Wednesday, 1 November 2017

HORROR MOVIE REVIEW: JIGSAW


7/10

The city morgue is flooded with new victims. A blood sample of a famous serial killer nicknamed Jigsaw is found under the fingernails of one of the corpses. While the law enforcement officers  are trying to cope with the idea that John Kramer came back from the dead, five people are fighting for their lives in one of the JIGSAW traps. Who is the new killer and who will survive?

If it’s Halloween it must be Saw. For seven years I had seen a Saw movie on the first day of its release, and this time wasn’t an exception. JIGSAW is the 8th instalment in the series that boasts extreme violence and promises a great final twist. The new chapter does not disappoint.

If you were hoping for a breath of fresh air for the franchise, JIGSAW will not deliver that for you, but it is a solid SAW movie the way some remember them. The gore is turned down a notch, and is shot with style. I personally believe that what you don’t see usually leaves a more lasting impression as one's imagination works overtime. 

As in many previous chapters before it, JIGSAW is a puzzle within a puzzle. One refers to the mystery of the five men involved in the JIGSAW game (this time it focuses on their whereabouts) and the second is the identity of the new JIGSAW killer. The film plays with the idea that John Kramer could have come back and goes quite far with  this premise, to say more would be to spoil the twist.

The final revelation is simple but elegant. It is not completely unexpected but trust me, even if you figure out part of the mystery, you will not get everything before the end.


The reliable score of Charles Clouser is a delight and will make great stand alone listening. Spierig Brothers had made a very wholesome SAW movie. It does not defy expectations but delivers on all fronts.

Monday, 25 September 2017

KOREAN MOVIE REVIEW: MEMOIR OF A MURDERER


8/10

Byung-su is an elderly veterinarian who has recently been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. He has a caring daughter who does all she can to make his life easier, and a policemen friend whose name Byung-su forgets from time to time. He also goes to a poetry club (in order to keep his mind exercised) where a lonely widow makes advances at him. But there’s one thing that sets Byung-su apart from the other senior citizens of his little town – he is a serial killer. 

When a new wave of killings begin Byung-su starts to suspect that a young man who is dating his daughter is the culprit. Trying to keep the remains of his memories together Byung-su writes extensive journals. But what if his memories are actually real? Losing his grip on reality he goes head to head with the new serial killer in order to protect the only life he cares about in the world – his daughter’s.

Before Dexter came around Koreans had excelled in creating charismatic killers as protagonists of the films  (“Sympathy for the Devil” probably being the most famous example), but there’s little to like in our hero of “MEMOIR OF A MURDERER”. But his current goal is a noble one, thus begins the labyrinthine tale of murder and revenge, as the two “professional” killers try to out-do and out-smart each other, constantly putting  doubt into the viewer’s mind - what is real or what is the product of imagination of Byung-su’s broken psyche?

Based on a bestselling novel in South Korea MEMOIR OF A MURDERER boasts a solid plot, a complicated protagonist and some great performances. Whilst the identity of the killer is always in the open, the movie is cleverly playing with the impact that Byung-su’s illness has on the story, and watching him slipping in and out of dementia in the most crucial moment of the storytelling is both frustrating and terrifying.


The movie’s atmosphere of a sleepy country town, constantly wrapped in fog, creates a perfect sense of danger. The grand finale is a bloodbath and the ending, typical for Korean films (and the reason for me loving them so much), slips into a pure melodrama, with a few genuinely touching, sentimental moments.

Saturday, 16 September 2017

MOVIE REVIEW: mother!



8/10

A husband and wife live as recluses in an old house in the middle of the nowhere. He is fighting his writing block, she is redecorating the house. Time moves slowly, until, in the middle of the night, there’s a knock at the door.

mother! was advertised as a horror movie, boasting a similar premise to Rosemary’s Baby, with a deranged husband and the sect that invade their private life. In fact mother! is something else entirely.

The film’s intriguing beginning immediately suggests it has a touch of the supernatural, but when a strange man (Ed Harris) enters the house in the middle of the night it moves into all too familiar home invasion movie territory. When the intruder’s chatty and not so classy wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) shows up on the front porch the next day things get darkly interesting. As the second half of the film kicks in, it becomes obvious where things are going. From that point on the movie's supposed unpredictability becomes its greatest flaw.

The film has fantastic performances. Javier Bardem, Jennifer Lawrence, Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer (seeing her in a new role is particularly great!)  are all in top form. The emotions they are trying to convey are easy to relate to, but it is hard to place them in the context of the plot. There are so many elements in the film that mean or, maybe, don’t mean anything, that pop up into your head long after the credits roll. But as soon as you work out the main idea behind the plot you start figuring out the little clues and it’s a fun game to play. mother! is a film that keeps on giving. And unlike some of David Lynch’s movies there is a structure and a point to it all.

mother!, however, is more frustrating than fascinating, especially for those who came to see a horror film. It is provocative rather than thought provoking. At some point Arnofsky throws the plot-writing manual out of the window, but the disappointment comes when we realize the story he is telling is far too conventional.

I will finish with a riddle:
mother! is not a horror movie, but it is based on the scariest book ever written. It is an international bestseller. I will even give you another clue: it is not written by Stephen King! 

If you solve this riddle you will know the secret of mother!

Sunday, 27 August 2017

MOVIE REVIEW: DEATH NOTE


8/10

Light Turner is an intelligent high-schooler with a strong sense of justice. When a cursed notebook ends up in his hands he realizes that he can change the world. A name written in the book will cause the person’s death. Light quickly tests the book on the high school bullies and then turns to bigger fish – the serial killers, terrorists, child molesters… soon the world knows him as a famous god of death -  KIRA. But what is the point of being a superhero if you cannot share your secret with anyone? Is the enigmatic Mia, Light’s classmate, a suitable candidate? Has Light  finally found his soul-mate or is it the biggest mistake of his life?

Mia’s and Light’s relationship is tested when a mysterious detective only known as L starts closing in on them...

When thinking about the last adaptation of Japanese manga DEATH NOTE, “stylish” is the first word that comes to mind. The material has already been turned into two very successful movies in its home country, one an anime series and one a live action tv series. The American flavored 2 hour Netflix redo is faithful to the original, while bringing a lot of visual candy and suspense on to its plate. The original DEATH NOTE had never really been a horror series. Focusing on the duel of two minds, instead of action, manga mostly consists of conversations, and the murders, while disturbing, happen mostly “off-screen”. Director Adam Wingard (the man behind my all time favorite “YOU ARE NEXT”) turns the kills of DEATH NOTE into Final Destination inspired death traps. It is gory and effective. Horror fans will not be disappointed.

Racing at incredible pace the well constructed script brings in set pieces that threaten the atmosphere of the original. The final scene, with the crashing down ferris wheel, could only be born in the mind of a teenager who likes blockbuster movies. But as the final revelation comes it actually makes perfect sense.

The movie has different takes on the main characters from the source material. While Light is given more humanity and indecisiveness, the world’s greatest detective L takes a walk on the dark side. And Demon Ryuk, Light’s sidekick, and the original owner of the deadly notebook, has much more power here, and has a much more evil presence. He always remains the real monster and manipulator, while in the manga this role is given to Light.

Spending years of my life reading the original story, waiting for the new weekly installments as they were released in Japan, I was not disappointed with this NETFLIX incarnation of DEATH NOTE. The script is overloaded but inspired, the action fits perfectly into the story, giving it a blockbuster quality, and the performances from the main trio – Light, Mia and L were top notch. Special mention goes to William Defoe as monster Ryuk – these CGI performances will soon have a special category in the  Oscar nominations.

This DEATH NOTE would have been a perfect adaptation if not for an abrupt ending. This is the rare case where a film would have benefited from a longer running time. 


Thursday, 17 August 2017

TV SHOW REVIEW: TOP OF THE LAKE: CHINA GIRL


7/10

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

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

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

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


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