An American Werewolf in London, Confidential Assignment (Gongjo) (2017), The Mauritanian (2021), The Suicide Theory (2014), The Trial of the Chicago 7 (2020), The Vanished (Sarajin bam) (2018), Twilight Saga, Underworld, Wer (2013), Wheels
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.
25. The Mauritanian, Drama/Legal, Director Kevin Macdonald, 2021 USA, 75%/7.4
This movie was well received by the critics (check the IMDb/Rotten Tomatoes ratings above) but I was slightly underwhelmed by it. Briefly, the story centres on the attempts of a Guantanamo detainee, Mohamedou Ould Slahi (Tahar Rahim) to prove he had no terrorist connections with either the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks in 2001, or Osama bin Laden himself. Based on a true story, Slahi was detained in the Guantanamo Bay detention centre for fourteen years and eventually released seven years after his defence lawyer, Nancy Hollander (Jodie Foster), unearthed evidence that proved there had been a miscarriage of justice. In the face of new evidence, the government’s prosecutor, Stuart Couch (Benedict Cumberbatch) conceded defeat. And yes, you read that right. Slahi was detained for a further seven years after Nancy Hollander had proved that his detention was unlawful and, in fact, Slahi was never formally charged with any crime.
The movie had a nod at the 2021 Academy Awards with Jodie Foster winning Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture but I found the movie to be very plodding with not much happening other than dialogue.
26. The Vanished (Sarajin bam), Crime/Mystery/Thriller, Director Lee Chang-hee, 2018 Korea, 85%/6.6
Imagine this. Yoon Seol-hee (Kim Hee-ae), a wealthy middle-aged female owner of a large corporation, is married to a good-looking trophy toy boy, Park Jin-han (Kim Kang-woo). Unfortunately, the toy boy has a hankering for a younger more attractive university student and strays from the straight and narrow. The owner begins to suspect that all is not as it should be but before she can confront her erring husband, she winds up dead, apparently of natural causes. Before a proper post-mortem can be conducted, however, her body disappears from the morgue. Enter detective Woo Jung-sik (Kim Sang-kyung), drunk, dishevelled, disrespectful, but astute. Is Seol-hee still alive? Did she die of natural causes or was she murdered? Has Jin-han, a professor with a background in pharmaceutical science, developed a poison that causes death but leaves no trace in the body? How can he be accused of murder if there is no body? Better get him in for questioning but with no firm charge, how long can he be held in custody, especially with friends in high places demanding his immediate release?
The stage is set for an intriguing mystery that develops at a brisk pace until the final denouement. Normally I find these types of mystery movies full of plot holes—wait a minute; that’s not what happened in the earlier scene; how did so-and-so manage to do that given the security surrounding the place; was she dreaming that or did it really happen; and so on? Not so with this movie. The twists finally straighten out in a satisfactory manner, leaving you repletely entertained.
27. The Suicide Theory, Drama, Director Dru Brown, 2014 Australia, 79%/6.6
Percival (Leon Cain) is desperately trying to commit suicide for reasons that are not revealed until late in the movie. He’s tried shooting himself in the head, jumping from a bridge, and cutting himself, all without success (although success might not be the right word to use to describe failure to commit suicide).
Steven (Steve Mouzakis), having lost his pregnant wife in a road accident a few years back, has become an emotionless philosophical contract killer and, as fate would have it, inadvertently meets Percival when he jumps from a high building and crashes into the top of the taxi carrying Steven on his way to his next assignment. Percival survives his latest suicide attempt one more time and decides to contract Steven to kill him and be done with it. ‘I have a theory that fate has determined I cannot die. I am like Cain. I am cursed,’ he says, sort of. ‘You need to help me,’ he adds, handing Steven an envelope stuffed with money.
Steven accepts the contract but, as you can imagine, Percival’s demise is not as easy as it sounds, especially for a contract killer, and so begins Steven’s quest to help Percival achieve his end-of-life goal.
Ordinarily, suicide is not a subject to be taken lightly let alone become the subject of an entertaining movie but the two main protagonists lift the movie above the level of morbidity and into the realms of dark humour. Steve Mouzakis delivers his lines in a deadpan matter-of-fact manner and Leon Cain presents just the right air of despair at not achieving his suicidal plan. Dark humour is very difficult to achieve. The balance between the seriousness of the subject and its exposition is extremely difficult to get right but, I have to say, I enjoyed this movie. I approached it with trepidation but came away pleased with the result.
If you watch, and enjoy, The Suicide Theory, and want to further explore dark humour movies centred around the subject of suicide, watch Wheels, the 2014 movie directed by Donavon Warren and Tim Gagliardo. It’s difficult to imagine two paraplegics, one suicidal and one without scruples, coming to terms with their situations in a way that may invoke out-loud laughs, but that’s what happens in Wheels.
28. Confidential Assignment (Gongjo), Action/Drama/Comedy, Director Kim Sung-hoon, 2017 Korea, 63%/6.6
If you are looking for a good old-fashioned cops and robbers action movie with bad guys and good guys, a small dose of comedy, a cute kid, a sharp-tongued but lovable wife with a younger kooky-looking unmarried sister, and lots of action including fist fights, foot and car chases, and shoot outs, look no further than Confidential Assignment. A North Korean bad guy, Cha Ki-seong (Kim Joo-hyuk) steals a valuable North Korean asset and flees to South Korea looking for a buyer. In the shoot out wherein the North Korean bad guy obtains the asset, the wife of a handsome North Korean special investigator, Im Cheol-ryung (Hyun Bin), is killed by Ki-seong but the special investigator’s life is spared. Subsequently, the North Koreans form a Joint and Covert Operation with the South Koreans and detective Kang Jin-tae (Yoo Hae-jin) from Seoul police is teamed with Im Cheol-ryung and tasked to apprehend the bad guy and retrieve and return the asset to North Korea. And so the fun starts with trust/mistrust issues, misunderstandings, a little bit of jingoism, an underlying theme of vengeance, and lots of action.
It’s a fun movie. The mood changes dramatically as the story progresses—from shoot out and foot/car chase action, to discomfort (in Jin-tae’s home when the handsome North Korean is introduced to Jin-tae’s unmarried sister-in-law), to shouting senior police officers, to head-slapping incidents (Koreans slap heads when annoyed or to punish incompetence), to cute comments from the 9-year-old daughter, and so on, but it’s not a blood-spurting limb-severing gory movie like some of the more extreme Korean detective movies. Yoo Hae-jin, who plays the goofy Seoul detective, Jin-tae, plays his part like a bumbling but secretly competent Jerry Lee Lewis might have played it and, I guess, that’s why the movie is classified as a comedy. The fight scenes are realistically choreographed and enacted and, as always, the good guys are seemingly immune to bullets as they gun down hordes of bad guys. Give Confidential Assignment a shot or, perhaps I should re-word that to read give it a viewing. The movie runs for just over 2 hours but you won’t get bored.
29. The Trial of the Chicago 7, Courtroom Drama/History, Director Aaron Sorkin, 2020 USA, 89%/7.8
In August 1968, the Democratic National Convention was held in Chicago, its purpose to elect a new presidential candidate to replace the incumbent Democratic president, Lyndon B Johnson, who had announced he would not be seeking re-election. America had been at war in Vietnam since 1955, anti-war sentiment was rising, and anti-war protesters had gathered to demonstrate their feelings to the delegates attending the convention. The protests, initially peaceful, turned ugly and under Chicago’s Mayor Daley’s authoritarian rule, many people, police and demonstrators, were injured. Five months later, eight people (the Chicago Eight, seven white and one black), were arrested and charged with conspiracy to incite a riot. The 5-month trial, conducted by Judge Julius Hoffman, became notorious for a number of reasons: Judge Hoffman’s obvious bias against the defendants; his refusal to allow the black defendant, Bobby Seale, represent himself; and his subsequent chaining and gagging of Seale in the courtroom that resulted in a mistrial for Seale thus reducing the Chicago Eight down to Seven.
Courtroom movie dramas live or die according to the sharpness and timing of the dialogue and the delivery by the actors and The Trial of the Chicago 7 is excellent on both accounts. The movie boasts a stellar cast and fairly zips along its 129-minute run time. Notable among the performances are actors Eddie Redmayne (Tom Hayden, one of the Seven), Sacha Baron Cohen (Abbie Hoffman, another one of the Seven), Mark Rylance (William Kuntzler, defence attorney), Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Richard Schultz, prosecution attorney) and Frank Langella (Judge Julius Hoffman). There are no love-interest distractions and, now and again, scenes from the actual riots are interspersed with the fabricated scenes. Parts of the story are embellished for dramatisation purposes (Illinois’ Black Panther leader Fred Hampton’s death occurred after Bobby Seale’s removal from the trial, not before; Tom Hayden did not present the closing statements for the seven defendants; it was one of the other Seven) but these minor departures do not detract from the dynamics and tensions of the court case. This a classic courtroom drama and solidly based on fact. If you watch the movie, check out Wikipedia’s summary of the plot afterwards and also the trivia in IMDb’s listing. They fill any plot holes you might have and correct the slight departures from the truth.
30. Wer, Horror, Director William Brent Bell, 2013 USA, 70%/5.9
Movies such as An American Werewolf in London (1981), the five Underworld movies (2003–2016), and the five Twilight Saga movies (2008–2012), have pretty much done werewolf movies to death, or so I thought until I watched Wer. Set in Lyons in France, the movie opens with the horrendous deaths of a father and son by an unknown and very powerful what might have been a man or a creature, and who left the wife still alive but with multiple injuries and in shock. A tall, uncommunicative and very hairy local man, Talan Gwynek (Brian Scott O’Connor) is arrested and charged with the murders and the case attracts the attention of American defence attorney, Kate Moore (A J Cook) and her assistants, investigator Eric Sarin (Vik Sahay), and animal expert Gavin Flemyng (Simon Quarterman). And so it starts—an investigation that sets the three defence protagonists at odds with the French police chief, Klaus Pistor (Sebastian Roché) who seemingly has a hidden agenda, and reveals very little about the suspect except that his mother is from Romania and the family harbours a secret about a defective gene that passes down the line and causes porphyria, a liver disorder that can cause muscle pain, changes to the skin which become painful in sunlight, and which can induce hallucinations, disorientation and paranoia. (Porphyria is a genuine disorder and is thought to be the origin of werewolf and vampire stories in the Middle Ages.)
So far, so good. Kate and her team are making progress in what is basically a routine investigation into whether her client, Talan, was capable of committing the murders and all seems well for Talan until he is tested for porphyria. At that point… I’ll let you watch the movie and find out. All I will say is the movie delivers on its promise. The title, Wer, is old English for man and part of the etymological origin of werewolf—man + wolf. The second half of the movie is as exciting as any I’ve seen where the lunar effect causes physiological changes. Watch the movie but not when the moon is full and not in the company of tall uncommunicative hairy men.