Movie Review: The Snowman


Harry Hole (Michael Fassbender) is trapped in a series of unfortunate events in The Snowman. (Source: IMDb)

The Snowman, based on Jo Nesbø’s best-selling novel of the same name, has the ingredients of a great thriller. They are: A talented cast, a talented filmmaker (Tomas Alfredson, of Let the Right One In and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy), edited by a legendary editor (Thelma Schoonmaker, who collaborated with Martin Scorsese for years), and it has an interesting mystery at its core. What could possibly go wrong?

The answer is simple: EVERYTHING!

Michael Fassbender stars as Harry Hole (I later found out it was pronounced “hol-eh”, not the correct English way), a police inspector of the Oslo Crime Squad. He is assigned to investigate a series of murders of women on the first winter’s snow Along with Katrine Bratt (Rebecca Ferguson), Harry uses his police skills to take down the killer, who keeps threatening him with letters.

Believe it or not, legendary director Martin Scorsese was attached to direct the film at one point until Alfredson took the director’s chair. I love a good mystery, and there is so much potential to be had with The Snowman. But–it doesn’t deny it from being an incoherent mess. One of the main reasons why the movie sucks is that Alfredson stated that a part of the screenplay didn’t make it into the film, causing him to rush production. According to The Playlist, he said, “It’s like when you’re making a big jigsaw puzzle and a few pieces are missing so you don’t see the whole picture.”

I did read the book prior to the movie’s release, and I enjoyed it. Comparing the movie to a good book, the film’s mystery hardly makes any lick of sense. None of the characters are interesting and the plot holes are massive.

Fassbender has been in a lot of great movies. Known for playing young Magneto in the X-Men films, a nasty slave owner in 12 Years a Slave (in which he received an Oscar nomination for), and the founder of Apple in Steve Jobs, I have never seen him play a character so dull and cliched. It’s clear from the beginning that he has a drinking problem and is a heavy smoker. The audience barely sees him do any police work that is considered great. With a supporting cast featuring Rebecca Ferguson, J.K. Simmons, Chloe Sevigny, Toby Jones, and Charlotte Gainsbourg, this is a such a wasted opportunity. Val Kilmer earns the strangest-performance-of-the-year award as a police officer whose involvement in the investigation is connected somehow. How can you not crack up at his overdubbed voice?

There is a possibility we will get another adaptation of The Snowman in the future that is worth watching. But–if you want to see a good Scandinavian thriller with a mystery that feels complete, watch either the original Swedish version or David Fincher’s version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. They are both brutal yet keep you on the edge of your seat. The Snowman is just as entertaining as getting your wisdom teeth removed.



Movie Review: The Foreigner


Quan (Jackie Chan) goes on the road for vengeance in The Foreigner. (Source: The Playlist)

How can anyone not love Jackie Chan? The 63-year-old Chinese actor has starred in numerous action comedies and thrillers since the 1970s. Not only can he be really funny, he also can kick a lot of ass. Fresh from receiving a long overdue honorary Oscar this year, Jackie teams up with director Martin Campbell (who directed two of the best James Bond films–Casino Royale and GoldenEye) in a serious action thriller. The Foreigner is as raw as it is intense.

Based on the novel, The Chinaman, Quan (Chan) is a Chinese immigrant living in London as a restaurant owner. One day, he picks up his teenage daughter Fan (Katie Leung) from school so she can pick up a dress. The unthinkable happens when she dies in a terrorist bombing. Serving as a special forces operator in Vietnam, Quan brings back his skills and embarks on a search to find the terrorists. This leads to his encounter with IRA deputy minister Liam Hennessy (Pierce Brosnan), who might hold the clues about who is responsible for the bombing.

The movie might be to Taken, but Campbell takes it to his full advantage. After the disappointing Green Lantern, he returns to familiar territory of British politics. Along with screenwriter David Macroni, he creates a realistic glimpse of the conflict between England and Northern Ireland (which has been going on for centuries).

Chan stars in probably the most complete performance to date. He plays a broken, emotional man, who looks for vengeance after losing the last person he ever loved in his entire life. It’s amazing how Jackie can still perform his own stunts. His choreography in The Foreigner is more military-based than in his other movies. There is enough action to carry through. He and Brosnan play off together extremely well.

While it may have problems with the narrative (especially scenes that feel redundant), its fierce energy and interesting political background make The Foreigner good ol’ Saturday matinee entertainment.


Movie Review: Victoria and Abdul


Queen Victoria (Dame Judi Dench) and Abdul Karim (Ali Fazan) of India strike up an unlikely friendship in Victoria and Abdul. (Source: Vogue)

This is not the first time Judi Dench has played Queen Victoria. Her first outing was in 1997’s Mrs. Brown, in which she received her first Oscar nomination. It simply follows a servant helping her recover from her husband’s loss. Twenty years later, she is back as an aging yet wiser version of the Queen in Victoria and Abdul. Stephen Frears (who has been directing for more than 40 years) and screenwriter Lee Hall recreate the “mostly” true story if the Queen’s friendship with Abdul Karim, an Indian Muslim. The result is quite disappointing.

Queen Victoria (Judi Dench) has held the reign for 63 years. Her Golden Jubilee is coming up. Since India is ruled by Britain, she decides to call upon Abdul Karim (Ali Fazal), a prison clerk, to participate. He–along with Mohammed (Adeel Akhtar)–arrive in Britain by ship. He eventually develops a beautiful friendship with the Queen. This pisses off her royal family, including her son Bertie (Eddie Izzard), to no end. For the Queen, however, this is one of those moments she will never forget.

Dench has been in a lot of movies for a long time. Some of her greatest performances are M in the James Bond films, Lady Catherine in the 2005 version of Pride and Prejudice, and an Irish woman looking for her son in Philomena (also directed by Frears). This is yet another miraculous performance to add in her long repertoire. As Queen Victoria, I just love how she is in control of everything. Nobody can stop her! It’s hard not to laugh or crack a smile when she is being taught by Abdul about his native language and the Qur’an. Their chemistry is so infectious.

While the movie is amusing at best and Danny Cohen’s cinematography is gorgeous (one scene involving having dinner in the hills of Scotland reminded me of The Queen), this movie is underwhelming. The tone shifts all over the place from very funny to very dramatic. The movie only pinpoints who Abdul is. The audience hardly know a lot about their friendship. Believe me, I know you want to Google about the entire story on which the movie is based. Hell, even the texts are rather vague. At the end, Victoria and Abdul feels incomplete. Now–I’m in the mood to watch Mrs. Brown.


Movie Review: Blade Runner 2049


Officer K (Ryan Gosling) is on the search for some answers in Blade Runner 2049. (Source: Vox)

In 1982, Ridley Scott introduced a world unlike any other. From its imaginative sets and thoughtful allegory on life, Blade Runner is one of the best sci-fi films imaginable. It features Harrison Ford playing a quiet hero (as opposed to Indiana Jones or Han Solo) where he must get rid of a group of bioengineered people from the Earth. Since its release, people have been debating whether Deckard is a replicant or not. There’s no real answer to the debate; other than it’s up to the viewer.

Today, Scott returns to his futuristic world as producer, while Denis Villeneuve–whose Arrival has returned to the traditional, thought-provoking science-fiction–is in the director’s chair. Blade Runner 2049 is certainly up his alley!

30 years after the events of Blade Runner, newer replicant models are now becoming a part of society. Officer K (Ryan Gosling) works as the new “blade runner” for the LAPD. He is assigned to take down (or “retire”) older replicants. One day, he sees the remains of an adult replicant and their child. Preventing a possible war against humans and replicants, K begins to investigate the murder, which might connect to Officer Deckard (Harrison Ford), who went missing all these years.

What I love about Villeneuve’s direction is he never wastes anyone’s time relying on mindless action or manipulative emotion. With Blade Runner 2049, it keeps the similar tone and themes of the original while giving a fresh take on the futuristic world. Roger Deakins’ cinematography feels like a painting coming to life. From the 3D holograms to the impressive architecture to the scene where K walks through the ruins of erotic statues, this contains some of the most visually stunning visuals I’ve ever seen (Deakins has a good chance of winning an Oscar).

While the movie can be quite brutal at times, the movie contains the theme of nostalgia. It asks the important question: Are memories artificial memories implanted in our heads? Or is it the exact opposite? As a replicant, this is what K tries to figure out. In one particular scene, he explains his only childhood memory involves getting bullied as he plays with a toy horse.

Gosling is familiar playing characters who can be violent yet have subtle emotions (i.e. Drive). He and Harrison Ford lead a marvelous cast including Robin Wright, Dave Bautista, Barkhad Abdi, and Jared Leto. Let’s hope Villeneuve crafts more original sci-fi films in the near future. Not only is Blade Runner 2049 one of the best sequels in recent memory, it surpasses the original by a slight margin.


Movie Review: Gerald’s Game


Jessie (Carla Gugino) and Gerald (Bruce Greenwood) prepare to have some sex in Gerald’s Game. What could possible go wrong? (Source: Phoenix New Times)

Netflix is releasing two Stephen King film adaptations. Gerald’s Game, which came out last Friday, and 1922, which is coming out on the 20th. They both can be enjoyed in the comfort of your own home during this Halloween season.

Recently, I watched the home-invasion thriller Hush, directed by Mike Flanagan (Oculus). I was really impressed what he did with the movie. Featuring minimal dialogue; not to mention a deaf protagonist (different for the horror genre), he never lets up the suspense. Everyone can relate to this movie about having the feeling that somebody maybe watching you. However, in Flanagan’s latest, Gerald’s Game, the main fear is losing someone close, as well as the past.

Jessie (Cara Gugino) and Gerald Burlingame (Bruce Greenwood) are a middle-aged couple struggling to keep their marriage afloat. They decide to spice things up a bit for the weekend at a lake house in the middle of nowhere. While having sex, Gerald handcuffs Jessie to the bedpost. She thinks Gerald has taken things too far. “This is turning into some rape fantasy I never knew you had,” she tells him.

Then, the unthinkable happens. Gerald dies from a heart attack; leaving Jessie still in handcuffs. Spending hours on end yelling for help with any lack of thirst, Jessie begins to hallucinate and have terrible dreams.  She begins to fight for her life.

Since its 1992 publication, Gerald’s Game has been deemed as “unfilmable”. Fast forward to 2017, where anything can be possible. Flanagan simply breaks that barrier, and turns one of King’s least popular books into a disturbing work of art. His bag of tricks come to good use here. For instance, the use of the red filters during Jessie’s shocking flashbacks of her as a little girl anticipating the solar eclipse with her father (Henry Thomas, Elliott from E.T.) over the lake.

Carla Gugino and Bruce Greenwood are at the top of their game here. Greenwood, an understated actor, has starred in plenty of films for many years, from Racing Stripes to Eight Below to Star Trek to Flight, among others. His turn as Gerald is one of the best of his career. As for Gugino, it’s hard to imagine the physical and emotional pain she had to endure.

While Gerald’s Game is far from perfect (the final act is a little weird), this white-knuckling psychological thriller is what 50 Shades of Grey should have been.


Movie Review: Stronger


Jeff Bauman (Jake Gyllenhaal) waves the flag in David Gordon Green’s Stronger. (Source: Boston Herald)

The Boston Marathon bombing was one of the biggest U.S. tragedies. It’s shocking how a great city would face something so horrible. Leaving hundreds of people injured and three dead, it’s a moment that none of us will ever forget, like with 9/11.

Unlike Patriots Day, where the main focus is taking down the terrorists, Stronger, the second movie about the bombings, focuses on one of the survivors’ road to recovery. Known for making mainstream comedies (Pineapple Express, The Sitter) and independent dramas (George Washington, Prince Avalanche, Joe), this is the first real-life drama from director David Gordon Green.

Based on his memoir of the same name, Jeff Bauman (Jake Gyllenhaal) is an ordinary, everyday guy from Boston. He works at the local Costco and is big sports fan. One thing he is looking forward to is seeing his girlfriend Erin (Tatiana Maslany) run in the Boston Marathon. Jeff waits for her at the finish while holding a sign for her until the bombs detonate. After losing both of his legs, he begins fighting for his life. With the support from his parents and Erin, he tries to walk again. This time, with prosthetics.

This movie would have gone into sappy territory, but what Green and screenwriter John Pollono give the audience something inspiring and powerful. Gyllenhaal has delivered some phenomenal performances–from his first lead role in October Sky to his Oscar-nominated turn in Brokeback Mountain to becoming dark in Nightcrawler. His performance as Bauman is one of his absolute best. Becoming a symbol of “Boston Strong”, he has the special opportunity to be introduced in front of thousands of fans while waving a flag at the Bruins game, or throwing the first pitch at the Red Sox game.

Most importantly, he wouldn’t be anywhere without his girlfriend. In one particular scene, Jeff and Erin have an argument in the car about being there for one another. When she walks out on him, he crawls to the glass door, knocking on it, so Erin can come out. Then, he experiences flashbacks of the aftermath of the bombing. We see him lying on the ground, with his legs blown off, with the other spectators in agony. This is a heart-wrenching scene that makes the audience feel as if they are part of the incident.

With a strong supporting cast, Gyllenhaal and Maslay are the ones who carry it through with its raw true-story. Stronger is, by far, the best film about the Boston marathon bombing. Here’s to one hundred more.


Movie Review: It (2017)


In It, Pennywise the Clown (Bill Skarsgård) is out to get you. (Source: IMDb)

It by Stephen King is one of my all-time favorite books. It features humor, scares, and memorable characters (not to mention an iconic villain who smells people’s fears) that we get to know and sympathize with. The first attempt at adapting Stephen King’s ambitious magnum opus about good vs. evil into a film happened in 1990 on ABC, starring Tim Curry as the titular monster. With a gifted ensemble cast, it started off alright during the first half. Then—it derailed in the second half resulting in becoming more as a sitcom/soap opera than a straight-up horror movie.

Now, the second adaptation is the first to be released in theaters. After last year’s clown epidemic, I can’t think of a more appropriate time for people to be terrified of clowns again. Well—it finally happened! Argentine director Andy Muschietti (Mama) and three screenwriters have crafted something scary, hilarious, and heartbreaking while keeping the nature of Stephen King’s book without any of the ridiculous stuff. Even Stephen King stated how much he loved this version of It. “I wasn’t prepared how good it really was,” he said in an interview. “It’s something that’s different, and at the same time, it’s something that audiences are going to relate to.”

Every 27 years, an extraterrestrial creature, known as It, preys on children and their fears. It takes the form of what they fear the most, and brings them to their doom.

This happens to one of the kids in the beginning of the film; where it opens up on rainy fall day in 1988 in the town of Derry, Maine. Bill Denborough (Jaeden Lieberher, Midnight Special and St. Vincent), a 12-year-old with a terrible stutter, has finished making a paper boat for his young brother Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott). He chases it to a storm drain and meets Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård), a seemingly cheerful clown, in the sewer, who…well—you know what happens next.

Eight months later, school is out for the summer. Derry seems to be a little quieter after Georgie’s death. A lot more kids have either disappeared or pronounced dead. Bill decides to team up with his friends—asthmatic germaphobe Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer), trashtalking Richie (Finn Wolfhard, Stranger Things), tomboy Beverly (Sophia Lillis), new-kid-on-the-block Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor), homeschooled Mike (Chosen Jacobs), and Jewish kid Stan (Wyatt Oleff)—to defeat It.

It is a lovely tribute to the 1980s culture. Focusing more on the kids than on the clown, their interactions are reminiscent to Stand by Me, another Stephen King adaptation. The adults are mostly absent, but whenever they appear, they are portrayed as either abusive or overbearing. The kids are grown up in a time where they are neglected by their parents, and need to escape from their troubles to stand up for one another. The audience fears what the children fear (which is what horror is all about).


The kids are out to get It in Stephen King’s latest adaptation of It. (Source: Horror Freak News)

I can’t imagine a better cast. Finn Wolfhard’s Richie is a laugh riot; he tends to get out of every situation by wisecracking or doing voices. Sophia Lillis is the new Molly Ringwald (even one of the characters calls her that); her Beverly has the kind-hearted bravery like the boys. Although she is the outcast at school (her classmates call her a slut) and goes home to her abusive father (Stephen Bogaert), she feels more at home with the boys. If Tim Curry’s goofy yet eerie portrayal of Pennywise was to Jack Nicholson’s Joker in Batman, Bill Skarsgård’s is to Heath Ledger’s Joker in The Dark Knight. Whenever he is on screen, he is terrifying; from the buck-toothed grin to the vintage clothes to his line deliveries (i.e. “You’ll float, too”).

What makes It shine is the imaginative sets, clever angles, Benjamin Wallfisch’s eerie score, and Muschietti’s direction and atmosphere. It’s hard not to get a tingle down one’s spine whenever the kids’ fears come to pure life, ranging from a Leper to a child walking with its head blown off. The scary stuff is a ton of fun to watch; even The House on Neibolt Street is the haunted house you wished you have ever been a part of. I can’t ask for anything more perfect. It is officially one of my favorite horror movies.

With the sequel coming out sooner than everyone hoped, it wouldn’t work without Bill Hader cast as Richie and Jessica Chastain as Beverly.