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8/10
A spectacular action-thriller to conclude a dynamic dystopian trilogy
24 June 2018
Maze Runner: The Death Cure is the third and last part of the trilogy centered around a group of teenagers immune to a virus that has decimated mankind who are hunted down by an organization that wants to conduct brutal experiments on them. I have read quite a few negative reviews about this film but let me tell you that this movie is very good conclusion to the franchise and if you liked the first two films, you will certainly appreciate this final installment as well.

Everything isn't perfect of course. The story is very predictable. Obviously, one could blame the source material here. However, some twists are foreshadowed in a way that anyone will see through them. To give you one concrete example, there is one character who is constantly looking at his arm, rubbing it, sighing, feeling weak and looking around gloomily. When it is revealed that this character is infected by the virus, it shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone since the foreshadowing was completely overacted.

Other than that, the movie is great from start to finish. Some people claim it was overlong but I never felt bored and thought it was entertaining from start to finish. The action sequences are truly intense and make for a worthy Hollywood blockbuster. The special effects are more present than in the first two films but they have the purpose to make for a bombastic finish and especially the final third of the movie is absolutely breathtaking and epic. The acting performances are as solid as in the first two installments and the protagonist has a really strong moral compass as the movie teaches us to never leave your friends behind and always believe in yourself.

To keep it short, Maze Runner: The Death Cure might be the most spectacular action-thriller of the year. The special effects and action sequences are extremely strong. The acting performances and the characters are also above average. Only the story is a little bit predictable and simple. If you have the chance to enjoy this vivid film at your local cinema, go for it as it will help you get into this bombastic finale. Another option would be to watch all three parts and see the development of the different characters and the story line. Ignore the overtly negative reviews and enjoy this blockbuster for teenagers and young adults.
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8/10
Atmospheric spy thriller set in exotic locations
23 June 2018
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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8/10
Sinister survival story
21 June 2018
Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials is the second part of the dystopian trilogy about a group of teenagers immune to a virus that has decimated humanity who are hunted by a shady organization. This great second part is an improvement over the solid first movie.

First of all, this second movie is much more sinister than the first part as the teenagers have to fight creepy creatures roaming in an abandoned world. Especially the scenes in the mysterious underground shelter in the first third of the movie are quite intense. Overall, the varied locations add a lot of atmosphere to the film. Light and sound techniques are executed flawlessly. The creatures also look quite haunting.

Secondly, the action sequences in this film are more intense than in the previous movie. One sequence that really stands out is when Thomas, the leader of the teenagers, and Brenda, the rebellious sister of one Thomas' deceased soulmates, have to fight their way through a shaky skyscraper with numerous traps. This sequence feels like a vivid roller coaster ride.

Thirdly, the movie continues to develop the intriguing characters that made the first film so successful. Thomas is shown as brave leader who secretly doubts his capacities. Minho continues to convince as athletic, courageous and resilient young man. Newt represents the intellectual side as he always asks the right questions with a careful yet caring demeanor. In addition to this, the film introduces a few new characters that are quite intriguing. Aris is a quiet outsider who turns out being an observing and smart teenager who saves his new partners from certain death. Jorge is a resilient man with an unpredictable character who can be very caring about his friends in one scene but brutally torture former partners in the next scene. His protegee Brenda is a tough girl who doesn't shy away from conflicts with older men.

Obviously, the movie also has a few minor flaws. The story is quite predictable. The film has two twists, one shown in the first third and the other one at the very end of the movie. Both of them are very predictable and the fact that the group of teenagers aren't immediately aware of them after everything they have gone through in the first installment, makes them look somewhat naive.

Personally, I also dislike Teresa's character. She always seems cold, distant and manipulative and never truly helps her partners. She makes me think of Kristen Stewart, not only physically but also regarding her behavior. That isn't meant to be a compliment as it's impossible to empathize with her. Brenda is a much more distinctive female character while Teresa's character doesn't seem to be fully fleshed out.

In the end, Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials is an improvement over a good first installment and makes you want to watch the third and final part right away. This film has great atmosphere, breathtaking action sequences and intriguing character development. Those who like dystopian science-fiction movies in the key of the Divergent or The Hunger Games franchises can't get around this franchise. Make sure you have watched the first part and to watch the third and final part later on.
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Singwa hamgge (2017)
6/10
A Hollywood blockbuster with Korean actors
20 June 2018
Warning: Spoilers
Along with the Gods: The Two Worlds is a fantasy movie with so many special effects that it could be a Hollywood production. However, that isn't meant to be a compliment. Korean cinema has a quite emotional, intense and vivid vibe that makes it stand out but that vibe isn't present here at all. In addition to that, this film is the first part of a new franchise like many Western fantasy movies as well but I don't plan watching the sequel that is scheduled for this summer. To be fair, Along with the Gods: The Two Worlds is rather entertaining and some of the flashbacks create an emotional connection with the main characters but it's too little and too late.

The first and biggest issue I have with this film is the shallow story. A firefighter dies, arrives in the afterworld and is told that he is an honorable paragon that needs to pass seven trials in order to get reincarnated. One never truly gets told what a paragon is and what makes this particular firefighter so honorable. The trials are announced being in order of the sins of the deceased, starting with the least important and ending with the most important ones. However, several trials in the middle are skipped because this paragon is considered particularly honorable which contradicts what was told right from the start. A recurring element of suspense is that the firefighter's brother died soon after his own death and menaces the balance of the afterworld since he is a vengeful spirit. While it's understandable why the brother wants to take his revenge, it doesn't make any sense how this is related to his brother's trials and the entire afterworld altogether. The cherry atop the cake is that this vengeful spirit later on becomes a paragon himself. The most cringe-worthy moment however is the firefighter's final trial. It turns out he planned killing his own mother as well as his brother before committing suicide when he was a teenager because his family was so poor and his mother really sick. Everybody expects the firefighter to lose the final trial but his mother is visited by his brother's spirit and she takes the blame, calling herself a bad mother and forgiving her son for thinking about killing her. This moral isn't only controversial, it's quite nonsensical as well.

Another issue with this movie are the characters. The firefighter seems like a good guy in the beginning but the more we learn about him, the less likable he gets and it's quite tough to sympathize with him. The three assistants that help him with the trials are also lacking depth. They are only interested in helping the firefighter to get reincarnated themselves and hide the truth about his brother's fate from him for a while before one of them makes a stupid mistake. The different gods that are in charge of the different trials look quite interesting but they only appear for a few minutes and disappear soon after like cameo appearances.

The special effects are overused in this movie. The trials take place in different places like a big cave, a vast desert or a river next to a waterfall. The locations look gorgeous but the transitions between them seem to be random. They change so drastically and often that they can't develop any type of atmosphere. The potential of these locations is often wasted.

On the positive side, the movie has great pace and is entertaining and epic from start to finish. The exposition doesn't waste any time, the trials progress smoothly and the final thirty minutes are a true climax and quite intense. You won't see the two hours and twenty minutes go by. This is great popcorn cinema.

The flashbacks add some depth to the firefighter's background story and tell us a lot about his mother, his brother and himself. These are also the most emotional moments in the movie. Seeing his brother die under tragic circumstances is quite gloomy. Observing the heartbroken mother who has lost her two children in a few weeks and who tries to find out what happened to the firefighter's brother by any means necessary is truly gripping. The best scenes are actually related to the firefighter's brother who tries to appease his mother in her dreams, avenge the person who covered up his murder and save the life of his suicidal colleague.

One can't deny that a lot of budget went into this film that looks quite well. The special effects might be overused but most people will find them exciting. The camera work is focused and avoids the contemporary chic of shaky passages. Lighting techniques are used very efficiently. The soundtrack is quite immersive without being outstanding.

If you like fantasy or science-fiction blockbusters for the whole family, Along with the Gods: The Two Worlds will give you everything you're craving for and can be watched between the latest The Maze Runner and Star Wars movies. If you were expecting a typically Korean movie with many emotional twists, you might find this flick somewhat bland. In my opinion, it's definitely entertaining enough to be watched once but overall rather forgettable popcorn cinema.
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7/10
First instalment in a solid dystopian science-fiction trilogy with a cast of youths
5 June 2018
Based upon the novel by James Dashner, The Maze Runner is the first instalment in a dystopian trilogy that follows a group of youths as they fight for survival and against manipulation in a desolate world destroyed by heat and disease. This first movie follows a very young man who awakes in an elevator that transports him to a group of male youths that is living in a restricted natural environment surrounded by a gigantic maze. This society calls itself the Gladers. The young man doesn't remember his past and only recalls his name after a few hours of confusion: Thomas. He soon realizes that the other boys and men share his fate. They have established some basic rules to live together in peace and harmony as everybody has specific tasks to do. The most important group of people are the athletic runners who go inside the maze when it opens up in the morning and return late at night before the gates close again. The runners are trying to solve the maze to find a way out. However, there are mechanical creatures called grievers who live in the maze which can attack, kill or sting their human victims in a way that makes them go berserk. Thomas is a curious individual who doesn't like following rules and his appearance soon devides the group of youths. Some people support him as they believe he can help them solve the maze while others have gotten used to their lives in a restricted environment and consider him a nuisance. Things take a more dramatic turn when a last human being is sent up the elevator: a girl named Teresa who seems to know Thomas from the past.

There are several elements that make The Maze Runner stand out positively. The idea to live the story through the eyes of the charismatic Thomas who gradually tries to find out what is going on around him makes the film captivating, mysterious and suspenseful. The fact that the film takes place in a restricted environment soon leads to quite intense relationships which help the story move forwarde. Most viewers will identify with one character or another. If compared to similar dystopian films, this movie doesn't seem to overuse special effects which gives it a more authentic atmosphere. The final half hour is quite tense and violent and leads to a bittersweet finale. On one side, one finally gets some important background information that explains most of that happened in the first ninety minutes but on the other side, the new answers lead to even more questions as the movie ends on a cliffhanger which almost makes it mandatory to watch the second instalment as well. If you're not planning on watching a trilogy, don't watch this movie in the first place.

The story also has a couple of flaws. The background story seems surprisingly basic and is lacking many details. Some events in the story are illogical or simply left unexplained such as the Glader who got stung outside the maze which is never fully explained. The story obviously also has some similarities to other dystopian movies, especially concerning the bleak future of our planet and the basic main protagonists and antagonists. The movie's middle section is somewhat plodding and the movie could have been shortened by about ten minutes without leaving out anything essential.

In the end, you will like this film if you're a fan of other dystopian science-fiction movies with a set of young characters like The Hunger Games or The Divergent Series. The unique setting and the mysterious plot certainly make this movie stand out. If you are looking for a creative and unique experience, you might find the movie somewhat boring and predictable.
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7/10
Romance versus wealth
4 June 2018
How Long Will I Love U is a romantic comedy movie with supernatural elements and a few gloomy sequences. It tells the story of a real estate shark who plans on traveling nineteen years into the future to use this knowledge in order to expand his empire. However, the shift in the space-time continuum fails and opens a portal nineteen years in the past instead. It turns out that this portal is in the small apartment where the loan shark lived when he didn't have any investors and was about to lose his job. In present-day, a young woman who works in a jewelry store and dreams of getting married to a rich man lives in the same flat. One morning, she wakes up and is shocked to realize she shares her apartment with the unsuccessful property designer. In the beginning, she is distant to him and wants to get rid of him but their curiosity makes them bond as friendship soon becomes love interest. The young woman realizes she can't alter the past and the young man can't alter the future and attempting to meet their former or futures selves would lead to chaos. The young woman still travels back to the past to see herself as a child playing with her rich father who would soon die in a traffic accident. The property designer is curious about his future and stunned to see he has become a rich real estate shark. In present-day, the pitiless real estate shark realizes the past is about to shift and tries to convince the young woman to leave his former self and offers her the life she has always dreamed of. However, the young woman realizes the emotionless real estate shark is nothing like the sympathetic property designer but she has to make a choice that could alter past, present and future.

Let's start with the few negative elements about this good movie. First of all, the background story about time travelling is poorly explained as the script is lacking details in this part. The introduction of the young woman is somewhat confusing as one isn't quite sure what her real job is as she is mostly about to scam older men into marrying her in the beginning. Some parts of the movie are unnecessarily overacted, especially by lead actress Tong Liya who offers too many fake smiles and tears.

On the other side, the story is quite original and every loose end is solved and every question answered in the end. The movie's romantic side isn't too exaggerated and has a clumsy, juvenile, and sympathetic note. The film offers lots of situation comedy, especially when the property designer discovers the future and is amazed by food delivery services, mobile phones and virtual reality. The movie also has a gloomy touch related to corruption, greed and murder which obviously involves the mysterious death of the young woman's father. The film also has the message that money doesn't make you happy and shows how people in China are obsessed with fame, influence and money and leaving their communist culture behind for a world of steel, plastic and glass.

In the end, How Long Will I Love U is an entertaining movie that mixes romantic, humorous and dark elements in a balanced and unique way. Younger audiences in a relationship might even find this film even better than just good. If you can catch the film at a local cinema, don't hesitate to go for it.
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Muhou wanjia (2018)
10/10
An intellectual thriller that challenges you to analyze, feel and observe
23 May 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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Chaem-pi-eon (2018)
10/10
Sports drama with passionate depth
22 May 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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7/10
Interesting for wu xia genre fans but not as convincing as the first film
14 May 2018
Brotherhood of Blades II: The Infernal Battlefield is a prequel of Brotherhood of Blades released three years earlier. However, you don't necessarily need to know the latter to understand the former. Some of the characters and the settings are alike but the story is a different one that even contradicts some elements shown in the first film.

Stylistically, we get a stylish wu xia movie with some conspiracy elements. The characters use arrows, daggers, swords and bare hands and feet to fight and most fight sequences look quite realistic. The opening sequence suffers from heavy CGI effects but the rest of the movie convinces with stunning landscapes and beautiful costumes. The locations are more diversified than in the first film. The conspiracy is similar to the first movie as Imperial Assassin Shen Lian gets caught in a conflict between a group of rebels supporting the emperor's younger brother and the emperor, his eunuch and government officials. Shen Lian tracks down some of the rebels before he decides to save a female painter he sympathizes with. From then on, he tries to cover his actions up and gets progressively involved with the group of rebels. However, he soon realizes that some of his colleagues are two-faced and that he can't trust anyone.

There are only a few minor reasons why I like this second film a little bit less than the first one. First of all, the exaggerated opening sequence doesn't start the movie on a positive note. Secondly, the side characters aren't as intriguing as in the first film. Thirdly, the movie's ending feels rushed and the scene after the credits is a waste of time.

However, if you like dynamic historical fiction cinema, Brotherhood of Blades II: The Infernal Battlefield delivers the goods. It's stylish, filled with action, passion and tension and is entertaining from start to finish. Even though you don't need to be familiar with the first film to understand this prequel, I would recommend watching the former first because it's the better movie. If you like it, you can't go wrong with this one either.
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8/10
Complex conspiracies during a dying Ming dynasty
12 May 2018
Brotherhood of Blades is a very entertaining wu xia movie. It combines dynamic martial arts and sword fights with historical costumes and settings and a dramatic dose of suspense in form of complex conspiracies. The greatest thing about the movie is that its outcome is quite unpredictable. Until the final fifteen minutes, it's not exactly clear who is friend and who is foe. This is a welcome change to Hollywood films featuring a lone wolf protagonist who fights his corrupted superiors. Until the final scene, it remains a mystery who is going to survive or not. Once again, this is a great change from Hollywood movies featuring a protagonist who is going to survive against all odds. This film will keep you on the edge of your seat until its dramatic resolution.

The story revolves around three Imperial Assassins who are charged to eliminate powerful eunuch Wei who has become a nuisance for the young Ming dynasty emperor. However, the leader of the trio decides to spare the eunuch and accepts a bribe instead without telling his colleagues. Back in the capital, the three sworn brothers are both tracked down by the eunuch's numerous followers who want them to take their secret to the grave and by suspicious government officials who realizes something is afoul. As if that weren't enough, they have to face numerous personal challenges. The youngest of the trio has fallen in love with the local pharmacist's daughter, the second assassin wants to buy the freedom of a prostitute who despises him for having participated in killing her family and the oldest assassin is tricked into getting promoted to be under constant surveillance. The trio decides it must flee the capital city in order to save their lives but their enemies give everything to try to prevent their escape.

Aside the fascinating story, the movie convinces with a gloomy and tense atmosphere that brings the dying Ming dynasty back to life. The emotional acting performances are very solid and show three overall sympathetic protagonists with strong moral compasses but quite a few personal weaknesses as well which makes them dynamic and round characters. The fight choreographies are intense and not as exaggerated as one is used to from numerous other wu xia movies. This approach suits the film's more authentic tone.

Brotherhood of Blades might not reinvent the genre but is one of the very best movies of its kind in recent memory. Especially the plot is truly intriguing while the film's atmosphere, settings, acting and choreographies are other positive elements. The movie became such an unexpected success that it spun off a prequel released three years later. If you like Asian cinema, you can't go wrong with Brotherhood of Blades.
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Koroshiya 1 (2001)
8/10
Stimulating your brain, guts and heart
6 May 2018
Ichi the Killer is a brutal yakuza movie by renowned director Takashi Miike. If you haven't watched any of his movies yet, let me tell you that this film isn't for lighthearted audiences. In the first five minutes alone, we see illegal gambling in a shady bar, a yakuza boss beating up and raping a prostitute and a voyeur masturbating to this instead of helping the poor woman. You will see prolonged torture sessions, people taking drugs and blood-red rooms filled with guts after intense massacres. Anyone who criticizes this movie for these elements or calls the viewers of it sick clearly didn't inform himself what kind of movie he was about to watch. Japanese yakuza movies are usually over-the-top, graphic and for mature audiences only. This is what makes them stand out.

Ichi the Killer tells the story of a mentally unstable killer who seems to be manipulated via hypnosis and psychological torture by a lowly yakuza named Jijii who orders him to take out two rival yakuza gangs. Sadomasochistic hitman Kakihara wants to avenge his deceased boss but also desires meeting the killer in order to be domineered and tortured by him.

If you think that this movie is only filled with perverted brutality, you've got it all wrong. The film features a lot of cultural elements related to yakuza traditions such as yubitsume, a ritual to atone for offenses by performing self-mutilation. The filming techniques are very experimental, working with unusual camera angles and stop-and-go technology. The authentic settings in form of dirty back alleys, small apartments and shady bars clash with flashy costumes as the sadomasochistic hitman walks around in colorful suits while the unstable killer wears a costume with special hidden weapons. The film works a lot with colors and their symbolism with white standing for the loss of childish innocence, black for darkness and red for violence. The experimental and vivid soundtrack blends in perfectly.

The greatest element about this movie might be its stunning finale that actually offers some food for thought. It isn't immediately obvious what actually happens, how it occurs and what the consequences are. Personally, I believe Ichi the Killer, lowly yakuza Jijii and prostitute Karen are one and the same person with multiple-personality disorder since they share the same memories at times but there are many possible theories. No matter how you think about the film's outcome, it's something you will still be thinking about long after you have actually watched the movie.

In the end, I can recommend the movie if you are equally interested in Japanese culture, brutal gangster films and intellectual film-making. Ichi the Killer stimulates your brain, your guts and your heart. It's an unforgettable experience based upon a unique manga and directed by one of the best directors of all times.
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Peurizeun (2017)
7/10
Prisoners of their own obsessions
3 May 2018
The Prison is a South Korean thriller that convinces with great acting performances, profound characters and sinister settings. It tells the story of a former detective who ends up in a prison controlled by an influential criminal who organizes blackmail, murder and theft inside and outside the prison walls. The former detective gains the criminal's trust when he protects him from an influential politician and an uprising organized by some jealous inmates. However, it turns out that the detective is on a dangerous undercover mission and trying to expose organized crime with the help of his journalist brother.

The intense movie that entertains from start to finish convinces on many levels. First of all, the main characters are particularly intriguing. The undercover cop is a courageous, intelligent and selfless person who can show his raw and rough side but also an empathizing and idealistic side. The wise main villain has a calm, diplomatic and intellectual side to convince other inmates to support him but he can become brutal, pitiless and relentless in order to keep his power. The clash between these two men is particularly interesting to watch. Both characters are played convincingly by an energetic Kim Rae-won and a truly diversified Han Suk-kyu. The settings of the movie are quite gloomy and add to the film's oppressive atmosphere. The film takes place in bare prison cells, dirty basements and dark streets that are occasionally blended and contrasted with beautiful gardens and shiny lofts.

The movie has a few minor downsides as well. The story takes too much time to get started as the first half of the movie basically only shows how the undercover cop is trying to gain the criminal's trust which becomes quite predictable and repetitive. The background stories of the characters are told in flashbacks which are sometimes randomly inserted and rather confusing the audience than solving the puzzle. The cop's relentless motivation to expose the criminal never becomes quite clear and it also remains a mystery how the criminal became so influential in the first place. The movie's conclusion was also somewhat odd and ended with a negative surprise related to the protagonist's fate.

In the end, you will enjoy The Prison for its outstanding acting performances, intriguing characters and great settings. The movie is overall lacking pace and precision to be more than just good as it doesn't exploit all of its promising potential. Fans of atmospheric crime flicks in general and Korean cinema in particular will still certainly like this film.
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Numb (I) (2015)
5/10
Dumb
30 April 2018
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 hid 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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Indian Horse (2017)
9/10
An authentic, emotional and intellectual drama that should be watched in Canadian history classes
18 April 2018
Based upon Richard Wagamese's novel of the same name, Indian Horse tells an authentic, hopeful yet tear-jerking story that too many First Nations people have gone through in Canada over the course of the past two centuries and beyond.

The movie tells the story of Saul Indian Horse, an Ojibway boy from Northwestern Ontario, whose family runs away from white men who are forcing children to go to residential schools where they must assimilate to European culture by any means necessary. Isolated in the wilderness, Saul's brother dies of a disease he caught at school and his parents, who already got assimilated to Christianity, decide to move south to bury their child. Saul stays behind with his old grandmother who gets increasingly sick but his parents never return. His grandmother and Saul decide to join some family members before the harsh winter starts but the weak grandmother dies on the journey. Saul gets discovered by two white men who bring him to a residential school. He witnesses severe mental and physical abuse as First Nations children aren't allowed to speak their mother tongues or live their traditional lifestyles. The only thing that makes Saul's desolate life more joyful is when he discovers ice hockey. He watches games on television with a young priest who also builds a hockey rink and organizes competitive tournaments. Saul's skills get discovered as a teenager and he moves south to the mining town Manitouwadge where he lives in a caring foster family and plays in a local hockey team. He soon becomes a respected star player but also starts facing racism from fans and opponents. A scout then convinces the young adult to move to Toronto where Saul plays for the farm team of the Toronto Maple Leafs and has a promising career ahead of him. Saul however cracks under the increasing pressure of being targeted by racist fans and opponents on an almost daily base and quits hockey to live the life of a nomad, accepting odd jobs between Thunder Bay and Sudbury. He develops a serious addiction to alcohol and is told by a doctor that his next binge drinking could lead to his death. Saul realizes he must face and overcome his demons of the past and find a place called home to save his life.

There are numerous elements that make this film one of the best dramas in recent memory. First of all, the story that is told here is relevant as it exemplifies the cruel fate of many First Nations members. Secondly, the movie is very emotional, meandering constantly between sadness and hope in all stages of the main character's life. Thirdly, the acting performances are absolutely great as the main character doesn't speak much but tells us so much more about his inner demons through facial expressions. Fourthly, the settings are intriguing and shift from beautiful isolated landscapes over isolated schools to mining towns and big cities. Fifthly, camera, lighting and sound techniques are calm, decent and precise which suits the slightly gloomy mood and slow pace of the movie very well. Sixthly, it's interesting that the movie introduces us to distinct characters and not just racist antagonists but also encouraging coaches, welcoming foster parents and driven team mates. Seventhly, I liked that the movie ended with a minor twist that makes us re-evaluate the scenes we have seen prior to that moment. Indian Horse certainly offers a lot of food for thought.

Indian Horse is a movie that should be watched in history classes at Canadian high schools as it exemplifies the fate of many First Nations members in that country over the past two centuries and beyond. Indian Horse is authentic, emotional and intellectual all at once which makes it one of the best dramas in recent memory. Anyone who is interested in the history of the New World should watch this film. Those who like ice hockey should also give it a try. Anyone intrigued by Canadian culture should also give it a shot. To keep it short, there isn't any reason to not watch this brilliant movie.
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Truth or Dare (I) (2018)
7/10
Shallow but fun
18 April 2018
Truth or Dare is an entertaining yet superficial horror movie that is best enjoyed with a couple of friends at a party. It tells the story of a group of friends who go to Mexico during spring break and get lured into an old cathedral by a charismatic stranger who invites them to play a game of Truth or Dare. It turns out the game is controlled by a demon who was summoned by a young nun who got abused by a priest a long time ago. The demon forces the players of the game to complete their quests or else they will die. As the friends die one by one and tension rises between them, they have to find a way to stick together and end the deadly game for good.

There are several elements I like about the film. It's overall entertaining and keeps a steady pace from start to finish. Some of the quests are interesting and several characters die under spectacular circumstances. The background story behind the game is intriguing and adds a creepy atmosphere. The film's resolution took me by surprise as it is rather unusual and worth being discussed.

On the negative side, the movie only has a few minor jump scares and isn't as creepy as I would have expected. The characters remain quite superficial and one doesn't really care about their survival. The acting performances are disappointingly shallow as any amateur group would have played more intensely than those actresses and actors. Apart of the conclusion, the story isn't too surprising and reminds of a weak mixture of Final Destination and Jumanji.

In the end, Truth or Dare is an entertaining horror movie to be watched among friends at a party. It's intense enough to keep it interesting from start to finish and the film's resolution is quite original. However, the shallow acting performances, the lack of scary moments and the poor script ripping off Final Destination and Jumanji are reasons for not purchasing this film for your horror movie collection. Watching Truth or Dare once is fun but it isn't the type of movie that deserves being revisited.
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Gintama (2017)
7/10
A crazy ride
17 April 2018
Gintama is a so-called jidaigeki action comedy film based upon the popular manga series of the same name. I would rather categorize the movie as steampunk comedy. It combines elements of feudal Japan such as clothing and dwellings of that era as well as the terminology of the capital being refered to as Edo and the presence of samurai and ronin with science-fiction elements such as the presence of aliens, flying ships and sophisticated weapons. This mixture makes for a colourful, entertaining and vivid movie even though characters and stories are completely exaggerated and make me think of the slapstick comedy genre. The story takes place in Edo where aliens have taken control after defeating a group of rebellious samurai. Gintoki Sakata is one of the surviving ronin and is doing odd jobs with former waiter Shinpachi and the vivid Kagura. They are asked to find a powerful sword that was apparently stolen and which seems to be used by a mysterious serial killer who assassinates ronin. These incidents seem to be related to sinister ronin Shinsuke Takasugi who has gathered a group of fierce followers on a flying ship and who pretends to desire to challenge the aliens who defeated his comrades and him. Gintoki Sakata must arrest the pitiless serial killer, face his former comrade and retrieve the dangerous sword before it causes any more damage.

There are numerous things that make this live-action film adaptation highly entertaining. First of all, the franchise's eclectic universe is fascinating to watch as it always comes around with new creative surprises. When the main characters are looking for a valuable royal beetle in a forest, we get introduced to characters covering themselves in honey, smearing mayonnaise on a tree and disguising themselves as giant beetle to catch the mysterious insect. If that description makes you shake your head in disbelief, expect plenty of scenes like this one in the movie. The characters are equally intriguing and I particularly liked some of the female characters like the agile, colourful and eccentric protagonist Kagura with her orange hair and soft skin or the brutal, emotional and loyal antagonist Matako Kijima with her two revolvers that always seem to miss their target. There isn't one single boring, predictable or stereotypical character in this movie which is positively exceptional. The movie's pace is as vivid as its universe and truly entertaining from start to finish.

There are also a few downsides here and there. The most obvious offender is the story which is truly over the top but often lacking background information, for example about the strange aliens controling Edo. It's also somewhat confusing, frustrating and random that seemingly deceased characters suddenly come back to life in vague circumstances and appear out of nowhere at the right moment. It seems obvious to me that this franchise doesn't take adversity, coherency and scriptwriting seriously at all. As colourful as the characters are, some of them can become quite annoying after a while like megalomaniac swordsmith Murata Tetsuya who always shouts because of a hearing problem or cabaret hostess Shimura Tae who seems to be obsessed with controlling Gintoki Sakata as much as she possibly can. One also has to address the typically Japanese humor which will please those familiar with it while it might rather confuse those unfamiliar with it. The movie had a few great laughs, especially in the beginning of the story, but sometimes dwelled on these elements for too long and lost momentum in the process.

Gintama offers light-hearted entertainment for colourful, creative and juvenile spirits and is a very welcome change from movies that take themselves overtly seriously and try to teach their audience a lesson. This diversified, vivid and unique steampunk comedy potpourri is an unusual experience and best enjoyed with your friends when you're in a good mood and ready to switch your brain off. This memorable film is highly recommended to fans of Japanese culture. Since I'm not familiar with the source material, I can't comment upon any comparisons but I certainly enjoyed the wild ride and would watch this film again.
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Tôkyô gûru (2017)
8/10
A fascinating universe
17 April 2018
Tokyo Ghoul is an action-horror movie based upon the manga series of the same name. I haven't read the manga series or watched the anime television series because I usually find myself unable to empathisze with drawn sketches of figures reminding me of childhood comic books even though there are a few rare exceptions such as the more serious Death Note, Tomie and Uzumaki series. However, I'm much interested in horror cinema and literature and decided to give this film a shot. I really appreciated the film and can highly recommend it.

For those not involved yet, the story takes place in a world where human beings and ghouls coexist. However, human beings are hunting ghouls down since they need human blood and flesh in order to stay alive. Shy college student Ken Kaneki goes on a date with a seemingly charming young woman who turns out being such a ghoul and attacking him at night during a stroll through a park. He gets bitten to become a ghoul but his assailant gets hit by a concrete slab at a construction side and deceases. Ken Kaneki survives and gets the organs of the ghoul implanted into his body. He then becomes a hybrid between a ghoul and a human being and struggles to adapt to his new life. When his childhood friend gets attacked by another ghoul and only survives when Ken Kaneki challenges the other ghoul, he realizes that he needs to stay away from those he loves most and sets up camp in a ghoul safehouse in form of a café. However, the ghouls are tracked down by the so-called Commission of Counter Ghoul. Ken Kaneki needs to learn to control his urges, cooperate with other ghouls and fight against his natural opponents in order to survive.

What I liked about Tokyo Ghoul was the movie's constantly gloomy atmosphere. This was due to the horror themes, an excellent light technique and sinister settings in small alleys, shady basements and nocturne parks. The movie also featured a few memorable, sinister and tense scenes such as Ken Kaneki becoming a ghoul, him trying to save his childhood friend or the bloody showdown under a bridge. The characters are well-developed as Ken Kaneki convinces as charming, nervous and shy college student who has to increase self-confidence, strength and wit in order to survive. His sidekicks including a wise owner of a café, a tough waitress and a quiet young girl who lost her father are also very interesting. The antagonists are also intriguing because they are driven to fight the ghouls for credible personal reasons such as having lost their parents to them. The acting performances are credible, focused and grounded and not over-acted as so many other manga adaptations. The film also convinces with its stylistics in form of creepy black-red ghoul eyes, shady masks to hide the ghouls' faces and organic weapons hidden inside ghouls' bodies. The movie's universe is very interesting and makes me hope for other entries of this type in the franchise. The film had a relatively steady pace and was entertaining from start to finish.

There are very few things to complain about in this film. The premise of the story is very intriguing but the rivalry between hunted ghouls and driven agents could have been a little bit more fleshed out with more background information. The film had a few minimal lengths in the middle section and could have been about fifteen minutes shorter than it turned out to be. There are a few minor scenes that seemed non-sensical to me such as the ghoul who bites Ken Kaneki getting hit by a concrete slab out of nowhere or the fact that the agents didn't find the ghouls' safehouse and decided to raid it.

Overall, the minor complaints are clearly due to the original version being a manga series and the challenge to cut this series down to one consistent movie of about two hours. As I mentioned earlier, the movie left me wanting more. It convinced with a fascinating universe, intriguing characters and sinsister atmosphere. If you aren't familiar with the manga or anime series, I can highly recommend the film as it's easy to understand, very entertaining and a very creative horror movie. If you are a fan of the manga and anime series, I would simply suggest you to watch this adaptation and make up your mind about it.
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7/10
Die Hard in Hong Kong
16 April 2018
Shock Wave is a quite intense action-thriller starring Hong Kong star actor Andy Lau. It tells the story of an undercover police officers who arrests the brother of a ruthless terrorist who is specialized in using explosives. About a year later, the terrorist has specialized in drug trade but is obsessed with getting his revenge. He kills one of the commanders in charge of his brother's arrest a year ago by making his car explode. The undercover cop who has a successful career, is respected by his peers and has met a teacher who has become his girlfriend over the past twelve months, realizes that the terrorist will challenge him to get his revenge. A series of bombs are found in Hong Kong and it becomes more and more difficult to dismantle them for the protagonist. However, nobody is prepared for the terrorist's magnum opus: he kidnaps hundreds of civilians by blocking the exits of a tunnel with two trucks filed with explosives. His goal is to discredit the Hong Kong police corps, make money with a ruthless businessman and reunite with his imprisoned brother. The undercover terrorist must try to deal very carefully with the excitable terrorist in order to save as many civilians as possible.

There are numerous elements I liked about Shock Wave. The film has vivid pace and is entertaining from start to finish. The acting performances are great as Andy Lau convinces as calm and rational police officers while Wu Jiang delivers the goods as clever and pitiless terrorist. The action scenes in the film are always dramatic and intense. The special effects look great. The settings in Hong Kong are also quite interesting and especially the scenes in the tunnel make for a claustrophobic atmosphere. The film has a few nice ideas that keep it original such as the terrorist's brother who has found religion and unexpectedly doesn't cooperate with the dangerous terrorist. I also liked the movie's unusual ending which distinguishes it from similar movies where an honest officer is challenged by a pitiless terrorist. One wouldn't see such a resolution in an ordinary Hollywood flick.

On the other side, the movie also has a few minor flaws. The story is quite predictable which makes the film lose momentum and tension. The relationship between the honest police officer and the emotionally unstable teacher isn't credible at all as the police officer has the charisma of an iceberg while his love interest seems to be constantly discouraged.

Overall, Shock Wave is a quite good action-thriller that will entertain you from start to finish. It makes me think of the Die Hard series and similar franchises but since these movie have been mostly disappointing recently, it only makes sense to look for something similar but more convincing produced in Hong Kong with its know-how of spectacular action cinema.
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Sky on fire (2016)
5/10
Wasted potential
16 April 2018
Sky on Fire has just as many weaknesses as strengths and makes for an entertaining but ultimately underwhelming experience. On the positive side, you have a quite complex and intriguing story which is though at times hard to follow with its numerous characters with different interests. It basically revolves around a company that is working on stem cell research to cure cancer. The leader of the project died in a fire five years earlier and the team is now led by a greedy doctor and his humanist ex-wife. The son of the deceased leader who believes his father was assassinated in a conspiracy robs a truck with important material to put the company under pressure. A headstrong brother and his sick sister get coincidentally caught up in this conflict and while the sister grows fond of the thief, her brother rather tries to find her a cure by any means necessary. The security guard of the company who lost his wife to cancer five years earlier must decide whether he follows the greedy doctor's orders or whether he supports the group of robbers. However, another more ruthless security guard known as Wolf watches every move he makes and will go as far as he possibly can to protect the greedy doctor and his entourage. This intriguing story leads to quite a few spectacular action scenes. One can observe wild car chases, a dramatic duel on a rooftop and a dramatic showdown in the company's modern headquarters. Sky on Fire is entertaining from start to finish and avoids developing any significant ups or downs.

However, Sky on Fire also has several issues. First of all, the acting performances are truly terrible. The often cringe-worthy dialogues are offered without any emotions as the actors and actresses look as wooden as if they were robots. Since none of the actors incarnates his role convincingly, it's difficult to empathize with any of the characters. The story-telling also has issues and is often switching from one perspective to another which is quite confusing with the elevated number of characters. The fact that the villain behind the conspiracy is revealed halfway through the movie makes the film lose momentum. The special effects look obviously fake and overuse CGI techniques. The company's headquarters look as if they were copied from an old science-fiction movie which doesn't go along with the rest of the story which seems to take place in present-day Hong Kong.

In the end, Sky on Fire is a quite difficult film. It has a solid core with an interesting story, several great action scenes and solid pace that keeps the movie entertaining from start to finish. However, it seriously suffers from terrible acting, weak script writing and cheap special effects. This movie had the potential to be much better than what it ultimately turned out to be. If someone ever decided to produce a remake of this film, I would give it a chance because I appreciate the film's main ideas. However, as it is now, I can't recommend Sky on Fire which is an average action-thriller at best.
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9/10
More than meets the eye
9 April 2018
In the seventies, women were into sharp-dressed revolutioners. In the eighties, athletic types became more and more popular. Throughout the nineties, ideals became more material and people with beautiful and fast cars would attract people. Nowadays, geeks are all the rage. Twenty years ago, those people were outsiders because of their chubby features, big glasses and strange beards and because they spend most of their free time in front of their consoles in their parents' basement, wearing Mario Bros. shirts and drinking Mountain Dew and eating Cheetos. Today, these outsiders have become trendy because of their chubby features, big glasses and strange beards and because they spend most of their free time in front of their consoles in their parents' basement, wearing Mario Bros. shirts and drinking Mountain Dew and eating Cheetos. Sometimes, this world is a strange place. In order to understand more about this stereotype and pimp my trendy knowledge, I decided to give Ready Player One a shot.

I didn't expect much but got a very rewarding surprise. Ready Player One avoids stereotypes as opposed to my somewhat exaggerated yet quite accurate introduction. This movie could have focused on great-looking main characters who are destined for each other. But this isn't Divergent. The movie could have been overacted with overtly dramatic emotional ups and downs portraying immature teenagers. But this isn't The Hunger Games. The movie could have overwhelmed us with eye candy in form of massive flashy special effects without any depth. But this isn't Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. The film could have had a quite emotionless plot without any interest set in a stereotypical dystopian world. But this isn't Ghost in the Shell. The movie could have felt quite stretched with its ambitious running time of one hundred forty minutes and included vapid lows throughout the middle section. But this isn't Blade Runner 2049.

Ready Player One is better than all the movies mentioned before. The two main characters are grounded and sympathetic which makes their love story surprisingly credible and emotional. The acting performances are balanced as the characters are sometimes overwhelmed by emotions but often have to use their intellect to solve problems. The only moment when the movie overwhelms us with flashy colours is in the first five minutes to briefly introduce the virtual reality of OASIS but the rest of the movie doses special effects very well as the movie balances calm and intellectual moments with dramatic and vivid passages. The plot centered around a massive treasure chase might not be revolutionary but includes numerous clever references to pop culture of which I particularly liked the setting of The Shining, the nod to Mechagodizilla and the allusions to progressive rock veterans Rush. Moreover, the movie has several interesting messages such as the fact that nothing is as magic as our own reality. I also liked the side characters, especially the unique inventor of OASIS who reminds me of a mixture of Olaf Schubert and Tommy Wiseau. Finally, the movie didn't waste one single minute and was entertaining from start to finish thanks to an already interesting novel this movie was based upon, outstanding scriptwriting efforts and very solid directional work.

In the end, I can only recommend watching this movie at your local theater. You don't need a distracting, expensive and headache-inducing 3D version at Cineplex though, just go along with the old school 2D version in your small local cinema. It would suit the message and intention behind the novel and film much better. Now I can realate much more to geeks with their chubby features, big glasses and strange beards who spend most of their free time in front of their consoles in their parents' basement, wearing Mario Bros. shirts and drinking Mountain Dew and eating Cheetos.
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Reset (II) (2017)
8/10
Profound Chinese science-fiction movie filled with action and emotions
29 March 2018
Reset is an emotional, entertaining and stylish Chinese science-fiction thriller that is much better than its reputation. The movie tells the story of single mother and scientist Xia Tian who is working on wormhole technology to allow people to travel back in time. One day, her son gets kidnapped and Xia Tian is forced to steal the scientific results from her facility within one hour to save his life. The challenge ends in a disaster with her colleagues getting killed, her facility getting exploded and her son getting killed. As last resort, Xia Tian decides to become the first human being to travel back in time to get a second chance to save her child. However, she soon realizes that her personal fate is part of a much more complex conspiracy and that she has to face much more opponents than expected to repair the past.

Reset is a movie that convinces on many levels. First of all, the depiction of the near future seems surprisingly grounded and realistic but also includes vehicles, technologies and buildings that are stunning to discover. Secondly, the plot is compact and has fluid pace which makes for an entertaining viewing experience from start to finish. Thirdly, the special effects are rarely over the top and find the right balance between brutality and elegance. Fourthly, the acting performances are quite good as one cares about the sympathetic main character but also about her trustworthy colleagues and even about the villains who are much more complex than one might initially think.

There are only minor flaws in this film. First of all, the plot is somehwat predictable and could have been a little bit more complex. Secondly, the movie's twist wasn't much convincing and could have been more detailed.

In the end, Reset is a very strong science-fiction movie that is filled with action and emotions from start to finish. The film's camera, light and special effects look greater than many contemporary Hollywood films. Therefore, the movie deserves more acclaim and attention than it gets. Give it a try and you will get excellent entertainment if you like science-fiction films with depth.
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Before I Fall (2017)
7/10
A contemporary feminist take on Groundhog Day
28 March 2018
Before I Fall is best described as a contemporary feminist take on Groundhog Day. It tells the story of high school student Samantha who seems to have a quite normal life. She lives with her friendly parents and her good-spirited little sister. She has three best friends that stick together through thick and thin but who can also be quite arrogant and mean. The four girls bully a shy and silent girl with a very strange behavior at school. Samantha has a male childhood friend who is depserately in love with her but she also has a good-looking boyfriend who is quite popular among girls. It's Cupid Day and Samantha's clumsy childhood friend throws a part at his house as he hopes to impress his crush. Samantha is though planning on finally losing her virginity to her boyfriend and is morally supported by her excited friends. Things turn sour when the bullied girl unexpectedly comes to the party and gets into a fight with Samantha's best friend. The shy outsider runs away while Samantha and her friends feel frustrated about the ruined party and decide to drive home. On their way on a dark road, their car hits something and Samantha dies just to wake up in the morning of Cupid Day again. She realizes she has to figure out why she must live the same day over and over again. Samantha tries to organize some changes and experiments in her life to break the time loop.

There are several great elements about the film but also a few downsides. Let's start with the negative points. The story line is rather unoriginal and the plot development quite flat at times. The movie is at times also overtly sentimental. Since the movie is mostly about Samantha, her three best friends and the strange girl, it's a film that might appeal more to female than male audiences. Witnessing the four girls bitching throughout considerable parts of the movie was quite tiring. I must also say that the male characters are all quite one-dimensional. The only two male characters of interest are a superficial womanizer who wants to sleep with the protagonist and the clumsy childhood friend who nearly stalks the protagonist.

The movie also has many positive elements. I really like the film's gloomy and mysterious atmosphere that isn't just carried by the plot but by the wild landscapes of the American Northwest, the moody light techniques and the fitting alternative pop score. The protagonist's character development is particularly interesting to follow as she becomes very wise, warm and selfless throughout her fateful journey. The acting performances are great and especially lead actress Zoey Deutch convinces as rebellious teenage girl who rediscovers her good-spirited side. The movie obviously makes you think about your everyday life and daily decisions which gives some food for thought for philosophic discussions.

In the end, you should watch Before I Fall if you like philosophic teenage dramas with a supernatural touch. I guess the movie might rather strike a chord with female than male audiences as well. While I really like this type of story, I must admit that especially the film's middle part was somewhat plodding. I personally prefered the similar but more vivid Happy Death Day as well as the Life Is Strange video games for a more mysterious coming-of-age experience.
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Jungle (I) (2017)
8/10
The wilderness shows us who we really are
28 March 2018
I have been familiar with and fascinated by Yossi Ghinsberg's dramatic survival story for many years and have even occasionally given classes about it at school. When I heard that there was a movie about this intriguing journey, it wasn't even a question whether I would purchase the film or not. The blandly titled Jungle fulfils my expectations on many levels.

If you haven't heard about Ghinsberg's true story yet, here is a very brief summary. The young Israelian adventurer traveled to South America after his mandatory military service and met an American photographer, Austrian geologist and Swiss teacher. The geologist convinced the three aquaintances to travel into the heart of the Bolivian jungle to discover unknown tribes and gold. Once they were deep inside the jungle, it became obvious that there was neither gold nor tribes to be discovered and that the geologist was actually a wanted criminal with shady objectives. When the Swiss teacher got injured, the group split up into two teams. The geologist and the teacher walked upstream towards the next village which was supposedly about three days away. The Israelian adventurer and the American photographer moved downstream with a raft but got separated in a canyon. Yossi Ghinsberg fought for survival as he tried to find his partner, travel downstream and make it to the next town while the American photographer got rescued by a tribe and tried to convince skeptic local authorities that Ghinsberg was still alive.

The movie is quite faithful to the true story even though a few anecdotes had to be cut and details had to be shortened. This was a good choice because the movie is quite fluid and neither too short nor too long. It takes about twenty minutes to introduce the four main characters and about another twenty minutes for them to start their journey. The last eighty minutes are dedicated to an intense and solitary survival story.

The locations are gorgeous yet terrifying as they show the thin line between beauty and horror. What looks like a peaceful river can turn into a deadly canyon within seconds. The seemingly solid ground becomes a treacherous bog. The scary animal becomes a tasty meal that helps you survive. Jungle is an intense experience for all your senses.

One element that needs to be pointed out is the superb acting. Daniel Radcliffe was obviously very dedicated to his role. He was guided by Yossi Ghinsberg himself and obviously very familiar with the source material as well. You can see a young and naive adventurer from a severe and traditional family who wants to break free but soon realizes that freedom can come with a price as he has to face impossible challenges that will exhaust him mentally and physically. Daniel Radcliffe's progressive transformation is absolutely stunning. When a human being finds itself in the middle of nature, there aren't many human features that remain. Survival knows no rules.

When the movie came to its conclusion, I was shivering all over my body. This is how bleak, dramatic and intense this film was. You could put me on an isolated arctic island for a year but not in such a jungle for even just a week.

If you like adventurous survival stories, you can't get around this movie. Jungle is an intense journey to the essence of humanity and nature. The wilderness shows us who we really are.
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Tomb Raider (2018)
9/10
Everything Tomb Raider fans were craving for
27 March 2018
I have been a fan of the Tomb Raider franchise for more than twenty years which means more than two thirds of my lifetime. I have played all the video games and watched the previous movies with Angelina Jolie. The first one was a little bit shallow while the second one had great pace and was an improvement. This reboot however is easily the best of the three films for numerous reasons.

Let's start with the movie's only downside. The first fifteen minutes that are meant to introduce the protagonist and show us her tough life are overtly sentimental. If this were to be a drama, it would blend in nicely but it doesn't quite go along with an adventurous action movie. The movie's final twist is also foreshadowed so obviously in the first fifteen minutes that it almost feels ridiculous. Please take the viewers more seriously.

Other than that, Tomb Raider is a stunning experience. The locations look gorgeous. The stormy sea, the mysterious island and the gloomy catacombs are fascinating. The number of traps, riddles and dangers that Lara Croft encounters are as challenging, diversified and intense as in the best video games. The story is closely inspired by the excellent video game that successfully rebooted the franchise five years ago. The special effects are absolutely stunning as this movie is one of the greatest visual experiences I have ever seen on screen. Still, the movie doesn't lift off and keeps a realistic edge thanks to precise camera work and light techniques as well as genuinely exotic locations. The acting performances are great. Antagonist Mathias is a pitiless lunatic, Lara Croft's sidekick is a resilient sailor with an alcohol problem and Lara Croft's father is meandering between cleverness and madness. I really appreciated Alicia Vikander's performance as she portrays a cultivated yet adventurous young woman with a strong moral compass who has to deal with demons of her past, shady family members and arrogant guys who constantly underestimate her. She is much closer to the essence of Lara Croft than Angelina Jolie's character that was rather built upon stereotypical physical appearances. Alicia Vikander's performance is as fresh as the movie itself and the rebooted franchise as it doesn't have anything in common with the quiet, one-dimensional superhero with the big breasts of yore.

Fans of the Tomb Raider franchise should really love this movie as it offers everything that makes the video games so outstanding: a brave protagonist with an intellectual side, diversified exotic locations, a series of traps, riddles and dangers, a dangerous antagonist and a few cultural and historic references. The only reasons why this movie didn't get the highest possible grade are the unnecessary opening fifteen minutes and the fact that 2013's Tomb Raider game is even better than the movie. If you have played this game, you have to watch the movie. If you have watched this movie, you have to play the game. It's as simple as this. Enjoy the wold ride!
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Unsane (2018)
8/10
Entertaining psychological thriller with interesting camera work but nonsensical plot elements
27 March 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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