1551. A brutal and bloody civil war has ravaged Japan for a hundred years, ferocious warlords have been locked in a death struggle for supremacy in the fractured land. Age of Samurai: Battle for Japan tells the tale of that era and how, through a painful birth, the modern Japan would be born.
Age of Samurai is a limited docuseries featuring the usual shtick: talking heads, narration, recreations with actors, and maps. So many juicy, juicy maps. However, it’s the way you tell ’em, and Age of Samurai has some wonderful acting, artfully but not distractingly shot talking heads, lush graphics, phenomenal editing, and a narrative structure that sucks us in. Forget anime and manga: this series is a gateway drug to Japanese culture. My only criticism is later important characters sometimes just pop up instead of being mentioned or having their importance artfully foreshadowed.
A kind of real life Game of Thrones… set in Japan, the twists and turns were riveting. I’ve never much been interested in Japanese history, but this has started a fever in my brain; let’s see where that fever leads.
Daniel (Rodolfo Sancho) and Sara (Belén Fabra) lead an itinerant life: they buy houses, do them up, sell them off, and then move on to the next project, but in the meantime they live in their worksite. This has caused their son Eric (Lucas Blas) some emotional problems as he can never embed himself properly into the local community — until the most recent community, that is, which Eric has been traumatically ripped from. So when Eric begins to hear voices, his psychologist thinks to look no further, but the source of the voices is far more disturbing.
Don’t Listen a.k.a. Voces (‘Voices’) is, in a way, a very standard movie of its kind. Old and possibly haunted house, evil presence, kid picks up on it first, bad stuff starts to happen, the terrorised family turns to an “expert” in pseudology or whatever, final showdown, etc. However, Don’t Listen never felt staid or boring. The presence is genuinely disturbing, the signs of a person affected by the presence are also disturbing and believable — and this is sold wonderfully by first victim (played by Beatriz Arjona).
The twists and developments never feel forced. The reactions of the characters are believable. Just when you fear the film may fall apart by Hollywoodising in the final act, the movie triumphantly soars.
Six strangers from very different backgrounds have been invited to take part in an escape room together. Escape rooms are a chance for people to come together, build social skills, be creative, and have fun — win or lose. But it soon becomes apparent that when it comes to this particular escape room, losing is not an option.
A strong concept piece featuring a motley assortment of characters, Escape Room felt like a horror movie in the model of a classic Twilight Zone episode, an exciting mystery . It had shades of movies I’ve enjoyed so much, such as Cube (1997) and Saw (2004), but very much did not feel derivative. Escape rooms themselves are all the rage now, probably because, as one of our players Danny (Nik Dodani) enthuses, they’re like real life computer games.And so this feels a very 2019 twist on those older movies.
Escape Room had plenty of well-judged humour, scares, moments of real tension interspersed with genuine mystery and a sense of the marvellous, and the characters didn’t feel like cut-outs waiting to be killed, but like real people. This definitely elevates Escape Room above most other examples of the survival game subgenre where character, motivation, and plot are so often very much secondary to the creativity of the games and the kills.
The movie began with a bang and then slowed right up in order to introduce all of the characters and the setting. But then the pace kicked back in and didn’t let up. Thrilling. I particularly enjoyed this playing with pacing and also of realism; the movie stretches and snaps back like a rubber band, never breaking nor going too far, but pushing the viewer to the limit.
Escape Room isn’t the first movie based on this concept — for example, we have the confusingly named and dated Escape Room (2017) dir. Will Wernick and, err, Escape Room (2017) dir. Peter Dukes –, but it’s the best so far. It really felt like I was watching this generation’s Saw. And like Saw, there were twists and turns — although, admittedly, none as shocking as that twist from the original Saw. Just as in Saw, each room / trial is brilliantly imaginative; you almost feel yourself “playing along” at home. And just like Saw, I felt myself thinking, “This could easily be a franchise. I think they could make more! I hope they make more! Although any sequel would be milking this concept dry” As it happens, the films ends not with the hint, but the definite confirmation, of a sequel. I felt excited, but also a little sickened by the self-assuredness of this film: gone are the days of teasing the audience and hoping for the box office receipts to make a second movie profitable, now are the days of the five film Netflix deal. None-the-less, the set-up for the sequel looks anything but milking the concept: it promises to be a thrilling and wonderful development, and it’s to be released in 2021.
A great concept, entertaining and real-feeling characters, thrilling, horrific yet fun, Escape Room was both familiar and yet refreshingly different. I loved it, and I cannot wait for the sequel.
Four episode Ripper is Netflix’s recounting of notorious serial killer The Yorkshire Ripper, a.k.a. Peter Sutcliffe, and his murder spree across northern England in the ’70s and early ’80s. The series follows the standard script: talking heads, archive footage, and narration overlaid. None-the-less, it was thrilling. Well told, we are immersed in the world of ’70s/’80s Britain. With Sutcliffe’s recent death due to Corona (in December 2020), this is a timely and engrossing look at one of Britain’s worst ever serial killers.
As the series itself says, we all expect and want the serial killer to be an otherly monster, but the reality is far more banal, and far more terrifying.
Shimmer Lake tells the story of a bank robbery gone wrong, in reverse order. An interesting concept for this mystery crime drama / black comedy which focuses on the petty small town characters and their pathetic lives.
Sadly, the comedy and mystery crime were discordant, and very few jokes made me laugh. See Happiness (1998) for what writer-director Oren Uziel was trying (and failing) to achieve.
The biggest flaw, however, was that from the get-go we don’t care about the characters or follow the plot or even want to follow what is, on paper, an alright story. There was no way in to empathise or connect at the beginning of the film, merely a mess of stuff. Even the concept falls apart; the movie thinks it’s Memento or Pulp Fiction, but it really isn’t. The smug wink from one of the characters at the end was a bum note of smuggery. If told in the right chronological order, our response to this film would be, “okay, so…?”
Miles (Jackson Robert Scott) was different from the day he was born, a genius far ahead of his peers. But when he starts to exhibit a sudden and disturbing change in behaviour, his parents become concerned that there might be darker forces at work.
Prodigy is a fairly standard example of the weird kid horror genre. John and Sarah Blume (Peter Mooney and Taylor Schilling) always wanted a child. Finally, and with great effort, they get him. But he’s a troubled child who starts to go off the rails. What force is behind this horrible transformation? Luckily, an expert is on hand with a kooky theory — that the Mum initially dismisses out of hand, but then comes to see is real. Nothing much is added to this rather staid formula bar some reasonable acting, including from young Scott who previously appeared in Stephen King’s It, and a few very scary moments.
Nothing you haven’t seen before, Prodigy is a well-made movie which only doesn’t score a three due to its general unoriginality.
A husband and wife have recently overcome the tragedy of losing their child and decide to adopt. But is the new addition to their family everything she seems at first sight? (Well, it’s a horror film, so no.)
Orphan is a rare thing, a genuinely believable and real-feeling horror thriller. Kate (Vera Farmiga) and John (Peter Sarsgaard) totally convince. All their passion, love, boredom, mutual frustration, arguments will be familiar to anyone in a long-term relationship; nothing felt forced, it seemed like being a fly on the wall. The development of their relationship as things go from bad to worse was also thoroughly believable. Nothing was at all melodramatic.
Believable is the key word, for some fairly extreme things happen in this film, yet we buy everything. Good acting, good writing, and some rather effective lighting and make-up work, totally sell the story and the twists. And just when you think things may come off the rails, Isabelle Fuhrman delivers as orphan Esther. The only thing that bugged me was why they even needed to adopt; they already had two healthy kids. The motivation to adopt another child didn’t fully convince.
A thrilling film, not your typical “weird kid” horror movie.
Ángel (Mario Casas) is a paramedic in the ambulance service. Stable job, reasonable flat, beautiful girlfriend Vane (the elfin Déborah François), and talk of babies: life seems to be going in the right direction. However, after tragedy strikes during a call-out, Ángel becomes increasingly distant and suspicious of Vane.
The Paramedic a.k.a. El Practicante is a good film. Well-acted, it keeps us with bated breath. A fairly low-grade guy, Ángel was already half-gone before he even went, so his downward spiral seems less a transformation than a totally believable and natural development. But herein lies somewhat of a problem: I couldn’t quite understand what Vane saw in Ángel even from the beginning. Another problem was the end. It seemed hollow, although that’s perhaps in keeping with the tone of the film. But more than that, it seemed slightly unbelievable.
The dark tone and machinations of the characters keep us dutifully hooked. Suspenseful, thrilling, a disturbing slow-burn, and yet somewhat lacking; the movie’s trajectory felt almost inevitable from the get-go.
A disturbing slow-moving thriller which never quite lands a killer blow. Still very much worth a watch.
Bol and Rial Majur (Sope Dirisu and Wunmi Mosaku) had fled the brutal civil war in Sudan and fared a treacherous passage across the sea to the UK. After being given temporary leave to remain in Britain, their life looks bright–er. That is, until a menacing presence in their new home begins to interfere with their new lives.
His House begins with a wonderful premise that sees our characters trying to make a new life in a dilapidated council house on, perhaps, the worst council estate in England. The visuals are stunning and it’s genuinely scary — at first, that is, until the jump scare trick gets repeated once too many times. But there is some beautiful visual poetry.
This is a movie which, both for thematic and artistic reasons, I desperately wanted to love. Sadly, the wonderful premise and promise fall away rather quickly as the film really seems to fizzle out half way through act two. There is never enough threat to our main characters, nor mystery about what is going on. This is a real shame.
A film that the critics will wax lyrical over–it’s currently 100% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, but believe me, it’s not that good–but which actually doesn’t live up to its promise. A visually-engaging albeit ultimately hollow movie.
Veteran 911 operator Jordan (Halle Berry) receives a call from a teenage girl, Casey (Abigail Breslin), who has just been abducted and is currently locked in the boot of her kidnapper’s car. As would-be killer Michael (Michael Enklund) drives Casey to an unknown location for a certain death, Jordan must battle her own demons and find the Casey — before it’s too late.
The Call is a tense, non-stop, thoroughly riveting thrill-ride. The performances all round were great, Michael Eklund giving a big but convincing turn as murderer Michael, and the direction was accomplished and what we would expect from Brad Anderson. The use of different kinds of minority characters, without rubbing our faces in the production’s self-righteousness, was actually refreshing and empowering and not at all distracting.
The very last moment of the film was admittedly somewhat forced, although only if we take our characters’ word for it, which I didn’t (no spoilers, so sorry for the vaguery). And some critics have poo-pooed the third act, but I found it a believable and natural development of the story. Frankly, The Call is the exact kind of film that the critics love to hate: it’s just straight-up, thrilling cinema with no pretensions.
Film and Writing Festival for Comedy. Showcasing best of comedy short films at the FEEDBACK Film Festival. Plus, showcasing best of comedy novels, short stories, poems, screenplays (TV, short, feature) at the festival performed by professional actors.