• Gear (2017)

    When I heard that this independnet Canadian thriller was shown in a small independent movie theater in my region, I decided to give it a shot. When I arrived on a cold Tuesday night, I was told that there were only fifteen seats left and my ticket could only be purchased with the help of the manager's password. I was surprised and excited to hear that this movie could attract such a big crowd on such an unusual day. When I actually entered the cinema, it turned out that only three other people were in the audience with me: a corpulent middle-aged man who nearly fell asleep during the film, a lonely old man and a middle-aged Asian woman. Why am I telling you this anecdote? It's because the movie was a similar letdown as the disappointing audience.

    There are only a few positive points to mention about the film. The main idea of the story is intriguing as we follow a driver who is forced to bring his late wife's sister to her execution after he lost a shipment. The movie shows beautiful locations and was mostly shot in Quebec City, Montreal and Toronto. Finally, the camera work was mostly calm and precise.

    Everything else was a complete mess. The acting performances were robotic and stiff. All characters were antipathic and one could't empathize with any of them. The movie plodded on with endless driving sequences and vapid dialogues. The story never truly unfolded and even seemed ridiculous at times, especially towards the end. There were no memorable scenes whatsoever. The few action sequences seemed lackluster. The soundtrack reminded me of an untalented teenager creating songs on an old computer in his parents' basement.

    When you are an unknown filmmaker with a limited budget, you might only have one shot at glory. You need to produce a film that is convincing, gripping and unique. This movie is worse than most high school film projects I have watched. It's lacking creativity, drive and passion. I have only spent four dollars on watching this flick but even those weren't worth it. You will forget that bland film as soon as it concluded, so there is no need to watch it in the first place.

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  • A Simple Favor (2018)

    A Simple Favor is a psycho thriller that is very similar to films like Gone Girl or The Girl on the Train. It's a little bit too similar and therefore slightly predictable. However, this movie is still greatly executed and very entertaining. The second and especially the last third are particularly intense.

    The opening third slightly overstays its welcome. It has the purpose to introduce the numerous characters but since the very first scene already spoils one of the main characters' disappearance, the audience only waits for this to happen. However, the exposition appropriately introduces the three main characters. We follow the slightly nervous single mother and widow Stephanie who has a passion for activities in her community and especially cooking. She meets the mysterious Emily who is very strict, straightforward and even rude at times but who lives life to the fullest. Her husband Sean is an author with writer's block who madly loves his wife. The first third feels like a slice of life, using humorous and dramatic elements but being somewhat shallow beneath the surface.

    The rising action finally starts when Emily disappears from one day to the other. She asked her best friend Stephanie to take her son from school and said she would come pick him up. However, she vanishes without leaving a trace. Emily starts to wonder what might have happened and starts investigating her suspicious employer. She also uses her internet show to ask viewers from around the country for help. The movie that started in a rather light-hearted tone gets a more serious touch here that soon turns sinister.

    The climax, falling action and resolution all occur in the film's final third that comes around with several twists, lots of tension and a healthy dose of drama. The last forty minutes or so will keep the audience on the edge of their seats. The final conclusion is slightly disappointing but the build-up is so outstanding that it actually barely matters.

    Aside the progressive change from light-hearted comedy drama to sinister psycho thriller, the movie convinces with its clever plot and outstanding acting performances by the three main characters. If you like the aforementioned Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train, you can consider A Simple Favor movie of the year material. If you just enjoy twisted psycho thrillers, you will like this gripping film that however lacks some creativity compared to quite similar movies that have been released all too recently.

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  • Appointment with Death (1988)

    I have appreciated numerous cinematic adaptations of Agatha Christie's novels, including Murder on the Orient Express, Death on the Nile and Evil Under the Sun that have been released throughout the seventies and eighties. The movies have convinced me and fans all around the world with charismatic star actresses and actors, characters with charisma, charm and depth as well as unpredictable twists and turns in the addicting plots. None of these things can be found in this dull film.

    Let's start with the few positive elements. The photography looks gorgeous and was filmed on location in Italy and Israel. The movie makes you want to visit these exotic locations. The only convincing actress is Piper Laurie who plays the cold matriarch brilliantly. Sadly, her character gets killed halfway through the movie. The few investigative flashbacks in the film's second half at least make you guess who might have committed the murder for a few moments but the outcome is surprisingly simple.

    On the negative side, we have not only surprisingly shallow characters but also unconvincing actresses and actors. Peter Ustinow who once again impersonates Belgian detective Hercule Poirot looks slow, old and dull and he speaks way too much without saying anything significant. His wit, sharpness and good manners of yore seem to be gone. The moment when he finally solves the crime feels artificially stretched. The story isn't particularly exciting either. This isn't only due to the fact that none of the characters evokes any kind of sympathy but also to a surprising lack of twists and turns leading to an unusually predictable outcome. The directing of the movie is also lacking sharpness as it takes almost half of the running time to introduce the numerous characters before anything significant happens. The second half of the movie feels somewhat rushed on the other side and a few questions are left unanswered. The film's conclusion is also rather underwhelming and seems misplaced. The source material is only partially to blame here since the resolution has been shortened considerably for this adaptation.

    In the end, Appointment with Death is the weakest cinematic adaptation of an Agatha Christie novel and there have been quite a few. The movie hasn't aged well at all. The acting performances are mostly underwhelming, the characters are uninteresting, the movie has strange pace, the plot is a routine job at best and the conclusion is disappointing. I can recommend the other adaptations mentioned in the introduction but would recommend anyone to stay away from Appointment with Death.

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  • The Reef (2010)

    Are there still people who are watching shark movies in the twenty-first century? Apparently so but since there wasn't anything else on television, I still gave The Reef a shot. It was a solid movie, no more, no less. The story is as simple as it gets. Five friends go on a sailing trip but their ship capsizes. Four friends decide to swim to the next Island while one of them stays on the capsized ship. They are soon hunted down by a Great White Shark and try to survive.

    On the positive side, the movie has a few solid jump scares in the first half and some tense moments in the second half that keep the tension high. Secondly, the film avoids special effects and actually uses genuine shark footage which gives the film a more realistic touch since the animal isn't portrayed as a brutal beast but rather as an intelligent predator. Thirdly, even though the characters are lacking depth, they aren't stereotypical and the movie only offers one predictable scene with a hysterically screaming woman.

    On the negative side, the movie gets slightly dull despite its relatively short running time as patterns are particularly repetitive in the second half. The fate of one of the characters and the ship is never really explained for unknown reasons. The film ends with a boring short written epilogue instead of offering a proper conclusion as if the producers had run out of funds.

    In conclusion, this film is only interesting for shark movie fans and if there's really nothing else on television. The film is neither bad nor good which makes it rather forgettable.

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  • The High Bright Sun (1965)

    The High Bright Sun is a movie that I watched as a child on German television and I immediately fell in love with it. I liked the cool title, the melodic soundtrack, the stunning landscapes, the solid acting and the gripping mixture between adventurous action scenes, historic references and a little love story. More or less twenty years later, I decided to revisit this film to see whether I would like it as much being an adult now. It turns out that I do.

    Great movies often start with few words but impressive images. This is also the case here. We see British soldiers on Cyprus who are looking tense and nervous while civilians look at them with scorn and sulk. These opening three minutes set the tone for the rest of the movie. The story revolves around the Cyprus Uprising against British rule in the late fifties. Juno is an American archaeology student of Cypriot origin who stays at the beautiful mansion of Doctor Andros, a childhood friend of her father. She nearly gets assaulted when two local teenagers mistake her for a British woman. Soon after, she witnesses how two British soldiers get killed in their vehicle. She arrives at the scene of the crime where a dying soldier tells her that he recognized the man who attacked him from a photograph before he loses consciousness and ultimately dies. It turns out that the assailant is a general and important figure in the resistance movement who is hiding at Doctor Andros' mansion. The rebels are afraid Juno could be aware of what's going on and betray them. Doctor Andros trusts her and believes she doesn't understand what's going on. Charismatic British intelligence officer McGuire seeks Juno's cooperation in order to dismantle the group of rebels. Tension rises as the young American student gets caught in a deadly conflict that isn't hers.

    There are three elements that distinguish this British production from most Hollywood productions around the same time. First of all, the movie has a gritty and tense tone from start to finish and even the few romantic passages are always quite short and not overacted. Secondly, the movie deals with some controversial topics such as codes of honor, extramarital relationships and even attempted rape. Thirdly, the movie isn't as one-sided as one could have expected. Some Cypriot rebels are pitiless while others show compassion. Some British soldiers are shown as brave while others are revealed as being stupid. This fits to the two lead characters. The American student is charming and friendly but she also risks the lives of those around her with her at times careless behavior. The British intelligence officer wants to solve murder cases and dismantle a group of rebels but he treats the American student rudely at times, makes fun of his superiors and even gets discharged at a certain point. The authentic characters are all very profound and have clear strengths and weaknesses.

    The only element one could criticize nowadays is that the movie has a lot of dialogues, especially in the middle section. However, the dialogues are very solid and add some content and depth to an authentic and suspenseful film. It's an intelligent action-thriller that takes its time to unfold and doesn't use too many special effects to convince. This is the kind of directing that I really like but younger audiences might find it slightly boring because they aren't used to this type of film-making. The last forty-five minutes or so are however more fast-paced than the rest and should keep any viewer on the edge of the seat.

    If you like action-thrillers with profound characters in an exotic setting, you will certainly like The High Bright Sun. Those who admire the first few James Bond movies will find something similar here but with a more realistic plot. Even though the movie obviously features the behavior, music and styles of the mid-sixties, it has stood the test of time as the story, settings and characters are quite authentic. It was a pleasure revisiting the movie and I would certainly watch it again and recommend it to anyone.

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