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.
79. Boiling Point, Drama/Comedy, Director Philip Barantini, 2021 UK, 98%/7.4
If you occasionally frequent high-class restaurants, watch the behind-the-scenes-in-a-busy-high-class-restaurant film, Boiling Point. Your future visits to such a restaurant will be forever different. Multi-dialectical actor, Stephen Graham, plays the chef, Andy Jones, under great pressure to get meals out of the kitchen and onto customer’s tables with due deference to their wishes, allergies, and ignorance while, at the same time, sorting out kitchen staff/front staff arguments; overcoming a shortage of essential ingredients; making sure a restaurant critic and his lady journalist companion are suitably pleased with their meals even though they are off duty; dealing with a personal domestic crisis involving his ex-wife and son; relying on illegal substances and alcohol to keep his energy level high; and warding off threats coming from an ex-friend who loaned him a considerable amount of money to fund the opening of the restaurant and who now wants the loan repaid. Like a large cauldron of water coming to the boil with, first, minor explosions of air and water bubbles followed by a steady progression of uniformly distributed bubbles and finalising in a chaotic assembly of roiling bubbles and steam, Boiling Point slowly but very surely builds to a climax that is both inevitable and catastrophic. This is no Ainsley Harriet racing against the 20-minute Ready Steady Cook countdown, or frenetic Gordon Ramsey on steroids. It’s much worse and Stephen Graham is the perfect choice of actor to portray the chef desperately trying to keep the kitchen functioning on one of the busiest evenings of the week. Let Boiling Point prepare your cinematic palate and titillate your audio-visual taste buds and take note: never ever ask for a filet steak to be cooked well done, especially if the chef has access to a large very sharp carving knife!
80. The Power of the Dog, Drama and more, Director Jane Campion, 2021 USA/New Zealand/UK/Canada/Australia, 96%/7.0
Every now and again, a film comes along that defies any attempt to slot it into a specific genre. The Power of the Dog is one such film. Is it a drama, a western, a romance, a thriller, or a mystery? Yes, all of these and more. Phil Burbank (Benedict Cumberbatch) is part-owner of a large cattle ranch in Montana in the 1920s (actually filmed in the Maniototo Plain in New Zealand’s South Island) whose alpha-male domineering manner and caustic deriding comments do nothing to endear him to his brother, George (Jesse Plemons), or to George’s new wife, Rose (Kirsten Dunst) and her somewhat effeminate teenage son, Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee). And yet, all is not how it seems. Below the surface, emotions churn and as the story progresses, power shifts from one person to another in a way that is so subtle that you, the viewer, will only begin to understand in the last few minutes of the film. The Power of the Dog is a powerful movie directed by a director, Jane Campion, at her peak. The movie is deep. You need to pay close attention to seemingly trivial unrelated events and comments. And, above all, resist the temptation to read reviews before watching the film. I’ll say no more other than to urge you to watch this movie. Set aside 2 hours 6 minutes and enjoy one of the best movies to be released in 2021.
81. The Terror Live (Deu tae-ro ra-i-beu), Action/Crime/Thriller, Director Byung-woo Kim, 2013 Korea, -/7.1
How do the South Koreans do it? Do what, you ask? Churn out movies that grip you from the start and never let you go until the end; that’s what. The Terror Live is an incredible thriller. The one-line IMDb synopsis reads: A newsman discovers he’s been rigged with a bomb after he has an exclusive interview with a terrorist who blew up a bridge.
During a live radio program phone-in, a demoted but astute news anchor, Yeong-hwa Yoon (Ha Jung-woo), is selected by a disgruntled construction worker to become the go-between in an unusual demand for justice. To demonstrate the sincerity of his request, the heard-but-not-seen construction worker blows up two parts of the Mapo Bridge, a large bridge spanning the river Han that flows through Seoul, leaving a number of people stranded on the isolated dangerously unstable middle section of the bridge. What follows becomes a tense cat-and-mouse game between the news anchor, who sees the unfolding drama as a way back to his previous higher-profile television anchor job; the construction worker, now referred to as a terrorist; the senior management of the radio station who are concerned only with ratings; the police who just want to locate and render harmless the terrorist; and government officials who are unwillingly drawn into the negotiations.
What amazes me about this type of movie, and especially those made in South Korea, is the cleverness of the scriptwriters, the brilliance of the special effects, and the acting. I have to say also that the subtitles are excellent: readable, properly synchronised with the actor’s dialogue, and in tune with the emotion in the actor’s voice. If you are put off by having to read subtitles, don’t be. Your brain will quickly adjust to the need to read as you watch and, once mastered, a whole new world of foreign-language movies opens up for you.
82. Hush, Horror/Thriller, Director Mike Flanagan, 2016 USA, 93%/6.6
In a previous Movies for Movie Buffs review (number 77), I wrote about directors creating movies centred around someone with a major physical disability whose subsequent actions surpass those that would be reasonably expected under conditions of stress, a need for strength, or endurance. In particular, I focused on home-invasion horror movies in which the victim, traditionally female but occasionally male (as with the Don’t Breathe movie on which I commented), was blind. It so happened that a few days after posting this review, I watched another home-invasion movie based on a female victim with a disability but this time, the disability is that she is deaf; a condition I empathise with being hard of hearing myself; in fact, almost deaf when not wearing my hearing aids.
The movie, Hush, is a straightforward but well-made home invasion movie featuring Kate Siegel as Maddie, a deaf-mute author of horror novels who lives alone and who is subjected to a vicious prolonged attack by The Man (we never learn his name) played by actor John Gallagher Jr. The Man spends most of his time circling around the house from the outside looking for an opportunity to enter and intent on inflicting physical harm using his crossbow or knife. Maddie, inside the house, tries to keep track of his whereabouts while, all the time seeking to escape from the house. She knows The Man is a murderer having discovered the dead body of her neighbour outside one of the windows. The tension in the movie is occasionally heightened by the sudden complete absence of sound to simulate how Maddie is experiencing what is happening. For example, she would hear nothing if The Man is creeping up behind her and, in so doing, does something that creates a noise—treads on a creaky floorboard or breaks a vase, for example—which would alert those who can hear. Similarly, as and when Maddie loses sight of The Man, she has no ability to hear a window breaking somewhere in the house or an attempt to open a locked door. In fact, the only things in her favour are her knowledge of the layout of the house and some basic survival skills she has, no doubt, used in her horror novels.
I enjoyed this film. It’s a cut above standard home-invasion films which tend to focus on the gore. Hush is more of a psychological exploration of home invasion, intensified by the deafness of the person under attack. Bolt your doors, lock your windows, make sure your mobile phone is fully charged and that there is a strong signal, and watch the movie. Oh, and don’t forget to make sure the windows in the basement are fully locked and that nobody can turn off the electricity supply to the house!
83. Escape from Mogadishu, Action/Drama/Thriller, Director Seung-wan Ryoo, 2021 Korea, 92%/7.2
Yet another blockbuster from South Korea, Escape for Mogadishu relates an embellished version of the real-life escape of members of the South Korean and North Korean embassies in Mogadishu in 1991 when rebel forces loyal to Mohamed Farrah Aidid finally entered Somalia’s capital in the nationwide uprising against Siad Barre’s military junta. When the diplomats and staff of the North Korean embassy were forced to evacuate their building, they sought refuge in the South Korean embassy. Ideological differences clashed with humanitarian sentiments, north-south-divide suspicions with shared nationality, job responsibilities with joint survival. The title of the movie gives the ending away but how the group made their escape through the war-torn streets of Mogadishu makes for an exciting and very tense final 30 minutes of this 2-hour movie.
Filmed in Morocco, Escape from Mogadishu has been likened to a similar escape from Mogadishu movie, Black Hawk Down (2001) but there is one significant difference. Black Hawk Down pitted a combined American army/air-support armed military group against the rebels whereas the Korean embassy staffs were neither military nor armed. In effect, they were civilians with, supposedly, diplomatic status and immunity. The South Korean Ambassador, Han Sin-seong (played by actor Kim Yoon-seok), and North Korean Ambassador, Rim Yong-su (played by actor Heo Joon-ho) portray the real ambassadors, Kang Shin-sung and Kim Ryong-su respectively—note the close similarity between the fictional names and real names of the two ambassadors—and ex-Ambassador Kang Shin-sung, has described what really happened in an interview to be found in the Korea Herald. Watch the movie and then read his comments.
84.The Harder They Fall, Western/Action/Drama, Director Jeymes Samuel, 2021 USA, 87%/6.6
It’s rare to come across a decent western movie these days. Hollywood and Italy have exhausted the genre but revisionism has resurrected the ‘cowboys and injuns’ staple of my youth only it’s no longer cowboys and injuns. It’s anything but. The Harder They Fall subverts the genre by pitting one Wild West outlaw gang against another wherein the first gang robs banks and the second gang robs the gang who robs banks—bad guys against even badder bad guys. ‘Y’all rob banks; we rob y’all,’ quotes one bad guy to an even badder bad guy. To further turn the genre on its head, all members of both gangs are various shades of black. There is nary a white guy, good or bad, in sight other than as non-player characters or stereotypes in the fictional white town of Maysville—white people, white roads, white horses, and white painted buildings including a bank just waiting to be robbed.
Back to the gang members. The bad guys, known as the Nat Love Gang, are led by forever smiling Nat Love (Jonathan Majors) and supported by characters such as wild hairstyled ‘Stagecoach’ Mary Fields (Zazie Beetz) and laid-back lawman turned baddie Bass Reeves (Delroy Lindo). The even badder bad guys, known as the Crimson Hood Gang, are led by sinister Rufus Black (Idris Elba) aided and abetted by bowler-hatted ‘Treacherous’ Trudy Smith (Regina King) and quick-draw Cherokee Bill (Lakeith Stanfield). In addition, there are other gang members completing a stellar cast of actors who clearly enjoyed their individual roles in the movie. The action is continuous, the dialogue is sparkling, the New Mexico scenery spectacular, and the final 40-minute shoot-out is probably the longest in the history of western shoot-outs with extra or recycled resurrected actors drafted in to prolong the carnage.
The Harder They Fall is an action movie that doesn’t take itself too seriously but, for me, is solid entertainment throughout its 2-hour 20-minute runtime. It’s also a long long way from the traditional cowboys and injuns movies of my youth. I wonder what Randolph Scott, Gary Cooper, and Audie Murphy would have thought of the movie?