The Mauritanian  – ★★★★
Based on a memoir Guantamano Diary (2015), this film tells the true story of Mohamedou Ould Salahi (played by Tahar Rahim), a man from Mauritania who was arrested on heresy some time after the 9/11 terrorist attack and then spent 14 years (from 2002 to 2016) in the notorious Guantanamo Bay detention camp in Cuba without charge or trial. Jodie Foster plays his lawyer Nancy Hollander who is determined to see that her client gets a fair trial despite the extremely serious allegations against him, and Benedict Cumberbatch (12 Years a Slave (2013)) plays military prosecutor Stuart Couch who is more than determined to avenge the attack on America, especially since he knows one of its direct victims personally. Despite its slightly uneven narrative, this film by Kevin Macdonald (Touching the Void (2003)) is an intelligent legal drama bolstered by the powerful performances from both Tahar Rahim (A Prophet (2009)) and Jodie Foster. The film, which undoubtedly will make people uncomfortable, clearly shows the Guantanamo Bay abuses through the eyes of one innocent and sympathetic man.
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Joker  – ★★★1/2
Directed by Todd Phillips (The Hangover (2011)), Joker is a latest, much-hyped film starring Joaquin Phoenix (The Master (2012)) in the titular role of Arthur Fleck or Joker, a stand-up comedian fallen on hard times, who resorts to violence in Gotham City to avenge wrongs allegedly committed against him. Being supported by no other than Robert De Niro (a role reversal from The King of Comedy (1983)), Joaquin Phoenix gives the performance in Joker than can only be described as manically jaw-dropping in its brilliance. The character insight and portrayal are also bold, vivid, without holding anything back, as the film tries to explore the origins of Arthur’s homicidal tendencies through his early history and its revelations. However, unfortunately, if we then shift our attention to anything that is not Phoenix or the character study, we can see a number of problems in the film, including the inability to suspend disbelief regarding major plot developments, the sheer predictability of the plot, and the imbalance in the spotlight given to the minor characters vis-a-vis the main one.
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The Third Murder  – ★★★★
“People hardly understand members of their own family, let alone strangers” (Shigemori Akihisa in The Third Murder).
This film by an acclaimed Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda (After the Storm (2016), Shoplifters (2018)) begins with one scene of a murder in progress. A man kills his boss in cold blood and burns his body. The man – Misumi (Kōji Yakusho) – has previously been in prison for around 30 years for other two similar crimes he had committed. A legal team prepare a case, but since Misumi has confessed, there is nothing much to debate or investigate, and the sentence of death penalty looms over his head. The case of Misumi seems to be an open and shut one, or does it? When a new lawyer Tomoaki Shigemori (Masaharu Fukuyama) takes over the case, he slowly begins to realise that something does not make sense in Misumi’s confession, and the centrepiece of confusion is the motivation of the killer. It also does not help that Misumi starts to change his story of what happened with an astonishing ease and conviction. In Koreeda’s legal drama, it is interesting to uncover both personal connections to the case and the foreign legal system’s intricacies, but the quiet beauty of the picture can still be found in the slow unveiling of the truth.
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Thoroughbreds  – ★★★1/2
What happens when a street-smart, completely unemotional teen girl rekindles her childhood friendship with a doubtful, book-smart girl who has emotions, but who wants to get rid of one pressing problem in her life? This situation lies at the core of Thoroughbreds. Rising stars Olivia Cooke (The Limehouse Golem (2017)) and Anya Taylor-Joy (Split (2016) and The Witch (2015)) star as Amanda and Lily respectively, two girls from a wealthy suburban neighbourhood in Connecticut who have the so-called “meeting of the minds”, joining their forces to put aside their problems for good. Lily has a problem with her stepfather, while Amanda is curious how far she can go on her “unemotional” spectrum and commit acts she would otherwise not even consider. When the duo meets criminally-minded Tim (Anton Yelchin (Green Room (2015)), their sinister intentions take a step closer to reality.
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The Limehouse Golem  – ★★★★
This film, based on a novel by Peter Ackroyd Dan Leno and The Limehouse Golem, starts with Victorian London being shaken by a series of gruesome murders deemed to be perpetuated by an individual so mythical he is called Golem. Eccentric Inspector John Kildare (Bill Nighy) is assigned to the case, and begins to delve into the mind of a deranged individual, while, at the same time, a woman, one Elisabeth Cree (Olivia Cooke) is about to stand trial for the murder of her husband John Cree (Sam Reid). As Inspector discovers more information, he realises that the late John Cree may have been the London serial killer Golem, while other three men also equally come under suspicion, namely Karl Marx, Dan Leno and George Gissing. In content, this film is not just the recycling of the Jack the Ripper ideas. As From Hell (2001), The Limehouse Golem engulfs the viewer into the same gory atmosphere of Victorian England where cruelty and debauchery reign supreme, but it is probably the film’s unexpected twist at the end, as well as the superb acting of its cast, which make it distinguishable and memorable.
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Murder on the Orient Express  – ★★★★
It is no wonder that Agatha Christie chose the Orient Express, once the most luxurious train in the world, as the setting for one of her fictitious crime scenes. From Paris to Istanbul, a journey of some 1,920 miles, will take passengers around 1883 (the date of its first launch) through exquisite landscapes in the total comfort of their seats and beds. Murder on the Orient Express was also inspired by the real incident which happened in 1929 when the train was forced to a standstill for five days due to heavy snow. Murder on the Orient Express (1974), directed by Sidney Lumet (Twelve Angry Men (1957)), could be said to be the first truly successful adaptation of a Christie’s novel, and the last film viewed by Agatha Christie herself, who approved it. Boasting an unbelievably starry cast, including such names as Ingrid Bergman, Lauren Bacall, Sean Connery, Anthony Perkins and Vanessa Redgrave, this adaptation is both true to the novel and very-well acted, deserving a high praise.
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The Killing of a Sacred Deer  – ★★★★
This film proved to be the most divisive at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, and there was a good reason for the audience and critics to feel so confused and uncertain. The Killing of a Sacred Deer is a product of Yorgos Lanthimos, the director who is making his name as a master of original, unsettling and thought-provoking films; the director who is already an expert in crafting awe-inspiring settings which as much provoke as they disturb, and which the more mainstream audience could hardly even fathom. In The Killing of a Sacred Deer, a well-to-do surgeon (Colin Farrell) strikes an unlikely friendship with a fatherless boy, without even realising the possible negative consequences of their ever-closer union. A seemingly mundane plot slowly transpires into something unimaginable, and with the excellent support from Nicole Kidman, and with impressive Barry Keoghan and Raffey Cassidy, this film becomes an almost brilliant interplay of the unusual, the menacing and the astonishing.
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Match Point  – ★★1/2
In this film, Chris Wilton (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers), an ex-tennis pro, comes from humble background, but slowly makes his way to the society’s upper class by dating and then marrying a sister of one of his students at a posh tennis club in London. However, this is all far from being a plain-sailing feat for Chris, because along the way he gets entangled with a seeming femme fatale and a starting actress Nola Rice (Scarlett Johansson), who may as well bring his undoing. It is hard to guess this is a Woody Allen film. It not only plays like a dull TV soap-opera for most of its time, it is also filled with pretensions and clichés regarding the lives of London’s upper class; has a parade of totally unlikable characters; and is devoid of humour.
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Personal Shopper  – ★★1/2
In Personal Shopper, a film by Olivier Assayas (Paris, je t’aime (2006)), Kristen Stewart plays a young woman Maureen, who mourns the loss of her twin brother Lewis. Maureen visits the house where Lewis lived with his girlfriend, and believes that his ghost will try to communicate with her. In her daily job, Maureen is a personal shopper to a rich and famous star in Paris, a job she dislikes and only too keen to break the “rules” of her employment now and then. Soon her personal identity issues mix with her paranormal beliefs, producing restlessness and paranoia. Although admirable in its fresh approach, the film is also unfocused and dull. It tries at least three different points of focus: (i) a ghost story, (ii) a murder mystery, and (iii) a high-society critique, all of which are underdeveloped, and none of which work to any satisfactory conclusion.
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Nocturnal Animals  – ★★★★
After directing critically-acclaimed A Single Man back in 2009, Tom Ford has decided to try his hand in directing something darker and more complicated, an adaptation of the novel by Austin Wright Tony and Susan. Nocturnal Animals is a drama/thriller having two stories running in parallel: one in which Susan (Amy Adams), an art gallery owner, receives a manuscript from her ex-husband, Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal) and the impact that his forthcoming novel has on her; and another one in which the story in Edward’s manuscript is told. In that story, Edward and his family are fighting off the deadly advances of a gang on the way to their vacation, and the result of their on-the-road struggle is a horrific crime and a painful detective work.
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The Infiltrator  – ★★★★
The 1980s. A federal agent Robert Mazur (Bryan Cranston) works as an undercover in a notorious drug trafficking ring established by Pablo Escobar. Robert Mazur is now influential and charismatic Bob Musella who operates alongside two other undercover agents: his “fiancée” Kathy Ertz (Diane Kruger) and best friend Emir Abreu (John Leguizamo). However, in reality, Robert is also a devoted family man, raising two children with his wife Evelyn (Juliet Aubrey). This movie explores the unreal day-to-day life of an undercover agent who faces grave dangers every day, and all for the chance to secure convictions of the most notorious drug lords in the country. The Infiltrator is an engaging, well-acted film that goes into some depth in its portrayal of an undercover life, and along the way, distinguishes itself from other drug trafficking/undercover cop movies by being “authentic” in its story progression and low-key when it comes to action sequences and special effects.
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Dead Ringers  – ★★★★
David Cronenberg’s 1988 feature Dead Ringers is the director’s “trademark” film starring Jeremy Irons, and loosely based on a real-life story of identical twin brothers working as gynaecologists in New York. The story closely follows Elliot and Beverly Mantle (both played by Jeremy Irons), who share their lives so closely that they not only divide their professional tasks among themselves, but also date same women. However, their extreme closeness and obsessive working trends, as well as the appearance of a certain woman (Geneviève Bujold), soon results in their well-thought-out life patterns spiralling out of control. The film’s story is fascinating, and Cronenberg-style components are well presented. However, what makes this film truly irresistible is Irons’s dual performance. Continue reading ““Dead Ringers” Review”
Eastern Promises  – ★★★★
Eastern Promises is David Cronenerg’s film starring Viggo Mortensen, Vincent Cassel and Naomi Watts. The script is written by Steven Knight, better known for Amazing Grace (2006) and Locke (2013), and the film starts with a young Eastern European girl dying during childbirth, leaving her baby girl and a diary behind, which is then taken into care/examination by a nurse called Anna (Watts) at a London hospital. Upon the diary’s examination, Anna discovers that it is very probable that the young girl has suffered badly at the hands of certain individuals, which takes her deep into the seat of a London-based Russian mafia and its operation.
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Kalifornia  – ★★★1/2
Directed by Dominic Sena, Kalifornia centres on two couples and takes place on the road. On the one hand, we have an intelligent pair of up-and-coming journalists: Brian Kessler and Carrie Laughlin, played by David Duchovny and Michelle Forbes, who are in the midst of an important Serial Killers book project and who are eager to reach the coast of California in the hope of a better life. On the other hand, we have two beaten-down-by-life vagabonds: Early Grayce and Adele Corners, played by Brad Pitt and Juliette Lewis, who are easily labelled as “white trash” in the film and who are accustomed to the life of crime and delinquency, wanting nothing more than a ride across the US at someone else’s expense. A chance meeting between the two pairs sets an unimaginable chain of events.
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The Departed  – ★★★★★
“When I was your age, they would say we can become cops, or criminals. Today, what I’m saying to you is this: when you’re facing a loaded gun, what’s the difference?” (Frank Costello)
Martin Scorsese’s crime thriller The Departed, winner of an Academy Award for Best Picture in 2006, is considered to be the director’s finest take on the mob theme since Goodfellas (1990) (intermittently he also directed Casino (1995) and Gangs of New York (2002)). With many great actors involved in this film, and with such a meticulously constructed script, this is no wonder. The Departed is set in the south of Boston during the time when the police wages their war against the Irish-American criminal syndicate. The film starts off with young Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon) befriending the untouchable lord of crime, Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson). Years later, there emerge two cops: one – Colin Sullivan, only too ready to infiltrate the state police as an informer for Frank Costello, and another Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio), a guy who grew up in a criminal environment, who becomes a gang member working for Costello, while at the same time working as an undercover cop. When both the state police and the mob begin to suspect that there is an informer within their circle working for the other side, both Sullivan and Costigan must race against time to uncover the identity of another to save their lives.
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Skyfall  – ★★★★1/2
🔫 For those who are unfamiliar with Sam Mendes’s work and its quality, Skyfall may appear like another action flick of some dubious quality, just another James Bond film full of the same old, recycled “tricks”. However, this is the film of Sam Mendes, which means that this first impression would be false. Skyfall is a delightful surprise, which has the potential to exceed everyone’s expectations. The film is intelligent, stylish, funny and well-acted. It is certainly better than the previous two films in the James Bond series. In this film, James Bond (Daniel Craig), badly wounded on the mission to Turkey and unfit for service, embarks on yet another mission to stop a former ‘00…’ MI6 agent from completing his evil plan.
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Miller’s Crossing  – ★★★★1/2
Loosely based on Dashiell Hamett’s Red Harvest, Miller’s Crossing is an intelligent gangster film shot in the style of a film-noir. Directed by Joel Coen, and produced by Ethan Coen and Mark Silverman, the film centres on Tom Regan (Gabriel Byrne), who is the “right hand” of Leo O’Bannon (Albert Finney), an Irish-American political boss, running a Prohibition-era city somewhere in the US. Leo has a “beef” with Johnny Casper, a gangster and his Italian rival. Leo’s girlfriend is Verna, whose brother Bernie Bernbaum has a contract on his life and is wanted dead by Casper. The idea here is that by “giving” Bernie to Casper to kill, Leo and Casper can come to a peaceful understanding and agreement. However, Leo is reluctant to do so because of his girlfriend, who wants to see her brother alive. Tom thinks that Leo is making a mistake. However, Tom also has an affair with Verna, seemingly being in love, and therefore is also, at least “deep inside”, is trying to protect her. When Tom starts to “play” both sides, the unexpected happens.
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Drive  – ★★★★★
Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn and starring Ryan Gosling, Drive is about a stunt and getaway driver and car mechanic man (Gosling), who gets entangled in a complicated criminal affair. With an amazing soundtrack, cast, performances, script and, above all, that nostalgic and unforgettable 1980s feel to it, Drive is an impressive film, giving off brilliance of a cult film, which maybe only be comparable to Scorsese’s iconic Taxi Driver (1976).
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