The Prodigy (2019): Horror / Thriller

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A kid’s disturbing behaviour gradually starts signaling that a sinister force might be guiding his actions.

The “possessed child” theme has been beaten to death. And The Prodigy doesn’t have an original angle. Acting, directing, cinematography, all work well together. Even the idea is – somewhat – solid. Its development to a story and then to a script though isn’t. It heavily relies on the sound design for good, old fashioned jump scares. Now, the editing could have saved a big part of it but it didn’t. It revealed almost everything in the first act, leaving nothing to the imagination, subtracting the speculation, and consequently, sucking out the mystery. It is not the editing’s fault though.

Producers and directors should have realised that the “horror” audience has seen all that already and brainstorm for new ideas that keep the genre fresh. And in this instance, scary.

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Captive State (2019): Sci-Fi / Thriller

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Nine years after alien forces invaded and colonised Earth, an underground movement, stealthily, plans an attack to fight back.

This is not “cinema of attractions”. No “Independence Day” (1996) effects with marching songs while shouting “we will fight” narrative. “Captive State” focuses on the world’s political and socio-economic state after the extra-terrestrials’ colonisation, leaving out the early terraforming practices. As stated next to the title, it is a sci-fi/thriller and not an action film. Political-espionage case scenarios resembling Europe just before WWII cannot be avoided.

The acting is solid and so is the photography and directing. If you asked me what I think it lacks the most I would say emotional investment. I felt hard to engage as the main characters are underdeveloped. Also, the masterplan gets too complicated on occasion even though it offers the desired twist. I guess the script could have gone through maybe a couple of more rewrites.

A perfect example of a groundbreaking sci-fi/thriller came only ten years before “Captive State” and it is none other than “District 9” (2009) – Neill Blomkamp’s finest film to date.

The Perfection (2018): Drama / Horror / Thriller

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Leaving one of the best music academies as a kid, Charlotte, with a twisted plan in mind, seeks now her old mentor and the younger girl who replaced her.

Daring, perverted, gruesome, and brilliant at parts, The Perfection utilises De Palma’s split diopter shots, Hitchcock’s shower scene ‘staccato’ editing, and Aja’s unsettling way to convey paranoia. Netflix’s new horror avoids cliches, scares, amuses, entertains, and gives you a good run for your money. Allison Williams and Logan Browning, accompanied by operatic music, hold no punches, seduce one another, but also ourselves, and steal the show. Excellent directing by Richard Shepard who masterfully orchestrates everyone and everything. Two things though:

Interesting but quite ironic for Miramax to choose such a theme to produce. Also, I wish it didn’t get that explanatory. It doesn’t leave much to think about once the end credits start rolling. Editing should have left certain information out or carefully reveal some of it at the end of the third act.

Regardless, a definite must-see for the Horror fans.

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.

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.

Scenic Route (2013): Drama / Thriller

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Two lifelong friends decide to go on a journey following the scenic route but their car breaks down, leaving them stranded in the middle of nowhere and surfacing suppressed feelings of a lifetime.

Indie, low budget, and absolutely stunning! The Goetz Brothers’ Drama/Thriller, penned by Kyle Killen, disguises itself as a dark comedy and makes you laugh out loud with its sheer brutality, and Josh Duhamel’s and Dan Fogler’s raw, natural talent. Laugh out loud and, admittedly, think to yourself “Damn, I wish I had said that when…”. The thought-provoking and carefully written story, the meticulous mise-en-scene, and the profound acting create a highly entertaining and compelling journey of self-discovery.

Beware though! As much as the journey itself is a reward, this one’s destination is a spine-chilling thrill. With a jaw-dropping twist that glues you to your seats, the grand finale, accompanied by Mike Einziger’s mesmerising soundtrack, takes your breath away and stays imprinted long after the end credits scroll down.

Don’t miss out!

Animal World (2018): Adventure / Thriller

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Haunted by his personal demons, a man finds himself struggling with an unbearable debt and enters a world of obscure gambling where every move might be his last one.

Epically mental! An amalgamation of “Scott Pilgrim vs The World” (2010) and “Sucker Punch” (2011), masterfully put together with pure Chinese artistry and temperament. Remake of the Japanese film “Kaiji Ultimate Gambler” (2009) – an adaptation of the “Kaiji” manga series – “Animal World” mesmerises straight from the opening sequence and earns its stripes in the evolution of Chinese cinema.

Through brilliant editing and directing, and visual effects that bring the hero’s cognitive manifestations to life, director Yan Han unfolds a world within a world. A cosmos where love, brotherhood, perseverance, loyalty, and betrayal lead to one’s self-discovery and ultimately… their destiny. A journey revealing that math’s complexity pales in comparison with human nature’s intricacy. A life’s lesson that man came from an animal… and still remains one.

 

For Shiying. Thank you!!!