Category Archives: Thrillers

Parasite (2019) Movie Review By Gianni Damaia

Parasite ReviewGisaengchung (original title)

Director: Bong Joon Ho
Writers: Bong Joon Ho (story), Bong Joon Ho (screenplay)
Stars: Kang-ho Song, Sun-kyun Lee, Yeo-jeong Jo

Not only one of the best films of the year, but what likely will go down as one of the best films ever made, Parasite is my choice for number 1. I know it’s a bold claim, but if ever there was a film so perfectly conceived in the 2000’s, it’s this one. This may not be the choice you expected from the guy that gave this slot to Creed 2 last year (does that shake your faith in me? I don’t care. I love Adonis more than you, dear reader), but when a movie like this comes along it is not something to be ignored. What can I say about Parasite that hasn’t been said already.

This film is so remarkably in control that the genre changes indiscernibly from scene to scene. It is a masterclass in filmmaking. The characters are breathtakingly real. The actors are heart-wrenchingly earnest. The production design of the two primary locations allow for some of the most awe inspiring visuals ever put to screen, allowing for analysis of the subliminal implications for years to come. Parasite is a rare movie that gets better the more you pick it apart. Whether it’s discussing the themes, character motivations, or obscure journey, Parasite is the gift that continually gives more and more with each frame. Is there a flaw in it? I keep seeing it in theatres looking for one, but it constantly alludes me. I would never be so crass as to assume that a film exists flawlessly.

The collaboration involved is such a feat in itself that it renders it nearly impossible. Yet, this may in fact be that film. The one that breaks rules constantly is also the one that cannot be caught in a trap of critique. Maybe it’s heavy handed with it’s topic? But even that statement is so paper thin that it could only knock off a fraction from this being a perfect 10.. See Parasite. There’s nothing more to say. 9.9/10

Knives Out (2019) Movie Review By Gianni Damaia

 

Knives Out Review

Director: Rian Johnson
Writer: Rian Johnson
Stars: Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, Ana de Armas

A masterful genre recreation that cements Rian Johnson’s legacy, Knives Out is easily the most entertaining film of the year topped with a poignant political message that subliminally lines the final moments. Wow. Big words. Knives Out is pure entertainment. It’s relentless energetic. It demands your attention and holds it. It’s an absolute marvel. I shouldn’t need to tell you anymore than that. But I will. Because it wouldn’t be fair otherwise. Knives Out takes an incredible risk. It gives you a considerable amount of information right up front. It also introduces one of the boldest plot devices in recent cinema (a character trait that is absolutely hilarious, but also befuddling upon introduction).

What results is more of a cat and mouse game than a classic whodunit. And you have an emotional connection to the protagonist to boot! But the moment when the shoe drops, the moment you’ve been agonising over for nearly 2 hours (that moment of getting the full truth), is so gratifying that it actually makes me smile just reminiscing about it. The range of emotions Johnson is able to touch on in that brilliant swelling climax is nothing short of remarkable. And the performances! Everyone across the board (save one actress that I won’t signal out but was unenthused by) delivers riveting drama. Each is guilty. What exactly they’re guilty of is the question. And that question becomes the driving force of one of the smartest narratives I’ve ever had the pleasure of sitting through. This is undeniably a boring review.

Who wants to read nothing but raves? As I alluded earlier, my only issue lies in an actress that I believe is miscast. As I say all the time, everyone is capable of good work, some things are just better examples than others. This actress is constantly playing at emotions rather than feeling them and unfortunately she plays a crucial role. It becomes grating. But whatever. This movie is nearly flawless. Please go see Knives Out immediately. Please give me all the sequels so I can hear that delightfully campy foghorn leghorn accent that Daniel Craig has over and over again. 9.5/10

El Bar (2019) Movie Review By Peter Pluymers

El Bar Review

Director: Álex de la Iglesia
Writers: Jorge Guerricaechevarría, Álex de la Iglesia
Stars: Blanca Suárez, Mario Casas, Carmen Machi

“El bar” pretends to be a thriller comedy but falls short on both levels. The film leans rather towards the comedy genre. But in terms of thriller, it’s a bit too weak. What’s actually the ultimate cause of the incident witnessed by a number of persons, isn’t really clear in the end. Are they witnessing a terrorist attack? Or is it the umpteenth viral outbreak? Or are we going back on a zombie tour? If the latter were the case, the film would fit more into the horror genre. It’s not clearly explained. But I think it’s a combination of these assumptions. When you look at the opening sequence, full of microscopic viruses and other whimsical creatures from the microbial world, you are already assuming that some pandemic will break out. But again, it isn’t really clear.

I don’t know why, but I enjoy watching non-English films. Not that I’ve seen many foreign films because the frequent reading of subtitles remains a disturbing factor for me. So, after the Finnish film “Euthanizer “, the Argentinian “Los Olvidados” and the Russian film “T-34“, I didn’t hesitate to watch this film. Even though I didn’t understand one iota from the start (because my knowledge of Spanish is limited to the words “cerveza” and “paella”), the film still managed to hold my attention. And not only because the beautiful and sensual looking actress Bianca Suárez appeared immediately on screen as she makes her way through the busy streets of Madrid. It’s also because of the energetic intro.

The way in which the film jumps nervously back and forth between the soon-to-be victims creates an intense feeling. Not only the rapid pace of the film but also the busy gesticulating of the main characters gives it a fiery character. Maybe it’s normal for people from the big city. Or it’s something typically Spanish. In any case, every spoken word is shouted out here, as if one wants to be sure that everyone has heard it. No quiet, but excited and sometimes theatrical-looking conversations. Only at the moments that the shouting guarantees a deadly outcome, the individuals calm down and the hot-tempered Spanish characters go into whisper mode.

In itself, the terrible event of shooting two innocents isn’t the main focus. It’s the way personalities change in a life-threatening situation. Admittedly, we’ve already seen this in several other films. A film such as “The Divide” for example. At first, it’s all friendly, despite the differences in character and temperament. And then the situation becomes threatening and hostile. The changing moods make this film interesting enough. Just like in real life, bringing together characters of different backgrounds creates tensions on the one hand and interesting developments on the other. It’s quite obvious that a person as Elena (Bianca Suárez) doesn’t frequent such an establishment as this bar often. She just stumbled in to charge her mobile phone. This well-dressed high society looking lady soon realizes that she’s among people of a completely different level in society.

The bar is run by a tough lady called Amparo (Terele Pávez) who won’t let herself get pushed around. Then there’s the gentle and a bit naive looking Satur (Secun de la Rosa) who helps in the bar. A few guests are already present. First, there’s nervous Trini (Carmen Machi), a housewife who spends her days at a slot machine. Next, there’s Nacho (Mario Casas). A creative type of a guy who works for an advertising agency and who immediately falls for Elena. There are also two middle-aged gentlemen (Joaquin Climent and Alejandro Awada). And finally, you have Israel (Jamie Ordóñez). The most eccentric and most colourful figure who comes rushing in at the last minute. A homeless clochard whose unkempt appearance and strange behaviour improves the humorous content of the film.

Once the characters are introduced, one is ready for the radical event and the guessing game can start in which suspicions and accusations swing back and forth. What started as an average day is soon replaced by an atmosphere of dismay and panic after the two innocent men are shot. However, when these two lifeless bodies disappear and an obscenely fat dead man is found on the toilet with a collection of syringes, the whole mood changes into hysteria and fear. The very last chapter shows how survival instinct and the law of the strongest takes over. And all this is shown with the necessary humour and agitation.

The highlight is, of course, the escape plan through a drain hole. Anyone who’s secretly guessing at the outset how the graceful Elena looks like under her stylish clothing will be rewarded. And yes, I guessed she would be wearing sensual-looking garters. I only wondered how she succeeded in what Israel tried to achieve in vain, despite the fact she a nice pair of breasts which are in the way.

Even though “El Bar” is entertaining and intense at times, it’s a movie people will forget easily. You can call this film satirical. And yet it also gives a realistic view of our current society. A society in which terrorist attacks are the order of the day. And I can imagine how anxious people react in such circumstances. The humour, on the other hand, is sometimes razor-sharp and subtle (I had to chuckle during the scene with the suitcase). The most striking acting performance may be attributed to Jamie Ordóñez. The way in which he portrays this marginal is simply brilliant. His appearance contrasts sharply with that of Bianca Suárez. A kind of “Beauty and the Beast “. The sensual Spanish beauty in front of the ugly, unkempt hate preacher and somewhat crazy oboe. So, if you love one-location movies stuffed with emotions and a pinch of dark humour, you should give “El Bar” a chance. It’s definitely worth it.

Headcount (2018) Movie Review By Steven Wilkins

Headcount Review

Director: Elle Callahan
Writers: Elle Callahan (story), Michael Nader
Stars: Isaac Jay, Jay Lee, Ashleigh Morghan

Another great idea on paper poorly delivered on screen.  Head Count is a (for what its worth) horror film set in the supernatural.  Following Evan (Isaac Jay) and his brother Peyton (Rowe) as they meet up for some bonding time, the 2 run into a group of friends heading to a secluded location to party for a few days.  Evan hits it off with one of the members of the party, Zoe (Morghan) and decides to join them for their vacation time.  During the first night around a campfire, scary stories are told.  Evan, not knowing any is prompted to read from a site that holds a plethora of tales.  When he chooses the tale of the Hisji, the group accidentally summons an entity known for being a doppelganger hiding in plain sight to claim its victims.

This movie really suffers from bland gaps in action due to not fleshing any characters out and not enough consecutive thrills.  When the suspense kicks in, it does well, but for whatever reason, it never once capitalizes on itself to finish the job.  In short, if there’s a grittier directors cut, one would definitely want to see it i’m sure, there’s a lot of potential here, even within a second go.

The creepy moments are creepy, the story is good but overall, the poor execution makes this movie a dud in the end.

Grade: C-

The Outsider (2018) Movie Review By Peter Pluymers

 

The Outsider Review

Director: Martin Zandvliet
Writer: Andrew Baldwin
Stars: Jared Leto, Tadanobu Asano, Kippei Shîna

“When you dishonor your boss and you want to show remorse, you give your finger. It’s called otoshimae. I see you’ve got all your fingers.”

Even though I don’t have any affinity with Japanese culture as such and mostly ignore Asian films, I couldn’t resist giving “The Outsider” a chance. Not only because of the fact that Jared Leto is playing in it (a colorful actor who reminds me of Johnny Depp and because of his role as The Joker in “Suicide Squad” can join the club of quirky Hollywood actors), but also because of the central theme of the Yakuza families. I wondered if this could be another successful Netflix original.

I don’t know much about Japanese culture. Only the term Yakuza is known to me. You can see it as the Japanese version of the Italian Mafia. The only difference with their Italian counterparts is that the Yakuza members are an epitome of inner calmness and adopt an intimidating attitude by using ice-cold, angry looks and a threatening, non-loud tone during their conversations. Quite different from the Italian mafia members, who usually want to make an impression by shouting and intense gesticulating while making their point, after which a rival gets a concrete pedestal and they dump him in some Italian river. So I prepared myself for a Japanese-colored “Godfather“-like movie.

The first thing you could criticize is the pace of the film. “The Outsider” is extremely slow at times, indeed. But doesn’t that suite the entire Japan concept? After all, members of the Yakuza families themselves use a certain pace in their conversations by using impressive silences between sentences. On the one hand to show respect. On the other hand maybe also to increase the impact of used words. Have you ever seen a Geisha passing by? They aren’t exactly a paragon of speed. And to be honest, if this movie had lasted an extra hour, I wouldn’t have minded that either. And that’s because of the other positivities you can find in “The Outsider”.

First of all, I thought the acting of the entire cast was marvelous on all fronts. The mix of authentic Japanese who speak their own language for most of the film instead of constantly using broken, bad-sounding English and the acting of Jared Leto was simply stunning. How Nick Lowell ended up in an Osaka prison, remained a mystery to me. He’s the only English-speaking prisoner and is surrounded by mainly Yakuza gang members. Rescuing the Yakuza Kiyoshi (Tadanobu Asano) from a perilous, life-threatening situation gives him a ticket to freedom. And that’s when he chooses to gradually integrate into the Yakuza family. Not an easy task since the members of this Yakuza family aren’t really hospitable and are rather resentful towards white strangers (a Gaijin). However, I wonder if, in reality, a Westerner would get a chance to be included in such a Yakuza-family. I doubt it.

The used cinematography in “The Outsider” was also generally sublime. Maybe a little too dark at certain moments, such as the prison scenes, for example. But in general, the setting in this post-war Japan is really impressive. A mysterious metropolis with dark, narrow alleys, clubs where Sumo wrestlers compete and smoky night clubs. The only thing that tries to break through this darkness is the sometimes bright neon lights.

Expect some violent scenes too. You can’t do without it in a gangster movie, I guess. There are quite a few victims. Lots of gunshots and knives carving around. Even a self-mutilation scene where a few fingers are sacrificed isn’t missing.

My limited knowledge of Asian film material and Japanese customs made sure everything came across as fairly authentic to me. Others, who immersed themselves in this matter, may have noticed imperfections. And perhaps the content has all been done before. I even read somewhere that there was a lot of fuss about casting Jared Leto. And the term “whitewashing” came up. Didn’t we have the same discussion about Matt Damon’s contribution to “The Great Wall“? By the way, I thought Jared Leto was suitable for this role as the silent (probably because he doesn’t speak the language), cold-blooded and emotionless Nick. He reminded me a bit of Keanu Reeves in “47 Ronin“. Only the speed with which he was accepted in the Shiromatsu Yakuza clan, seemed greatly exaggerated. And the emotional relationship between Nick and Miyu (Shioli Kutsuna) felt like a mandatory item.

But just as I scoured the internet for information about “The Zodiac Killer” after watching the movie “Zodiac,” I couldn’t resist consulting Wikipedia about the Yakuza phenomenon. That means this film also left an impression. If slow crime movies about the Mafia interest you, and this in a Japanese environment, then I can definitely recommend this movie to you.

Low Tide (2019) Movie Review By Peter Pluymers

 

Low Tide Review

Director: Kevin McMullin
Writer: Kevin McMullin
Stars: Jaeden Martell, Keean Johnson, Shea Whigham

Once and a while I like to watch a well-made coming-of-age movie. Such a film about juvenile innocence in which a radical event shakes the pleasant life of one or more young people. A life experience many of them look back at when they are adults. Like in “Stand by me” where a group of comrades goes looking for a corpse to become famous. In “Mud” it’s about two rascals helping a fugitive. And “Rockaway” shows two brothers who come up with a daring plan to get rid of their violent father. In most cases, things get a bit out of hand, making the impact on the involved kids even greater. Or it should be such a fairy-tale story as “The Goonies” (also aimed at a youthful audience) with a whopper of a happy ending so that you can walk around for days with such a broad smile that people are convinced that a coat hanger got stuck in your mouth.

Admittedly, “Low Tide” is a bit reminiscent of “The Goonies“. Here you have two brothers, Peter (Jaeden “The Book of Henry” Martell) and Alan (Keean “Alita: Battle Angel” Johnson), who find a bag of gold coins while plundering beach houses of tourists. Golden coins of such value that it could be a way out of their futureless life situation. The whole story is situated in a remote region of Jersey Shore. A shabby neighborhood where fishery plays an important role. And tourism is also flourishing thanks to the wealthy day-trippers from the surrounding areas. The teenagers call those day-trippers Benny’s (residents of Bayonne, Elizabeth, Newark, New York). Alan, Red (Alex “A-X-L” Neustaedter) and Smitty (Daniel Zolghadri) hate them and therefore adhere to one rule during their raids. Homes of the local population are categorically shunned when they go looting once again.

There’s something charming about this film. It radiates frivolity and carefreeness when you see the three bosom friends joking at the fair.

Acting tough and flirting with girls passing by. A summery atmosphere full of joy and mischiefs. Of course, their nocturnal escapades cannot be approved. For them, it seems like a game and a way to get money to sponsor their daily activities. Parental control is nil since Alan’s father has been at sea for some time. The rest seems to be parentless (no idea what Red’s family situation is) or their parents have no time or desire to worry about them. Even when Smitty loses a shoe and breaks a leg during such a nocturnal adventure, the three don’t seem to worry. It’s only when Peter is involved and a valuable treasure is found that the tensions starts to rise. Suddenly there’s discord within the close friends’ club. Distrust and greed arise. And when the local police officer Kent (Shea Whigham), who keeps an eye on one of the rascals, begins to meddle in their affairs, the real personality of some is struggling for dominance.

Despite the generally fascinating acting and the beautiful images presented in this film, there are a few shortcomings in this movie. First of all, the story itself is interesting, but on the other hand, it’s a bit too simplistic. You can easily summarize it all in a few short sentences. But most of all, there’s mainly a lack of tension. It’s quite obvious that it won’t end well. And that such a handsome guy like Alan will get some major attention from girls he meets, even though she’s a Benny, with a romantic tête-à-tête as a result, is not really a surprise and something you could expect. Red’s aggressiveness reaches a peak as his suspicion grows more and more. And they begin to feel the hot breath of Sergeant Kent down their neck. And yet the film fails to end up in an apotheosis. The outcome was actually disappointing, even though it was a logical conclusion. No spectacular firework (as can be seen at the end of the movie) and far too predictable. Unfortunately, because it still was a charming film.