Sunday, April 3, 2016

Open Grave

Year: 2013
Genre: Mystery thriller
Director: Gonzalo Lopez-Gallego

Plot: A man wakes up in a pit full of dead bodies with no memory of how he got there. Subsequently he finds a group of people with the same memory loss, and they all have to work together and set their doubts aside to figure out who killed those people and why.

The gist: Throw six strangers together who are as much in the dark about what's happening as we are and Open Grave seems Hitchcockian in nature. 

There is a pit of dead bodies that our protagonist, who can't recall his name, finds himself in. He climbs out, finds more people in the same predicament, and has to figure out what's really going on. The others are able to identify themselves because they have their ID on them, but not our John Doe, which puts him as the prime suspect. Then the group start finding really strange things, like a room full of guns, dead bodies tied to the trees outside, a few wild humans lurking around, and the significance of April 18th, which is coming real soon.

Director Gonzalo Lopez-Gallego and writers Chris and Eddie Borey have successfully created a film set within a gruesome, if not consistently tense atmosphere. This is one of those films where you have to stay to the end to know the whole truth, and Lopez-Gallego more often than not manages to keep us guessing.

The good: The cast perform well, especially Sharlto Copley as our John Doe and Josie Ho as a mute Asian woman who has trouble communicating with the group. Credit also goes to the set design team for creating a scary place for our characters to find themselves in.

The bad: When the truth was finally revealed, I found that the idea of their memory loss and the Asian woman being mute was much too convenient, and without it the film's plot would not have worked as well as it did. The revelation was good though, I'll give them that.

Verdict: Open Grave is a solid thriller worth checking out. (7/10)

Friday, April 1, 2016

Slow West

Year: 2015
Genre: Western
Director: John Maclean

Plot: A young Scottish lad travels to America to search for a woman he loves, and in the process meets a bounty hunter who agrees to be his guide.

The gist: I figured that since it won an award at the Sundance Film Festival, Slow West would be worth checking out. But I was wrong.

The film tells the story of Jay Cavendish, a young man from Scotland who travels to America to find a woman that he loves, Rose Ross. His naivety almost gets him killed when he is rescued by Silas, a bounty hunter who agrees to help him on his journey in return for some money. Along the way, the two men meet an assortment of characters, the most dangerous of them being Payne, leader of a gang Silas was once a part of.

The good: The film has some good cinematography to depict the mountains of Colorado, using New Zealand as a stand-in. Michael Fassbender is good as Silas, and Kodi Smit-McPhee is convincing as the naive Jay. There is a tense scene in a sundry shop which is probably the best part of the film.

The bad: Despite running at a short 84 minutes, I found the film really taxing to sit through. Writer-director John Maclean plods the story along without a clear direction instead of developing his characters properly to make it interesting. While keeping things as simple as possible might work for some films, it does not work here. I wanted to know more about Silas and Payne, and their past together, but instead Maclean shows flashbacks of Jay and Rose, more than once. The final shootout scene was also disappointing and unnecessarily tragic. And Jay's character just wasn't endearing on a whole, to be honest.

Verdict: Slow West had potential, but it was near totally wasted here. Maybe a lot of people like this kind of thing, but not me. (5/10)

Saturday, March 19, 2016


Year: 2013
Genre: Drama
Director: Zaza Urushadze

Plot: During the Abkhazian War in 1992-1993, an Estonian man takes in two wounded men, each from an opposing side and nurses back to health while trying to keep them from killing each other.

The gist: Tangerines is an Estonian film that received an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film in 2015. It is yet another fine example of European cinema that favours a quiet approach over Hollywood's loud and word heavy style.

The film is set in Georgia during the Abkhazian War in early 1990s. The war between Chechens and Georgians has forced everyone from a tiny Estonian village to flee, except two men: Ivo and Margus. Margus owns a tangerine orchard which he plans on harvesting before leaving to get away from the fighting. Ivo is a carpenter who builds the crates to put the tangerines in.

One night, a fight takes place at the village and the two men rescue Ahmed, a Chechen soldier who is badly wounded. Later, they rescue a Georgian soldier, Nika and Ivo puts them both under his roof to nurse them back to health. The two soldiers naturally despise each other and want nothing more than to kill one another, but Ivo forbids them to do so as long as they are in his home.

Director Zaza Urushadze, who also wrote the script, keeps things simple in his execution of the film. The runtime is pretty short too (87 minutes), but he manages to convey his message, which is even enemies can respect each other during a war, and that people can learn positive values from the unlikeliest places.

The good: Lembit Ulfsak is excellent as the man of peace, Ivo, who has every reason to leave the village or ignore the plight of the two soldiers, but does not. I also liked Zaza's pacing of the film and how he keeps things moving, despite only putting in one shootout sequence towards the end.

The bad: The short runtime works, but it disallows a background exploration of the two soldiers, which would make things more interesting. It sort of made me feel that the two men made peace with one another a bit too easily.

Verdict: Tangerines is a good anti-war film that promotes the message of treating others, including our bitter enemies, as human beings. Worth checking out. (7/10)  

Saturday, February 27, 2016


Year: 2014
Genre: Action thriller
Director: Yann Demange

Plot: A young British soldier is left behind by his unit during the Belfast riots in 1971.

The gist: '71 brings to mind films like Behind Enemy Lines and the recent No Escape, both starring Owen Wilson. All three stories present a protagonist trapped in hostile territory who must survive until they can be rescued or find their own way out.

This story is set in 1971 when Ireland was in chaos due to the feud between Protestants and Catholics. Gary Hook is a young British soldier who is sent to Belfast with his unit to assist the police in searching the neighborhood for weapons. Things get ugly real quick when the people there don't take too kindly to their presence and start a confrontation, and in the mayhem that ensues, Hook gets left behind as his unit flees the scene. He is forced to keep running and avoid getting caught or killed by IRA loyalists, with a little help from a few good Belfast citizens.

French director Yann Demange makes his first major film here and does a great job. Like No Escape, '71 has plenty of suspenseful moments and unflinching violence, which is always welcome.

The good: Jack O'Connell puts in a strong performance as Gary Hook. Demange deserves credit for keeping the pace tight and the suspense continuous. Two standout scenes include a foot chase at the beginning and a cat and mouse style sequence at an apartment building in the final 30 minutes.

The bad: The film ends a bit abruptly without certain characters' motivations explained, almost as if there will be a sequel of some kind, but unlikely as the subject matter doesn't quite qualify it to have one.

Verdict: '71 is a pretty good action movie. If you loved No Escape, you would love this too. (7/10)    

Friday, February 26, 2016


Year: 2013
Genre: Found footage horror
Directors: Derek Lee & Clif Prowse

Plot: Two best friends go on a trip around the world while documenting their experience. However their journey takes a sinister turn when one of them suddenly manifests vampire-like powers.

The gist: The found footage genre may be a tired and overused gimmick, but every now and then, a film of its kind rises up and manages to deliver solid entertainment. As Above, So Below is one such example. Now we can add Afflicted as well.

Derek and Clif are two best buds who go on a trip around the world, despite the fact that Derek has a medical condition that may kill him. All goes well as they vacation in France, until Derek meets a girl who spends the night with him, then leaves him with minor injuries and no memory of what happened. Next thing you know, Derek is sensitive to sunlight, projectile vomits food he eats, develops super abilities like strength and speed, and craves for human blood. How long will it take before he goes out of control? And what can he and Clif do about it?

Derek Lee and Clif Prowse wrote, directed and starred in their own film, which gives the two a natural chemistry with each other, and certainly helps the film a lot.

The good: Lee and Prowse are convincing in their roles, with Lee standing out as the guy who is desperate to find answers to his condition. I also liked the special effects used to film the action sequences, which is the best thing about this film. Also, by attaching cameras to their bodies while filming certainly helps in not having to explain why it's rolling while shit is going down, and it eliminates nearly all the shaky cam effects.

The bad: Most of the jump scares are quite predictable, and the closing credit scene was very much expected. But not to fear, the film overall is highly thrilling, and that's what counts.

Verdict: A found footage film worth checking out, especially if you're looking for something a little different. (7/10)

Monday, February 22, 2016

The Loft

Year: 2014
Genre: Mystery thriller
Director: Erik Van Looy

Plot: Five men share a loft where they can take their respective mistresses to without their wives' knowledge. Trouble begins when they find a dead woman in the loft one morning, prompting them to suspect one another of murder.

The gist: The Loft is a remake of the original Belgian film of the same name, also directed by Erik van Looy and also starring Matthias Schoenaerts. Another interesting fact is that the film has been on the shelf since 2011 and only released four years later.

So we have five guys: Vincent (Karl Urban), Luke (Wentworth Miller), Chris (James Marsden), Marty (Eric Stonestreet) and Philip (Schoenaerts), who share a loft, where they can cheat on their wives behind their backs. There are only five keys to the place, one for each of them. So one morning, they discover a dead woman in the loft, a writing in blood on the bed, and lots of questions. Which one of them is responsible for this?

Van Looy slowly unravels his story by using flashbacks, each revealing a secret about the men. He successfully keeps the viewers guessing till the end, though the film is clearly flawed.

The good: The many twists and turns are actually quite decent, as I couldn't figure out who it was till the end. There are no solid performances here but at the very least, Rachael Taylor and Isabel Lucas are so gorgeous to look at, that is if you're a male.

The bad: The climax, which is connected to the opening scene, was poorly executed. A shame really, since the film was good up to that point. Another thing is the fact that you won't be rooting for anyone here because none of them are worth it. All five men are deplorable in their own way, though James Marsden's character is the most sympathetic one.

Verdict: The Loft is a decent thriller, no more no less. If you have some time to kill, you can give it a shot. (6/10)

Saturday, February 20, 2016

The Hurt Locker

Year: 2008
Genre: War drama
Director: Kathryn Bigelow

Plot: A film about an army bomb squad stationed in Iraq in 2004.

The gist: Kathryn Bigelow's Oscar winning war film was marketed as a war action movie, but Black Hawk Down this is not.

While The Hurt Locker has its fair share of tense moments, it isn't a high octane action flick you'd be led to believe. The story focuses on a bomb squad stationed in Baghdad in 2004, who has just lost their leader in an explosion. His replacement, Sgt. James, is a daredevil type guy who doesn't play by the book, much to the chagrin of his partner Sgt. Sanborn.

The film presents the three-man squad's experiences in handling situations involving all kinds of bombs, and how it affects them personally. 

The good: Jeremy Renner and Anthony Mackie are solid in their respective roles as James and Sanborn. Renner is convincing enough as the devil-may-care type while Mackie shines as the regular Joe who just wants to make it home in one piece. Kudos goes to Bigelow for successfully creating tension whenever a bomb is in the picture.

The bad: A few things either don't add up or seem unnecessary. For instance, how is it that James and Sanborn have sniper skills if they're in bomb defusing? And why create the subplot about James' friendship with an Iraqi boy that ultimately leads nowhere? But more importantly, the film doesn't have a proper focal point as most war films do, thereby making this film drag whenever it strays away from bomb situations.

Verdict: The Hurt Locker is a solid drama with plenty of tension. It's watchable but certainly not the best of its genre. (7/10)