• 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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  • Numb (2015)

    Well, at least some of the landscapes were beautiful.

    To be honest, Numb had few more things going for it than gorgeous Canadian landscapes. The film had an appropriately cold and sinister atmosphere. Numb doesn't overstay its welcome with a running time around ninety minutes. The initial story sounded interesting enough to spend five bucks on it.

    Numb is about an indebted couple that comes across two hitchhikers, a former prisoner and his prostitute sister. The four come across a man suffering of hypothermia who dies when they try to rescue him in the middle of the night. They find out that he was the only survivor of a group of thieves who robbed four million dollars in gold coins twenty years ago. They retrieve a piece of paper with some GPS data among the dead man's belongings and assume that this must be the spot where the thieves caught the money twenty years ago. The four decide to go out in the woods despite harsh weather conditions to get the money and start new lives. However, conflicts soon occur as the weather gets worse by the hour.

    The premise of the movie sounds good but everything described above is initially the whole story. One never gets to know where the former prisoner and the prostitute actually came from and why they were aimlessly walking outside in the cold weather in the beginning of the story. The reasons why the thief decided to get the money in the middle of winter just after being released from prison after twenty years instead of waiting for the summer are never explained. The fact that the four treasure hunters go out in the woods without gloves, snowshoes, toques or any other kind of equipment to survive in the harsh winter doesn't make any sense at all either. The reasons why they start turning against one another are shallow as well. A random side character who is living in a cabin is introduced out of nowhere and soon killed for very shallow reasons. Even the movie's resolution with the police officer doesn't make any sense at all if you think about it for a second. Overall, the entire script is poorly written. If you expect any explanations, suspense or twists, you are going to be disappointed.

    The acting is just as wooden as the faceless characters for whose fates the viewers don't care because it's impossible to empathize with them: a lying husband, his egoistic wife, a philosophic prisoner and a greedy prostitute with anger management issues.

    Camera and light techniques are average, the film's pace is quite dragging and even the soundtrack is somewhat sleep-inducing.

    At the end of the day, my rating for the film is generous and if I didn't like Canadian winter, I would even give this film a lower rating. This average thriller wastes much initially intriguing potential. You can watch this on a snowy afternoon if you have one and a half hours of free time. Don't spend too much money on it. There are numerous movies set in harsh winter weather conditions like The Grey that are so much better than this Canadian independent film.

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  • Unsane (2018)

    I wasn't expecting very much from the film, especially since it is a low-budget production shot with an iPhone camera. However, Unsane is a great psychological thriller with an ideal running time just above one and a half hours.

    The movie's camera work is much better than anticipated. I expected too many shaky camera sections with blurry images that would induce headaches if seen on a big screen. This isn't the case at all. The camera work is precise and calm, if a little bit static at some points. Shaky camera passages are scarcely used and only on purpose, when the main character is overdosing or trying to escape. It becomes really obvious that an experienced director like Steven Soderbergh is behind this film.

    In addition to the surprisingly innovative camera work, Unsane also convinces with a calm and mysterious soundtrack that always blends in perfectly. The light techniques are also employed skillfully and often add a gloomy touch to the sinister movie. There are very few special effects which are used very efficiently as they make the viewers wonder whether the protagonist is experiencing reality or just hallucinating.

    The story itself is quite solid even though it doesn't reinvent the genre. It follows a young woman who is haunted by a stalker. She talks about her problems to a psychologist and gets interned at a psychiatric asylum against her will. At this sinister place, she comes across some inmates that believe and try to help her and others that want to get attention and menace her. However, she also sees her stalker who works there and constantly watches her. The psychiatrists don't believe her as the young woman is becoming more and more stressed out which also leads to excessive outbursts of violence. At a certain points, she starts to wonder whether she is going insane or not. She seeks the help of another inmate, police officers and her religious mother in vain and realizes that she can only save herself which leads to an intense finale with a haunting epilogue.

    Despite an overall interesting story, the movie has several plot holes or at least strange coincidences related to the presence of the film's antagonist. Revealing you anything more would spoil the experience but let's just say the movie isn't even slightly realistic. If you are however ready to accept that a work of fiction can be nonsensical and open up to this film, you will get ninety-eight minutes of excellent entertainment with great actors, an intense atmosphere and a tense story line.

    Fans of psychological thrillers can give this movie a shot. It convinces with solid acting, sinister atmosphere, fluid pace, tense plot and original camera work. The only downside are several plot holes that make the story nonsensical at times. Please note that this isn't a horror movie. The film is gloomy, mysterious and tense but not really scary. It's a very good psychological thriller.

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  • Red Sparrow (2018)

    The idea behind Red Sparrow is everything but new. The idea of an innocent girl from a poor background who gets transformed into a machine using its body, intellect and strength as weapons has already been portrayed in the heavily underrated and quite emotional Naked Weapon or more recently in the quite brutal and sinister The Villainess. The movie also offers the usual stereotypes that are sadly still persistent in the twenty-first century. The evil Russian are still stuck in the Cold War while the good Americans try to help everyone and promote positive values. Women are treated like pieces of meat in the film and constantly seen as sexual objects by men. Even the American protagonist who is supposedly not like the other men ends up sleeping with the film's heroine on their second encounter at his apartment. If it were that easy to pick up girls in the real world, my friends certainly wouldn't be singles. Remember the final two movies of the Hunger Games franchise when Jennifer Lawrence was either being hysterical or crying throughout half of those films? That's pretty much also the case here. Half of the movie either shows her naked, how she gets beaten up by men or how she cries. Sometimes she does all these things at the same time which is quite tiring.

    Despite the weak story, those annoying stereotypes and predictable character traits, Red Sparrow is still an overall enjoyable film. First of all, one must admit that Jennifer Lawrence makes the best out of the plot and is actually quite credible as tough young woman with a fragile side. The film has a quite gloomy atmosphere that brings the spirit of the Cold War back to life with lots of shady conspiracies. The story is tense and offers some rewarding minor twists towards the end. The action scenes are brief but intense and quite realistic as they even silenced the teenagers stuck on their cell phones at the cinema. The locations in Vienna, Moscow, London and Budapest are also nicely chosen. Instead of showing us beautiful monuments like so many other movies do, the film shows us glamorous hotel rooms as opposed to cold bunkers, rich banks as opposed to poorly equipped apartments and isolated mansions in snowy landscapes as opposed to crowded airports.

    To keep it simple, if you like tense spy movies, you are going to be entertained by Red Sparrow. It might not reinvent the genre but it's well-executed, has an intriguing story and the acting performances are above average. If you like this film, you should also check out Naked Weapon and The Villainess. In this movie, Russia is behind but in cinema, America is behind these days. Red Sparrow isn't a movie that will be featured in many top lists by the end of the year but it is good for what it is. I will give it a very generous seven points.

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