Thursday, 17 August 2017

TV SHOW REVIEW: TOP OF THE LAKE: CHINA GIRL


7/10

A suitcase with the unidentified body of an Asian woman is found on Bondi beach. Detective Constable Robin Griffith, who returns under a cloud of internal police investigation, is on the case. It becomes clear that the suspicious death is somehow connected to a local sex venue and a man nicknamed “Puss”. This 42 year old is the lover of Robin’s long lost daughter Mary. Focusing on the underbelly of Sydney sex venues and illegal surrogacy, CHINA GIRL is about motherhood. Who is the real mother? The one who gave you your life? Or the one who raised you?

The second season of TOP OF THE LAKE : CHINA GIRL is an odd animal. Building up an interesting premise it does not deliver on any level, but is utterly addictive for a reason I struggle to define. It has the magnetic atmosphere of Scandinavian noir. Shot in a washed out pallet it is the coldest Sydney you had ever seen on screen. 

The reason to enjoy the series is the performances.  Elizabeth Moss has mastered the expression of emotional pain. Here she is presented as a rather weak character, someone unable to protect herself, and finds her inner strength only towards the end.  Nicole Kidman is spot on as an upper class feminist (although she does not have the screen time that her character deserves) and Alice Englert delivers a perfect mix of vulnerability and strength to her young adult character of Mary. This could have been a disastrous performance for a lesser actor, considering the script at hand. Englert is the star to watch!

The story unfolds with menacing slowness. There is a feeling that something terrible is about to happen, but it takes its time. The plot leads to some unexpected turns of events, but here, unexpected means unwanted. It is hard to watch the finale without frustration - do not hold your breath for big revelations from the so-called murder mystery. It really is a slap in the face.


The best way to describe CHINA GIRL is “experimental”. It uses all the familiar plot devices, overuses coincidences, the story is totally improbable and yet… it is still believable as the writers and directors make it so. Rivalling the frustrating experience of watching the new season of Twin Peaks (both seasons of TOP OF THE LAKE heavily borrow from this show), CHINA GIRL makes all the wrong choices, but remains a compelling, if not satisfying, TV series that make you think.

Friday, 4 August 2017

MOVIE REVIEW: WAR OF THE PLANET OF THE APES



8/10

It's been years since the super flu wiped out most of the human population and made apes smart. Cesar and his tribe are looking for a new home, while being relentlessly attacked by human soldiers. When the leader of the humans, a self proclaimed dictator known as The Colonel, goes too far, Cesar and his best mates are in pursuit, to exact revenge. This fatal journey leads them straight into peril…

The third and the seemingly final installment of THE APES trilogy is an epic conclusion, and like its predecessor it focuses on human (or rather ape) drama more than action. Here is an extremely well written movie that does not shy away from exploring the darkest sides of humanity.

WAR is a particularly grim film. It is bleak, violent and often scary. After the explosive action of the opening scene the story becomes a slow burn, further exploring the character of Cesar who is constantly questioning his moral choices and is riddled with doubt and regret. Is he becoming a villain himself? The final confrontation with The Colonel, his latest nemesis, is more a struggle of wills than a physical battle and is resolved in a rather unexpected way.

Putting accent on suspense rather than on action, the film explosively culminates with an over the top set piece - a welcome and satisfying conclusion to the heart wrenching drama of the last hour of the film. 

The funny moments are few but are top notch. The comic relief comes from the character of Bad Ape, a chimpanzee created by actor Steve Zahn. He is proof that a CGI mask cannot conceal a great performance. 


WAR OF THE PLANET OF THE APES has many nods to bigger and arguably better films, such as Apocalypse Now, but it has its own dark beating heart. Being a perfect conclusion to a thought provoking SCI FI trilogy, it delivers both -  eye candy and food for the mind.

Monday, 3 July 2017

NETFLIX MOVIE REVIEW: OKJA


10/10

In the near future there's shortage of food on the planet. A solution comes in the form of Okja - a genetically modified pig who is raised in the Korean mountains, far from civilisation. There Okja befriends Mija, a young girl who becomes Okja’s only family. The idyllic life in the mountains abruptly ends when the company men, who own Okja, come back for their trophy. As Okja is kidnapped Mija follows her to Seoul and then to New York. In her quest to bring Okja home, she will stop at nothing, even making a deal with “the devil”.

OKJA was the first Netflix movie that competed for the Palme D’Or at Cannes this year and it’s no wonder that  it had the ambition to do so. With its Disney cutesy-pie premise it does not flinch from showing the dark side of life. This is definitely not a family type movie, with many gory and unsettling moments. In fact OKJA is one of those few movies that does not clearly define its target audience. How very Korean of it!

I have been a champion of Korean cinema for more than a decade now and OKJA is proof that an unusual movie can get a world-wide appreciation. OKJA does not pretend for a second that it is there for more than to entertain, but when the choice comes between another action set piece or dramatic element, it always chooses the latter. The director Bong Joon Ho is a household name in Korea. His monster movie “THE HOST” made a big splash all around the world, allowing him to shoot a blockbuster “THE SNOWPIERCER”, a post apocalyptic thriller with Chris Evans, Ed Harris and Tilda Swinton. His films were always a combinations of genres, allowing for unique storytelling. OKJA is no exception.

The movie boasts some great performances. The focus is on Tilda Swinton as a CEO of a conglomerate corporation who is trying to suppress her psychotic tendencies, but by doing so only making things worse for the world, and Jake Gyllenhaal is unrecognisable as an evil Steve Irwin type of animal lover celebrity. They both are a pleasure to watch.


With its sensitive subject matter the movie never falters, always keeping the balance of scary, dramatic, cute and sad. In the the age of superhero movies, it is refreshing to see a film, where the protagonist is not trying to save the world, but one life instead. OKJA manages to ask big questions without compromising on action, drama and adventure. And this is what makes it a worthy movie experience.

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

MOVIE REIVEW: THE MUMMY



7/10

Treasure hunter, Nick Morton, stumbles on a secret tomb that was supposed to imprison an evil princess Ahmanet. When he accidentally releases the monster he unleashes an evil that can take over the world. Nick, who is used to thinking only of himself, has to put his own interests aside and fight for his life and the lives of those around him. Will he be able to make the ultimate sacrifice to save the world?


THE MUMMY is an unapologetic summer blockbuster fairy tale that tries to borrow more from Indiana Jones movies than from Universal Studios classic monster tales. Unfortunately none of the set pieces, including the anti-gravity stunt, in a real plane nicknamed "vomit comet”, is a standout.


The movie has good pacing with a fine dosage of humour. Tom Cruise plays the comic version of his "action hero" type but comes up short on charisma at the times of need. Unfortunately, the chemistry between him and his leading lady Annabelle Wallis is non existent, but as protagonists they work well together.


Sofia Boutella as The Mummy is the real stand out here. She manages to inspire enough creepiness and tragedy to make this monster a well fleshed out character, but her motives are not always clear, and the final goal lacks logic. Would she really fight so hard to give the real power to someone else, in particular "a male"? That does not make a first ever female mummy a feminist, which is a real shame!


All in all THE MUMMY is breezy fun that does not shy away from horror when the script requires it. It's a horror film you can take your kids to and have a great time - This is the real value of the new MUMMY.

Monday, 12 June 2017

KOREAN MOVIE REVIEW: THE MERCILESS



8/10

The young criminal Hyun-Soo is a youthful and ambitious prisoner who does not seem to think too much of the consequences of his actions. Jae-Ho is a career criminal and a mobster. He rules the prison with an iron hand.  An unlikely empathy between the two men grows and they decide to take on the world when leaving the prison. But both of them are  hiding dangerous secrets. When all is unveiled the truth is doomed to destroy them both...

THE MERCILESS is a gangster action drama film, a genre South Korea excels in. It is miraculous that after so many movies the gangster theme feels so fresh, and the reason for this is the carefully executed script and characters one can't help, but care for deeply. The strangely meaningful friendship, a borderline love affair between the older gangster and the young rookie has genuine chemistry. The sexual tension is only implied, but the bond the two strike is comparable to the one between lovers.

The movie is carefully structured, with short informative flashbacks, that allows one to look with new eyes at how the story has progressed, each time revealing new information and new accents that change perspective. 

THE MERCILESS is a violent film, but perhaps is less so than many other of the same genre. The best thing about it is how the script avoids cliches, constantly giving some fresh twist, until the rather familiar finale - a traditional Korean climax of heartbreak and devastation.


Boasting fantastic cinematography, likeable performances and an extremely well written script, THE MERCILESS may be the best alternative to the American blockbuster, if you want some soul and thought in your action.

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

HORROR MOVIE REVIEW: RAW



8/10

Justine is starting at veterinary school and it's the first time she has been away from her controlling parents, who insist on her being an absolute vegetarian. It's the first week and she has already tasted a piece of raw meat. This creates a constant craving. As the attraction to her roommate grows stronger, and the competition with the older sister becomes too much to bear, how long will she be able to fight the hunger for human flesh?

RAW became infamous when at numerous premiers people walked out, vomited and fainted. This created a reputation of a "must see" film for any horror fan. In fact RAW has only a couple of disturbing moments, and even those are dependant on the circumstances of the scene - the gore is much less disturbing than the predicament the characters find themselves in. 

Horrors aside, RAW is a feministic tale about being different and learning things about oneself in the process, that may not quite please you. It is also a tale of inheritance, and of what it’s like being “a prisoner of birth”. In France, where the class system is stronger than ever, this is a very familiar issue. Once you are a part of a certain circle it is almost impossible to break free.


Plotwise, RAW has a few surprises in store. The script is more complex than it seems at first sight and the final revelation, if not entirely unexpected, is a satisfying one. All in all RAW feels like a very complete piece of moviemaking, deep enough not to be boring; entertaining, but with a clear message and a punch in the gut when you least expect it. It is designed to shock you to make you think.