Movie Review – Extraordinary Mission

C8iY7ywWAAEzS3U

EXPECTATIONS: A jingoistic and eventually tiresome action film.

REVIEW: Director Alan Mak is perhaps well known as the co-director of the classic HK crime films, the Infernal Affairs series, but he can be a good director in his own right, with A War Named Desire as a shining example. But for the most part, he co-directs with other collaborators like Andrew Lau (Infernal Affairs, Initial D), Felix Chong (Moonlight in Tokyo and the Overheard films).

But ever since the immensely crushing disappointment from Confession of Pain, his output has been up and down with the middling The Lost Bladesman, the Overheard sequels and The Silent War. But now, he has teamed up with cinematographer Anthony Pun, who makes his directorial debut, with Extraordinary Mission. From its previews, it looks like a throwback to 80’s action films starring Chuck Norris, but having Alan Mak could show that it’s aiming for a thriller vibe. Will the film live up to its boastful title or will it end up being a jingoistic and distasteful mess like Operation Mekong?

aea3a6c0-0468-11e7-ba01-cff3dbc21736

Huang Xuan stars as Lin Kai, a cop who is enlisted by his superior, Li Jianguo (Xing Jiadong) to infiltrate a drug cartel, known as the Twin Eagles. In order to do his job, he befriends Eagle (Duan Yi Hong), a duplicitous and conniving man whose motivations seem to hint a lot more than just monetary gain.

Eagle also has a daughter, Qingshui (Lang Yueting) who also serves as his right-hand man, and she has reservations about Kai’s introduction into the cartel. But as time goes on, Kai’s operation starts to gradually spiral out of control when he becomes addicted to heroin, which unearths hidden demons from his past. And speaking of hidden demons, Jianguo also has some that could drive the operation amok and risk the life of Kai. Will Kai succeed on his mission?

0

From glimpses of the trailer and posters, Extraordinary Mission looks very similar to Operation Mekong, an action film which also dealt with drug cartels and undercover missions AND was also based on a true story. But Operation Mekong was also unbearably jingoistic, incredibly distasteful and thin story-wise.

Thankfully, Extraordinary Mission is almost nothing like Mekong, as it has the hard-hitting action that audiences want, but it also has storytelling chops and superior acting that make it a much more substantial experience than one would expect.

article_4495550_pic

Firstly, the positives. The story may not stand out in terms of ingenuity, but it is well-told and Mak’s reliance on thrills, rather than action, makes a nice alternative approach with such a story. It also helps that Mak cares about his characters and his story, that he develops them efficiently and succinctly, without resorting to much jingoism (like Operation Mekong).

The cat-and-mouse games between Kai and Eagle makes for enjoyable viewing and adds a palpable tension that pays off in its insane climax, which contains some of the most insane stunts I’ve seen in recent years. All crisply captured with Pun as co-director/cinematographer, it must be said that cars should never be used in that type of way around humans. That’s all I’ll say on that matter.

WRrzh2TPgwNRFdw568nLRzSrHEi3

Another positive is the actors. While the cast are not known for their star-power, they all do very well with their archetypal roles. Huang Xuan is likable, charismatic and convincing in his action scenes as well as his dramatic scenes. In particular, the scene where his character goes through massive bouts from his heroin addiction, he never resorts to histrionics and that makes the scenes all the more powerful.

Duan Yi Hong is quite great as the villain, Eagle. Duan plays the role as surprisingly understated, considering the character’s reprehensible actions, but thankfully the script (by Felix Chong, co-writer of Infernal Affairs films; and film director) gives Eagle a backstory that makes the role more than just a moustache-twirling villain, imbuing him with surprising empathy.

Lang Yueting, whom I’ve enjoyed her performances in Office and Mountain Cry, makes the most out of her small role as Eagle’s daughter/henchman. She has very few lines of dialogue, but her subtle expressions make her stand out, making the most out of her underwritten role. The supporting cast all do well with their roles, but it is the three above that ensure credibility to the film.

006ymnGNly1fe66e42r6aj31kw0w0gt6

As for flaws, the story does follow a predictable path (with some twists), the drama may be a bit melodramatic (the musical score and contrived dramatic beats) and the overblown climax may take some out of the film, Extraordinary Mission is a solid thriller that lives up to its marketing, if not its title.

Quickie Review

PROS

The acting is quite impressive

The stunts are unbelievably audacious

Focus on character and plot lends power to the drama (particularly the climax)

CONS

Nothing new in terms of storytelling

Can be a bit overly dramatic at times

SCORE: 7/10

Cast: Huang Xuan, Duan Yihong, Lang Yueting, Zu Feng, Xing Jiadong, David Wang
Director: Alan Mak, Anthony Pun
Screenwriters: Felix Chong

Movie Review – Killing Ground (Monster Fest 2017)

1 xH0roIJMkOT2YVPR06ipCA

EXPECTATIONS: A film that will further damage Australia’s reputation on tourism.

REVIEW:  It’s been a long time since I’ve been camping and there’s a big reason for that. Films in the backwoods genre like The Blair Witch Project and Deliverance have always freaked me out in my early years due the uniqueness of the settings. It is quite an oxymoron that an area like the Australian forests can be so vast and yet feel so claustrophobic.

It also doesn’t help that Australian films have made great horror films (like the Wolf Creek series) in the Outback that have spread unintentional (or is it intentional?) fear across the world about what it’s like to tour around Australia.

So when I heard that a small film called Killing Ground was making huge buzz at Sundance, I was curious. And to have Aaron Pedersen (who was fantastic as the lead in crime-thrillers Mystery Road and Goldstone) in the cast was just icing on the cake. Will Killing Ground further “damage” the reputation of Australia’s tourism?

3070-30-ian-and-sam

Young couple Sam (Harriet Dyer) and Ian (Ian Meadows) drive down a long park road in order to spend a romantic New Year’s Eve on a remote lakefront. They’re initially a bit put off to find another tent already set up on the beach, then are quite dumbfounded when its inhabitants fail to turn up through the night.

Meanwhile, older married duo Margaret (Maya Strange) and Rob (Julian Garner) are likewise camping with their two children, bored teen Em (Tiarne Coupland) and toddler Ollie (played by twins Liam and Riley Parkes).

And in another subplot introduces German (Aaron Pedersen), a brooding ex-con with a vicious attack dog, and Chook (Aaron Glenane), his impulsive, dimwitted sidekick. Both have been seen earlier, trying to pick up female tourists at the pub and generally earning their reputation as the sleazies of the community.

killing-ground

With a low budget, basically one location, a decidedly small cast and a simple well-worn premise, you gotta have a damn good director to make the most out of these resources. Thankfully, director Damien Power and the cast and crew are all up to the task.

One of the things that makes this film special is Power‘s refusal to abide to genre tropes. One example is the storytelling. As stated in the synopsis, there are three different subplots, but unlike a straightforward approach, these plots converge in a way that is inventive, refreshing and it is all done with a shocking singular take involving an infant.

Even the portrayal of the characters is told in a way that is out of the norm from thrillers. For the heroes, they are either more flawed or more capable than the audience would expect. As for the villains, we seem them early on, with a glimpse of how they go through their day-to-day life and it actually gives them a sense of humanity that makes them even scarier due to how true-to-life these characters can be.

Another example, there is a certain point in the film that bluntly tells the audience that all bets are off; no one has a guarantee of survival. Films of this genre need to be more like this, as the suspense is increased exponentially. This and other examples (like the restrained approach to violence, lack of musical score and character reversals) just goes to show that putting in a little effort in a well-worn genre goes a very long way.

MV5BMjE0NzkxNjcwNF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwOTg5MzU3ODE@._V1_

It is said that the restrictions of a low budget in a feature film can force a filmmaker to rely on their own creativity, and the crew of Killing Ground do not let Power down. Simon Chapman’s cinematography captures the Outback environment beautifully while also making the film it crushingly claustrophobic (even when the majority of the film is set during the day) while Katie Flaxman’s editing is kept minimalist to maximum effect. Last but not least, Leah Curtis‘ score is very effective ironically when it is sparingly used.

But all of this can be for naught if the characters were not portrayed in a way that makes the audience sympathetic towards them and gratefully, the actors are all up to snuff. Whilst Ian Meadows is likable as Ian (Who else?) the doctor/boyfriend, Harriet Dyer stands out as Sam, as she provides a sense of warmth as well as fearsome strength as the shit hits the fan. It also helps that it never feels phony since Dyer portrays it as if Sam always had that sense of strength within her; nor is it done to the detriment to other characters, as it feels rightly earned.

Special mention goes to Tiarnie Coupland, who is a real sport in portraying Em, the daughter of the family who were at the lakefront before the protagonists. It must not have been easy to go through the emotional as well as physical wringer and she does a very good job of it.

Like in every film, the protagonists are only as good as the antagonists and the two that the film has are very worthy. Aaron Pedersen, whom I remember as the heroic cop Jay Swan in films Mystery Road and Goldstone, plays against type as the collected, yet brooding German and he amply gives chills with his taciturn performance. While Aaron Glenane is great as the incredibly impulsive and unhinged Chook; and the two complement each other very well that they convince that they have a history together.

HTFile.ashx

As for its flaws, there are a few moments in the story that are still left hanging that might frustrate some and the fact that some of decisions that characters make in the film will definitely anger some, but considering that director Power had said that the 1997 Austrian film Funny Games was an influence in making Killing Ground, it was definitely intentional.

Overall, Killing Ground is a fantastic calling card for Damien Power, with very good performances, a willingness to make the most out of a well-worn genre and some visuals that will linger on your mind for a very long time.

Quickie Review

PROS

Damien Power’s willingness to make the most out of genre tropes

Very good performances

Some very haunting visuals

Refreshingly different storytelling

CONS

Will drastically affect Australian tourism

Minor frustrations from characters and plot decisions

SCORE: 8/10

Cast: Aaron Pedersen, Harriet Dyer, Ian Meadows, Aaron Glenane, Maya Stange, Julian Garner, Tiarnie Coupland, Liam Parkes, Riley Parkes, Chris Armstrong
Director: Damien Power
Screenwriters: Damien Power

Movie Review – The Tenants Downstairs

13963082_1137046389718367_1056075558093958165_o

EXPECTATIONS: A soft and fluffy version of the Category III Hong Kong films of yore.

REVIEW:

NOTE: This review is for the revised 98 minute version, not for the 110 minute version.

Giddens Ko is well-known in Taiwan for being the author of such hits like The Apple of My Eye, which spawned renewed interest in the young love genre, as well as he comedy hit The Killer Who Never Kills and the romance Cafe, Waiting Love. Whereas Adam Tsuei is well-known for bringing musical stars into the spotlight like Jay Chou and Leehom Wang, as well as producing some of Gidden’s projects as well as the Tiny Times films.

So, when you see the two work together for their latest project, you’d expect them to work on something fluffy and crowd-pleasing. Thankfully, they brought out their latest project, The Tenants Downstairs, a depraved throwback to the Category III Hong Kong films of yore, starring genre stalwart, Simon Yam. But considering their past work, will it be homogenized and watered-down, or will it be hard-hitting and pack a serious punch?

photo-php

The film starts off with an unnamed and enigmatic landlord (Simon Yam) sitting in an interrogation room, preparing to tell a story to a police detective (Kai Fung) which is described as “a story out of your imagination”. Then it flashes back to the landlord inheriting the apartment complex and discovering the surveillance room, which has cameras in all of the apartments.

Then over time, a group of tenants reside in the complex and which include Kuo Li (Lee Kang-sheng) and Linghu (Bernard SenJun), a gay couple attempting to hide their relationship; divorced gym instructor Chang (Chuang Kai-hsun) who has a penchant for expired milk and is a ball of repressed rage that would make Adam Sandler blush; depressed single father Wang (Phil Yan) who harbours more than just love for his young daughter (Angel Ho); Miss Chen (Li Xing), an office worker with an insatiable thirst for her work in the horizontal refreshment industry and Boyan (Yan Sheng-yu) is a student who loves video-games and another private game where he always wins.

Last but definitely not least is Yingru (Ivy Shao), a beautiful and seemingly angelic young woman whose apartment is strangely stacked with many suitcases. And there’s also a victim in her bathtub who is being tortured, you know the usual. So after the landlord discovers her secret, he becomes fascinated about the dark side of human nature and decides to prod and push his tenants to embrace their darkest desires and to commit the most depraved acts.

1470093612-528544693_wl

As you can tell from the synopsis, there really isn’t much of a plot here. And the humour in which is peppered in it is in actuality how the film is presented; humour that is macabre and twisted. And boy, is it twisted. There is a fine line between sadistic and comedic, but director Adam Tsuei and writer Giddens Ko walk on it incredibly well.

Scenes involving dragging bodies has never looked funnier, especially when the magic of “teleportation” is involved. The use of classical music alleviated the effect of the atrocities that happen on-screen with enough dark humour and the cast are wholly committed to the proceedings. Whether they are doing something physically taxing or doing something prurient beyond their sexual realms, the cast are all on their A-game.

Simon Yam shows why he’s fantastic in portraying psychos and insane lunatics back in the 90’s and he is full of life here in the role of the landlord. Whether he is dragging a body, sticking it to the man, dancing majestically or sinking his own submarine to those who are sharpening their power tools, it is a pleasure to see Yam back in a role that will please Category III cinema lovers.

the-tenants-downstairs-720

Tsai Ming-liang’s favourite collaborator Lee Kang-sheng can do any of the stuff he does in the film in his sleep, if films like Rebels of the Neon God is any indication. And even after a stroke he had suffered two years ago, Lee still does well with his performance. Bernard Senjun plays the student/mistress of Kuo Li and he gives a good performance as the gradually lovelorn yang to Kuo Li’s tempered yin.

Chuang Kai-hsun plays his jackass of a role convincingly, as he shows both repressed and expressive rage with ease. He really takes it up a notch when he acts alongside Li Xing, leading to some intense scenes. The latter is fantastic as Miss Chen, even when her character takes part in the more prurient aspects of the film, she never makes her character feel like she has no choice in the life she’s chosen. Li exudes confidence and strength in the role that probably was not present in the script.

Phil Yan is fine as the sexually repressed father, as he definitely looks the part of an average joe, which makes it creepier when he embraces both his inner child and actual child while Angel Ho is likewise fine as the daughter, who acts in scenes that really seem like the film-makers are breaking laws to film.

Yan Sheng-yu is funny as the self-gratifying slacker who believes he has the power of “teleportation”. His physical comedy does lead to some funny moments including “literally” taking one for the team and especially a part in the climax, which results in the best use of a body part since 1993’s wuxia comedy, The Eagle Shooting Heroes.

But the biggest standout of the film is Ivy Shao. Exuding an understated creepiness underneath her angelic smile and bright white wardrobe, she sends chills to the audience every time she shows up. Her performance is quite reminiscent of Eihi Shiina’s performance in Takashi Miike’s cult classic, Audition, and it is a wonder to witness.

tenantsdownstairs2-1600x900-c-default-1024x576

The film is also magnificently well-shot and edited, making the film more prestigious than it really should, but fortunately director Adam Tsuei never tells the story more than it actually is: a series of unsavory events twisted up in a line of insanity, depravity and abnormality.

If Tsuei had taken the film seriously, it would have ended up like one of Hong Kong director Wong Ching-po’s films, which can be incredibly pretentious. The production design by Kei Itsusuji and cinematography by Jimmy Yu make Simon Yam’s house of horrors look strikingly beautiful; even with the shocking events that occur, you cannot take your eyes away.

As for flaws, the film lacks a lot of explanation with its story, although that may have been the result of the shorter cut which was released at NYAFF 2016, because apparently, the full theatrical cut is 110 minutes and has scenes of exposition that further explain the landlord’s backstory, his motives, other backstories of various characters and a sense of logic to the proceedings.

But whether this is a flaw depends on your preference. If you prefer ambiguity and leaving it up to your imagination, the shorter cut certainly does that. But if you want things tied up neatly, the longer cut may do the trick.

Overall, The Tenants Downstairs is a fantastic throwback to the Category III films of the 90’s that will sicken, surprise and amuse many with its sexual deviancy, shocking depravity and sheer lunacy. And with a wonderfully committed cast and its fantastic production values, The Tenants Downstairs is my top guilty pleasure of the year that brought a huge demented smile on my face.

the-tenants-downstairs-3-1024x576

Quickie Review

PROS

The entire cast are all committed to the insane shenanigans

The production values make the film look and sound fantastic

The fine line between sadism and dark comedy is trodden well

CONS

Lack of explanations of the proceedings

SCORE: 9/10

Cast: Simon Yam Tat-wah, Ivy Shao (Shao Yu-wei), Lee Kang-sheng, Chuang Kai-hsun, Phil Yan, Li Xing, Yan Sheng-yu, Bernard SenJun, Angel Ho, Chen Mu-yi, Chou Hsiao-an, Kai Fung
Director: Adam Tsuei
Screenwriters: Giddens Ko, based on his novel of the same name

Movie Review – Allied

allied-1-600x936

EXPECTATIONS: A film too old-fashioned for its own good.

REVIEW: Robert Zemeckis is a film-maker that has both enthralled me and frustrated me. For the most part, his films can be exciting, fun and incredibly well-told, like the Back to the Future films, Cast Away and Who Framed Roger Rabbit.  On the contrary, his films at worst, can be quite corny and indulgent. Films like What Lies Beneath, his motion-capture films like The Polar Express and even the majority of his last film, The Walk are examples of that.

So when I heard that he was making a spy thriller that is reminiscent of the classic film Casablanca, from a script written by screenwriter Steven Knight, who wrote great films like Eastern Promises and Dirty Pretty Things, I was psyched. And with Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard as icing on the cake, it sounds like it would be a sure-fire hit. Does Allied live up to its potential?

maxresdefault

Brad Pitt stars as Max Vatan, a Canadian intelligence officer who is sent to Casablanca in French Morocco to assassinate the German ambassador. He is then teamed up with Marianne Beausejour (Marion Cotillard), who had escaped from war-torn France after her resistance group was defeated and killed. The plan is to pose as husband and wife as a cover-up until the actual date of the party where the ambassador is going to be. But during that time, the two gradually grow close and they are later both swept up in a sea of lies, secrets and deception that could put both of their lives at stake.

Like all of Zemeckis‘ films, they all look fantastic and have fantastic production values. The cinematography by Don Burgess is incredibly smooth and glowing with some great use of CGI that gives the film a sleek look that is very appealing to look at. Adding to that appeal is the costume design by Joanna Johnston, which is nostalgically striking. The musical score by Alan Silvestri is surprisingly a bit post-modern in its approach but it works, although it can be a bit intrusive at times during dramatic scenes.

allied-001

The actors certainly hold up their end of the bargain, with Brad Pitt and especially Marion Cotillard giving stellar performances. Pitt is convincingly stoic and world-weary and certainly looks the part of a debonair spy. Later in the film, he is also convincing when his character starts to emotionally open up as well as his character being anguished due to the fact that his wife may not be who she appears to be. This may not be his best performance in his so-called World War II trilogy (consisting of Inglourious Basterds and Fury), but it is still a good addition nonetheless.

As for Cotillard, she is the best asset in the film. She brings a lot of depth to her character of Marianne, while also pulling off the sensuality and allure of her character with aplomb. It is exactly those two traits that bring Pitt‘s character out of his shell and the two are good together as well as keeping the audience guessing about her character’s motives.

Nothing is more prevalent about the two and their shared chemistry like in the scene where the two make love in a car during a sandstorm. Although the leads are likable and worth caring for, they do not elicit the passion needed to make the romance truly blossom; leaving a bit of an emotional hole, where the heart should be.

The supporting cast are actually a bit wasted with their thin parts, like Lizzy Caplan as Vatan’s sister, who is written as an blatantly obvious lesbian but Simon McBurney is fantastic in his small role as the spy hunter; same as Jared Harris as Vatan’s superior and Matthew Goode in a surprise cameo.

21107921

The storytelling is a bit of a letdown considering the talent involved. While the plot does unfold neatly enough, there are scenes where Zemeckis just overdoes the cliches (of the films Allied is meant to be referencing) with such blunt force, that the film becomes laughable at times. Some of it is definitely intentional (like the use of coarse language), but there are scenes that were clearly meant to be serious, but never feel that way; like a scene where Marianne is giving birth during an air strike.

But none of the cheesiness and corniness will matter negatively in the way the ending does. No matter how you analyze it or how it was built up on, the ending just comes across as anti-climactic and it will be a real letdown for some.

The talent involved really should have made Allied a fantastic film, but the final result only comes out as an entertainingly average experience. Still, we’ll always have Marion Cotillard.

szovetsegesek_screenshot_20160828180003_1_original_1150x645_cover

Quickie Review

PROS

Good leading performances, particularly from Marion Cotillard

Fantastic production values

Good storytelling and script from writer Steven Knight

CONS

Anti-climactic ending

Underused supporting cast

Scenes of corniness and cheesiness

SCORE: 6/10

lhs

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

Cast: Brad Pitt, Marion Cotillard, Jared Harris, Simon McBurney, Lizzy Caplan, Daniel Betts, Marion Bailey, Matthew Goode
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Screenwriter: Steven Knight

Movie Review – Phantom Detective (London Korean Film Festival 2016)

tham-tu-tai-nang-phantom-detective

EXPECTATIONS: A silly, half-hearted noir that grates due to its long running time.

REVIEW: Whether if you have noticed or not, Korean cinema has been on a roll lately with their films and they have all been critically acclaimed as well as financially successful. With films like The Wailing, The Handmaiden, Train to Busan, The Age of Shadows and others, how could a committed moviegoer cannot be psyched about that?

Enter director Jo Sung-hee, a film-maker that has gone through a blockbuster phase lately. His debut feature-length film, End of Animal, was an independent, gritty drama that both equally impressive as well as frustrating. Then surprisingly, he ventured into the fantasy genre with A Werewolf Boy, which was a box office success and I was entertained, although it was too much like Tim Burton’s Edward Scissorhands for my liking.

And now he has ventured into the neo-noir genre with his latest film, Phantom Detective. Will the film keep up the high-standard winning streak of the recent films that I’ve seen, or will it let it down and become the first black sheep of the flock?

160429010514-125

Lee Je-hoon stars as Hong Gil-dong, a talented sleuth who runs an illegal detective agency with the wealthy and vamp President Hwang (Go Ara). Hong is able to track virtually anyone down in record time, except for Kim Byeong-Duk (Park Geun-hyung) who has eluded him for many years. Kim is the man who killed Hong’s mother, although Hong’s memory is quite blurred, rendering it unreliable.

One day, Hong learns of Kim’s location and drives there late at night. Right before he arrives, Kim is kidnapped and only his granddaughters Dong-Yi (Roh Jeong-eui) and Mal-Soon (Kim Ha-na) are left. Following his urge for revenge, Hong reluctantly takes the granddaughters to find their grandfather. Soon, Hong finds himself embroiled in more than he bargained for when he uncovers a large conspiracy that could involve the deaths of many innocent people.

chlucjrwmaaxuhv-jpg-large

First things first, I enjoyed Phantom Detective in the long run. But for the first act, I have to admit, I had huge doubts about whether the film was worth the viewing. Firstly, the main character, Hong Gil-dong, is a dick. And I don’t mean a private dick (short for private detective), I mean, in a derogatory sense, he’s a dick. I didn’t know whether it was Lee’s performance or it was the intentional character portrayal but the smug attitude really bugged me.

Secondly, the child characters were also quite annoying as well. Overly cute to the point of making one’s teeth rot and incredibly intrusive to one’s work, it’s no wonder why Hong gets annoyed with them, let alone that he wants to kill their grandfather for murdering his mother. And lastly, it takes quite a while for one to discover the real plot of the film, so it makes the film drag in its first and partly second act.

But if one is patient enough to make it through all that, it becomes an entertaining film that is ultimately worth your while. The film instantly becomes better as soon as the motivations of the villains come into play. Characters become more human and likable, action scenes become more noteworthy, the drama even packs an extra punch and everything that preceded it becomes more clear. And that is all thanks to Jo Sung-hee’s patient direction.

hgd7-1024x683

The visuals and cinematography by Byun Bong-sun give the film a comical, yet nostalgic vibe, reminiscent of film noir and graphic novels, yet it never interferes with the surprisingly dark tone of the film. The action scenes are overall well-conceived, particularly with the use of a fire extinguisher that gave off unexpected tension and suspense. But the hand-to-hand combat sequences are a bit of a letdown, since they suffer from fast-cutting, with hinder the impact of the action.

But the heart of the film are the characters, which the actors truly give their best to their parts. Lee Je-hoon, an underrated actor who has done impressive work in the war film The Front Line and the indie drama Bleak Night, does well in the leading role. He gradually fits into the role of the talented sleuth and he plays the dilemmas of the character quite well, especially in the third act.

The child actors, Roh Jeong-eui and Kim Ha-na, are both good in their roles, especially Roh, since she has moments to shine. Park Geun-hyung makes the most out of his integral role as Kim Byeong-duk due to his tenderness with the scenes between him and the child actresses as well as the scene when he is confronted by Hong, which turns the present cliche on to its head.

Go Ara is delightfully vamp in her small role as President Hwang, who is clearly more busy with other tasks than helping Hong out. Jeong Seong-hwa is likable as the comic relief/hotel innkeeper/former crime thug but Kim Sung-kyun is the biggest standout as the villain. With very little backstory on the script, Kim still manages to stand out thanks to his acting. It also helps that his look (the lighting on his glasses) adds to the sheer menace Kim brings to the part.

14_38_53__57298aede753bh800

Alongside the problematic first act, there are other flaws which prevent the film from reaching greatness. There are many genre elements in the film which can work on their own but when mixed together, it can become quite jumbled, if not take you out of the film. When you mix a tortured heroic character with a pair of precocious kids and throw them into a plot that involves a villainous cult, it becomes quite bizarre. Plus, the final act does take a bit too long (suffering from the too-many-endings syndrome) to reach its predictable conclusion.

But overall, Phantom Detective is greater than the sum of its parts, and although it doesn’t reach greatness like the other films of its home country, it is an entertaining diversion that packs committed performances, surprising direction from Jo Sung-hee and an appealing visual style.

Quickie Review

PROS

Good performances

Well-thought out action scenes

Character backstories give punch to drama

Cinematography adds to the offbeat feel

CONS

Genre elements don’t always mesh

Draggy ending

Problematic first act

SCORE: 7/10

Cast: Lee Je-hoon, Kim Sung-kyun, Go Ara, Roh Jeong-eui, Kim Ha-na, Park Geun-hyung, Jung Sung-hwa, Kwang Bo-ra
Director: Jo Sung-hee
Screenwriters: Jo Sung-hee

Movie Review – The Age of Shadows

fullsizephoto751061

EXPECTATIONS: A technically masterful and endearingly old-fashioned spy thriller.

REVIEW: Kim Jee-woon is one hell of a versatile film-maker. The first film of his that I saw was on Australian television over 15 years ago. And that was his first feature-length film, the hilarious dark comedy, The Quiet Family. And to think that I assumed that The Quiet Family was a Japanese film (it has a Japanese remake as well) since I thought the first Korean film I saw was My Sassy Girl, it was a film that just kept on giving.

With a fresh cast that will become established stars and character actors (Song Kang-ho, Choi Min-shik and others) and assured direction from Kim, it was more than enough for me to look forward to his other work. Branching from comedy (The Foul King) to horror (A Tale of Two Sisters) to crime (A Bittersweet Life) to westerns (The Good, The Bad, The Weird) to thrillers (I Saw The Devil) to sci-fi (Doomsday Book) and even romance (One Perfect Day), I have enjoyed every project that he has made.

And after his mildly entertaining effort with Arnold Schwarzenegger, The Last Stand, he has come back to Korea with a bang with this period film/spy thriller, The Age of Shadows, which has gathered critical acclaim from the Venice Film Festival and has been chosen to be the submission for the best foreign film at the Oscars. But does the film live up to the hype?

fullsizephoto710031

Set in the 1920’s, Song Kang-ho stars as Lee Jung-chool, a high ranking officer whose allegiance is with Japanese overlords over the Korean people. They have charged him with rooting out members of his country’s resistance movement. With the unenviable reputation of being a sell-out of his own people, none of it compares when a former classmate turned resistance fighter dies in front of him. On the other side of the conflict, Che-san (Lee Byung-hun) notices Lee in his dilemma and sees an opportunity to defect him onto their side.

And that commences the development of reeling Lee in, with Kim Woo-jin (Gong Yoo), a key figure in the resistance handling the case. His antique shop is a front for a scheme to smuggle explosives from Shanghai into Seoul. While Lee could bring down this operation at any moment as well as being forcibly teamed up with the high-tempered Hashimoto (Um Tae-goo), he also has an equal chance to become an ally, thanks in no small part to Kim and his psychological tactics.

movies_imgs_111476939245

If you’ve seen the trailer or any of Kim’s work, you can expect that The Age of Shadows is a technically masterful piece of work. The cinematography by Kim Ji-yong (A Bittersweet Life, Hansel and Gretel) is striking and atmospheric throughout from the thrilling opening set-piece to the 30-minute train sequence that is a masterpiece of sustained suspense and tension.

The musical score by Mowg compliments the film as well, with an understated use of percussion to wonderful music choices like Louis Armstrong’s “When You’re Smiling” and the best use of Ravel’s “Bolero” since Sion Sono’s Love Exposure. The editing by Yang Jin-mo is tight, ensuring maximum tension, fast pace and minimum fat during the 140 minute run-time.

Kim Jee-woon’s direction is in absolute control throughout the film. Getting us into the film immediately with its opening sequence, establishing the plot and character backstories with extreme efficiency, messing with the audience and their allegiance with playful humour and an assured hand, Kim Jee-woon is at this best.

None of this is affirmed more clearly than in the 30 minute train sequence. Going back and forth between characters, shifting allegiances alongside the expected violence that Kim packs into his films, it is thrilling to behold. Like with I Saw the Devil, there are moments in the film that are stomach-churning, like its interrogative torture sequences but don’t expect them to be with the same intensity of the former.

la-et-mn-age-of-shadows-review-20160919-snap

And let’s not forget the stellar acting from the cast. I don’t usually like to compare foreign actors to Hollywood counterparts, but if it gets Westerners to recognize talent overseas, I’ll have to do it. Song Kang-ho is basically like the Tom Hanks of Korea. Having adept comedy chops, tons of charisma and the capability to pull off compelling understated performances, Song is one of Korea’s finest actors, and in The Age of Shadows, he gives further proof of his reputation. He plays his character’s dilemmas very well, whether it is the questioning of his allegiance to his Japanese superiors and his country or his buried stress of his need to survive.

Gong Yoo is becoming a capable leading man as of late since the shocking true-story drama Silenced and the action flick The Suspect and if the year of 2016 signals anything, this film alongside the blockbuster Train to Busan is a great year for Gong. In The Age of Shadows, Gong mixes star-charisma with a strong sense of determination that makes his character easy to root for.

As for the supporting cast, Han Ji-min makes the most out of her screen-time, making a convincing sorta love-interest. And the same goes for Lee Byung-hun, in an extended cameo as the leader of the resistance. A standout of a villain is Um Tae-goo as Hashimoto. Gloriously over-the-top yet still conveying a sense of menace, Um provides a clear antagonist that we love to hate. His standout moment is when he berates his men and it is the most amusingly violent slapping scene since Takeshi Kitano’s Violent Cop.

the-age-of-shadows

As for nitpicks, the only one that is noticeable is the slightly overlong ending, the mildly convoluted plot and the fact that there is no deep meaning to it all. Korean cinema still keeps up its winning streak with The Age of Shadows; Kim Jee-woon’s long-awaited comeback to Korea. With stellar performances, thrilling setpieces, masterful storytelling and top-notch production values, The Age of Shadows is a must-see for anyone who loves film, particularly period films, spy thrillers and cloak-and-dagger flicks. Highly recommended.

Quickie Review

PROS

Stellar acting performances

Top-notch production values

Beautiful cinematography

Tight editing

Kim Jee-woon’s masterful storytelling chops

CONS

Slightly overlong ending

Slightly convoluted plot

SCORE: 9/10

Cast: Song Kang-ho, Gong Yoo, Han Ji-min, Um Tae-goo, Shin Sung-rok, Shingo Tsurumi, Park Hee-soon, Seo Young-joo, Han Soo-yeon, Yoo Jae-sang, Lee Soo-kwang, Kim Dong-young, Lee Byung-hun
Director: Kim Jee-woon
Screenwriters: Lee Ji-min, Park Jong-dae, Kim Jee-woon

Movie Review – The Frontier

0-_d-ilq_8geolqghl

EXPECTATIONS: A film that succeeds as pure entertainment as well as a fun throwback to classic film noir.

REVIEW: I hate to admit that I do not really know a lot about classical film noir, despite watching many films in the neo-noir genre like Brick, Sin City and of course, Veronica Mars. But what I do know are some of the main tropes of film noir: the femme fatale, the dirty cop and the fact that a minor crime is a catalyst to a major plot. And all of these tropes are present in Oren Shai’s directorial film debut, The Frontier. And with a talented ensemble cast and Shai’s knowledge of the genre, this should be a winner. But does it live up to its potential?

the_frontier_still

Jocelin Donahue stars as Laine, a drifter with a trouble past who stumbles in a desert motel run by a mysterious older woman, Luanne (Kelly Lynch). The two develop a good rapport and Luanne offers Laine a job as a waitress. During her time, she overhears a conversation between a couple (Jamie Harris and Izabella Miko) about a certain heist and that the stolen money is about to be delivered to the thieves at the motel. And assuming that every motel patron (including Jim Beaver and Liam Aiken) is a part of this robbery, Laine hatches a plan to steal the loot for herself.

The plot certainly sounds like it is typical for a film noir, with the tropes all in place. Oren Shai has a lot of affection to the genre and it clearly shows. The Super 16mm cinematography by Jay Kietel looks great and it compliments the production design by Trevor Gates to give off a downtrodden vibe. It also helps that there are many details added to the film that make it a technically proficient throwback to film noir. Details such as how newspapers cost 20 cents, the fact that the TV show The Twilight Zone is mentioned, soft drinks like Coca Cola still served in glass bottles, it certainly gives the film a 60’s feel and it makes the film easy to appreciate.

The actors certainly bring up their end of the bargain. Jocelin Donahue, whom I thought was excellent in The House of the Devil, is again perfectly cast as Laine. Shai cleverly uses her image of innocence to play with the audience on whether she really is one with good intentions and Donahue plays her role with aplomb. With The House of the Devil, Insidous: Chapter Two and The Frontier, I sincerely cannot picture Donahue in anything with a modern context. She fits the classical feel like a glove and I can’t wait to see what she does next.

Kelly Lynch, an underrated veteran actress who was great in roles like in Drugstore Cowboy and more known in films like Road House, gives a great performance as Luanne. She makes her character felt, utilizing the much-needed characterization provided by Shai i.e. dead-ends due to career choices. It almost becomes quite touching, since it does (albeit inadvertently) reflect Lynch’s career in a way.

The supporting cast however struggle to give life to their roles, with the exception of AJ Bowen, who plays a charismatic, yet dirty cop. Bring their practiced chemistry built up in The House of the Devil, Bowen and Donahue have great scenes that you wish they had more screentime together.

the-frontier

Despite the committed actors and Shai’s affection to the film noir genre, it is quite disappointing to say that The Frontier is not as good as it could have been. The two main problems are the storytelling and the characterization. Even with a 90 minute run-time, the pacing is quite glacial, but the film does become more involving in its final act, where all the pieces come together. As for the characters, most of them are not that well defined beyond their archetypes, which makes it hard to invest in their plight, despite the best efforts from the actors.

But overall, The Frontier is a good showcase for the actors (especially Donahue) as well as a striking calling card for Shai’s directorial chops. I just wished that the film had a better script.

P.S – Big shout-out to Kino Lorber for providing the opportunity to watch this film. Greatly appreciate it!

Quickie Review

PROS

Good performances

Shai’s attentive direction

Real affection towards film noir tropes

CONS

Thin characterizations

Glacial pacing

SCORE: 6.5/10

lhs

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

Cast: Jocelin Donahue, Izabella Miko, Jamie Harris, AJ Bowen, Liam Aiken, Jim Beaver, Kelly Lynch
Director: Oren Shai
Screenwriter: Webb Wilcoxen, Oren Shai

Movie Review – The Top Secret: Murder in Mind (Japanese Film Festival 2016)

1860141_1

EXPECTATIONS: An intriguing sci-fi mystery that overstays its welcome.

REVIEW: Director Keishi Otomo is perhaps well-known in the West as the director of the acclaimed Rurouni Kenshin trilogy. And while I enjoyed the majority of the trilogy (the end was quite anti-climactic in my opinion), his stand-alone works were quite disappointing.

The sci-fi thriller Platinum Data had a laughable story with inconsistent acting and The Vulture was a sloppily extended TV episode, with all the trimmings. So when I heard that Otomo is doing another sci-fi thriller, I was hesitant. But the intriguing premise and the capable cast were too good to pass up. Will the film upend my low expectations?

movie_016044_192793

Ikko Aoki (Masaki Okada) is a young, talented, rookie crime investigator who is recognized for his skills by the distant and cold Tsuyoshi Maki (Toma Ikuta), the head of Department Nine, a special unit of the Metropolitan Police. What makes the department special is its use of nanotechnology, monitored and implemented by Yukio Miyoshi (Chiaki Kuriyama), to extract memories from the dead.

Never as clear-cut as it is claimed to be, it has its consequences like strong psychological harm to those who undergo the procedure; as well as the ethical complications. Aoki’s first case is to probe into the mind of a man who murdered his entire family. The memories of the man could hold the key to the location of his missing daughter who was absent from the murders but what Aoki discovers is that something more sinister and more evil is out there.

movie_016044_192801

The Top Secret: Murder in Mind, while interesting at times, is unfortunately another disappointing film for director Otomo. To start off, the film certainly looks great and makes the most out of its budget. The production values like its cinematography and the musical score give the film a haunting vibe that all bets are off with the fates of the characters and it works really well.

What is also effective and surprising is Otomo’s lack of restraint towards the execution of violence. The first-person POV’s that the film utilizes is really effective, as it allows the audience the understand the high stakes of the plot as well as giving them a strong sense of chilling foreboding.

movie_016044_192792

The actors try their best with the characters they got and some of them do quite well. Masaki Okada, who hasn’t really impressed me with his acting, is quite good as Aoki; conveying the naivety and commitment of his character convincingly. Toma Ikuta still continues his acting streak after The Mole Song, Prophecy and The Brain Man, as he steals the show as Maki. Ikuta manages to exude a magnetic, yet imposing presence despite his laughable look and make-up.

Nao Omori (Ichi the Killer) has a good role as the down-on-his-luck cop but the film does not give him enough opportunities to him. Lily Franky does really well in a small role as a depraved psychiatrist while Tori Matsuzaka also has a striking and integral cameo.

movie_016044_192791

Like in Otomo’s previous films, the female roles usually get the short end of the stick and unfortunately, that trend continues. Chiaki Kuriyama, who is extremely talented in roles like Exte – Hair Extensions, Kill Bill and others, is utterly wasted as the brain surgeon/former love interest to one of the characters.

Lisa Oda’s performance is wildly inconsistent as she appears to be restrained under the cliched role she inhabits; as well as her unrefined acting chops. She has solid presence and improves over the course of the film, but some of her line delivery does appear annoyingly petulant at times, when it should have more oomph into it.

movie_016044_192799

But what really lets the film down is the storytelling and the script. Mixing too many plot-lines (and not well, I might add), the film ends up being a bit of a mess. The main plot, which is solving the case of the missing daughter/the murders is often interrupted (when it should be smoothly integrated) by another plot-line involving Maki’s tortured past, which involves a dead partner and survivor’s guilt.

It also doesn’t help that it develops potentially compelling themes, like the effects of exposure to on-screen violence and the blurred line between imagination and reality; but ends up being discarded without further insight. Which is quite strange, considering the film’s extended running time. Even some of the motivations of the characters are thrown to the wayside soon after they are mentioned (like Aoki’s motivation for taking the case).

movie_016044_192804

The Top Secret: Murder in Mind could have been a great thriller, due to its interesting premise, production values and nice touches the director implements. But the unfocused script, the extended running time and the inconsistent characterizations/acting lets it down to the point that it becomes another missed opportunity for Keishi Otomo.

movie_016044_192798

Quickie Review

PROS

Some good performances

Surprising lack of restraint towards violence

Intriguing premise

Top-notch production values

CONS

Overlong running time

Inconsistent characterizations

Messy storytelling

Underused supporting cast

SCORE: 6/10

Readers in Australia want to watch the film? Book tickets for it at Japanese Film Festival 2016! Press the logo below for more details!

Cast: Toma Ikuta, Masaki Okada, Koji Kikkawa, Tori Matsuzaka, Chiaki Kuriyama, Lisa Oda, Lily Franky, Kippei Shiina, Nao Omori
Director: Keishi Otomo
Screenwriters: Izumi Takahashi, Keishi Otomo, Lee Sork Jun, Kim Sun Mee; original story by Reiko Shimizu

Movie Review – Destruction Babies (Japanese Film Festival 2016)

news_header_distructionbabies_201605_01

EXPECTATIONS: Something extremely violent and with an actual meaning.

REVIEW: After the genre-bending and genuinely surprising romantic thriller Hime-anole, I did not think that there will be a film that can shock me with its execution and portrayal of violence on screen. That is until I watched a small-scale film with a blunt-force title, Destruction Babies. I am not familiar with the work of Tetsuya Mariko but if his earlier work is as hard-hitting and impacting as Destruction Babies is, you can bet I’ll be looking forward to it.

dstb__0001s

The film starts off at a port town where we first see 18-year old Taira (Yuya Yagira, looking nothing like an 18-year old) getting beat up by a local gang. Looking for a hell of a beating (his own and others’) is Taira’s form of excitement and ecstasy, and the film follows him to a nearby town where he goes through a series of fights that leave an impression to everyone who watches. Taira is always left down-and-out and into a bloody pulp but he always comes back from rock bottom and, if anything, becomes even stronger and more resilient as the night goes on.

Things take a strange turn when a snot-nosed little brat Yuya (Masaki Suda) tags along with Taira. While Taira is a force of nature whose livelihood is dedicated to violence adhering to his own principles, Yuya is an embodiment of chaos and destruction.  Eventually a young club hostess and shoplifter, Nana (Nana Komatsu), gets kidnapped by the duo which then culminates into something even shocking and even transcendent.

news_header_distructionbabies_20160519

The way I describe this film is that it is a cross between Takashi Miike’s polarizing Izo and Shinya Tsukamoto’s Tokyo Fist. Both films are exhaustively ultra-violent, involve commentary on Japanese society and they both involve characters that are almost impenetrable to understand or empathize. But unlike those films, Destruction Babies is a lot more controlled and restrained in its execution. And it is because of that, there is a gradual build-up in the proceedings that pays off in the climax; not just in terms of tension and suspense but in its character portrayals that might make you reevaluate what you just saw.

Mariko’s direction also hews towards a bit of a surrealistic feel, as if when you witness the fights, you almost can’t believe that it is happening, yet you cannot look away. Funnily enough, the feeling goes away when the audience is hit with harsh reality when some of the events make Taira an online phenomenon, with some inventive moments involving found footage.

oc900030_p3001_217483-800x532

The actors certainly hold up their end of the bargain. With a fantastic presence as well as a committed physical stamina, Yuya Yagira has come a very long way since his first role in Hirokazu Koreeda’s film, Nobody Knows. He handles the fight scenes with ease and glee but his performance is always controlled and never over-the-top. His presence is so striking that there’s a scene in the film where he wears a pair of sunglasses, and he looks eerily similar to veteran actor Jo Shishido, who starred in films like Seijun Suzuki’s psychedelic film noir Branded to Kill.

Masaki Suda, who’s been in probably over 1000 films over the past 2 years, plays such a despicable figure here as Yuya. With absolutely no regard to human decency (or anything human really) as well as having an untapped anger that is unleashed when he encounters Taira, Suda becomes unhinged with his performance and it becomes shocking to watch, particularly during a scene set in a train station.

And last but not least, there’s Nana Komatsu. After making such a big impression in Tetsuya Nakashima’s kaleidoscopic thriller, The World of Kanako, her role at first seems like a wasted opportunity, playing a hostess as well as a hostage between the two male leads. But thankfully, her role becomes clear and even surprising when the film reaches the final act and Komatsu plays it out really well. Her role is reminiscent of Kaori Fujii’s role in Tokyo Fist, which is also a role that seemingly is a victim but turns out to be very different.

destruction-babies-6

The supporting cast are all fine with their roles, but none of them stand out as truly as the three leads, with the possible exception of Nijiro Murakami as Shota, Taira’s brother. Although he is much more passive and does not admit to it, he is a lot like his brother and Murakami excels in his performance. It is also great that he eerily looks a lot like Yagira, that they could actually pass as brothers.

With such violence (which can border on repetition) and reprehensible characters, does the film have a point for all of its events? It does, but it is delivered in the transcendent ending with restraint that it might fly over the heads of the audience; particularly for those who are expecting a gut-punch conclusion. But the ending can be seen as quite satisfying, especially when you factor the backdrop of the film, which is a coming-of-age shrine festival and the characters together. Also, there are also very few revelations for the character’s actions and backstories, which will definitely disappoint some.

But overall, Destruction Babies is a brutal, exhausting and challenging piece of work with fantastic performances, some sharp moments about Japanese society as well as some moments that are guaranteed to shock. And to think that this is director Tetsuya Mariko’s most commercial effort, it makes me want to check out his prior work.

poster-distration-babies-v2.jpg

Quickie Review

PROS

Great performances

Surprisingly controlled direction from Tetsuya Mariko

Many moments of shocking brutality

CONS

Polarizing ending

Very few revelations about the characters

SCORE: 7.5/10

Readers in Australia want to watch the film? Book tickets for it at Japanese Film Festival 2016! Press the logo below for more details!

Cast: Yuya Yagira, Masaki Suda, Nana Komatsu, Nijiro Murakami, Denden
Director: Tetsuya Mariko
Screenwriters: Tetsuya Mariko, Kohei Kiyasu

 

Movie Review – Inferno (2016)

inferno-2016-poster-6

EXPECTATIONS: Hopefully an improvement just like Angels and Demons was to The Da Vinci Code.

REVIEW: I remember when I first heard of The Da Vinci Code novel by Dan Brown, I couldn’t really understand the hype of it all and how it became a best-seller. The story felt like it was a more mature version of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, since they both involve going on a quest to obtain the Holy Grail. But having watch the movie, I thought it was a ridiculous, dull and overly serious bore.

However, the sequel, Angels and Demons, was a nice improvement over Code mainly due to the actors being more engaged and the swift pacing, which makes the story more engaging as well as entertaining. The story was still ridiculous but it never felt serious enough for it to be insulting.

So when I heard that Inferno was being released, my expectations were actually positive, as I was hoping for the film to be an improvement over Demons. And when you have a cast with such talents like Felicity Jones, Irrfan Kahn, Omar Sy and others, I was mildly excited. Will it offer a Hell-acious experience or will it offer a time in Hell?

inferno-tom-hanks-felicity-jones

The film starts off with transhumanist scientist Bertrand Zobrist (Ben Foster) running way from authorities from the World Health Organization, led by Bruder (Omar Sy). Zobrist then commits suicide which sets off a series of events which could lead to death of billions.

Meanwhile, Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) awakens in a hospital room in Florence, Italy, with no memory of what has transpired over the last few days. Relating to the death of Zobrist and the events that are being set, Langdon finds himself becoming a major target.

With the help of Dr. Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones) and his knowledge of symbology, Langdon will try to regain his lost memories as well as face the biggest imminent threat he has ever come across.

irrfan-khan

As ridiculous and outlandish as these stories are, they all have their moments of schlocky fun and Inferno has it in spades. Retaining the fast pace and the ticking-clock type of storytelling of Angels and Demons while rarely going in to dull territory of The Da Vinci Code, Inferno entertains once again. The plot unravels in a couple of days unlike Code, which spans a lot more, which lacked some much-needed urgency.

It also helps that there are more improvements as these films continues on. For example, Robert Langdon is portrayed as vulnerable and his mind (known as his sharpest weapon) has been majorly compromised. Not only does this give Hanks more to do with his performance, but it also adds tension to the story, knowing that his character can easily be compromised. Tom Hanks, as always, is dependable and seems to be just as engaged like he was in Demons, which is a plus.

Another improvement are the supporting characters. Usually the characters in the previous films, they were portrayed more as plot devices and causes for artificial tension i.e. they always screw up at narrative cues to force-feed tension to the audience. But in Inferno, the supporting actors add life to their characters and they all are active to the plot.

416722-jpg-r_1280_720-f_jpg-q_x-xxyxx

Felicity Jones is endearingly spirited as the knowledgeable Sienna Brooks, and provides a nice compliment to Hanks. The film is at its best when the two are together, solving riddles and anagrams. And due to Langdon’s injury, it provides Jones the role of being the superior one, and it pays off with some lightly comical moments.

Irrfan Khan is a hoot as the slimy Harry Sims, showing class and superiority to an obscene amount. He even gets in on the action scenes and comes across as a bad-ass. I wish there was more of him on-screen. Omar Sy was well-chosen as Bruder, since he has an inherent likability to him, it makes his character hard to decipher where his allegiance is.

Even smaller roles are more distinct than usual. Ben Foster always has a knack for playing off-kilter characters and it hasn’t wavered a bit for his small role as Zobrist. Sidse Babett Knudsen (so good in After the Wedding) makes the most out of her small role as the head of the World Health Organization. The arc she shares with Hanks is contrived and a bit superfluous, but it does affect and that is mainly due to Knudsen. And last but not least, Ana Ularu makes an impression as the tough-as-nails enforcer, Vayentha.

image

And as much goofy fun as I had with Inferno, there are some glaring flaws that will definitely be an issue to audiences. The story can come across as ridiculous and there are many plot-holes (Like how does Langdon remember his e-mail address and his password so quickly?). Even some of the dialogue comes off as unintentionally hilarious at times (Freeze! World Health Organization! – one bellows with authority).

Themes such as overpopulation and curing the world have been used many times in films/TV (i.e. Kingsman – The Secret Service, Utopia [UK series] and even Grimsby!), but for a half-serious film like Inferno, the themes become underdeveloped and adds nothing new to the story.

There are also some issues with the story that comes across as needlessly forgotten like in the ending, why was there no mention of Irrfan Khan’s character? Or how is it that Langdon can get away for what he did earlier in the film when in the ending, it shows that he did without any consequences?

But other than those flaws, Inferno is a fun time at the movies if you don’t take it seriously. With enthusiastic supporting actors, the fast pace and its ridiculously straight-faced story, I hope to see one more of these films in this unlikely franchise.

5a4c0f93c76fc86cacd38a70e0d0a8be_110967

Quickie Review

PROS

Better supporting characters, thanks to the actors

Fast pace and location scouting

Moments of ridiculously schlocky fun

CONS

Numerous plot holes

Telegraphs its twists too early

Unintentionally funny moments and dialogue

SCORE: 7/10

lhs

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

Cast: Tom Hanks, Felicity Jones, Irrfan Khan, Omar Sy, Ben Foster, Sidse Babett Knudsen, Ana Ularu, Jon Donahue
Director: Ron Howard
Screenwriter: David Koepp, based on the novel “Inferno” by Dan Brown