•  Muhou wanjia / A or B (2018)

    A or B is a dramatic Chinese thriller that comes around with numerous surprises, twists and turns that will keep you on the edge of your seat from start to finish. This breathless, clever and dynamic movie convinces with a truly amazing script, great acting performances and stunning settings and is best enjoyed at a cinema. After a concise exposition of about fifteen minutes, the rising action starts quite mysteriously, leading towards a series of surprising climaxes, transitioning to an intense falling action and coming around with a detailed resolution that will make you think about this film long after you have watched it.

    The movie introduces us to an investor who has made a lot of money on the back of former associates and mentors. Wealth has corrupted this man who lives in an isolated mansion with his desperate wife who doesn't recognize the ambitious gentleman she once fell in love with anymore. When she finally decides to leave him, the investor gets drunk, has an argument with his chauffeur whom he suspects to have an eye on his wife and goes to bed in his mansion. The next day, he wakes up and realizes that he is kept captive in his mansion. An anonymous criminal contacts him and tells the investor that he must choose between two options every single day for five days that will have a serious impact on the lives of the investor and everyone who is close to him. If the investor doesn't choose either option, both will be chosen by the mysterious kidnapper and have dramatic consequences. The investor soon realizes that he must determine the things in life that really matter to him in order to protect and save them, escape his luxurious mansion that has become a death trap and find out who the mysterious assailant is in order to end his nightmare and save his reputation.

    A or B is a movie that challenges you to analyze, feel and observe. It's an incredibly rewarding experience because it takes its audience seriously. If you like intellectual thrillers, this film might already be your candidate for movie of the year.

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  • Black Tower - The Secret Fire (2015)

    Black Tower is one of the most unique metal bands I have ever come across. The trio consisting of drummer, keyboarder and backing vocalist Dave Williams, bassist and backing vocalist Skottie Lobotomy and lead vocalist and guitarist Erin Ewing offers a mixture of melodic punk rock, traditional heavy metal and occasional black metal outbursts. Lyrics and artwork are inspired by Tolkien's literature. It's not surprising that a band with such an unusual sound is quite controversial and I have read many reviews criticizing the band while I have also come across very favorable opinions.

    I discovered the band by coincidence when they opened for brilliant doom metal band Loviatar and immediately got into the band's sound that manages to be atmospheric and catchy at the same time. Despite its seemingly eclectic genre mixture, Black Tower really has its very own sound that is present from start to finish. The Secret Fire might only be thirty-two minutes long but it has such a great flow that it invites you to spin it over and over again.

    Black Tower's band members have punk rock roots and know how to write short and concise tracks that will stay on your mind like the gripping ''Black Moon'' that is just above two minutes long. The band also knows how to employ gloomier sound with occult keyboard melodies as in the epic and almost progressive ''Winter''. Black Tower also manages to employ more aggressive soundscapes like in the compact opener ''Death March''. The band even offers an instrumental track with the closing ''(The Secret Fire)'' that comes around with campfire acoustic guitars and smooth keyboard sounds. One could perfectly imagine seeing the credits of a role play game rolling to this atmospheric tune that concludes the conceptual album perfectly.

    My favorite song is ''Riders'' that convinces with desperate and sinister verses culminating in a memorable and almost uplifting chorus you won't get out of your mind. The transitions between oppressive doom metal melodies and energetic punk riffs, plodding bass sounds and vivid sections, rhythmic drum patterns and fast and simplistic passages are absolutely stunning. One also has to point out the vocals. Even though they sometimes sound out of tone and aren't perfect from a technical perspective which goes along with the band's rebellious punk spirit, they are diversified, energetic and meorable as the singer shifts from low and dramatic vocal lines to more natural and melodic passages and occasional screams and shrieks. The vocals almost work like an additional instrument in this song to enhance the track's atmosphere. This surprising vocal technique represents the record's stylistics very well.

    Not everything is perfect with this album as the band still has room for improvement. The vocals could be a little bit more concise and skillful. The black metal elements could be a little bit more dominant to enhance the group's unique genre combination. The next record could be a little bit longer than just thirty-two minutes as well.

    However, I really dig Black Tower's occult hybrid of punk and metal stylistics. If one takes into consideration that The Secret Fire is the debut album of a low-key band from a place with a fairly limited metal scene, one has to applaud the trio for its imaginative first strike. I can only repeat myself by saying that The Secret Fire sounds like nothing else I have ever heard. If you like both metal and punk and are ready to open up your mind for something courageous, fresh and unique, then give this hidden gem a few spins. If you're a metal traditionalist however, then this surely isn't your cup of tea.

    Final rating: 85%

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  • Chaem-pi-eon / Champion (2018)

    Champion is an emotional South Korean sports drama. It tells the story of Korean-born arm wrestler Mark who lives a solitary life in America where he has grown up in a foster family. He isn't allowed to practice the sport he likes professionally and has to do odd jobs as security guard in filthy discotheques. He comes across shady promoter Jin-Ki who is determined to pay off his father's debts by making money with Mark. He lures him back to South Korea but Mark realizes that he neither feels at home in the United States of America where he has faced racism nor in South Korea where people find his American manners awkward. Things don't get better when Jin-Ki gets involved with criminal promoters who want him to manipulate the outcome of several duels as Mark doesn't cooperate and puts himself and Jin-Ki in a dangerous position. On his quest for peace of mind, Mark wants to meet his biological mother but learns that she has died of cancer. However, he learns that he has a sister who lives at her house with a curious daughter and an honest son. For the first time of his life, Mark seems to have found a family but he soon realizes that things are much more complicated than they seem. Soon, he has to not only compete professionally in a national tournament against manipulative criminals but to find meaning in his personal life.

    There are many elements that make Champion an absolutely outstanding movie. The story which openly references Over the Top with Sylvester Stallone might not be the most original one but it is performed with such genuine intensity, passion and talent that it doesn't matter. Sylvester Stallone is a quite wooden actor and the hollow performances by Dwayne Johnson are even worse. Ma Dong-seok shows how a gifted actor can play a tough guy with emotive depth without any shallow stereotypes. His performance is absolutely stunning because he becomes one with his role and will make viewers sympathize very easily.

    Aside of just focusing on the profound main character, the film offers several side stories that are truly intriguing. Promoter Jin-Ki seems to be a superficial manipulator at first sight but turns out to be a concerned son who wants to pay off his father's debts. Soo-Jin seems to be an unsuccessful shop owner who doesn't give her children the attention they need but she turns out being a gentle woman in search for compassion. Every single side character in this movie is interesting and developed with much thought.

    Champion is a film that might make you cry because it's heart-breaking to see a person who has faced as much hardship as Mark face important personal and professional challenges but the movie keeps things diversified from start to finish. The movie includes intelligent humor as it compares American and Korean cultures as well as childhood and adulthood and adds plenty of situation comedy that will put a big smile upon your face. If compared to numerous other Asian movies, this type of comedy never gets exaggerated or drifts into slapstick territory and contrasts and supports the movie's realistic tone surprisingly well.

    The movie also offers a lot of action and tension. Arm wrestling never seemed as intense, strategic and technical as in this movie and the competitions will put you on the edge of your seat. The physical fights involving criminal promoters and their associates are brief but vivid and never drift into martial arts to keep the film's realistic spirit.

    I had the chance to experience this film at a cinema with five other viewers while hollow effect-ridden action movies like Rampage attract millions of viewers. If you look for an emotional, intelligent and profound sports drama with sympathetic characters, you won't be satisfied with shallow Hollywood cinema but should give this passionate movie a fair chance. I hope to see more foreign movies like this one in North American cinemas but if you want to make this happen too, you have to actively support hidden gems like this one. In my opinion, Champion is already a solid candidate for movie of the year.

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  • Over Kill - Live in Overhausen (2018)

    Good evening, Overhausen! Thanks for calling your city similar to our band name. Overhausen, I like that! I will repeat this joke at least twenty times tonight. Let's rock, Overhausen!

    Alright, so you know that we have recently signed a worldwide deal with German label Nuclear Blast which is the reason why we record a live album in Germany and why I will try to say some stupid things in German from time to time. Alright, I've got a German joke for you: ''Es gibt zwei Sachen, die riechen nach Fisch. Eine davon ist Fisch!''

    Okay, back to topic, Overhausen! As you know, the first thing Nuclear Blast did after the signature of our worldwide deal is to release a highly expensive collection of mediocre records from our middle years, the stupidly titled Historikill. We thought we were done with living in the past and released a quite decent new studio record The Grinding Wheel. We wanted to record a live album with songs from our last four outputs but our label disagreed. People like living in the past, they said. You should play more classics, they said. In fact, you should only play classics, they said. So, we randomly chose two popular old records with Horrorscope and Feel the Fire and decided to play them in their entirety, one after another in anti-chronological order. 

    I know, this sounds sleep-inducing, Overhausen, and it is, but I also have good news. Apart of our groove metal years in the nineties and early years of the new millennium, we have always played ferocious thrash metal. No matter which album we're going to pick, it will always sound like Overkill. If this concept here works well, we will play The Years of Decay followed by Taking Over next time. Hell yeah, Overhausen! Tonight's show will include plenty of tough riffs, fast guitar solos, dominant bumblebee bass guitar passages and precise drum patterns. My band mates will deliver plenty of raw background vocals. Don't you worry about my vocals, I still sound like a mixture of Thin Lizzy's Phil Lynott, AC/DC's Bon Scott and my own grandmother. I will make you bang, cheer and sing along to our classics. And I will of course make some jokes and speak some German to make you go crazy: ''Ich bin ein Overhausener!''

    So, if you like our signature thrash metal style with a raw and authentic live production, you are going to appreciate this record and get almost two hours of ferocious and timeless music. ''Kauft diesen Scheiß, Overhausen!'' Thank you and good night!

    Final rating: 60%

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  • Ladies and gentlemen!

    Here are some pictures I have been taking over the past two weeks in Ottawa, Hull and Aylmer. Enjoy!

    Nepean Point in Ottawa.

    Reconciliation: The Peacekeeping Monument with National Gallery of Canada on the left and Notre-Dame Cathedral.

    Ottawa Lockstation and Fairmont Château Laurier.

    Brown-green frog.

    Grey frog.

    Jumping squirrel in Gatineau Park.

    Chipmunk in Gatineau Park.

    A tree in Pink Lake.

    Pink Lake Observatory.

    Gatineau Park.

    Mackenzie King Estate.

    Waterfall in Gatineau Park.

    Ruins of Mackenzie King Estate.

    Clearing with boardwalk somewhere in Gatineau Park.

    Symmes Inn Museum in Aylmer.

    Ottawa River beside Aylmer Marina.

    Aylmer Marina.

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