Escape Room (2019): Action / Adventure / Drama

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For a chance to win $10,000 finding their way out of a challenging escape room, six strangers must work together for, ultimately, a chance to save their lives.

Right… So… If you are under 15 y/o: Enjoy the dynamic of the characters, the kind of far-fetched yet enjoyable riddles, and the brilliant production design, art direction, and set decoration.

If you are over 15 y/o: Still watch it if you want to but I would go for something more… extravagant: “Cube” (1997), “The Experiment” (2001), “Identity” (2003), “Exam” (2009), “Triangle” (2009), “The Killing Room” (2009), “Coherence” (2013), “The Belko Experiment” (2016).

And these are just on the top of my head. There are dozens more. Two things about “Escape Room”: On one hand, when the producers imply that there will be more, they shouldn’t be giving away so much information in the end. It destroys the mystery by answering most of the burning questions. On the other hand, if I had to recommend it that would be for… Taylor Russell and Deborah Ann Woll!

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The Raid 2 (2014): Action / Crime / Thriller

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Straight after the raid’s massacre, Rama goes undercover to expose the corruption within the police force, no matter how deep the rabbit hole goes.

There have not been many sequels that were expected to be better than the first installments. Especially, when the ones that spawned the sequels were shockingly good. Well, “The Raid 2” is one of these exceptions with Gareth Evans and Iko Uwais pushing the bar to the limit.

Starting two hours after “The Raid: Redemption” (2011), ending up two years later, “The Raid’s 2” uncut violence almost tripled the body count, got banned by the Film Censorship Board of Malaysia, was censored in the US, got an audience member faint at the Sundance Film Festival world premiere, and mesmerised millions of martial arts fans, and action junkies all over the world.

With the first cut being around three and a half hours long, the final cut is still almost 50 minutes longer than the first “Raid”. 150 minutes of gory deaths, phantasmagoric car chases, extreme martial arts, over 60 types of guns, police corruption, mob hits, Rama going berzerk, and… “Hammer Girl”, “Baseball Bat Man”, and “The Assassin”.

Directing, Editing, DOP, Choreography, Stunt coordination, and all cast and crew deserve a standing ovation. An amazing opening sequence, with a stunning second act, and a grand finale fight scene which took 6 weeks to prepare and 8 days to film. An ABSOLUTE MUST!!!

 

P.S. If you are interested, this is how Gareth Evans shot the “how-the-f@!#-did-they-do-that” car chase scene: (IMDb, 2019)

The Raid: Redemption (2011): Action / Thriller

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When a S.W.A.T. team raids a 30-storey building run by a drug dealer and his army, the tables turn and the hunter becomes the prey.

After “Merantau” (2009), Indonesian-born Iko Uwais collaborates for a second time with Welsh-born Gareth Evans and a low budget action/thriller turns into a high octane, brutal, fast-paced, bloody massacre. The Indonesian, indigenous martial art style Pencak Silat faces numerous other martial arts from all over the world. Combining fists, elbows, knees, kicks, ground techniques, locks, and more, people fly down the stairs and go through doors, walls, and windows. To top it up, they get chopped up by knives, machetes, and swords, and have their brains blown up by pistols, shotguns, machine guns, and grenades in “30 floors of chaos”. Another day in the office…

Highly recommended for the action-packed film lovers and example to follow for the big budget, nonsensical blockbusters. Also, Yayan Ruhian and Joe Taslim will make your jaw hit the floor!

Revenger (2018): Action / Crime / Thriller

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An ex-cop shows up in a prison island, shared by 12 Asian countries, where convicts are left to die, with the sole purpose to find his family’s killer and avenge their death.

This one went totally under the radar. The story doesn’t even remotely resemble something that could have happened in reality so, should you decide to watch it, don’t pay too much attention to the parts that don’t make too much sense. Why would you watch it then?

Bruce Khan! As per IMDb, he is the holder of:

  • A 4th-degree black belt in Hapkido,
  • A 4th dan in Korean Karate,
  • A 5th dan in Korean Kwal Bup,
  • A 4th dan in Korean Kyeoktooki.

And he is a lot more than that as a person. Like Bruce Lee, he had a severe back injury only to come back stronger. Hats off! He possesses agility, accuracy, speed, power… Honestly, I was not aware of the chap but I’m glad I got to know him. Certainly, I would have omitted certain characters and sequences in the film but once you watch it you’ll see why it was worth your while. Enjoy!

Triple Threat (2019): Action / Thriller

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Mercenaries unite in order to protect the daughter of a billionaire who becomes the target of an elite assassins’ group.

“Triple Threat” is NOT, I repeat is NOT to be compared, contrasted, or associated in any way with: “Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior” (2003), the “Undisputed” franchise (2006-2016), “The Raid: Redemption” (2011), “The Raid 2” (2014), “The Night Comes for Us” (2018), or any other film of that level.

It’s a real shame to have names such as Tony Jaa, Iko Uwais, Tiger Hu Chen, Scott Adkins, Celina Jade, Michael Jai White, and Michael Bisping in one film and get that result. But the film’s duration warned me even before watching it. So, I was pretty sure this was going to be a disappointing one, I just didn’t know how badly disappointing.

In about an hour and a half, we have:

  • Undeveloped characters that no one really cares about.
  • Bad acting / No chemistry between the actors.
  • Obvious difficulty from the non-native English speaking actors to express themselves.
  • Mediocre action / inconsistent fighting skills.
  • And the biggest problem that begets all problems: Horrible writing! I mean… Horrible!!!

As it is not in my idiosyncrasy to write negative comments just for the fun of it or to attract an audience so, I’ll stop here. Prachya Pinkaew, Gareth Evans, and Timo Tjahjanto have raised the bar to a level that newer directors and even themselves will have to go the extra mile to keep delivering the jaw-dropping action/thriller films they have been delivering so far.

The Kindergarten Teacher (2018): Drama

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A kindergarten teacher – and aspiring poet – becomes obsessed with one of her students who possesses a unique gift.

“The Kindergarten Teacher” is not just another film about a child prodigy but rather a film about a caring and sensible adult who sees, and wants to act upon, everything that is wrong about today’s world. Unfortunately, in the process, she loses the battle as she becomes obsessed with a kid that is everything she would like to be.

Strong suit: The meticulous character development that builds up, escalates and justifies the teacher’s fascination, and the line that draws and gradually oversteps turning it into fixation and borderline pedophilia – Maggie Gyllenhaal is incredible.

I’m not an expert in poetry but I think it’s the film’s weakest point. In films such as “Good Will Hunting” (1997) or “Gifted” (2017), the charisma itself speaks volumes in regard to why that particular kid or young adult is special. Here, (once again I’m not an expert) I found the kid’s poems… nothing much. And when an adult poetry class finds them extraordinary, I can’t help but wonder why. I have a feeling that if I walked into a poetry class reciting those poems, I would look around me next only to see faces staring at me with a “wtf” expression. But I might be entirely wrong so don’t quote me on that.

I admire Netflix for its diversity which proves time and time again that it’s not afraid to expand its horizons, pleasantly surprise its subscribers, and give them value for their money.

 

P.S. I can’t remember last time I watched a Maggie Gyllenhaal film that she didn’t have sex in it. #justsaying

Bumblebee (2018): Action / Adventure / Sci-Fi

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With Cybertron at war, Optimus Prime sends B-127 (Bumblebee) to Earth to establish a base for the Autobots and protect the planet.

Prequel to “Transformers” (2007), Travis Knight’s first live-action film “Bumblebee” takes a more classic look of the original cartoon series. The opening sequence reminded me of my childhood years but my nostalgia faded away upon Bee’s arrival on Earth. Memories were temporarily restored half-way watching again the tunnel from “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” (1988) and “Back to the Future II” (1989).

Stereotypical American bimbos meant to be hated, stereotypical American jerks no one could care less about, stereotypically American army being thick as pigshit, and main characters that I would love if it was actually 1987 and I was 5. Did I mention that the storyline was so predictable?

To be fair, Bumblebee’s final battle against Shatter and Dropkick was quite impressive.

 

P.S. OK, it was funny when “Bee” ruined blondie’s car.

P.P.S. Steve Jablonsky where are you???

Papillon (2017): Adventure / Biography / Crime

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Convicted for a murder he didn’t commit, Henri Charriere is sent to the Devil’s Island where, along with a fellow inmate, they plan an escape of a lifetime.

Based on Charriere’s memoirs, directed by Michael Noer – “R” (2010) and “Northwest” (2013) – and written by Aaron Guzikowski, “Papillon” didn’t get the publicity it deserved. Was it because people (or critics) thought that Charlie Hunnam and Rami Malek couldn’t replace Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman respectively? Was it because the story wasn’t known to today’s era audience? Or is it maybe because classic films should be left alone and be remembered for what they achieved when they were made?

Directing, Acting, Script, Photography, Soundtrack, Costume Design, all work as one and fulfill their purpose. The editing is disruptive though which unfolds the story intermittently. There must be an “Editor’s Cut” or “Director’s Cut” version, surely. It seems as if scenes, even sequences, have been omitted from the final cut. Crucial to the story elements that would make the audience engage more with “Papillon’s” suffering.

Overall, it is a very decent, intense, and gritty remake and cast and crew deserve to be recognised for this effort.

He’s Out There (2018): Horror / Thriller

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A family vacation at a lakehouse becomes a nightmare for a mother and her two young daughters who become part of a psychopath’s deranged fantasy.

The oversaturation got me thinking from the opening shot. “Is there a purpose”? “What does this DOP offer to the story”? Anyway, the story itself showed signs of unoriginality since the early stages. The journey started, they made it to the house and, thankfully, the tension started building up and becoming interesting. And then, the uncreativeness came back stronger and ruined the film with tons of cliches and a high level of improbability.

Yvonne Strahovski has proven to be a versatile actress with tremendous potential. Even in a film like “He’s Out There”, she’s very convincing and she was the only reason I watched the film. Anna and Abigail Pniowski are not to blame for their performances here. This burdens solely the director.

Shame really as the potential was there. “Old wine in a new bottle” doesn’t mean to copy randomly (and badly) existing, successful styles, mix them up and paste them in a new movie.

Triple Frontier (2019): Action / Adventure / Crime

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Five ex-Special Forces soldiers band together one last time to rob the money of a cocaine cartel boss in South America where everything can go wrong.

While watching the opening sequence, I thought to myself “Netflix hit the nail again”!  The moment I started to get to know the characters, I thought to myself “I hope the cliches stop here”. As the story started unfolding, the pit of cliches got full way before half-way.

Really shame. The photography is infallible. Ben Affleck, Oscar Isaac, Charlie Hunnam, Garrett Hedlund, and Pedro Pascal are brilliant actors yet none of them gets the opportunity to fully develop their character. J.C. Chandor, an equally brilliant director who was behind the camera of great films such as “Margin Call” (2011), “All is Lost” (2013), and “A Most Violent Year” (2014), delivers a film this time that does not have one memorable shot. Same applies for editing where no sequence has anything unique or something to talk about.

All these are minor though. The main problem is the script. I don’t know how many times I’ve said it before but I know how any I’m gonna say it; countless!

“You can’t fix a bad script after you start shooting. The problems on the page only get bigger as they move to the big screen.” — Howard Hawks

Besides the action’s inconsistencies and the undeveloped characters, the biggest blow is the dialogue. It is extremely poorly written and the shocking part is that the aforementioned A-list actors were OK with it. It is beyond me so, I’m gonna leave it there.

Should you decide to watch it, I hope you enjoy it.