Monday, September 19, 2016

Black Sea (2014)

There's something about the submarine movies which gives a boost to the "thriller" factor, because that's the typical genre we have here - "Hunt for Red October", "Crimson Tide", "U-571", "K-19" and more or less even "Das Boot". "Black Sea" is no exception.

Something nice in this niche is that despite the limited context most of the times somehow we get a new original story. In "Black Sea" the action takes place in the present day. A sub captain in the commercial navy (Jude Law) is fired by his employer firm where he worked for more than 10 years. Since there aren't many open positions for a sub captain he decides to follow a tip given by a formare mate. Apparently the firm which fired him found out that somewhere on the bottom of the Black Sea lies a WW2 U-boat loaded with Nazi gold, but it was too complicated to legally try to get to it. However, a mysterious guy is willing to fund a private expedition. And like that we're getting on board of an old Russian sub, with a bunch of people quickly gathered to form a crew, half Russian, half British, all ready for the treasure hunt ...

From here onward we're between the classic theme of "if at the end are less alive, my cut is larger" and some sort of underwater "Moby Dick" where the gold is the whale and captain Ahab is Jude Law. The movie's catchy, but a bit over the top. First, for some characters the behavior change seems too sudden. Second, I'm not an expert in submarine technology, but what wee see sometimes is hardly believable at least compared to other movies. Thirdly, at some point it starts to look too much like a "horror" where you wonder who's the next who dies and if in the end there's somebody left alive ... ( spoiler: the answer is yes ;) )

Rating: 3 out of 5

Sunday, September 11, 2016

The Book of Life (2014)

I wished to like "The Book of Life". I was expecting more. When I've seen the trailer long ago, I remember that for a second I had the same feeling I got ofter "How to Train Your Dragon" = the promo was hiding much more than the first impression it left me. I thought here will be the same ... Well, it was not.

The story starts with Manolo and Joaquin, two boys in a village in Mexico who both like Maria. Well, the story actually starts with a group of spoiled children visiting a museum, but let's leave the context of the context aside and let's get back to the context ... La Muerte and Xibalba, the two "gods" of the Mexican underworlds make a bet: who's gonna put the wedding ring on Maria's finger? The ruling of the realms beyond depends on the result. Just that until the wedding there's still some time left (really, like half the movie) ... Maria is sent to study in Europe and we move onward X years until she's back in the village. Meanwhile Manolo strives to continue the family tradition as a bull fighter despite his pro-life beliefs regarding the bulls, and Joaquin receiving a hidden support from his protective "god" made a career as a soldier who defends the town against El Chakal (= a big, evil and mean "bandido" who wants to pillage everything). Again backed up by his protective "god" Joaquin seems to win the bet ... by absence = like in a Shakespearean tragedy Manolo lets himself poisoned to follow Maria who passed out after a snake bite. The problem is that he doesn't find here in the other realm = two snake bites - Manolo's dose - are apparently more lethal than one snake bite - Maria's dose. So, she's coming back to life, and without a choice left she's getting ready to say "yes" to Joaquin ...

Ok, I've told already what's going on for half the movie. But that's the intro. The main story starts after. I didn't get into the Mexican mythology details because I don't want to spoile everything, but what can I say more is that what follows was disappointing. The premises are good and open up the room for a really nice story. But the room's left empty. The way things are solved is rushed, chaotic, exaggerated (not that I was expecting something realistic, but when in the end suddenly everybody gets along with everybody ...). It sort of gives the impression that after stretching the length as much as possible up to the middle, who wrote the script found out that there's a time limit to wrap up ... What a loss.

Rating: 3 out of 5

Monday, September 5, 2016

The Signal (2014)

Immersive ... That's a one-word description for "The Signal". It's been a while since I've watched a SciFi that kept me so engaged. Two students at MIT and the girlfriend of one of them are on the road to California. At some point, they decide to take a detour to meet a hacker - nickname: Nomad. An IP trace leads them to an address in the middle of nowhere, at night, where the only thing they find is a deserted house. And now for a short time you feel you're watching something between "Wrong Turn" and "Blair Witch Project" and you ask yourself why IMDb listed SciFi and not horror. But that goes fast ... And we're suddenly transported to "The Matrix". Or .. well, we have Laurence Fishburne as someone who seems to lead a quarantine compartment of a facility where the three were brought after a 3rd kind encounter in the desert. A bit further we're moving to "The Cube", at least conceptually. Probably I'm not giving the best references - somehow the right one eludes me, but is better like this: that's the proof that what we have here is original enough (although sort of predictable) and .. I'm not giving spoilers :) About the camera, sound, etc .. you can see it in the trailer, or just go for the movie, it's really worth it ;)

Rating: 4 out of 5

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Man from Reno (2014)

"Man from Reno" is one of those movies that makes you ask "why is this good?" while watching, considering that if you look over the story somewhere halfway it seems that nothing's stands out compared to a standard TV crime series. I'm saying that because I actually couldn't watch it all at once and I had enough time in-between to think about going on with the final part. And the decision was: yes, do it ...

So, what's worth seeing here? First of all, the movie is impeccable in the making as a whole. If we split it piece by piece - directing, acting, camera, editing, sound, I can't say any of those is exceptional, but all complete each other so well that the result keeps your eyes on the screen. What about the story?... Well, the start is pretty convoluted. A sheriff in a small county near San Francisco hits an Asian guy on a foggy night ... or better said the guy stumbling on his feet hits the sheriff's car. Long story short - "the victim" ends up in a hospital from where he runs away as soon as he's able leaving lots of unanswered questions. Meanwhile, a successful Japanese crime novel author checks in to a hotel in San Francisco where she gets approached by a charming guy ... who disappears after a one night stand. And somehow the search of the two missing persons intersects ...

There are many movies passing through your mind when you watch "Man from Reno". From "No Country for Old Men" (that I'm not really fond of) to "Talented Mr. Ripley" (that I'm not really fond of either). I've seen here what's missing there. Still I can't get over a turning point towards the end where (spoiler) things move from what seems a comforting calm solution to a very dark outcome ... But maybe it's just my taste, or too much daily stress that wants only happy-endings :) ...

Rating: 4 out of 5

Monday, August 22, 2016

A Hard Day (2014)

"A Hard Day" is a Korean production confirming (yet again ...) that if you look today over the Asian cinema you can find movies with a much clever script than the average of the Hollywood mainstream. What we have here is somewhere between a thriller and a dark comedy where the humor is sometimes dry, but for who had previous experience with the Korean cinema should be clear that's something typical. The story starts with a crooked cop from a crooked department who hits a guy on the road at night in an apparently fatal crash, while driving to set up the funeral arrangements for his mother. Meanwhile a nocturnal internal affairs raid takes over his office, and his daughter left in his custody after divorce keeps asking him on the phone for a chocolate cake. Getting back to his most pressing problem, the "apparently fatal" accident doesn't mean the victim will rise from dead - but I'm not gonna tell more ... I just thought that the trailer might make you think that "you know the story" and maybe a hint will help to the answer that "no, you don't".

It's a Korean thriller, so you can expect violence. I think the degree is acceptable compared to others. The series of unfortunate events that keep coming after the main character may seem taking exaggerate turns towards the end, but again ... it's at an acceptable level (and if you think something's a bit over the top, remember that "comedy" is listed among genres). Probably the worst minus I noticed is the ... title. It's completely random considering you can't even tell which "day" was more "hard", but doesn't matter that much ...

Rating: 4 out of 5