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!

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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

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.

Wheelman (2017): Action / Crime / Mystery

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A bank robbery goes awry for a getaway driver who tries to figure out who double-crossed him while finding a way to save his and his family’s life.

Frank Grillo at his best. Realistic action hero in a high-octane low budget film. Netflix always hits the nail when they decide to go behind productions like this one where, more or less, everything goes right. Right tempo, right duration, and right balance between action, crime, and mystery. Feature debut for writer/director Jeremy Rush who starts off really strong.

Claustrophobic at times, gripping, edgy, and engaging, “Wheelman” is, thankfully, not your typical Hollywood blockbuster with unnecessary explosions and nonsensical CGI. The best value for money you can get, and highly recommended for the Frank Grillo and action-fueled film fans.

Polar (2019): Action / Crime

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An aging assassin, just before retirement, gets double-crossed and becomes the job.

How much do you want to forget your problems? If the answer is “I can’t put it into words”, this one is for you! In two hours of shooting, killing, torturing, f@#!$%, and cursing, “Polar” recruits every cliche under the sun that every a film of that magnitude has delivered over the past four decades. Now, the funny thing is that it is absolutely enjoyable. Probably not the best way to adapt Dark Horse’s homonymous graphic novel “Polar: Came from the cold”, as it doesn’t really take itself seriously – which is fine – but, on occasion, it resembles a humorous parody. Oh well… from the opening scene, you know exactly what you are getting into.

Mads Mikkelsen was one of the three reasons why I watched it, and with Katheryn Winnick and Vanessa Hudgens being the second and the third, I got a bit disappointed as they were highly underused. Winnick is an extremely talented martial artist who could have been the main villain and give Mikkelsen a good run for his money. As for Hudgens, she needed a lot more screen time as she is an extremely talented actress and amazing woman that must have taken a tremendous effort to make her look like an ordinary girl. And even then, it is impossible not to stand out.

That kind of storyline has been beaten to death. Only a few weeks ago, I watched and reviewed “Asher” (2018) and straight away I thought it was the same but more surrealistic and brutal version of that. And then Richard Dreyfuss shows up in the exact same role!!!

If you want to watch an equally graphic but way much more realistic action/crime adaptation, go for Marvel’s series “The Punisher” (2017). Hands down!

Okja (2017): Action / Adventure / Drama

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A little girl is trying to prevent a sketchy multinational company from kidnapping Okja, her genetically modified pet and best friend.

It would be great if “Okja” was “R” rated. To properly reveal what humans and animals alike mean to most multinational companies and organisations. Bong Joon Ho behind the camera, holds back to a certain extent but captures the essence nevertheless. Brad Pitt and Netflix in the production back him up, and Seo-hyun Ahn, Tilda Swinton, Jake Gyllenhaal and Paul Dano in front of the lens, support a vision that all of us need to stop turning the blind eye to. I salute cast and crew and pay my respects to them as they all give us a mild lesson on the paranoia behind a colossal company’s beautiful facade, its fancy logo, and its unfathomably brainless slogan.

The Animal Liberation Front exist, they are a real, leaderless organization, fight for animal rights all around the globe, and they are not as funny as they are portrayed in the film. Even so, “Okja” should be for everyone to watch and get an idea of how filthy and disgusting the mammoth food corporations are.

Booed at least three times at the Cannes Film Festival just for being Netflix, “Okja” itself does not deserve booing. This is the political side of cinema that I’m staying out as, whoever gets in the middle, gets caught in the crossfire of the Industry Giants’ war for money and power. Streaming vs Theatre and which productions deserve to go to which festival and why is not for us to decide and has nothing with us anyway.

You wanna see the real “R” rated version of “Okja”? Watch “Earthlings” (2005) and feel free to be ashamed. And cry your eyes out. I quit meat that very same day and wholeheartedly apologised for being human. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BrlBSuuy50Y

 

 

Close (2019): Action / Thriller

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With no one to turn to and no one to trust, a female bodyguard must protect a rich, young heiress in Casablanca when kidnappers go after her.

A female version of “Man on Fire” (2004) taking out most of the Hollywood aspects in regard to character and story development. With no cheesy lines or slow-mo for dramatic effect, “Close” is loosely based on Jacquie Davis, a world-class bodyguard who, in the last 30 years, has been “stabbed, shot at, and thrown through a window”  protecting from the Beckhams to the royal family.

The editing controls the pace, balances action and drama, moves the story forward, and reveals the information when it needs to be revealed. Also, amazing cinematography and Vicky Jewson’s directing gives the opportunity to Noomi Rapace and Sophie Nélisse to unfold their amazing acting skills. Needless to say that given the right training, project, and budget, Rapace can prove herself being top-notch action heroin as (among others) Charlize Theron and Uma Thurman have in “Atomic Blonde” (2017) and “Kill Bill” (2003) respectively.

Netflix productions can go either way. “Close” went the right way and we can only hope that they produce more heartfelt action/thriller films and humanised heroes and heroines like this one.

Bird Box (2018): Drama / Horror / Sci-Fi

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In a post-apocalyptic present, a mother with two kids run for their lives as a menacing presence of unknown origin, when seen, forces people to take their own lives.

Here’s the film’s obvious pitch: “The Happening” (2008) meets “A Quiet Place” (2018). Let me put it this way… It doesn’t meet either. Both of them raise important questions but provide, to a certain level, some answers leaving the viewer speculating about the cause and effect based on the clues they provided.

“Bird Box” raises questions and doesn’t bother at all with answers. No one with the basic level of intelligence will stare at the ceiling as the end credits roll down contemplating what potentially could these entities (?) be. Not revealing them is absolutely fine in my books. The unseen yet sensed ominous presence can be terrifying indeed. Not revealing their origins, their purpose, their powers, nothing whatsoever, makes them as unrelatable as the characters themselves. So, yeah, there is that too.

Susanne Bier has done a terrific job behind the camera. “Bird Box” is a well-shot, well edited, and well-produced film. So, I will quote (again) Howard Hawks: “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”. Months before, Netflix also produced “How it Ends” (2018) with the reviews being as embarrassing as they come – especially on how it ends! I guess history teaches us that we are not taught from history after all…

Sandra Bullock is still an amazing actress and still keeps nailing the parts she gets. Even in this one. So, I really hope that we see her in films she deserves to be in and not films like “Ocean’s Eight” (2018). Actually, I hope we never have to see again any film like “Ocean’s Eight” (2018). Not even blindfolded…

A-X-L (2018): Action / Adventure / Family

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I’ll be quick, and as this is a PG film, I’ll be lenient too…

Writing an “original” script nowadays is hard enough. Directing it in an “original” way, even harder. Oliver Daly, writer/director of short film “Miles” (2015), pens the script and directs its feature version “A-X-L”. A kid and (not) his robotic dog’s adventure can be pretty much summarized as “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” (1982) meets “Transformers” (2007).

Decent story, offering nothing much to its development or its characters with more holes than a swiss cheese that a kid would scratch its head. I know women who would die to find out how after 48 hours of running around the makeup stays intact and the hair straight as an arrow. And I’ll sound like a broken record again, but… Producers… don’t hire only models for underwear.

David S. Goyer has been a brilliant writer and producer for the past three decades and still is. I guess hit-and-miss is part of every job.

What Happened to Monday (2017): Action / Crime / Drama

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Seven identical sisters are being hunted down in an overpopulated world where all families are limited to one child.

Noomi Rapace portrays brilliantly all seven identical sisters in this action flick that, overall, looks like “Orphan Black” (2013) meets “Minority Report” (2002) meets “The Matrix” (1999). Tommy Wirkola, an expert in the comedy/horror genre [“Dead Snow” (2009)], takes “What Happened to Monday” more seriously creating an interesting sci-fi which, interestingly enough, IMDb doesn’t classify as “sci-fi”.

Regardless of the semantics, Netflix hit the nail buying the copyrights for this dystopian thriller that despite its minor flaws, impossibilities, and fair amount of negative reviews, it manages to entertain, and raise certain ethical, social, and political questions that, when all motives are revealed, will make you think twice on who to cast your stone at.

Well done to the whole international cast and crew who managed to pull it off and bring out a Philip K. Dick and Isaac Asimov-like world.