Category Archives: Thrillers

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.

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-