Stowaway (2021), Suntan (2016), The Night Comes for Us (2018), The Oak Room (2020), The Year of the Jellyfish (1984), Wildcat (2021), Zombi 2 (1979)
I watch a lot of movies: good, bad, indifferent; all genres; English and non-English speaking; and, occasionally, I write a few comments about those I enjoyed. Here are six mini-reviews, in no particular order. The percentage/numerical ratings in the title fields are from the review-aggregation website, Rotten Tomatoes (where I look for 60% or higher), and the internet movie database, IMDb (where I look for 6.0 or higher). Movies for Movie Buffs: Index lists all my reviews so far posted.
19. The Night Comes for Us, Action/Martial Arts/Thriller, Director Timo Tjahjanto, 2018 Indonesia, 7.0/91%
First came Bruce Lee to set the initial level of the martial-arts action-movie bar. Then a raft of superb exponents of Asian martial arts kept raising the bar: Siu-Wong Fan, Jet Li, Tony Jaa, Donnie Yen, Zhang Ziyi, Moon Lee, Jackie Chan, Michelle Yeoh, Chow Yun Fat, JeeJa Yanin, Cheng Pei Pei, Maggie Q, Lucy Liu,…) and then Indonesian Iko Uwais broke into the scene with the extremely violent The Raid: Redemption (2011) and its sequel The Raid 2: Berandal (2014). Uwais stars again in The Night Comes for Us, a triad action and revenge movie that defies description. The fight scenes are brutal and forever causing the viewer to ask how they did that without causing serious injury or death. The final fight between Uwais and his co-star, Joe Taslim (who plays a fellow-triad assassin, Ito), is nothing short of amazing. In fact, I cannot find adjectives suitable enough to describe this scene nor the earlier scenes involving three lithe but deadly female assassins. Brutal, violent, body-piercing, neck-breaking, limb-snapping, back-breaking, savage, fierce, intense? They all fit the fight scenes in this movie. If martial art action movies are your thing, check out The Night Comes for Us. If not, stay well away.
20. Wildcat, Drama/Thriller, Director Jonathan W. Stokes, 2021 USA, 58%/4.7%
Set during the recent war in Iraq, an American war reporter, Khadija ‘Kat’ Young (Georgina Campbell) and one of her convoy guards are captured by IS militants and locked up somewhere in Mosul close to the Great Mosque of al-Nuri (famous for its leaning minaret and destroyed in 2017 during the Battle of Mosul). Her terrorist captor, Abu Khalid (Mido Hamada) is convinced Kat is more than a reporter and thus begins a cat-and-mouse game involving physical and psychological torture in an attempt to get at the truth. The movie is tense, sparse and will hold your attention through to the credits.
21. The Year of the Jellyfish (L’année des Méduses), Drama, Director Christopher Frank, 1984 France, 58%/5.6
Suntan, Drama, Director Argyris Papadimitropoulos, 2016 Greece, 72%/6.6
I’ve included these two lightweight movies for one reason only. The girls in these movies are incredibly sexy! Both films feature beautiful young-adult females who, most of the time, are either bare-breasted or naked. But this is not for titillation purposes. These movies are not the typical Hollywood so-called Tits and Ass (T&A) movies where partial or full female nudity is simply to attract young and old male audiences and which, most times, are not sexy.
The Year of the Jellyfish, set in Saint-Tropez in the mid-1980s, tells how teenager Chris (Valérie Kaprisky, actually 22 years old at the time) is looking for a sexual adventure and sets out to seduce an older lothario and part-time pimp, Romain (Bernard Giraudeau) who, as it turns out, is more interested in Chris’s mother, Claude (Caroline Cellier). Jaded and ageing Claude is flattered by the attention she is receiving and Chris sees her mother as a competitor for Romain’s sexual attention. That’s not good—mother and daughter vying for the sexual favours of the same man. The story is fairly predictable but much of the action takes place on the beach in Saint-Tropez where most of the nubile girls, including Chris and her female friends, sunbathe and walk about topless. They do this casually and with no regard for the effect it has on neighbouring male beach worshippers and this is what makes the movie sexy. I have personal experience of walking around on beaches such as this on the French Riviera (Frejus, just up the road from Saint-Tropez in the 1970s) and I can tell you; for a red-blooded male, it is an amazing sight to see such unabashed natural female topless nudity and this film brought it all back to me.
Suntan, the 2016 offering from the Greek director Argyris Papadimitropoulos, is similar only this time the setting is a Greek island, Antiparos, and some of the female sun worshippers are always naked rather than just topless—all this on a family beach that allows nudity and, again, without causing alarm or embarrassment among the other users on the beach. The story is again fairly simple. Kostis (Makis Papadimitriou), a middle-aged male Greek doctor, treats Anna (Elli Tringou, 27 years old at the time) for a mild leg injury. Anna is a member of a hedonistic holidaying group of five young adults and Kostis develops a crush on her and worms his way into the group in the hope that she will offer sexual favours. I’ll leave you to find out what happens but, again, the sheer joy of unabashed nudity renders the film sexy in a way that deliberate T&A never can.
I should point out that both films contain violent scenes (murder in one movie, near-rape in another), which just goes to show that young girls should not chase older men and older men should not chase young girls. ‘Look, but don’t touch,’ as my wife said to me when first we ventured onto the beach at Frejus.
22. Zombi 2 (Zombie Flesh Eaters), Horror, Director Lucio Fulci, 1979 Italy, 42%/6.8
Hot on the heels of George Romero’s 1978 zombie classic, Dawn of the Dead, came Italian director Lucio Fulci’s Zombi 2. Fulci, often dubbed the godfather of gore (severed body parts, broken limbs, lots of blood, cannibalism, gouging, stabbing, and hacking, etc.), had already dabbled with horror movies involving lots of gore but Zombi 2 broke new ground and the effects, even by 2021 standards, are still spectacular and, in one case—the notorious eyeball-piercing scene—caused me to avert my own eyes and firmly placed the movie on the UK’s 1980’s list of video nasties.
Also of note is the authentic underwater encounter between a shark and a zombie. The shark was a real tiger shark and was first fed on horse meat and then injected with tranquilizers before the scene was shot. The zombie was played by underwater photographer and shark expert, Ramón Bravo, who went on to become a guide and cameraman to Jacques-Yves Cousteau. Fulci did not want to shoot the scene—it’s too silly, he protested—but one of the producers, Ugo Tucci, wanted to capitalise on the popularity of Steven Spielberg’s 1975 Jaws movie and brought in a second film crew directed by shark trainer René Cardona Jr. It’s worth seeking out this scene on YouTube.
The storyline is nothing complex: a zombie outbreak on a Caribbean island that, unfortunately, cannot be confined to the island and which, eventually, succeeds in reaching New York just as the credits start to roll against a backdrop of zombies walking across the Brooklyn Bridge into Brooklyn, Long Island.
I’m not a fan of zombie movies but I enjoy other forms of horror movies and I watched Zombi 2 just to see what special effects existed in 1979. Give the movie a shot but don’t watch it alone!
23. The Oak Room, Mystery/Thriller, Director Cody Calahan, 2020 USA, 90%/5.4
Imagine a paper chain where each ringlet represents a story that is, somehow, connected to the next story but the true relationships of all the stories are not revealed until the last ringlet is connected to the first ringlet to form a circle. That’s the structure of The Oak Room and it’s well worth the wait to reach the final ten minutes when the circle completes. The film, based on a play, takes place in two dingy bars somewhere in the Canadian outback and, for most of its runtime, only two actors are on view at any one time—a bartender keen to lock up for the night and either someone who enters at closing time or a regular barfly. The film opens with Steve (R J Mitte) entering a bar having driven all day and late into the night through a snowstorm. He is immediately recognised by the hardened bartender, Paul (Peter Outerbridge), and accused of not paying his debts. Steve replies saying he has come for the cremated remains of his father and offers to pay what he owes by telling a story instead of with money. His story leads to another story in another bar, the Oak Room bar in a nearby town, which then leads to another story in the original bar, which then leads to… until, eventually, Paul realises the value of Steve’s story.
The film’s structure is intriguing and some critics have criticised the film for the time it takes to get to the point (90 minutes runtime) but the content and quality of the story-telling is very high. Indeed, it is hard to believe that the actors are repeating lines they’ve learnt as opposed to telling it from the heart. There is an underlying menace in all the stories and, when it happens, the violence is both unexpected and abrupt.
Clearly, this movie is dialogue-driven with very little action. It’s a story-telling movie. Settle down; make notes if necessary; and enjoy the story.
24. Stowaway, Sci-Fi/Drama, Director Joe Penna, 2021 USA, 77%/5.6
Summary: a great idea poorly presented. Picture this. A three-man team—okay, two women and one man—embark on a two-year mission to Mars: the commander, Marina (Toni Collette), a biologist, David (Daniel Dae Kim), and a medical researcher, Zoe (Anna Kendricks). Not long after they have docked with the mother ship and started their journey, Zoe discovers an unconscious injured stowaway locked inside an overhead compartment. After Zoe has nursed him back to life, the stowaway, Michael (Shamier Anderson), a launch-support engineer, has no idea how he came to be locked in the compartment and that very interesting question is never answered in the movie. That’s the first big plot hole. You would think that on a mission as important as this, the checks and counter-checks would have discovered the presence of a large man consuming oxygen and adding substantially to the payload, right?
To continue. The compartment in which the man had been trapped housed an essential part of the spacecraft’s life-support system—the Carbon Dioxide Removal Assembly (CDRA), or CO2 scrubber as it is called in the film. Unfortunately, the scrubber was irreversibly damaged when Michael fell out of the compartment (did I mention that there is artificial gravity within the spacecraft?) and everyone except Michael quickly realises that there will now not be enough reclaimed oxygen to support four people over the two-year mission. I smell a Captain Oates problem here.
And so the story progresses with the exploration of various survival options and… I won’t spoil the story for you.
The main problem with what could have been an exciting nail-biter is that everyone is so nice! Toni Collette’s character doesn’t come across as someone fit to command a two-year mission in a cramped space. She’s more like a mum. ‘That’s great,’ she keeps on saying. Anna Kendrick’s medical researcher is just too young looking to be taken seriously. And Daniel Dae Kim’s biologist is almost devoid of any personality. As for Michael, the titular stowaway, he just talks and talks about the younger sister he has left behind on Earth to fend for herself. Given that Michael looks around the early-30s and, at one point, says his sister is nine years younger than him, I would have thought she was old enough to look after herself and his concern is never explained.
I have other issues with this movie but as Captain James T Kirk might have said, ‘Mister Sulu, get me out of here, straight ahead, warp factor 6.’
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