• Thugs of Hindostan (2018)

    I'm certainly no expert of Bollywood films, I'm not familiar with the actresses, actors and director involved and can't compare this movie to any others of this kind. I simply watched the film at the cinema because I like epic pirate movies. The plot summary sounded intriguing, so I watched the trailer which was decent enough for me to give this film a try. I expected a good average entertaining film but what I finally got is one of the best films of the year. I neither understand nor support the numerous exaggeratedly negative reviews for this movie. Watch the trailer instead and decide whether it's decent enough for you to give this film a chance just like I did.

    The film starts in 1795 when the Indian subcontinent is progressively controlled by British invaders. One of the last few independent, powerful and wealthy kings gets tricked, humiliated and murdered by a ruthless British East India Company officer. His daughter survives the massacre and escapes with a veteran officer. Many years later the daughter has become a skilled fighter and the general has become the leader of a group of thugs who specialize in sea-based warfare and expose a serious challenge to the expanding British East India company. The officer in command who once killed the king wants to find the hiding place of the thugs and kill all of them. Charming, cunning and selfish criminal Firangi Mallah gets caught in this conflict and decides to take advantage of the situation by betraying both sides until his conscience finally comes into play.

    There are numerous elements I liked about the movie. First of all, the opening sequence is surprisingly brutal, intense and suspenseful and sets the mood for an epic tale of vengeance. Secondly, the locations look absolutely stunning throughout the entire film. Thirdly, the sound and special effects are decent and not as bad as claimed by numerous reviewers. Fourthly, the story comes around with numerous twists and turns without ever getting too exaggerated. Fifthly, the film finds the right balance between facts and fancy with its historical references and supports values such as independence, liberty and loyalty. Sixthly, the movie takes the time it needs to tell its story of epic proportions instead of rushing it and you truly get value for money if you buy a movie ticket. Seventhly, the diversified characters are particularly intriguing, especially the philosophical former veteran officer and leader of the thugs, the cold-blooded company officer and the expressive criminal. Eighthly, the acting performances are great and especially Aamir Khan is as versatile as it gets and reminds me of Johnny Depp in his best years. Ninethly, the film has several similarities to the Pirates of the Carribean franchise but is not only better than that franchise that overstayed its welcome but also adds its very own twist to it in form of the costumes, dances and locations. Tenthly and finally, I'm usually not a fan of dance and song choreographies in movies but since this element is only present on three occasions in a film with a running time of nearly three hours and gives the film its unique Bollywood identity, I actually appreciated it for once.

    Some people might rate my review down, not because it's badly written or because its content is useless but because they might disagree with my opinion and reasoning which only discredits these critics that already gave this film a bad name it didn't deserve. If you like epic pirate movies, you can't get around watching Thugs of Hindostan which turns out being one of the best films of its kind and one of the most entertaining movies of the year. Grab some popcorn, invite a few friends and enjoy this epic experience to the fullest.

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  • Kakushi-toride no san-akunin / The Hidden Fortress (1958)

    The Hidden Fortress is an entertaining adventure film and rightfully regarded as one of Kurosawa Akira's greatest and most influential movies. The story follows two naive peasants who try to find gold during a war between the victorious Yamada clan and the defeated Akizuki clan. Instead of getting rich and famous, they end up getting caught on multiple occasions and are forced to do degrading labours. Their luck finally seems to turn when they find a piece of gold in a wooden stick in an isolated valley. This piece of gold belongs to the defeated Akizuki clan and their surviving general initially plans to kill the foolish peasants. When he learns of their plan to go back to their home province by passing by a third province in order to avoid the heavily guarded border, the general finds this idea so brilliant that he decides to test the peasants. He leads them into the clan's hidden fortress, promises them more gold and asks them to help him bring the riches to their home province which is allied with the Akizuki clan. What the general doesn't tell them is that the mute girl who travels with them is actually the princess of the Akizuki clan who needs to be brought to safety. The quartet's identity is soon compromised on their epic journey and the four characters need to fight for their own survival, the gold and the fate of the Akizuki clan.

    By Kurosawa's standards, The Hidden Fortress is a surprisingly fast-paced film. In the first half hour alone, we witness how the two peasants get separated during an argument, end up being caught by the Yamada clan, have to do hard physical labour, get mixed up in an uprising of prisoners of war, flee to a secluded valley, find some gold and meet the mysterious general. There are more things happening in the first quarter of this movie than in entire other films of the same genre. The Hidden Fortress is particularly entertaining from start to finish.

    The characters are also particularly vivid. The story is told by the two stupid, naive and dishonest peasants which adds an entertaining, humorous and light-hearted touch to the film. The mysterious general is brilliantly played by Mifune Toshiro who seemed to get better with each film he made with Kurosawa. Uehara Misa convinces in her first role as independent princess and incarnates a physically and mentally strong woman who avoids any stereotypes.

    The landscapes also add a lot to this epic movie. The quartet travels through rocky mountains, heavily guarded borders and ancestral villages. They sleep in crowded inns and wet caves. They fight enemy soldiers and join local peasants for a fire festival. The movie tells us a lot about Japanese culture and traditions.

    There are only two minor reasons why the film didn't get the perfect grade. First of all, the story is rather simplistic and could have been a little bit more surprising. Secondly, the cinematography is equally simple. It's not the director who stands out here but the brilliant actresses and actors.

    If you like adventure and action movies and are interested in Japanese culture, you should definitely watch The Hidden Fortress. The film has aged rather well and is still entertaining nowadays. The journey portrayed in this movie is so epic that it requests multiple viewings.

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  • Gon-ji-am / Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum (2018)

    Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum is a found footage horror film in the key of The Blair Witch Project, Quarantine and Grave Encounters. It follows a group of three young women and three young men who want to explore abandoned Gonjiam Psychiatric Hospital where several patients committed suicide and the director went missing.

    The story offers nothing new to the genre and is quite predictable from start to finish. Parts of the final third are confusing and tough to follow. Two of the six main characters remain rather faceless and the movie should have focused on the four more developed characters only.

    On the other side, the film gradually shifts from a light-hearted tone to a bleak supernatural horror film and the last third is particularly intense. The locations are carefully chosen and the fact that this building exists for real makes the movie more authentic. The manipulative group leader, the shy youngster, the expressive Korean-American and the naive nurse student are all interesting characters that complement one another perfectly. The fact that some of the scares turn out being made up while others are truly supernatural phenomenons adds a little twist which makes it hard for the viewer to know what's fake and what's real. Despite a low budget and the use of handhold cameras and simplistic drones, the movie is filmed with care and doesn't overuse shaky parts.

    In the end, Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum is an entertaining film for horror cinema fans and one of the better found footage horror films in recent memory. It doesn't reinvent the genre and the story could have been a little bit more creative but the scares work out rather well and the final thirty minutes will keep you on the edge of your seat.

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  • Mo seung / Project Gutenberg (2018)

    Project Gutenberg isn't an action movie but rather a crime drama that feels at times like a lengthy documentary about counterfeiting techniques. The film tells the story of Lee Man, a man who was part of a counterfeiting gang around a mastermind called Painter. Lee Man got arrested by the police who wants to know more about Painter in order to arrest him. Lee Man explains how they met in Canada and how he joined his gang while abandoning his dream of becoming a famous painter and having a family with his former girlfriend. After a theft had turned terribly wrong, Lee Man started to question his actions, grew distant from Painter and tried to find a way out of the gang. Their fatal conflict would soon lead to dramatic consequences for everyone involved.

    Even though the movie is just above two hours long, it feels much longer than it was. It takes at least an hour before the actual rising action started and the film finally quickens up the pace. However, it loses some steam towards the end and despite an explosive finale, the resolution is somewhat unsatisfactory and exaggerated. The story is told with the help of numerous lengthy flashbacks instead of offering a coherent and fluid delivery.

    However, there are also some positive elements about this movie. The acting performances are solid and the characters are quite fleshed out and intriguing. The locations are quite diversified as the film takes place in China, Taiwan and Thailand to just name a few locations. The few action sequences are quite vivid and visually stunning. The twisted story isn't predictable and will keep you interested until the very last scene.

    In the end, Project Gutenberg is a movie with interesting characters and some great special effects that wastes some potential with its complicated storytelling and overlong delivery. The film would have been much better if it had been shortened by at least thirty minutes and scripted with a story in chronmological order. In the end, Project Gutenberg is good enough to be watched on a rainy or stormy autumn evening but nothing really worthwhile as the positive reviews are quite exaggerated.

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  • Haebing / Bluebeard (2017)

    Bluebeard, obviously inspired the French folk tale of the same name, is a psychological thriller with many ups and downs that left me somewhat confused. Some parts of the movie were brilliant, others were underwhelming and even the resolution is partially satisfying and partially disappointing.

    The story revolves around a young doctor who has recently been starting to work in a clinic in a suburb of Seoul that is infamous for its numerous serial killer cases. The young doctor doesn't seem to have the best relationship with his divorced wife, fails to bond with his progressively estranged son, has socially awkward behavior, is constantly overworked and lives in a very small apartment due to serious financial problems. One day, he overhears his anesthetized patient and landlord mumbling about decapitating a human being. When the torso of a woman is found in a river a few days later, the doctor immediately suspects his aged landlord and his awkward son to be partners in crime and a duo of dangerous serial killers. The young doctor starts investigating independently, thus putting himself in great danger. 

    On the positive side, the movie oozes with a mysterious and almost surreal atmosphere from start to finish. The settings are sinister and at times claustrophobic. Lead actor Cho Jin-woong does an incredibly convincing performance as shy doctor who is gradually losing control of everything around him. The movie includes a few nightmarish dream sequences that are visually stunning and flirt with the horror genre. The simple but creepy soundtrack blends in perfectly. The story is intriguing enough to keep you watching until the lengthy resolution unfolds.

    On the negative side, the film has a slow and sluggish pace. One expects the film to shift into faster gear at a certain point but this just never happens. Some of the minor twists are somewhat predictable, as most of them simply turn out to be nightmares which isn't too creative. The resolution overstays its welcome and tries to surprise with a double twist. This only works when a movie is thoroughly thought through like the brilliant A Tale of Two Sisters but Bluebeard is filled with incongruities and leaves you scratching your head rather than being amazed by a clever plot.

    In the end, Bluebeard is worth your attention if you like slow-paced atmospheric psychological thrillers that challenge you to think along. However, the movie overuses its plot twists which end up being confusing or even nonsensical. Genre fans can give it a try but if you aren't too familiar with Korean thrillers yet you should watch A Tale of Two Sisters, Memories of Murder and I Saw the Devil before giving this one a try.

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