Category Archives: Thrillers

Anna (2019) Blu-Ray Movie Review By D.M. Anderson


Anna Review

Director: Luc Besson
Writer: Luc Besson (screenplay)
Stars: Sasha Luss, Helen Mirren, Luke Evans

If you’re a fan of French director Luc Besson, chances are you’ve already seen Anna, even if you haven’t yet actually watched Anna.

Which isn’t necessarily intended as criticism. It’s just that he’s made this type of action movie before…more than once. Instead of a French junkie or hapless American drug mule, we have an abused, suicidal Russian girl who’s transformed into a one woman wrecking crew.

Anna (Sasha Luss) is a sad product of her seedy environment before being “rescued” by agent Alex Tchenkov (Luke Evans) to be trained as a Russian assassin, tutored and supervised by crotchety KGB operative Olga (Helen Mirren, terrific as usual). She’s initially promised her freedom in exchange for five years of service, but it’s soon obvious her superiors will never let that actually happen. Meanwhile, she engages in a variety of elaborate missions, including one where she goes undercover as a supermodel to kill an arms dealer. That hit catches the attention of the CIA, headed by Leonard Miller (Cillian Murphy). Caught red-handed, she agrees to become a double agent. And of course, both Tchenkov & Miller end up in the sack with her.

However, the high point of the film has to be an early scene in which Anna – now lethally trained – is required to enter a restaurant and kill an enemy target. What should be a simple hit instead sees Anna squaring-off against a few dozen henchmen in an impressively choreographed bloodbath of guns, fists and fine china. But as impressive as it is, the scene also illustrates one major issue with the film: It’s titular character is so smart, deadly and indestructible that there’s never a moment when her survival is in doubt, negating most of the suspense.

Though Anna could almost be considered a remake of La Femme Nikita, Besson does jumble the narrative through frequent flashbacks, extrapolating important details from previously straightforward scenes to provide numerous – perhaps too many – story twists. Anna herself isn’t nearly as interesting as Nikita, Lucy or Mathilda, nor does Luss provide much more than sexy window dressing. Still, kick-ass female anti-heroes have been the centerpieces of Besson’s best films, so one can forgive him for taking yet-another trip to the well.

As such, Anna doesn’t contain a bevy of surprises or genuine tension, but it’s certainly watchable. It’s a movie directed by a man who’s well-within his comfort zone, and though he underuses an impressive supporting cast, Besson still knows his way around an elaborate action scene. That alone makes it worth checking out on a dull evening.


Domino (2019) Blu-Ray Movie Review By D.M. Anderson


Domino Review

Director: Brian De Palma
Writer: Petter Skavlan
Starring Mikolaj Coster-Waldau, Carice van Houten, Guy Pearce, Eriq Ebouaney, Nicolas Bro, Paprika Steen, Thomas W. Gabrielsson.

Once upon a time, Brian De Palma was an indelible brand name. Arguably the most polarizing director of the so-called “New Hollywood” (which included the likes of Scorsese, Coppola and Friedkin), his work was identified by glorious excess. Not just sex and violence – though there was often plenty of both – but a Hitchcock-influenced visual flair.

That Brian De Palma is long gone. In his place is a hired gun whose name still has some market value, but his heart doesn’t seem to be in it anymore.

That’s not to say Domino isn’t a decent film. It’s a watchable little thriller with Nikolaj Coster-Waldau as Christian Toft, a Danish cop trying to avenge his partner, murdered by suspected terrorist Ezra Tarzi (Eriq Ebouaney). However, Tarzi himself is forced by CIA agent Joe Martin (Guy Pearce) to hunt for a vicious ISIS leader, Wold, which is convenient since Tarzi wants the man dead, too. Meanwhile, Wold engineers a horrific attack at a film festival and plans another one during a bullfight in Spain. It becomes sort-of a race against time as Tarzi hunts for Wold while Toft hunts for Tarzi with the help of Alex (Carica van Houten), who was having an affair with Toft’s partner.

Domino is fairly well-paced with a story just interesting enough to keep our attention, punctuated few bursts of violent action (the mass shooting at the film festival is actually pretty disturbing). The performances are also uniformly decent, Pearce being a particular stand-out. But other than a knock-out rooftop chase that epitomizes classic De Palma, the film could have been directed by anybody.

So while Domino is definitely better than some of Brian De Palma’s recent films, it’s kind-of a shame it isn’t more memorable. Enjoyable enough in the moment, there’s nothing about it that sticks with the viewer for too long afterwards.

SPLIT (2016) Movie Review By Philip Henry

Split Review

Director: Robbie Walsh
Writer: Robbie Walsh
Stars: Robbie Walsh, David Alexander

Not to be confused with the M. Night Shyamalan movie of the same name, this low budget Irish mockumentary follows two Dublin-based hitmen over the course of two days as they go through their hit list. Between jobs they discuss whatever pops into their heads, including the recurring topic of whether Jason Bourne or James Bond is better.

The film-maker is obviously wearing his influences on his sleeve with Tarantino and Scorsese front and centre, but all the conversations and bickering about pointless issues suggests he’s seen Kevin Smith’s Clerks a fair few times too. They’re many of the same influences I have too, so it’s with a heavy heart that I have to admit this film didn’t work for me.

I think the main problem is the tone. The scenes in the car are obviously a nod to Vincent and Jules in Pulp Fiction, but I didn’t find the pair in this movie – Hitman and Hitman2 – at all likeable. Vincent and Jules laugh and joke with each other, they rib each other, these two argue and rarely smile which makes them hard to empathise with.

Early on in the film Hitman2 shoots an innocent woman (Hitman does the same thing later on) and this is a major mistake. At a point in the movie where you should be trying to get the audience on the side of these two, this only made me dislike them both. Carrying out hits for money is one thing, but shooting an innocent passer-by without remorse isn’t going to endear us to the characters. When Vincent shoots Marvin in Pulp Fiction, even though it’s an accident, he regrets it, and when Jules and Vincent execute Brad and ‘Flock of Seagulls’ you can see they’re taking no pleasure in it – it’s just a job. That was how Tarantino got us to care about two guys in such a deplorable line of work. Another excellent movie referenced in this film is Leon and the writer/ director would have done well to follow the Frenchman’s creed if he wanted us to like his main characters: ‘No women, no kids.’

I think this script is pretty close to being really good. It just needed a fresh pair of eyes and a few more drafts to get the tone consistent and decide if it wanted to go for gritty realism or an OTT comic-book feel. This mix of both didn’t work for me. In the space of a few minutes it goes from Clerks style light-hearted nonsense to Ken Loach style nastiness and then back again. The Cohen Bros. said the hardest thing about making a film is starting with a certain tone and maintaining that tone throughout. This film goes from slapstick fights to sombre discussions of death on the beach and all points in between. It just doesn’t know what it is.

The film could’ve done with a clearer through-line. The majority of the first half of the film is just: talk in the car, kill someone, talk in the car, kill someone, etc. but we never hear their motivations beyond money. If they have no other motivation beyond money that just makes them even more unlikable, but if they had been working towards something – the carrot in front of the donkey – and it was something we could relate to, it would’ve gone a long way to tying it all together and maybe even getting me on-side as a viewer. As it stands, it feels like a bunch of shorts tacked onto one another with no real overall story arc.

It’s a clever idea and with a bit more development could’ve been something really special. The technical aspects of the film are well done with the sound and cinematography stand-outs. There is no music in the film except for the end credits, and I think that’s another reason it felt a little flat and bleak to me. Music is a great way to set the tone of a scene, and there’s plenty of royalty free music online, so it doesn’t have to break the budget either.

I know from experience how hard it is to make a low-budget feature, so I commend anyone who gets a film shot, completed and out there, especially in a genre that isn’t mainstream. The film-makers even managed to get this a limited theatrical release in Ireland last year so I congratulate all involved in doing so much with so little resources. I hope this writer/ director continues to make films because although this one didn’t work for me, he obviously has good ideas and I’d be anxious to see what he does next.

The Perfection (2018) Movie Review By Steven Wilkins

The Perfection Review

Director: Richard Shepard
Writers: Eric C. Charmelo, Richard Shepard
Stars: Allison Williams, Logan Browning, Alaina Huffman, Steven Weber

This thriller/horror follows Charlotte (Williams), a musical prodigy as she returns to the school that honed her skills as a youth before her mother took ill forcing her to leave. Upon return she is immediately befriended by Lizzie (Browning), a fellow prodigy. They quickly become an item enjoying each other’s company at the very demanding request of Lizzie.

After a night out together, Lizzie sets out on a low key journey to make a date for her next concert. Along the way she’s stricken with a mysterious illness that harkens to the call of Contracted (2013).

As to not give much away, because this is a twist filled film, we the viewers are taken on an eye opening ride from that point on. A little bit of horror, deception, thrills and shock value, The Perfection is direct to the point never really giving you a reason to want to look away. Not exactly a family movie…at all, so it’s best to sit the kids out for this one. Well worth the view though, enjoy.

Grade: A-


The Dig (2018) Review By Philip Henry


The Dig Review

Director: Andy Tohill & Ryan Tohill
Writers: Stuart Drennan
Stars: Moe Dunford, Lorcan Cranitch, Emily Taaffe, Francis Magee

This low budget Northern Irish film got a limited theatrical release last year and since then has been doing the rounds of the festivals and picking up awards and favourable reviews wherever it screens. It’s just been acquired by a US distributor and is due for another limited release in cinemas over there before it hits streaming and VoD platforms, which is probably where most people will find it.

So for a low budget film shot in 18 days, it’s doing very well. I went into it knowing nothing at a local screening and was able to chat with the producer and one of the directors after their Q&A. The film was shot not far from where I live on a bog during the bitterly cold November in 2017. It’s the sort of barren landscape rarely seen on-screen, but it suits the needs of this story perfectly.

Vikings star Moe Dunford plays Ronan Callahan who returns to his dilapidated family home after fifteen years in jail. He complains to local cop Murphy (Francis Magee) that Sean McKenna (Lorcan Cranitch) is on his land digging holes. Murphy refuses to do anything about it, having nothing but contempt for the ex-con. What the script slowly reveals is that Ronan was in jail for murdering Sean’s daughter. The body was never found and Sean has spent fifteen years systematically searching the huge bog behind Ronan’s home for her body. The thing is, Ronan doesn’t know where she is either, for although he was convicted of the murder, he was drunk that night and can’t remember what happened.

The prospect of watching people dig holes in a bog may not sound like an enticing way to spend your evening, but due to the clever script and direction, the film actually feels more like a murder mystery, albeit one with a very unconventional structure. The script tightens its emotional grip minute by minute, making you want to know what happened just as much as Sean does.

I’ve never seen any of Vikings, so I was unaware of Moe Dunford’s work, but he excels in this role. Ronan is a tortured soul still paying his penance after his jail sentence has been served. He doesn’t remember if he killed the girl or not, but without a clear recollection to the contrary, he takes all the hostility and punishment directed at him like a beaten dog. Lorcan Cranitch, who I’ll always remember as Jimmy Beck from Cracker, plays the broken father, literally searching for closure. Emily Taaffe is perfectly cast as Sean’s surviving daughter Roberta who is just trying to hold her father together. She dutifully brings him his lunch every day on the bog or he’d forget to eat, and that tells us a lot about her dedication and her father’s single-mindedness. Murphy, the cop, is a modern day sheriff, more likely to deliver a gut-punch than a restraining order if he feels he’s justified and Francis Magee seems tailor-made for that part.

It’s refreshing to see a murder/ mystery made in Northern Ireland that doesn’t fall back on the old Troubles clichés. This is a universal story of loss, devotion, grief and love that could’ve been set anywhere, but the landscape and nods to Irish folklore give it an extra layer that other locations might’ve missed. It’s a step towards genre film-making in Northern Ireland and one I welcome. Hopefully this leads to bigger things for the Tohill brothers and writer Stuart Drennan. Keep an eye out for them.

Negative (2017) Movie Review By Steven Wilkins

Negative Review

Director: Joshua Caldwell
Writer: Adam Gaines
Stars: Katia Winter, Simon Quarterman, Sebastian Roché 

When a casual photographer Hollins (Quarterman) snaps a photo of a seemingly unassuming woman named Natalie (Winter), his life is flipped upside down when she shows up to retrieve the photo.

With very little explanation, she informs him that his life is now in danger and in order to survive he must flee with her to Arizona.

After being left in the dark for a spell, she finally explains her shady MI-6 past and all that’s transpired up to the point of the photograph. On the run from the cartel hunting her, this pretty much turns into one lengthy road trip full of empty convo that tries desperately to deliver suspense.

Unfortunately, this movie SEVERELY lacks the one thing you would fully assume would be front and centre action.  It isn’t the final act of the film that you’re rewarded with some bloodshed.  At this point, the story unfolds and you’re either fully committed or completely exhausted and ready for it to just be over with.  One could assume this all looked great on paper and it’s clear this is a low low budget film but the delivery falls slightly short of what it’s aiming for.

Far from a must see but decent enough to burn some time, Negative is nothing more than an excuse to pop some popcorn and log in another viewing. Enjoy.

Rating: C