• The Gift (2015)

    ''The Gift'' is one of the very best movies in a so far rather disappointing cinematic year 2015. The low-budget production lives from its strong acting and twisted plot that comes around with creative ideas and unpredictable surprises from start to finish. The dialogues, effects and locations are realistic and make this a very authentic, credible and realistic movie. Don't let the rather generic trailer and the seemingly ordinary synopsis fool you.


    The movie kicks off like a rather usual psycho thriller. A young and successful couple portrayed by gifted actors Rebecca Hall and Jason Bateman just moved back to California and organizes its new life. The fragile Robyn and the self-confident Simon have just purchased a gorgeous new home, Simon has found a promising job where he might get promoted soon and Robyn starts working on a few new things at home. One afternoon, the couple meets the socially awkward Gordo, played by the unpredictable Joel Edgerton who really steals the show, who is an old classmate of Simon. He seems to be very kind to the couple but Simon refuses to develop a friendly relationship to him. Gordo though gently insists and starts offering expensive gifts to the couple. Robyn has a heart for the charming outsider and convinces her husband to invite him for dinner but things don't stop there. Soon, Gordo starts taking a lot of space in their lives, stalks the insecure Robyn and offers more and more expensive gifts to her and Simon. At this point, the audience starts to realize how fragile the relationship between Robyn and Simon really is. They are constantly debating and rarely agreeing with each other. Simon feels forced to take a radical decision and tells Gordo to leave them alone for good.


    That's where the movie starts to become a gripping horror movie. Gordo seemingly continues to stalk the couple and weird things start happening to them. Their fishes die, their dog disappears and Robyn feels constantly observed when she is home alone. At one moment, she even seems to have a nervous breakdown and starts taking strong medication. The relationship between Robyn and Simon decreases as she seems to be too weak to turn the page and Simon too egocentric to really care about his wife's concerns.


    At that moment, the movie takes another turn. The couple's dog comes back and is alive and kicking. Robyn realizes that she is pregnant and Simon soon gets promoted. Everything seems too perfect to be true and as a matter of fact, the movie soon turns into a twisted drama as the past comes back to haunt both Robyn and Simon. The audience soon discovers more and more about the mysterious past of Gordo, Robyn and Simon and after a while the thin line between potential culprits and victims seems to disappear.

     


    Even though my short summary might seem detailed to you, it only gives away some minor details about one of the best plots in the psycho thriller genre of the past five years. The movie doesn't stop to come around with new surprises and a more and more convincing acting. Each time the movie seems to take a break, the menacing atmosphere comes back with a sudden bang and plays with the anticipation, emotions and perceptions of the audience. You can't let go off the film and even the unusual and controversial ending will stay on your mind for a quite long time. If you like this highly recommendable movie of the year candidate, make sure to check out the clever French film noir gem ''The Serpent'' by Eric Barbier that is quite similar to this film but different enough to be worth to be discovered.

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  • Fear X (2003)

    "Fear X" (2003) is a quite weird psycho-thriller by the highly experimental Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn who is known for other controversial art house films like "Valhalla Rising" (2009) and "Only God Forgives" (2013). "Fear X" feels like an unfinished movie that seems to offer a lot of food for thought at first contact but only leads to two possible conclusions after the almost abrupt ending. Many viewers will be disappointed by the lack of a proper conclusion while others may find exactly this aspect very creative. In my opinion, the movie lacks the detailed descriptions and out-thought storytelling qualities of comparable art house directors like David Lynch. If you are not into slow paced art house movies, you are going to waste your time. If you are honestly interested in this genre, there are other classics like "Aguirre, the Wrath of God" (1972), "Lost Highway" (1997), "Audition" (1999), "In the Mood for Love" (2000) and "Memento" (2001) you should have watched and appreciated before you venture into the more liberal territory of "Fear X".

    As for the story, I invite you to discover it by yourself and don't want to give any more details than these: A depressed security guard can't forget about the murder of his wife that happened at his workplace some time ago when the young woman was gunned down along with a police officer by an unknown in the parking lot of a shopping mall. The desperate man is still looking for any possible detail to reconstruct the mysterious murder in order to understand why his wife had to die. A mysteriously discovered photograph leads him to a place where his wife and him had been on vacation several months earlier and his arrival will create a lot of nervous tension in town.

    As a fan of the art house genre, there are several things I appreciated and disliked about this movie. The first negative aspect is that the movie has a complete absence of crime scenes. The movie would have kicked off in a much more dynamical way if the director had shown us the initial crime that is later shown on blurry surveillance camera footage only. An even bigger problem is the lack of details in the plot that could have delivered some food for thought. Apart of the two main characters, all other appearances remain peripheral even though some of them actually had some potential. Many little scenes don't add anything to the plot at all. These scenes aren't there to confuse us either or to tell us more about the characters, I feel like them being really unnecessary. As I said before, there are two ways to analyze this movie in the end but I don't want to spoil this film for you as you need to experience it on your own to make up your own mind about it. One of these two options would induct a couple of massive plot holes though which would make this film appear quite amateurish.

    The movie also has its strong points though. The movie doesn't feature too many dialogues and the actors have to work a lot with their facial expressions. This approach is experimental and intriguing and the actors and actresses actually do a very convincing job. The movie's strongest point is its bleak and slightly surreal atmosphere. This point is supported by a minimalist soundtrack by Brian Eno, a clever choice of settings including many dark rooms and the use of the colour red in many scenes and the slow paced acting and storytelling. Even though nothing really happened in some scenes, the movie got me on the edge of my seat like an atmospheric horror movie. Some surreal elements of the film also added a nice psychological suspense that turned somehow out to be the main guiding line of this film.

    In the end, this movie pretty much offers as many positive as negative points. I liked to experience this movie once but I guess I wouldn't watch it again or recommend it to many people. I felt that this movie had a lot of potential and especially the first two thirds of the film very actually intriguing but the last third and the hollow ending were a negative surprise in my opinion. This movie is for patient art house cinephiles and fans of the controversially discussed director only.

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  • Despite the negative critics, this is a more than concinging nod to the original

     

    There are a lot of controversial discussions about this movie and I would simply like to add my own opinion. First, let me tell you that I am a big fan of Asian and especially South Korean cinema. The original Oldboy movie was one of the first movies introducing me to South Korean cinema many years ago. I have watched this movie over and over again and it never stopped fascinating me. I am a big fan of original director Park Chan Wook who also made other amazing movies such as the drama "Joint Security Area", the diversified "Sympathy for Mister Vengeance" and the emotional comedy "I'm a Cyborg, but That's OK". The original main actor Choi Min Sik is one of my favourite actors ever who performed in classics like the action blockbuster movie "Shiri", the grizzly masterpiece "I Saw the Devil" or recently in the strong gangster epic "New World". Most Hollywood remakes of Asian movies are quite poor because they can't transfer the magic and uniqueness of the originals and don't add any essential own elements or new plot ideas. When I heard that there would be a Hollywood remake for Oldboy I was frustrated and expected they would dishonour another unique masterpiece. 


    To my own big surprise, this remake is very decent. If you haven't seen the original, you might like it anyway but even if you're a fan of it, this remake is worth your attention and respect. 


    There were some elements I liked better and some parts I didn't like as much as in the original. Let's start with the negative. 


    First of all, I think that the villains portrayed by Sharlto Copley and Samuel L. Jackson are shown a little bit too quickly in this movie. The remake should have kept a few surprises for the middle part of the movie. The original also revealed the villain's identity too quickly in my opinion but the remake made these mistakes even faster. 


    Even though the actors are doing a great job, the relationship between Joe Ducett and Marie Sebastian isn't as appealing, mysterious and later on darkly passionate as in the original film. The story behind it isn't explained in a very credible way in the end.While the remake feels like the predictable love story of two suffering people who need to support each other, the original had a more mature, philosophical and subtle touch. 


    The famous stabbing scene from the original is unbeatable. While the original was quite graphic, the remake starts the same way but turns out to feel like a slapstick moment. This kind of humour doesn't really fit into the movie at that point. This is something I would have expected from a Tarantino movie but not from this kind of movie with a calmer, darker and more menacing tone. 


    While the final scenes of the remake are fine and even add some new elements to the original plot as the film and music studios, I still prefer the ending of the original including the photo book, the hypnotizing scene and the closing moments in the nature. This kind of ending was courageous and made people adore or hate this movie. The makers westernized the original film and gave it an own identity with a less controversial ending here. 


    Concerning the positive aspects, I like the fact that the introduction took more time to show us the backstabbing, greedy and ignorant behaviour of the main character. When we see this character changing over the next twenty years, these elements add some depth to the character development. The first fifteen minutes or so also introduce the viewers to several potential foes who could have imprisoned the main character. As in a classic crime movie, it makes you guess who might have done it. Let's also add that this additional development made me appreciate the main character a lot more than the original one that was perfectly portrayed but a completely different character. This is where Hollywood is trying to do something different. Instead of creating a monster that has lost its mind and acts in a very odd way, it portrays us an arrogant, disrespectful and superficial human being that actually becomes a caring father who knows how to deal with convictions, perseverance and responsibilities. Josh Brolin is doing an excellent job.  


    I must admit that I prefer the new villain. The way he acts, looks and talks has a very unique style. I had never heard of Sharlto Copley before but I have him on my list now. 


    I don't want to give away too many details but I liked two more elements in this remake. First of all, the events that happened to the villain's family were effective, intriguing and gave me goosebumps. 


    Last but not least, I liked the way how the excited villain shows his guest his secret rooms and everything he did over the past twenty years.  

     


    In the end, I was positively surprised by the high amount of positive aspects in this remake. The movie kept the most important elements from the original and added some own ideas to the formula. The acting was flawless with the character development being the strongest point. The movie was entertaining from the beginning to the end and had no boring moments. The original had a few lengths and less character development but on the other side, it first came around with this amazing plot and included a couple of legendary scenes that can't be found in the remake: the squid eating scene, the brutal stabbing scene, the main character's desperate self-mutilation and the hypnotizing scene in the cold nature. The original is still better and worth nine if not ten points while the remake only gets a generous eight points from me. This movie really is one of the better remakes I have seen and not as bad as people say. 

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  • Prisoners (2013)

     

    I have seen many good movies from all around the world this year but "Prisoners" seems to be the best North American film of the year so far. It's not so much about the story of the movie that recalls the French Canadian "7 Days" movie by Daniel Grou that was inspired by a Patrick Senécal novel. Both films tell the story of a desperate family father who seeks revenge on a strange suspect for kidnapping (or worse?) his daughter while everything around him is suddenly falling apart. 

    The impressive things about "Prisoners" are others. One must mention the constant dark atmosphere of the movie. This is due to the intensive story that is in fact the worst nightmare for any loving father or mother on earth. This movie is an intense mixture of the drama and thriller genres with a few decently used gore scenes and scary moments that aren't a far call from the horror genre.

    Each character shown in this movie is going through really hard times from the family father, his wife, his son and his best friends over the more and more isolated detective to the suspected kidnapper and a strange copycat kidnapper.

    In addition to this, most of the time in this movie the sky looks very grey, it's raining or actions take place in the middle of almost moonless nights.

    The inoffensive but dark and somewhat uneasy score underlines this depressive film noir approach.

    Not only the French Canadian director Denis Villeneuve who created the intense drama "Incendies" in the past delivers a detailed and intense work. The most outstanding thing is the acting. Hugh Jackman plays the role of his life as a desperate family father who is slowly going insane and ready to do anything to save his daughter. It's hard to portray a character who is going through such an incredible nightmare but Hugh Jackman is always convincing. You can feel his emotions in every word he speaks, in every move he makes and in every breath he takes. This acting performance should be worthy of an Academy Award. Jake Gyllenhaal is just as great and also does his best acting performance. He portrays a visibly nervous detective if you just take a look on his almost hyperactive eye movements. We see a detective who tries to be professional and dedicated to his job but who gets more and more isolated and who starts making more and more mistakes. By the end of the movie, the kidnapping case has also become something almost personal for him as he acts beyond rationality to solve the case. Jake Gyllenhaal's performance is also worthy of an Academy Award. The supporting actors are also doing a fine job. Especially Paul Dano convinces as inscrutable and unpredictable suspect. His aunt portrayed by Melissa Leo gets better and better as the movie progresses.

    The tension of the story gets more and more elevated towards the end. I don't want to reveal any twists but let's say that I didn't see the incredible revelations coming. During the last thirty minutes or so, the movie even got me more on the edge of my seat than it was the case before. These last thirty minutes introduce a whole new dimension to the movie. Some viewers may dislike this new approach but I thought that it added even more intensity to the film.

     


    At the end of the day, this is an atmospheric, intense and extremely well acted film noir that mixes credible drama elements with gripping and sometimes scary crime passages. If you care for any of these genres, you can't get around this movie this year. I hope it will win a couple of Academy Awards next year as I can hardly see any better Hollywood movie these days. I'm convinced this will be considered as a classic or one of the best movies of all times one day.
     

     

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  • Jackie Brown (1997)

     

     

    Quentin Tarantino is a man between genius and madness who has created some of the best movies ever but also a few true Fails in my opinion. "Jackie Brown" is just between both extremes for me and is maybe his most unspectacular film to date.

    On the positive side, this movie is Tarantino's most organic one until now. The characters are more credible than usual, the dialogues aren't all too over the top and the story line is quite easy to follow. The movie includes no special effects, shock moments or unexpected twists and feels surprisingly down to earth for a Quentin Tarantino movie. From that point of view, it's a quite unique movie from him. The acting is authentic and very well done. Pam Grier plays an attractive and intelligent lady in her forties who starts the movie as a victim just to become the one who plays with each other character around her. Samuel L. Jackson does a convincing role as superficial but not dumb gangster. Robert Forster plays a bondsman and smart gentleman with a lot of charisma as well. He's the actor I somehow like the most in this movie. In addition to the movie's authentic mood and the great acting, the soundtrack is as always quite convincing as well and introduces us to many great Afroamerican musicians. I must though admit that I preferred by far the soundtracks of other Tarantino movies such as "Kill Bill" or "Django Unchained" for example.

    On the other side, the movie definitely has its lengths as many Tarantino movies. There are some more or less important endless dialogues that should have been shortened in my opinion. This movie would have just been fine with a running time between ninety and one-hundred-five minutes in my opinion. Apart of that, the story is not only down to earth but also quite unspectacular and there isn't that much going on in two hours and a half. The movie feels a little bit too simple at some points. Apart of the acting, the movie lacks of a true highlight. The killing scenes are really unspectacular and you don't see very much. It's the same thing for one single and quite boring sex scene. The movie is supposed to have a few humorous moments but they really aren't all that memorable. The showdown in the mall also lacks tension. It shows us the same scene from three different views which gets quite redundant. The only truly gripping moments in this movie are the first E encounter between Pam Grier and Samuel L. Jackson in her apartment and the scene when Robert Forster and Samuel L. Jackson go to the Office of the bondsman. 

    In the end, this film could have been a standout movie in Tranatino's career because it's quite different from what he usually does. The film though fails from that point of view and drags on far too long and turns out to be quite unspectacular or even boring at some points. It all feels more like a theatre play where convincing dialogues by solid actors matter but not much more. I have seen far worse but also far better movies and I would only recommend this flick to die hard fans of Quentin Tarantino's works.

     

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