late. He does however have the best moment in the film where he explains his motives by actually yelling “I’M A BUSINESSMAN!”.

And of course we have Jason Chong, who plays a character that might as well be a cardboard cutout with a tape recorder attached to it, playing lines of plot exposition, because that’s all he spouts out, just in case the people in the back of the cinema can’t hear, understand or even care! And there’s Wu Chun, the pretty boy of the film who clearly can’t have his appearance ruined despite the fact that he has been lost over the course of many days in a nest of spiders.


If you know your creature features and especially the working of the China-market, you can easily guess who is going to survive or die in the film. But honestly, all of these faults can be excused or even glossed over if the film actually had a sense of fun, but it never elicits any sense of thrill, suspense, tension or even unintentional laughter. It’s an absolute bore that believes that it’s delivering entertainment and characters worth caring for.

There are scenes that are meant to be dramatically involving, but they end up being incredibly tedious and overbearing with the point it is trying to make (Li’s brother, Wu Chun is lost out in the desert and it’s conveyed as a metaphor as their younger selves being trapped in a maze. Really?!). And the filmmakers are so intent on thinking that this would make us care for the characters that they repeat the same flashbacks over and over, that I’m sure that they take 20% of the total runtime. They even include dramatic flashbacks for Lutz’s character and integrate real footage of people dying in earthquakes. So not only does it make the film tedious, but it also make it tasteless as well.

The spiders themselves are just that: spiders. There’s no ingenuity or inspiration in the portrayal of them and the big spider of them all is as big as a turkey platter, meaning that it has no menace whatsoever. And the climax of the film, which is clearly meant to be some big battle, is so anti-climactic that people in the audience would demand refunds. There was no battle, there was no conflict, the film just stops, with a stupid jump scare that if you didn’t see it coming, you clearly fell asleep.

With films like this, The Dragon Pearl and Bleeding Steel, if this is the best the Chinese and Australians can do with their collaborations, then they should just cut ties because films like this shouldn’t be in the cinema. Guardians of the Tomb is a terrible, incompetent, cynical cash-grab that everyone involved should be ashamed of themselves.


Quickie Review


Li Bingbing’s performance


Everything else!

SCORE: 2/10

Cast: Li Bingbing, Kellan Lutz, Kelsey Grammer, Wu Chun, Stef Dawson, Shane Jacobson, Ryan Johnson, Jason Chong
Director: Kimble Rendall
Screenwriters: Kimble Rendall, Gary Hamilton, Jonathan Scanlon, Paul Staheli

Movie Review – The Shanghai Job (aka S.M.A.R.T Chase)


EXPECTATIONS: Something unintentionally funny.

REVIEW: Christian Bale, Tim Robbins, Adrien Brody, John Cusack, David Carradine. What do all of these actors have in common in terms of their filmography? I’ll give you a clue: China-market. All of these actors have starred in films for the China-market with varying levels of success. Whereas Bale, Robbins have great box office successes with films like The Flowers of War and Back to 1942, some have been in box office failures like David Carradine in True Legend.

And now we have Orlando Bloom. More known for his looks and nonthreatening presence that makes him the perfect idol for teenagers, he has never been known for his acting prowess. Despite the kick-start to his career with the two franchises (Lord of the Rings and Pirates of the Caribbean), he has been struggling to maintain his position in the spotlight with box office failures like Kingdom of Heaven, The Three Musketeers and Elizabethtown.

Now he’s gone into the China-market with his latest film, The Shanghai Job (known as S.M.A.R.T Chase in China). The film was a box office flop in China despite the well-known cast and the presence of Bloom, but box office takings do not indicate the quality of the film. Now that the film is released On Demand and DVD/Blu-Ray, will the film entertain and please fans despite the rough origins?


Orlando Bloom stars as Danny Stratton, a washed-up private security agent, who is given the rare opportunity to escort a valuable Chinese antique (a Van Gogh painting) out of Shanghai, but he ends up ambushed en route, while he was talking to his girlfriend Lin Dong (Lynn Hung).

A year later, he has lost his girlfriend and his reputation has dwindled over time. When he gets hired to do another job, he sees the same people who ambushed him and now realizes that in order to get his reputation back, he has to steal back what was stolen with his Security Management Action Recovery Team members (Simon Yam, Hannah Quinlivan and Leo Wu) by his side. But little do they realize that they are about to step into a major conspiracy that will endanger them as well as the people they love.


Does The Shanghai Job provide ample entertainment despite the dull synopsis and its reputation of its low box office takings? Unfortunately, not really. The film isn’t terrible by any means, but it’s just not any good at all.

The film is terribly routine with its storytelling and direction. There are no moments of creativity or inspiration whatsoever. Not with its action scenes, not with its filmmaking and definitely not with the acting. The cinematography is just neon lights, which has been done over and over since the films of Nicolas Winding Refn and the John Wick films. The director of the film is Charles Martin, who has directed episodes of Skins and Wallander, so it comes as to no surprise that the film feels like a pilot to a television series, which could explain the lack of cinematic inspiration.

Scenes that are meant to pump the audience up with thrills and tension are efficient enough, but the characters and storytelling are so dull that there really isn’t any of that. It becomes very hard to care about what happens on screen. And with the norm of action films, the climax should have a lot of impact in comparison to the action scenes proceeding it, but the climax ends with a whimper, as it just involves a few fisticuffs and a game of catch. No joke.


With lines of dialogue like “love is an illusion” or many references to time (and if that doesn’t get to your head, we head watches ticking constantly), it does become quite laughable at times and you feel a bit sorry for the actors who are saddled with this type of material.

The acting is a very mixed bag from all involved, but the fault with that is both equally theirs as well as the script. Orlando Bloom is fine as Danny Stratton, as he loosens up a bit to be charismatic and humourous in the role, but the script doesn’t do him any favours with the dull attempts at humour and the choice to dye his hair back to blonde again is misguided. Thankfully, he is committed to doing most of his stunts, as it is clearly him doing the fight choreography and jumping out of balconies.

Simon Yam is just Simon Yam as Mach, Bloom’s partner as well as Lin Dong’s uncle. He is professional enough to not to embarrass himself but again, does nothing to stand out with his character apart from one character trait where he has a inkling for cutting limbs off people for access.

And then there’s Leo Wu. Whether using his drone to provide support for his teammates (or providing lazy narrative shortcuts, you be the judge) or looking out for the girl that he likes (or stalking her, again, you be the judge), he comes off as bland. The only thing that makes him stand out is his handling of the English language, which is just hilariously bad and it ruins the urgency of the action scenes.


On the female end of the ensemble, Hannah Quinlivan comes off as petulant as J. Jae, who annoys every time she shows up. She’s supposed to be a security agent but she comes off more like a overly privileged, rich person who suddenly didn’t get what she wanted.

Lynn Hung is fine as Lin Dong, as she handles her role with dignity and grace, but her role is essentially a damsel-in-distress and nothing more, which is a real shame. It also doesn’t help that she and Bloom share no chemistry whatsoever. And the same goes for Wang Ruoxi as Nana, who is literally a plot device that just happens to like pet names like Baby and again, there is no chemistry between her and Wu.

And then there’s Liang Jing as the villain. Immediately, we know she’s the villain because she has very long fingernails. And that’s about the only thing that stands out about her character. Jing tries to vamp it up but none of the actors seem to respond to her properly, making her scenes fall flat. And as her henchman, Shi Yanneng’s talents are wasted due to the filmmakers not realizing his true potential.

There really isn’t much more to say about the film so it feels suitable to end this review like the climax, by going out on a whimper. Despite having Orlando Bloom trying to branch out away from his image, The Shanghai Job robs any chance of that happening with its dull storytelling, cardboard cutouts of characters, tension-free action and lame attempts at humour.

You know you got a problem with your film when the best thing about it is the Katy Perry song “Roulette”, that accompanies it.

Quickie Review


Orlando Bloom tries his best

The song “Roulette”


Inconsistent acting

Dull characters

Suspense-free action

No creative inspiration in the filmmaking

Lack of cast chemistry

Mediocre storytelling

SCORE: 3/10

Cast: Orlando Bloom, Simon Yam, Leo Wu, Hanna Quinlivan, Lynn Hung, Liang Jing, Wang Ruoxi, Shi Yanneng
Director: Charles Martin
Screenwriters: Kevin Bernhardt

Movie Review – Den of Thieves


EXPECTATIONS: A rip-off of the Michael Mann film, Heat.

REVIEW: Heist films are a dime-a-dozen these days, but they essentially films that fit the “people on a mission genre”, where you can get an ensemble cast of stars and character actors and put them on an exciting plot where cast chemistry, filmmaking chops and fun storytelling mix together to make a fun time for cinemagoers.

The best of heist films, people would usually think old-school classics like Ocean’s Eleven, The Sting and Dog Day Afternoon. Or they would think of enjoyably off-kilter entries like Inception, Bad Genius or Logan Lucky.

But the biggest and most acclaimed heist film entry that has other directors trying to ape it is Michael Mann‘s epic heist saga, Heat. With its distinct characters, propulsive action scenes, suffocating suspense, strong thematic hold and uncommon narrative depth, Heat is not only considered as one of the best heist films ever, but one of Mann’s best films.

Since then, we have other films that try to ape its success, but one film has come close (but not intentionally) and that is Ben Affleck‘s The Town. Despite having been adapted from known source material, the final product is so reminiscent of Heat, that it cannot have been just a coincidence.

So now we have Den of Thieves, which marks the directorial debut of Christian Gudegast, the co-writer of London Has Fallen. Starring leading animal [sic], Gerard Butler and backed up with an ensemble cast including Pablo Schneider and O’Shea Jackson Jr., it looks to be another heist film following the footsteps of Michael Mann‘s Heat. Will the film succeed on its own terms?


Gerard Butler plays Nick O’Brien, the leader of the Regulators, an elite unit of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. He is a hard drinker and that and his work makes him more and more distant with his wife (Dawn Oliveri) and children.

Pablo Schneider plays Ray Merrimen, the leader of the Outlaws, a gang of ex-military men who use their expertise and tactical skills to evade the law. He is recently paroled out of prison and like all thieves do, they plan their next heist as soon as they step out of the prison grounds.

O’Brien, Merrimen and their crews soon find themselves at odds with each as the criminals hatch an elaborate plan for a seemingly impossible heist: to rob the Federal Reserve Bank.


From the moment the film started, it becomes obvious to the point of being blatant that Den of Thieves is a beat-for-beat version to Michael Mann‘s Heat. Like the past film, it’s shot in L.A, it has an action scene involving an armored car, it involves an impossible heist, the sound design and music are eerily similar, you would think that this film is more like a mockbuster version of Heat, but I think it comes off as a homage.

The reason I use the word “homage” instead of terms like “recycling”, “rip-off” or “mockubuster” is because homages do not make one cringe. And thankfully, Den of Thieves never does that, aside from one major point in the film, which funnily enough is a moment that isn’t anything like in Heat.

The action scenes are well-done, making use of its geography well and even has the same intense sound design that again, is reminiscent of Heat. And the heist itself is done competently enough that it does provide some thrills and tension in that it never comes off as a cash-grab for aping better heist films. The score by Cliff Martinez certainly gives the film some much-needed punch.


The acting from its ensemble cast are all fine with what they have got, with a surprisingly magnetic performance from Gerard Butler. Despite doing all the grunting, roaring and yelling that we expect from him, it looks like he finally found a character that suits his acting range, with the flawed creature of a man, Nick O’Brien. At one point in the film, he eats a donut that he picks up from the ground of a crime scene, stained with blood. That sums up the character perfectly and Butler does well.

Pablo Schneider isn’t given anything that is near the level that Butler has (he is the star/producer, after all), but he does provide a nice complement to Butler’s feral demeanor. O’Shea Jackson Jr. is fine, as he shows a compelling sense of vulnerability to the part while the rest of the cast including Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson (who is surprisingly charismatic here) and Dawn Oliveri do what they can with their small parts.

Maurice Compte and Gerard Butler star in Den Of Thieves

So far, so…fine. Den of Thieves could’ve easily have been a three star film with its filmmaking competency, but there are flaws which bring it down. One is the overlong running time. While it does spend it well with scenes involving the planning, there are too many extraneous scenes that serve very little purpose to the story i.e. a comedic scene involving the family of 50 Cent‘s character, the relationship drama between Butler and Oliveri and so on.

But the biggest problem is the ending, which involves one of the stupidest twists that I have seen in a long time. It’s not so much the twist itself that is stupid, but the handling of it all is just awful. It adds nothing to the film; it doesn’t contextualize anything that came before it and it makes one of the actors look really bad.

Overall, Den of Thieves is a entertaining, if rocky entry in the heist genre, even if it is an homage to Michael Mann‘s Heat. But the overlong running time and the awful twist ending bring it down to the point that the film is a rental at best.

Quickie Review


Good action scenes

Fun performance from Butler and a good performance from Jackson

Good musical score from Cliff Martinez


Rehashes too much of Heat

Too many unnecessary scenes that pad out the run time

A terrible twist ending

SCORE: 5/10


This review can be also seen at THE IRIS. Visit the site by pressing the picture above.

Cast: Gerard Butler, Pablo Schreiber, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Dawn Olivieri, Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson, Evan Jones, Cooper Andrews, Lewis Tan, Maurice Compte, Mo McRae
Director: Christian Gudegast
Screenwriters: Christian Gudegast, Paul Scheuring

Movie Review – Phantom Thread


EXPECTATIONS: Something classical and elegant, which lives up to the reputation of both the director and lead actor.

REVIEW: I must be a really bad film critic since I have realized another error of my film-watching ways. After other mistakes like never seeing a Agnes Varda film before until Faces Places, there is another mistake that I have to confess about and rectify: I have never seen any of the works of Daniel Day-Lewis.

Considered to be the best actor of this generation, his work in films like Lincoln, There Will Be Blood, In the Name of the Father and My Left Foot have gathered massive acclaim all due to his intense commitment in method acting. When it was announced that his latest film would be his last, filmgoers had their hopes up in what would be a swan song and not a swan dive.

And once again, I have another mistake I have to confess: I have only seen one of Paul Thomas Anderson‘s films, which is his romantic comedy/drama Punch Drunk Love. From that film alone, it’s perfectly obvious that Anderson’s direction is idiosyncratic, unorthodox and delightfully playful even during serious moments.

To rectify my barbaric ways of my lack of film knowledge, I ventured to watch Day-Lewis’ and Anderson’s latest collaboration, Phantom Thread. Considering the massive buzz and my lack of knowledge of both the film and the filmmakers, my mind was fresh to expect anything. Does the film live up to the buzz?


Set in 1950’s London, renowned dressmaker and “tragic” artist Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) and his sister Cyril (Lesley Manville) are the milestone of British fashion, dressing royalty, movie stars, heiresses, socialites, debutantes and dames with the distinct and famous style of The House of Woodcock.

Women are used and dispensed with in Woodcock’s life, providing the confirmed bachelor with inspiration and companionship, until he comes across a young woman, Alma (Vicky Krieps), who soon becomes an asset in his life as his muse and his lover. Once feeling meticulous and in control, he finds his carefully tailored life (pun definitely intended) derailed by love.


Reading into the synopsis, it sounds like Phantom Thread is a film about the whining of a supposedly reclusive artist who complains about his way of life being disrupted until a woman comes into his life and supports him through this supposed dilemma. But this is a Paul Thomas Anderson film, so don’t expect it to follow any genre conventions, as it is really a romantic comedy disguised as a period drama.

Anderson (acting as the cinematographer and writer in-between directorial duties) basically conveys a magical and wondrous mood mixed with acerbic wit to themes that usually wouldn’t warrant such things like sadomasochism, toxic masculinity, gastronomy and of course, tailoring and dressmaking.

But even with doing all of these things, and accomplishing them very well, he never forgets the humanity of the distinct characters. And the storytelling never goes through certain cinematic conventions and tropes, always keeping the audience on edge, particularly during the climax, despite being oddly similar to other 2017 films, due to using the exact same plot device.

Jonny Greenwood‘s score is absolutely magnificent. Emotionally stirring, incredibly catchy and in perfect synchronization with Anderson’s twisted storytelling, the score is basically a main character of the film itself. While Greenwood has made many great musical scores like with Norwegian Wood and We Need to Talk About Kevin, he really takes the cake here.

In fact, the sound design by Christopher Scarabosio is done so well, it complements the story, it adds punch to comedic scenes, it aids the unraveling characters and even adds a sense of palpable tension. And to think that all of this can come from the simple act of buttering toast.


The acting is also a major plus. Daniel Day-Lewis is fantastic as Reynolds Woodcock (no, really), as he isn’t afraid to delve into the flaws of the character as well as imbuing a bit of a tongue-in-cheek quality that makes Woodcock fun to watch, if not repellent in retrospect. Whether he is swearing at his colleagues or beating Alma at mind games (or in one scene, backgammon), Day-Lewis makes Woodcock strangely magnetic.

As good as he is, the actresses are the stand-outs of the film. Vicky Krieps (who is best known to Westerners in films like Hanna and A Most Wanted Man) is absolutely brilliant as the multi-faceted Alma. The more Woodcock (or in another case, Anderson) pulls on the thread about Alma, the more she unravels as an alluring, strong, off-kilter and charming person, and Krieps opens up convincingly, sweeping the audience off their feet in the process.

The interactions and chemistry between Krieps and Day-Lewis sway between wonderful, acidic, funny and a little bit psycho (intellectually and humourously speaking; especially during a dinner scene where they argue about such minuscule issues like how asparagus should be cooked. What’s best about their chemistry is that it never feels rehearsed or prepared; it feels intimate and immediate. In every relationship, there’s always that person that has the upper hand, but in the case of Woodcock and Alma, it’s hard to know who has it, and it becomes quite fun to figure it out.

And of course, there is Lesley Manville. Mostly known for her collaborations with acclaimed director Mike Leigh, she brings much humanity to the role of Cyril Woodcock, that she easily avoids conveying her character as a one-dimensional thorn on one’s backside.


While the film is definitely unconventional, Phantom Thread can be seen as an experience that can be quite irksome due to the fact that Anderson always avoids cinematic conventions to the point that it can feel artificial and self-satisfying. But if one were to look at it in a different way, that kind of creative influence could apply to the character of Reynolds Woodcock himself.

As beautiful as it is twisted, Phantom Thread is a film worth unraveling, with its wonderful performances, Anderson’s unpredictable storytelling and Greenwood’s emotionally stirring score that is sure to appeal to adventurous cinemagoers.


Quickie Review


Fantastic acting from the three leads, especially Vicky Krieps

Glorious musical score by Johnny Greenwood

Interesting chemistry between characters and their interactions

Great curveballs in the story


May be a bit too offbeat for it own good

SCORE: 9/10


This review can be also seen at THE IRIS. Visit the site by pressing the picture above.

Cast: Daniel Day-Lewis, Vicky Krieps, Lesley Manville, Camilla Rutherford, Gina McKee, Brian Gleeson, Harriet Sansom Harris, Lujza Richter, Julia Davis
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Screenwriters: Paul Thomas Anderson

Movie Review – Faces Places



REVIEW: Before I start the review, there is one thing that I need to confess: I have never seen an Agnes Varda film before. So the following words are from a Varda neophyte, with no prior bias or expectations on what to perceive about her latest film, Faces Places.

Face Places is essentially a documentary about a road trip between two fellow artists, with Agnes Varda, a French film director who is famous for her many films such as Cleo from 5 to 7 and The Gleaners and I; and JR, a famous artist known for his many art installations of street art.

Agnes decides to collaborate with JR by participating in his Inside Out project, in which he takes portraits of regular people and pastes the pictures, in gigantic-poster format, onto walls and buildings. Over the course of time, the two create a fruitful relationship that is both endearing and amusing.


Despite not knowing anything about the subject matter nor the people, it rarely ever becomes an issue since Faces Places is such a genuine crowd-pleaser that shows the wonder of art, the beauty of friendship and the compelling contrasts between the generations of the past and the present.

From the moment it started with the quaintly animated opening credits, to the whimsical voiceover in which Varda and JR imagine all the places they might have met — including one point where Varda is seen dancing in a nightclub — I knew I was going to love this film. The chemistry the two have is so heartwarming and endearing that you wish that the film lasted longer than the 90 minute runtime.

Varda is such a charming presence and her outlook on life is such a marvel, that her dwindling vision never gets to her in the way of ideas. As for JR, despite his look of pretentiousness and swagger, he has a youthful fire in him that makes him endearing and enjoyably passionate.


The journey itself the two leads go through, which consists of stopping into various villages of little to no knowledge, invite the locals to pose in the van that JR has transformed into a mobile photo booth, paste massive print-outs of the resulting portraits onto the environments their subjects call home, is a very pleasant time and the villagers they meet are an entertaining bunch.

One scene in particular involves Pony, the toothless poet who lives under the stars and makes art out of bottle caps. Other memorable subjects involve three dock workers we meet towards the end of the film. Actually, it’s not them, but their wives. It’s very evident that Varda is a major voice for women and both she and JR make their voices (or in this case, images) heard in a memorable trio image.

In a very special scene that is purely emotional and again proves the major voice, Varda and JR visit a former mining town that has been largely deserted; the housing that was built for local miners is now occupied by their elderly children. Varda not only wants to preserve these residents’ memories of their home, but she also hopes to make it a shrine or commemoration for the villagers. A row of brick houses, which is planned for demolition, is still kept standing by a woman named Jeanine, who describes herself as the “sole survivor.”

Inspired by Jeanine’s strength, JR and Varda paste building-sized pictures of both miners and Jeanine on the brick houses, turning it into a monument. When Jeanine sees it, she’s left in shock and awe. It’s a moment of pure emotion, one of many that make Faces Places both a testament to Varda herself as well as showing the “ordinary” in “extraordinary”.


But not all of memories can stand the test of time, like in a particular scene where Varda and JR venture to a deserted beach and decide to blow-up a picture of her deceased friend, Guy Bourdain, onto it; but the very next day, the photo is washed away by the tide. Or the final sequence which involves Varda trying to get back in touch with a friend/famous director, which just goes to show that the beauty of filmmaking or nostalgia doesn’t always translate into reality.

But what does translate are the themes about the persistence in doing what you love regardless of time, the moments that we choose to cherish and the friendships we make, and the friendship of Varda and JR is one for the ages. Please go see Faces Places regardless of whether you know the subjects. As of the writing this review, the film was nominated for the Best Documentary Oscar this year. Fingers crossed!


Quickie Review


Fantastic chemistry between the two leads

Explores so much themes with ease and efficiency

Many moments of true beauty and emotion


Too short

SCORE: 9.5/10


This review can be also seen at IMPULSE GAMER. Visit the site by pressing the picture above.

Cast: Agnes Barda, JR
Director: Agnes Varda, JR
Screenwriters: Agnes Varda

Movie Review – Chasing the Dragon


EXPECTATIONS: A good throwback to the Hong Kong gangster films of the 90’s.

REVIEW: Co-director/writer Wong Jing is one of Hong Kong’s most successful directors due to his attuned commercial instincts, audience-pleasing ability and he was such a prominent fixture back in the 90’s. Choosing genres that would maximize the amount of audience goers such as comedies, erotic thrillers, gangster films while spreading his filmmaking expertise (or exploitation habits) as far as he can go in terms of quantity (if not quality), it’d be hard to reside in Hong Kong and not know about Wong Jing’s films.

But like most of Hong Kong filmmakers, the quality of his films have waned in recent years, although he has gained a resurgence in popularity in the China-market. Considering his commercial instincts, it’s not a surprise that started to cater to that big slice of pie, at the expense of reducing his already dwindling critical reception i.e Mission to Milano and From Vegas to Macau III.

And now we have Donnie Yen, who is definitely no stranger to catering to the China-market. He has grown exponentially in popularity due to his above-par martial arts skills and charisma over the past decade, with popular films like SPL, Flashpoint and others. But like all action heroes, time catches up with them and there’s only a matter of time where Donnie Yen decided to hone on in his acting chops and so far, it hasn’t been entirely successful.

With successes like Wu Xia and the Ip Man films, he has shown signs of acting potential, but in films like Iceman and Special ID, it basically torpedoes him back down again. So now we have Chasing the Dragon, a gangster film throwback that is the first Donnie Yen/Wong Jing collaboration since the 1996 horror schlock film, Satan Returns. Will the two succeed in becoming an entertaining film as well as a showcase for Donnie Yen’s acting chops?


Donnie Yen plays Ng Sik-ho (aka Crippled Ho or Limpy Ho), an illegal immigrant who came to Hong Kong in 1963 and gets by with his life with lowlife criminal activities. During one massive brawl with two opposing sides, Ho catches the eye of Lee Rock (Andy Lau), a corrupt policeman who sees his fighting skills as a valuable asset.

As the two cross paths again in an attempt on Rock’s life, the two collaborate in regaining the empire of Hong Kong, with Ho becoming the biggest drug lord while Rock climbs up the ranks of the police force. Little do they know what they eventually will come up against…

DIizy-lXYAAhCZ_.jpg large

Like the title implies, let’s begin with the positives. Wong Jing’s regular cinematographer Jason Kwan makes his directorial debut here and he makes the film visually striking, lending the period setting some much-needed gravitas to compliment the ugly actions of the characters i.e. the drug use, the drinking, the fornicating, the fighting etc.

The supporting cast of Hong Kong veterans and stalwarts all make welcome appearances here, lending the film some credibility and fun, including Felix Wong (noble as always), Chan Wai-man (shifty as always), Philip Keung (brash as always), Ken Tong (ruthless as always), Kenneth Tsang (welcome as always), Lawrence Chou and Terence Yin (both slimy as always).

And while Andy Lau is credited as a guest appearance in Chasing the Dragon, he has almost as much screen-time as Donnie Yen does, and he provides his usual combination of charm and smarm to the role, but later in the film, he’s given a bit more to do and elicits a sense of menace that made his role in the Infernal Affairs films and Firestorm stand out, which is a welcome sight.

As for the action scenes themselves, which were lead by Donnie Yen and choreographed by Yuen Bun (a veteran action choreographer) and Yu Kang and Yan Hua, both of whom are members of Donnie Yen’s stunt team. While they are not much of a martial arts showcase (except a brief one-on-one fight between Yen and Phillip Ng), they are well-executed brawls and shootouts that lend the film some excitement, if only in of itself, rather than complimenting the scope of the film.


And now we have the negatives, which are large in amount. First of all, supporting characters who are given very little to do in terms of backstory or agency (especially the female characters) are killed off in a supposedly dramatic fashion and it becomes blatantly obvious that director Wong Jing thinks we were meant to care for them (with the added syrupy music and slow-motion), but we don’t, and it only comes off as baffling and even unintentionally funny.

Speaking of unintentionally funny, the one big eyesore of a China-market trope is back tenfold. And that of course is the xenophobia. While of course, the British were involved in the time that Chasing the Dragon is set and they definitely did partake in criminal activities, the film however heavily implies that the British were responsible for the behaviour and actions that the Chinese did, particularly in terms of the main characters.

Not only is it a blatant ploy for catering to Chinese censorship to make the British more evil than the corrupt cop and the drug lord to make the Chinese characters heroes, it comes off as hypocritical, duplicitous and incredibly insulting to the audience, to think that they would go along with such a thing. There’s a scene where Yen’s character is lecturing his younger brother to stop using drugs while his brother calls him a hypocrite for selling them in the first place. No truer words have been spoken in the film.

And let’s not forget that in order to present how foreigners are in China-market films, it’s very much how an actor would try to give an Oscar-nominated performance but with the added amount of cocaine: talk with a funny accent and/or shout. Bryan Larkin, who plays the British baddie, Hunter, gives a impression of a human being as played by a war-hungry alien. His performance is so bad and so over-the-top that it would make cartoon characters hang their head in shame.


And speaking of over-the-top, let’s talk about Donnie Yen’s performance. For his role in the Peter Chan film, Wu Xia, Yen played the main role of a serial killer (or was he?) who decides to live in exile for a quiet existence. In the hands of Chan, Yen displayed subtlety, nuance and displayed his many emotions and side of the character convincingly.

However, in the hands of Wong’s direction in Chasing the Dragon and counting the desperation of trying to prove that he can act, Yen comes off as unintentionally funny and unconvincing. With many bad wigs (which the filmmakers clearly didn’t spent much money on) and trying to play a character much younger than his actual age (for the first act), it just comes off as funny. And when Yen tries to portray Ho’s outbursts of rage due to deaths of certain characters, he almost comes off as if he’s having a severe stroke that it’s hard for one to take any of it seriously.

Hell, the whole film comes off like that. It becomes incredibly exhausting and tedious. There are parts of the film that try to be humourous, but they only end up as laboured, with the lowest of the low being a tired reference to God of Gamblers. The climactic action scene even features Wong Jing’s typical plagiarism such as Donnie Yen using a shotgun and killing off people in the manner of Brian De Palma’s Scarface, but it comes off poorly in an attempt to be cool.

And cool, this film does not come off. Chasing the Dragon is a bombastic failure as a throwback to 90’s gangster films, as a Donnie Yen acting showcase and worse, as a Wong Jing exploitation film. The only thing the film ends up chasing down is its own tail.

Quickie Review


Good supporting cast of veterans

Andy Lau delivers a subtly menacing performance

Vibrant cinematography

Good action scenes


Tedious and exhausting storytelling

Rampant xenophobia

Hypocritical and duplicitous portrayals of characters

Female characters are mere plot devices

Donnie Yen’s hilariously bad performance

SCORE: 4/10

Cast: Donnie Yen, Andy Lau, Philip Keung, Kang Yu, Kent Cheng, Bryan Larkin
Director: Wong Jing, Jason Kwan
Screenwriters: Wong Jing

Movie Review – The Commuter


EXPECTATIONS: The same entertaining B-movie garbage that Collet-Serra and Neeson usually churn out.

REVIEW: It’s hard to believe but at this present time, whenever you ask young people who Liam Neeson is, they often tend to quote his action films and then not know or forget about his critically acclaimed films like Schindler’s List, Michael Collins, Rob Roy and others. But ever since the 2008 action film Taken, Liam Neeson went from thespian to all-out action hero and the person who cemented that status was Spanish director Jaume Collet-Serra.

Apart from Goal II: Living the Dream, all of Collet-Serra’s films are entertaining B-movie garbage. From horror films like remake of House of Wax, which has Paris Hilton hilariously impaled by a metal pole (No, that’s not a euphemism.) to Orphan, a gloriously silly and overstated horror film involving a killer child.

Collet-Serra then started a long trail of Neeson collaborations like Unknown (an entertaining rip-off of Frantic), Non-Stop (an entertaining rip-off of Murder on the Orient Express…on a plane) and Run All Night (an entertaining rip-off of Road to Perdition). Am I sensing a pattern here?

After all that, he went back to his horror roots and made the sleeper hit The Shallows, a contained thriller starring Blake Lively that just so happens to feature sharks. And now, just when you thought Liam Neeson was too old to play an action hero, after he declared that he was retiring from action films (and took it back), here he is again, reuniting with B-movie scholockmeister Jaume Collet-Serra for their fourth film project, Train to Neeson The Commuter.


Leon Nelson Liam Neeson plays a loving insurance salesman, Michael. He has a loving wife (Elizabeth McGovern), a loving son, a loving home and every day, he travels to his loving workplace via the loving train station and has been doing that for the past loving decades. Then one day, his workplace stops being loving and starts a little firing, starting with Michael.

Unable to tell his loving wife, he drifts along until he goes on his daily loving commute home. While on the loving train, Michael encounters a seemingly loving and mysterious stranger (Vera Farmiga) who intrigues him to a loving deal: he will be paid a huge amount of loving money if he can uncover the loving identity of a hidden loving passenger on his loving train before the last loving stop.

Considering the fact that he has lost his loving job, he agrees. As he works against the clock to solve the loving puzzle, he realizes a deadly and unloving plan is unfolding and is unwittingly caught up in a criminal conspiracy. And it is up to Michael and his particularly loving set of skills to do something about it before the train, for a lack of better word, terminates.


But enough with the love. Does The Commuter live up to the standard of a Neeson/Collet-Serra joint? It most certainly does and not much more than that. It’s purely a genre exercise that does what it says on the tin, which could have only be seen as remarkable just because Liam Neeson is in it. But since this is the fourth collaboration between the two, you might start to consider whether they should do something different.

The film starts off okay with showing the motivations for the character of Michael. The editing by Nicholas de Toth (who worked on Park Chan-wook’s Stoker) is intricate in showing the passage of time and the increasing baggage of Michael and his family. But later in the film, boy, director Collet-Serra lays it on pretty thick. Neeson actually tells his backstory to a couple of clients and while he gets fired, he explicitly states his age and does it again in anger in an extreme close-up shot while almost staring at the camera. We totally get it! And that’s just the first ten minutes.

And when we gradually know more of Michael’s backstory and the inclusion of Patrick Wilson and Sam Neill, don’t be surprised if you hear a collective groan from the audience because the reveal of his backstory is so obvious, you can almost hear the loud honking that comes with it.


All of what is said above happens before the actual plot even starts and you’ll already be thinking that you’ll know where this is going because you’ve seen this movie. But then we see Michael go on the train and encounter the mysterious stranger and then it turns into another movie that you’ve probably already seen. All elements of the The Commuter have been done before and much better in other films, but what’s thankfully there is a lack of pretension; the film knows what it is and never becomes self-important nor takes itself too seriously and that helps a lot in the fun factor.

Like his prior film, Non-Stop, director Jaume Collet-Serra for the most part maintains a fast pace (until the third act when the film comes to a complete stop both figuratively and literally) and still brings visual flair to the proceedings. The zooms, the long takes, the dutch angles, the slow-motion and other flourishes are all over the film and they bring a bit of zing to the film. And just like Non-Stop, the third act goes into heights of ridiculousness involving hilarious slow-motion stunts, iffy green-screen effects and a character reveal that again goes HONK-HONK! Twist incoming!

And once again, going back to Non-Stop, the supporting cast of talented thespians and newcomers are all pretty much wasted. Vera Farmiga (who last collaborated with Collet-Serra in Orphan) spends most of the film off-screen on the phone, while Patrick Wilson does what he can with a thin role (named Alex Murphy, which got a laugh out of me). Sam Neill has like two scenes in the film while actresses Florence Pugh (fantastic in Lady Macbeth), Clara Lago (great in The Hidden Face) and Letitia Wright (a revelation in the TV show Black Mirror) barely make an impression. It was nice to see Jonathan Banks play a role that isn’t a repulsive scumbag like in Mudbound or Beverly Hills Cop though and Shazad Latif was amusing as the businessman who is so slimy, he basically leaves a trail wherever he walks.

But even after all those flaws, what keeps the film watchable is the man himself, Liam Neeson. The big man still commands the screen and dons the action hero role with ease. Even in his advanced age, he still grunts, growls, yells and packs a severe punch in the action scenes, particularly in one fight scene that’s seemingly shot in one singular take, which involve fire axes, guns, flying knees and even an electric guitar.

To stave off risk of derailing this review, let’s terminate this one here. The Commuter provides exactly what you expect and if you’re not tired of the Neeson/Collet-Serra formula then you’ll have a good time.


Quickie Review


Liam Neeson still delivers the goods

Collet-Serra’s stylish direction lends the the film some much needed oomph

Action scenes are well done


Sloppy and derivative story

Underused supporting cast

Many unintentionally funny moments

SCORE: 6/10


This review can be also seen at IMPULSE GAMER. Visit the site by pressing the picture above.

Cast: Liam Neeson, Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Sam Neill, Elizabeth McGovern, Jonathan Banks, Florence Pugh, Dean-Charles Chapman, Shazad Latif, Clara Lago, Andy Nyman, Roland Møller, Colin McFarlane, Dilyana Bouklieva, Adam Nagaitis, Kingsley Ben-Adir, Kobna Holdbrook-Smith, Letitia Wright, Damson Idris, David Olawale Ayinde, Jamie Beamish, Nakay Kpaka, Nathan Wiley 
Director: Jaume Collet-Serra
Screenwriters: Byron Willinger, Philip de Blasi, Ryan Engle