Movie Review – Den of Thieves

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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

PROS

Good action scenes

Fun performance from Butler and a good performance from Jackson

Good musical score from Cliff Martinez

CONS

Rehashes too much of Heat

Too many unnecessary scenes that pad out the run time

A terrible twist ending

SCORE: 5/10

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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

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Movie Review – Chasing the Dragon

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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?

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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…

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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.

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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.

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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

PROS

Good supporting cast of veterans

Andy Lau delivers a subtly menacing performance

Vibrant cinematography

Good action scenes

CONS

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Quickie Review

PROS

Liam Neeson still delivers the goods

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

Action scenes are well done

CONS

Sloppy and derivative story

Underused supporting cast

Many unintentionally funny moments

SCORE: 6/10

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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

 

Movie Review – The Snowman

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EXPECTATIONS: A film that is warmer than its frosty reputation.

REVIEW: Another week, another film set in the snowy terrain. This week, we have The Snowman, a serial killer thriller starring Michael Fassbender, Rebecca Ferguson and a embarrassment of talent. But unlike the prior film, The Mountain (of Cheese) Between Us, this film has achieved quite a negative reception and brutal reviews from almost every major publication. So what must one do if one were to go into a film like this?

It helps to have an open mind. Films in the past like The Shining (1980), Scarface (1983) and 2001: A Space Odyssey (not released in 2001) gained negative reviews in the past, but over time, the films have garnered a much more positive reception; so there is a chance that The Snowman may be an unappreciated gem.

It could also help that you watch the film with an ironic bent in mind. Laughter really is the best medicine, regardless of the intention and it can get one through films painlessly and even have give films a new reputation as a unintentional comedy classic eg. The Wicker Man (2006) and The Room.

And of course, there’s the much more unorthodox solution of going in a film while being inebriated from either mild amounts of alcohol and cough syrup, but that is not recommended. With all that in mind and all that negative baggage, is it possible to actually enjoy The Snowman for what it is? Let’s cool off and delve into this thing, Mr Freeze-style.

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What an ice-hole.

Michael Frost-bender stars as Harry Hole (no, really), an investigator who’s down on his luck due to his addictions and his zero-temperature status of a marriage with his ex-wife (Charlotte Gains-breeze).

He is then brought back into the fray where an elusive serial killer known as The Snowman starts killing again, continuing a streak of murdered women. With the help of a young, experienced recruit (Rebecca Frigid-son), Hole has to connect the streak of murders to the current murders to stop The Snowman from striking again.

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This is a man who can’t believe what he got himself into.

So with the alcohol/cough syrup discount, an open mind and an ironic bent in check, did I enjoy The Snowman? Absolutely not. But let’s not start this on the negative side. The cinematography by Ski-on Beebe (too many great films to mention) is terrific, as it conveys the chilling territory of the locations in Norway quite well. And the musical score by M-arctic-o Beltrami does deliver a sense of urgency (along the side of unintentionally hilarious timing) to the proceedings.

And like a sense of warmth in the winter, it’s gone in an instant and we delve into the negatives. With this much talent in the cast (Val Chill-mer, Snow-by Jones, J.K. Ski-mmons, Snowy Sevigny and others), you expect them to give passionate and heated performances that would at least elevate the script. Unfortunately, that never happens.

Almost all of the performances are so stilted and petrified that it’s almost as if they were all kept in a meat freezer for weeks and just as the cameras started to roll, they were finally let out to deliver their lines on cue. It’s awe-inspiring to think that this much talent is given next to nothing to work with and are left out there in the cold.

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That’s the face of a woman who knows that she deserves better.

There’s a scene where Charlotte Gains-breeze and Michael Frost-bender are engaging in a prurient fashion that is so ill-executed that it brings new meaning to the word “frigid”. The only bright (or at least, easily seen) light out of the cast is Rebecca Frigid-son, who actually shows signs of life, until her character is unceremoniously expended.

Speaking of being unceremoniously expended, almost of the female characters are either damsels-in-distress, sex objects or murder victims. Hell, some of them are all three. To think at this day of age, the story could be updated to be timely and thematic but the film has the nerve to have a character that is eerily reminiscent of Harvey Windbag Weinstein (with an out-of-this-world accent).

Even with that in check, the story itself is just so dull and goes by at a glacial pace, the film makes polar ice caps look like cars in the Fast and Furious films. The killer himself (or is it herself?) is so predictable that the film should have featured a siren that goes “HONK! HONK!” when the person arrived. And the backstory and motive for the killer is even worse, which adds to the sexism directed to the female characters. It is the solid black foreshadowing, the many scenes of overdone exposition and the horrific editing (credited to Claire Ski-mpson and later credited to Thelma Snow-Cone-maker) that kills every source of heated tension.

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That’s the face of a man who just woke up and realized what film he is in.

But let’s give special mention to Val Chill-mer. Featuring in the film via flashbacks, he brings much-needed and unintentional vitality (or insanity) to the film that audiences will be shocked and awed at his appearance and especially the dubbing. While it is very understandable why Chill-mer was dubbed due to sounding like Sylvester Stallone on Quaaludes (NOTE: Here’s the proof!), the dubbing is so terrible that American distributors of Shaw Brothers films would be rolling on the floor laughing if they witnessed it.

Even if Chill-mer was dubbed properly, the script doesn’t help anyone involved whatsoever, since it is in desperate need of defrosting. According to an interview with director Snow-mas Alfredson, he said that only 85% of the script was completed. If that’s true, then the film is more nourished than I thought since the trailer actually has many scenes foreshadowed that are not in the finished product.

Dialogue exchanges border on farce like in a scene where Hole asks a colleague for some files that you’ll be begging for icicles to pierce your ears with; film techniques such as cutaways and dramatic zooms are utilized to laughable effect (every time a snowman appears) and the violence is so overstated, that it comes across as funny (like scenes from M Fright. Shyamalan‘s The Happening). Hell, even the narrations (which in one particular scene is via walkie-talkie) is embarrassing to witness.

How could this much talent involved could make such a disastrous film? To be honest, it doesn’t matter what the answer is. Even with Val Chill-mer‘s appearance and Snow-mas Alfredson‘s explanation, it doesn’t matter what happened behind the scenes; what matters is what’s on-screen. And after witnessing this disaster, someone out there is just begging to get their ice kicked.

But hey, snow film is better than no film, right? WRONG!

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That’s the face of a man who’s career is steadily going down the toilet.

Quickie Review

PROS

Good cinematography and effective score

Rebecca Frigid-son

CONS

Everything else

SCORE: 1/10

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

Cast: Michael Fassbender, Rebecca Ferguson, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Jonas Karlsson, J.K. Simmons, Val Kilmer, David Dencik, Toby Jones, Chloe Sevigny, James D’Arcy
Director: Tomas Alfredson
Screenwriters: Hossein Amini, Peter Straughan, Søren Sveistrup

Movie Review – The Villainess

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EXPECTATIONS: A career-defining role for Kim Ok-bin. And also, kick-ass action scenes!

REVIEW: Kim Ok-bin is a South Korean actress that I have been following for a long time (not literally!) and I have always found her to be very talented in a variety of roles, like her dramatic film debut in the horror Voice, to her charming and adorable role in the sex comedy/musical Dasepo Naughty Girls and her comedic role in The Accidental Gangster and the Mistaken Courtesan.

But it was when she worked with Park Chan-wook for the dark comedy/vampire film Thirst that she started having an acting emergence. Nailing both dramatic parts, comedic parts and especially the femme fatale parts like a pro, she won many awards for her performance. Ever since then, her roles have gotten a bit smaller than expected, with small roles like The Front Line and Actresses; and she ended up in box office flops like 11 A.M.

Now, after eight years since her role in Thirst, she finally has a leading role in The Villainess, an action extravaganza from Jung Byung-gil, the director from the action/crime flick Confession of Murder. Gathering great buzz from Cannes, including garnering a 4-minute standing ovation, people have been highly anticipating this. Is the film worth the buzz?

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The film starts off with a spectacular 10-minute action scene, entirely shot in POV, as the main character takes down like 40 people through hallways, staircases and even a personal gym, leading to the title card. So it is advised that audiences should not come late to the screenings, as this takes place straight away after the opening credits.

The film is about the story of a ruthless female assassin named Sook-hee (Kim Ok-bin), who from an early age (residing in China, with her father) has been taught to kill. She becomes a sleeper agent for South Korea’s intelligence agency after being caught, which they promise her freedom after 10 years of service. But it’s not all that easy when two men (Shin Ha-Kyun and Bang Sung-jun) from her past and present make an unexpected appearance in her life, bringing out her deep, dark secrets.

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Let’s get to the good and bad already. The good? Kim Ok-bin herself. As seen in The Villainess, she has finally acquired a leading role that is worthy of her talents. Having capable martial arts training before tackling the role, she displays grace and capable physical prowess in her action scenes. Whether she is riding a motorcycle, scaling buildings, firing guns and throwing axes, she easily convinces as Sook-hee, the assassin.

As Sook-hee, the woman within, Kim nails the role with gusto. Lending depth and even a bit of insanity (like her character in Thirst) to her soulful, yet vengeful archetype of a character, she again shows why she made such a fuss back in 2009. If she doesn’t get better roles after this, then something seriously is wrong out there.

As for the supporting cast, they are all fine in the archetypal roles. Shin Ha-kyun (who plays an adversary to Kim Ok-bin for the third time since Thirst and The Front Line) is great as Joong-sang, as he conveys menace in a scary, yet understated manner. Bang Sung-jun is likable and brash as Hyun-soo, a love interest to Sook-hee who is more than he seems. But besting both of the men is Kim Seo-hyung. Playing a mentor character to Kim Ok-bin once again since Voice, she just nails the part of the ice cold personae, as Kwon-sook.

Now, let’s get to the action scenes. Overall, they are fantastic. Apart from the opening scene, there are scenes on motorbikes, buses, edges of buildings, restaurants and other settings, and they are all shot with so much energy and verve that it becomes almost surreal. There’s a scene where Sook-hee tries to escape from a training facility and the way the world uncovers (with smooth editing and long takes) is just so dream-like, it becomes almost enchanting. Some may find it disorienting due to the style utilized i.e. handheld camera shots, so those who suffer with motion sickness be warned.

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Now let’s get to the bad. Or a better word, mixed. The story itself is nothing new; basically an amalgam of prior assassin films like La Femme Nikita and others, but the storytelling is refreshingly free from spoon-feeding and pandering towards the audience, unlike Hollywood blockbusters, which would have characters stand to point at something and explain the plot. But the plot is told with lots of flashbacks that it does tend to get convoluted at times. Thankfully, the story is told with three distinct acts that makes it clear enough for the audience to latch on to.

Also, the drama in the film tends to be quite cheesy at times. Although some of the cheesiness makes sense due to the events of the plot but when it becomes more sincere, some of the drama becomes so melodramatic, that it can be quite laughable. And another flaw (which may be laughable itself) is the level of violence. With the amount of weapons involved including guns, knives, hammers, axes, ropes, cars, hairpins etc; it is bloody, gory and uncompromising, which will both thrill and befuddle, so be warned.

Overall, The Villainess is a much-needed shot in the arm in terms of action films, female-led films, Kim Ok-bin and South Korean cinema. I hope that after this film, both Kim Ok-bin and director Jung Byung-gil will be appreciated for their efforts and move on to do more ambitious work.

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Quickie Review

PROS

Kim Ok-bin gives a fantastic performance

Good supporting cast

Spectacular action sequences

Storytelling is refreshing due to lack of spoonfeeding

The editing and camerawork create a surreal feel

CONS

Cheesiness in the storytelling

The story can be quite convoluted

SCORE: 8/10

Cast: Kim Ok-bin, Shin Ha-kyun. Bang Sung-jun, Kim Seo-hyun, Jung Hae-kyun
Director: Jung Byung-gil
Screenwriters: Jung Byung-gil, Jung Byung-sik

Movie Review – Memoirs of a Murderer (JAPAN CUTS 2017)

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EXPECTATIONS: An inferior remake to the energetic and unruly original.

REVIEW: Remakes are always a risky proposition nowadays. While some can be an improvement over the original source, some can be inferior and while some can be distinct that it can stand on its own, some can be unnecessary and can be seen as a cash-grab.

In the case of Memoirs of a Murderer (not to be confused with the 2003 South Korean film, Memories of Murder), it is a remake of the 2012 South Korean film, Confession of Murder, which was an unruly, sloppy yet energetic piece of work. Will the film replicate the pacing and tone shifts of the original or will it go its own way and stand out as a superior entry in the reputations of remakes?

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Back in 1995,  rookie detective Makimura (Hideaki Ito) was involved in a string of strangulations, which unfortunately led to nowhere, and now in present-day Tokyo, the statute of limitations on the crimes is expiring. It just so happens that the killer knows exactly where he stands in regards to the law, and the next day he plans an elaborate press conference exposing himself and announcing publication of his memoir.

It becomes an instant best-seller (if not only due to the controversial content) and the only murderer Masato Sonezaki (Tatsuya Fujiwara) revels in the spotlight. You can guess that the people related to the victims would not be so happy when they hear of the news and they take matters to their own hands. But there is more to the tale when a certain twist comes into the proceedings that eventually turn the tables.

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Does the film stand out in its own way? Yes, but not in a good way. While the original had frenetic pacing and reveled in the ridiculousness of the plot, the remake takes it seriously and plays it straight. While that not may sound bad, but the direction by Yu Irie makes it very bland and to be frank, television-esque.

The cinematography, the production values, the editing etc; all blend together in to make a porridge-like package that does nothing to stand out, making the film tedious and inconsequential. Even though it is set in Japan, very little of the film is reflective of its setting. It is very unfortunate because the source material and the cast end up sinking along with it.

The cast are all fine in their roles and do what they can under Irie’s direction. Hideaki Ito does grizzled cop quite well and is a good compliment to the annoyingly slick Tatsuya Fujiwara. The latter surprises by not relying on his acting histrionics and provides a suitably menacing performance.

The supporting cast are all good in their roles, although the script does not help them much. Kaho, Ryo Iwamatsu, Koichi Iwaki, Misuru Hirata and Anna Ishibashi lend presence and that is basically it.

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There is one major difference in the story when compared to the original and that relates to the twist which occurs in the middle and while the change could have been admirable, it is ruined entirely due to the casting. For those who know who the actor (or actress) is, the casting alone ruins the twist and makes it horn-honkingly obvious.

Overall, Memoirs of a Murderer is an inferior remake as well as a bland film that does nothing to stand out from the crowd and really should belong in television, rather than be a theatrical release. It is quite a shame since lead performances are quite good and the source material seen through Japanese lens could have led to a more compelling project.

Quickie Review

PROS

Good performances from the leads

CONS

Bland productions values and direction

Ruined twists

SCORE: 4/10

Cast: Hideaki Ito, Tatsuya Fujiwara, Toru Nakamura, Ryo Iwamatsu, Koichi Iwaki, Misuru Hirata, Anna Ishibashi, Kaho
Director: Yu Irie
Screenwriters: Kenya Hirata, Yu Irie, based on the 2012 film, Confession of Murder

Movie Review – The Beguiled [2017] (Sydney Film Fest 2017)

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EXPECTATIONS: A remake that capably stands on its own.

REVIEW: Sofia Coppola is a film-maker that I admit, haven’t seen much of her work, apart from Lost in Translation and Marie Antoinette. Known for her filmmaking approach to humanizing her subjects with unorthodox methods like gentle pathos, looking through different character points-of-views outside the norm and the use of anachronisms, Coppola has achieved a reputation of being a director that is both rebellious and restrained.

And now, we have her attempting her first remake, based on the 1971 film of the same name, starring Clint Eastwood. With her distinct direction, her talented cast of veterans and rising talent and top-notch crew, composed of collaborators and first-timers, will the film leave the audience beguiled or bewildered?

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Set during the American Civil War in 1863, the film starts off with Amy (Oona Lawrence), a student who is out on a stroll, picking mushrooms. She then stumbles upon an injured Union soldier, John McBurney (Colin Farrell) and offers him help at an all-female Southern boarding school, led by Martha Farnsworth (Nicole Kidman).

Reluctant to help, yet bound by morals of human decency (and amusingly, it’s the Christian thing to do), they all decide to help McBurney by locking him into the music room while they tend to him. Soon, mild attractions grow from the older students, from Edwina (Kirsten Dunst) to Alicia (Elle Fanning) and it then simmers to something more prurient, leading to disastrous consequences.

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As for any remake, it is difficult to review one without comparing it to the original. In the case of the latter, the story is told through McBurney’s point of view, which implies the use of the male gaze towards the women. But in the case of the former, the story is told through the point of view of the women.

This assures that the remake has a fresh angle on the story and Coppola makes the most out of it. In one of many surprising moves, the film actually has an alarming sense of humour. Character interactions revolving around the object of affection (in this case, McBurney) are witty, amusing and sometimes hilarious, leading this to be one of Coppola’s most verbose films. Coppola also makes fun of cinematic tropes of the female gaze i.e. McBurney in the role as a handsome gardener and all of the innuendos that come with that trope like pruning and tending.

In the original, the tone was much more lurid and melodramatic, to the point of being Gothic. But in the remake, Coppola aims for more of a low-key vibe, which gives the film a claustrophobic feel as well as shrouds character motivations, giving the film some tension. Major props goes to cinematographer Philippe le Sourd (who shot Wong Kar-wai‘s The Grandmaster), as he captures the claustrophobia with a hazy, shrouded look that gives it a beautiful, yet haunting atmosphere.

When McBurney arrives at the school, the women are basically reminded of what is or could be outside of their world; the possible beauty or horror of it all. And as the slow-burn pacing gradually becomes more tumultuous, the characters reveal how they truly feel and the tension pays off. And thankfully, the film is at a brisk running time of 93 minutes, which gives the story some much-needed brevity.

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The actors certainly hold up on their end, giving calculated performances that lend credibility to Coppola’s vision. Colin Farrell is great as McBurney, the masculine foil, and he conveys the dimensions of his character convincingly, but even better, he switches between them with such ease, it is quite hard to know whether he is sincere or he is devious.

Nicole Kidman gives a typically masterful performance as Farnsworth, who keeps her emotions in check for the safety of her school. What is quite amusing and interesting is that she seems to enjoy her grasp of power over her students, and yet, when McBurney enters the picture, there seems to be a bit of a battle for power between each other. So the audience is left with the conundrum of whether Farnsworth actually has feelings for McBurney or she considers him as an power struggle; something that disrupts her sense of pride. It is twists like this that makes the remake satisfyingly timely and makes it stand on its own.

The supporting cast are all up to the task as well, with Kirsten Dunst as the sorrowful and world-weary teacher, Edwina; Elle Fanning as the rebellious and angsty Alicia, Oona Lawrence as the stalwart Amy; Angourie Rice as the cynical and headstrong Jane (clearly emblematic of Farnsworth) and the pairing of Addison Reicke and Emma Booth as the innocent and impressionable Marie and Emily.

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As for the film’s flaws, the source material is pure pulp, and for Coppola’s understated approach to the material, it does, for the lack of a better word, emasculate it. And considering the setting of the story, it feels a bit strange to see the film set in the Civil War being a bit, well civil.

But, all of this basically comes down to audience expectations more than anything else, as it is the same story from a female’s perspective and as for the claustrophobic feel Coppola is going for, any clutter from the outside (apart from McBurney) would probably distract more than compliment the story.

Overall, The Beguiled is a worthy remake that shows Coppola’s gradual ascension as a filmmaker and with a fantastic cast and crew in tow, the film, like the female characters, is not to be messed around with.

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Quickie Review

PROS

Refreshing angle on the source material

Coppola’s maturing direction

Fantastic performances from the ensemble cast

Moody and atmospheric cinematography by Le Sourd

CONS

Too understated for its own good

Left out historical details may annoy some

SCORE: 7/10

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

Cast: Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst, Elle Fanning, Oona Laurence, Angourie Rice, Addison Riecke, Emma Howard
Director: Sofia Coppola
Screenwriter: Sofia Coppola, based on the novel by Thomas P. Cullinan and the screenplay by Albert Maltz and Irene Kamp

Movie Review – Dead or Alive

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EXPECTATIONS: Something downright gonzo from maverick director Takashi Miike.

REVIEW: Takashi Miike, back in the V-cinema era, was a complete madman. Not in a human state, but in his creative state, the images and ideas he comes up with can only come from a man who is completely bonkers.

This is the man who directed a film which had to have barf bags in some of the cinema screenings. This is the man who filmed a TV episode for a horror anthology that had been banned for being too disturbing. This is the man who filmed the most amazing cockfight ever seen on screen. Okay, the last one is debatable but the point is, this is a man whose filmography cannot be seen without one thinking with befuddlement and interest.

With a man who has made so many gonzo works (including Fudoh: The Next Generation, Audition, Gozu, Ichi the Killer, Visitor Q etc.) Dead or Alive would rank somewhere near the middle in the gonzo scale. With V-cinema stalwarts Sho Aikawa and Riki Takeuchi as the leads in an old-school cop vs. criminal story, you know Miike has got something up his sleeve.

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Dead or Alive starts off with the most energetic and craziest 10 minutes that few have rivaled to this day. Already, we see people getting blown to bits, a woman jumping to her death, corrupt cops snorting a LONG line of cocaine, sex scenes of a homosexual nature and more gonzo goodness.

That basically is the litmus level telling whether the film is right for you. But despite all of the bizarre flourishes, the story is surprisingly reserved, consisting of your typical cops and robbers conflict, with themes like loyalty, brotherhood and justice.

One of the best touches of the film is the bizarre sense of humour towards genre tropes. Films of this type usually glamourizes the criminals in favour of sympathy or empathy toward the characters. But in the case of Dead or Alive, criminals are portrayed as they are: scums of the earth.

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There’s a stupefying scene where Aikawa’s character asks one of his informants for information, but as the scene plays out, the informant is getting ready for a bestiality shoot, including the actress and dog. And one other scene that is even more graphic, a mob boss is seen torturing a woman by forcing her to swim in a pool of her own feces. It is scenes like this (including the introduction and the ending) that makes the film a cult-classic pleasure.

But is there substance to back the film up? Surprisingly, there is ample evidence of it. The lead characters, Ryuuichi and Jojima, are given plenty of backstory; like how one is trying to save his terminally ill daughter while the other is trying to reconcile with his estranged brother. They both have clearly defined motives and are thankfully portrayed with enough sympathy and empathy by Sho Aikawa and Riki Takeuichi. They are both clearly aware of the film’s intentions and are clearly having fun with their archetypal roles, elevating them with both charisma and acting chops.

The supporting cast are all film with Miike collaborators like Ren Osugi, Renji Ishibashi and others are all great with their roles, as they both honour and turn their roles on its head with gusto.

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In the case of flaws, there are many that need to be mentioned and considered. Firstly, the film’s pacing is quite haphazard, considering the frenetic nature of the introduction and conclusion. For some, the film’s second act is a slow crawl compared to all of its madness.

Secondly, the treatment of women in the film is quite disturbing and will definitely turn people off. It can be seen as a commentary towards Miike fans who enjoy his brand of bonkers gonzo violence or it can be seen as a commentary on misogyny. Either way, the message is clear: misogyny is an unspeakable and irredeemable evil. And lastly, the humour can be quite polarizing. For some, it can be seen as hilarious while others will see it as either silly and even offensive.

But if one were to describe Dead of Alive in singular words, it would be as it goes: Gonzo. Unforgettable. Crazy. Silly. Bizarre. And those words encapsulate what Dead or Alive is, in a nutshell. For those who are daring, this is the film that will blow you away, whether you’ll like it or not. I guarantee it.

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Quickie Review

PROS

Great leading performances

Fantastically bizarre sense of humour

Enough substance towards the characters

CONS

Irregular pacing

Humour will turn some people off

Treatment towards women

SCORE: 7.5/10

Cast: Riki Takeuchi, Sho Aikawa, Renji Ishibashi, Susume Terajima, Ren Osugi
Director: Takashi Miike
Screenwriters: Ichiro Ryu

Movie Review – Extraordinary Mission

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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?

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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)

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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