Movie Review: DISORDER (MARYLAND) (France/Belgium 2015) ****

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disorder.jpgDISORDER (MARYLAND) (France/Belgium 2015) ****
Directed by Alice Winocour

Starring: Matthias Schoenaerts, Diane Kruger, Paul Hamy

Review by Gilber Seah

DISORDER is as the film title implies, a psychological thriller/drama. It traces an Afghanistan veteran transgression into deep paranoia and how he deals with it.

When the film opens, Vincent (Matthias Schoenaerts) is having a medical examination. He is apparently tested in his hearing and later told that the results will be made known to him as to whether he can return to active military duty. In the meantime, Vincent lands a job as security at a huge mansion estate called Maryland (the film’s original title). The camera then follows him around when he patrols the estate doing his duties as he checks certain guests, some rude, some not, as he fulfills his duties. In the process, he overhears a private conversation of the owner of an arms deal gone sour. Director Winocour shows how stressful a security job can be, and even more so with his hearing problems as he has to wear an ear piece for communication. Winocour keeps the audience on their toes. Is something going to happen? Is Vincent going to break down? At the same time, the film hovers towards being a thriller, a suspensor, a drama and an action film. This is the reason Winocour’s film works so well. Her film is always several steps ahead of her audience. The reason she does certain things is clear later. For example, Vincent undergoes a lot of repetitive annoyances – like loud sounds and blurred images, but these repetitions are necessary to explain the deterioration of Vincent’s mental health.

The psychological thriller is centred on Vincent, who has Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. He is later hired by the rich client, Whalid (Percy Kemp) as security and driver for the wife (Diane Kruger) and son while he is away. Vincent speeds the car up almost running into an accident when he thinks the car is being followed. The wife freaks out but finds out later that Vincent was right. A home invasion reveals the reason being due to the husband’s arms deal gone sour. The film then switches to action. Winocour handles the fight and action scenes with efficient finesse. The temptation to include some romance between the wife and Vincent is thankfully avoided.

Matthias Schoenaerts looks and acts his part convincingly. His chiselled tattooed body complements his brooding nature. He has proven himself apt in diversified roles as a troubled soul (this film and RUST AND BONE) or as a sound and dependable one as in FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD.

The film’s sound editing and effects (pounding and techno sounds) are excellent, emphasizing the imminent danger of each situation.

The imaginary ending (not revealed in this review) is subtly conceived to bring a conclusion to the movie as to the final state of Vincent’s mental state.

DISORDER reminds one immediately of classic murder films such as those directed by Claude Chabrol in the 60’s and 70’s. DISORDER is not a whodunit thriller, and is absorbing from start to finish. Winocour has proven herself a capable director and a talent to be reckoned with.

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Movie Review: 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE ***1/2

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10_cloverfield_lane.jpg10 CLOVERFIELD LANE (USA 2016) ***1/2
Directed by Dan Trachtenberg

Starring: John Goodman, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Gallagher Jr.

Interview with 10 Cloverfield Lane Special Effects Foreman – Donnie Dean

Interview with 10 Cloverfield Lane Cinematographer – Jeff Cutter

Spoiler Alert: Please note that in order to provide a readable film review, there are minor plot points that have to be revealed in the review.

It should be noted that every attempt has been made to keep the key plot twists secret so that readers will not have their entertainment of this film compromised.

Films about sole captives have always done reasonably well at the box-office and have sat well with audiences. From William Wyler’s THE COLLECTOR to Peter Jackson’s THE LOVELY BONES to the recent Oscar best actress winning film ROOM, creepiness has always translated to good suspense and thrills. It is surprising that the above three films dealt with the main element of suspense and 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE is the only one that is truly a horror picture. And quite a good one at that. The antagonist is played by the excellent John Goodman. Can you imagine waking up after being unconscious in a tiny room only to be greeted by a gigantic unshaven monster of a man? Now that is really scary. And the script written by Josh Campbell, Matthew Stucken, and Damien Chazelle milks that idea to the limit.
The film is a science fiction horror film and the spiritual successor of the 2008 film CLOVERFIELD, although the two films do not share the same fictional universe or continuity.

CLOVERFIELD dealt with teens protecting their neighbourhood from aliens. So 10 COVERFIELD LANE obviously has real aliens in the plot, though the first part of the film teases the audience with the fact that there might not be ab alien invasion and that Howard (Goodman) is keeping both Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and Emmet (John Gallagher, Jr.) prisoners in the dark on the false pretext of an alien invasion fall-out. But whatever the reason, Michelle,the lead character, has decided to escape, regardless.

The best parts of the film is Trachtenberg’s depiction of the desperation of all the three characters – each one dealing with it in his or her own way. The script also blends humour in the best of unexpected times. This is obvious in the film’s start with the intercutting with Michelle’s car accident and the titles ‘Paramount Pictures Present” and then car overturning and then “A Bad Robot Production”. The script is also clever enough to always keep the audience surprised with one plot turn after another. Howard can turn from super nice captor, to suspicious host to totally angry monster. The bunker itself is a contradiction of wonderfully designed live-in space to isolated captive room. Even the start of the film is a surprise. Michelle is shown driving away for 10 minutes of screen time before it is revealed she is running away from her lover, Ben (voiced by Bradley Cooper). “I think we’re alone now” is also an obvious but fun choice of a song on the soundtrack.

A bit of moralizing is included for good sport. Is it better to be alive in this situation?

There are a few minor loopholes in the plot, which cannot be mentioned here due to they being spoilers, but these are minor and can be overlooked. But the last 15 minutes of high tech, high budget climax destroys the otherwise excellent plotting of the first 3/4 of the film. It could be argued that the last segment is necessary to bind the two CLOVERFIELD films, but unfortunately director Trachtenberg has thrown all logic out the door as the audience can see what one small bottle of whiskey could do.

Despite its flaws, 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE is thoroughly entertaining and succeeds as a horror movie. One wonders though of the NORTH BY NORTHWEST styled letter credits the filmmakers have chosen to use.

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Movie Review: WHISKEY TANGO FOXTROT (USA 2016) ***

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whiskeytangofoxtrotbaWHISKEY TANGO FOXTROT (USA 2016) ***
Directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa

Starring: Tina Fey, Margot Robbie, Martin Freeman, Billy Bob Thornton, Alfred Molina

Review by Gilber Seah

WHISKEY TANGO FOXTROT is the military communications term for WTF which stands for….what everyone is familiar with. The title sounds more appropriate than the lengthy title of the memoir called The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan written by Kim Baker about her own experiences as an overseas reporter.

The film charts Baker’s life story while reporting in various cities in Afghanistan. She leaves boyfriend Chris (Josh Charles) to fend for himself as she leaves for an initial 3 months. She befriend the only other female journalist on arrival, Tanya (Margot Robbie). As Baker learns the ropes and gets her reporting done, she learns much about the state of Afghanistan, though these tend to be feminine biased. She falls for a fellow reporter, Scotsman Iain (Martin Freeman). She learns a few painful life lessons as well. All this seriousness is however, conveyed through in a humorous manner.

The film is directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa who did an ok job also with I LOVE YOU, PHILLIP MORRIS.

An outright flaw is the film’s preachiness on women’s issues. One can understand where this is coming from as the film is produced and performed by Tina Fey based on a female’s novel. But one would have expected the all male scriptwriter and directing trio to at least moderate some of the material. The romance overshadows what is going on to the point that the film almost turns out into another annoying Hollywood romantic comedy. The lady saves her lover at all costs with her ingenuity? It is really hard to take in as fact what she did in the film to save Iain. Also, the film praises many feminist issues like the right of afghan women to gossip and socialize at the well, their right to ensure foreigners cover their heads and not hold hands (two scenes has the Fey character admonished for those two ‘sins’) and the women’s roles are much strongly written than the males. The men exist to service the purpose of the female characters. There is the alpha male security of Baker, a hunky no-brain ready to have sex with her at her command. Her main love interest Iain is always there to beckon her ever wish and woos her to no end. And at the social gatherings, the men never have anything important to say. The chief male, General Hollanek is depicted as an egoistic goat who succumbs to Baker’s plans while the Afghan chief of the Interior Ali Massoud Sadiq (Alfred Molina) does more of the same.

The female audience may be delighted however at the Afghan war being looked at from a different perspective. Also, the war with all its horrors is depicted as just that, though doused with quite the bit of humour. One can always be reminded that this is an SNL film – if such a thing exists – produced by Lorne Michaels (SNL) and Fey.

In one segment of the film, Baker is asked the reason she went to Afghanistan. Her answer that she realized that day in and day out she has moved backwards in life as metaphorically observed in her stationary bike that moved backwards after constant use and that she should move forward, one can only wish that the directors’ reason for making this movie also could have achieved this same goal. WHISKEY TANGO FOXTROT could have been better, but as the title implies WTF, it leads nowhere. WTF?

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Movie Review: NOTORIOUS, 1946. Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

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Horror/Thriller Movie Review

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Starring Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman, Claude Rains
Review by Tom Coatsworth


Miami, Florida; 1946. Alicia Huberman’s father is imprisoned as a Nazi spy. She drowns her sorrows with good times. But when Devlin, an American agent, woos her to work for Uncle Sam her better self answers the call. They fly to Rio De Janeiro where she infiltrates a group of Nazi Industrialists led by her former boyfriend, Sebastian. Torn between love for Devlin and duty to the job — she marries Sebastian, going deep undercover to discover their secrets. But soon she’s found out and is slowly poisoned. Devlin must see passed his jealousy and bitterness before he can save her.


“Notorious woman of affairs… adventurous man of the world!” — the original tagline. But with Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman and Claude Rains who needs taglines? There may be greater movie stars and there may be finer actors but there are no finer actors who happen to be movie stars. Put these three in a film, let Hitchcock direct, and you have the cinematic equivalent of a royal flush — you simply cannot lose. And indeed ‘Notorious’ is a classic for the ages. It didn’t always seem so — the critics were tepid in their initial response. I suspect the story, which veers toward the tall end of the tall-tale camp, is responsible.

Alicia Huberman (Bergman) is the lady in question. Her father has been imprisoned as a German spy. She is determined to wipe the bitterness clean with gin and good times until T.R. Devlin(Grant) crashes her party and offers her a chance to work for the good guys. Devlin and company have had her under surveillance. They know that beneath the brash smirk lurks the heart of a patriot. And so with some reluctance she accepts the job and they fly to Rio where she infiltrates the Farben Group.

— a band of Nazi industrialists who are cooking up the Fourth Reich. But wait — not until she and Devlin have had a chance to fall in love.

Then the job comes as a thunderbolt. She must “land” a former boyfriend, Alex Sebastian (Rains), who is the head of the Farben Group, and find out what they’re up to. In a cruel dilemma she must play ‘Mata Hari’ and bed down and marry him in order to conduct her ‘undercover’ work. Her affair with Devlin is finished — however their love will not die and it simmers on beneath the surface and this is the true beating heart of the film.

On the surface Alicia is living a dream in a mansion surrounded by riches. Inside her spirit dies a slow weary death. For Devlin it is all business and he has no sympathy. In fact he’s blind with jealousy. It is the life she chose, he tells her. Back to business — Sebastian throws a party to introduce his wife to Rio society. Devlin manages an invite. There he and Alicia gain access to the wine cellar where they discover uranium ore in a wine bottle. When Sebastian stumbles on them they fake an embrace to cover their spying. Sebastian is coldly furious until he discovers he’s married to an American Agent. Then he would gladly kill her except that it would alert his colleagues to his bungling. And so with the aid of his Mother he slowly poisons Alicia — with coffee, kindness and arsenic.

Alicia discovers the trap but she is too weak to get away. She collapses and is confined to a bedroom. Cut off from the world and surrounded by enemies she faces certain death unless Devlin can see passed his bitterness and come to her rescue.

Filmed in sumptuous black and white by Ted Tetzlaff, ( Edith Head designed Bergman’s gowns) these stars have never shone brighter. The chemistry between Grant and Bergman is electric, legendary. The moral of the story hasn’t aged as well: that a party girl must be poisoned just shy of extinction before she can earn the love of a gentleman. But Alicia is more than that — she is the German people, wayward at times but good as gold underneath. And this was America in 1946 — a country with a huge German demographic in a hurry to forgive. Likewise we must forgive a rather gimmicky plot and recognize it’s function: it is a torture chamber for the human heart and it works quite wonderfully. Watch for Hitchcock at the bar downing a glass of champagne.

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Short Film Movie Review: THE MEGA PLUSH (4min, USA, Animation/Action)

THE MEGA PLUSH was the winner of Best Film at the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film Festival in January 2016. 

  MOVIE POSTERTHE MEGA PLUSH, 4min, USA, Animation/Action
Directed by Matt Burniston

Set in the shadows of a gritty underworld, a war is brewing. The Mega Plush, a group of four plush toy vigilantes, are struggling against the uprising of the SOC (Society of Chimps) army. Good vs evil. Bear vs sock monkey. The question is “who has the stuffing to survive?”

Movie Review by Amanda Lomonaco:

Badass gangsters, a suspenseful chase scene, cute plush stuffed animals, what’s not to like? Matt Burnison has definitely hit gold mine territory in my book. After so many predictable Marvel films coming out its beyond refreshing to see an original action hero story coming from independent cinema, once again reminding me what Hollywood could achieve if it listened to new voices.

Perhaps the best part of Burnison’s short is that he kind of leaves you guessing who the bad guys and the good guys are. Though there seemed to be some sort of concensus in the audience that the monkeys were the ‘goodies’, the look of his compatriots in the final scene make me beg to differ. Nevertheless, this ambiguity was a comforting change to the traditional “good vs bad” dichotomy that we’re all too accustomed to these days. We all know that in real life things aren’t quite so simple, and I appreciate that Burnison didn’t force his own bias on his audience.

In any case no philosophical discussion of the originilaity of The Mega Plush could do the film itself justice. The sountrack, lighting, compositing, story-telling and directing of the film were all top quality. In fact I was incredibly surprised when, during mediation, I noticed two people who shook their heads at every positive comment, and seemed to really dislike the film. Of course every film will have supporters and so called “haters”, but I couldn’t help but feel surprised that any one would dislike this film.

I suppose I have made my bias for this film a litl emore than obvious. I’m sure there will be those of you out there who won’t enjoy this short, as there are many people out there who don’t enjoy many popular films. When you’re investing 2 hours of your time for a Hollywood blockbuster that everyone is raving about, but you just don’t happen to like, I completely understand that you might be annoyed. But if you have a free four minutes to spare, check out Burnison’s website for The Mega Plush project, best case scenario; you just watched a great short film. Worst case… well I doubt that will even happen.

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Movie Review: TRIPLE 9 (2016) ****

triple_9.jpgTRIPLE 9 (USA/UK 2015) ****
Directed by John Hillocoat

Starring: Casey Affleck, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Anthony Mackie, Gal Godot, Kate Winset, Aaron Paul, Teresa Palmer, Michael Kenneth Williams

Review by Gilbert Seah

No stranger to violent films, director John Hillcoat’s (LAWLESS, THE ROAD and his best film THE PROPOSITION) latest entry into gangster genre proves himself apt at serious comic book sensibility. TRIPLE 9, the code for ‘officer down’, plays like a ‘real’ serious adult comic book version of DEADPOOL.

It takes a while for the film to settle on its bearings. The script by first time writer, Matt Cook is clever enough not to reveal all the plot points, but keeps the audience always one step behind what is happening. An example is the bank heist. Who are the robbers working for? What is their aim? One point is a bank officer removing a safety deposit box from the vault. As far as I now, it requires two keys, one from the officer and the other from the customer to open a box. It is a good tactic. For example, the audience is aware that one officer is going down, but never sure which one or for what reason. The characters are also individually distinct and eccentric all aided by superlative performances from a eclectic cast.

The key performance comes from Casey Effleck (brother of Ben) who has proven his acting mettle in previous films like THE TOWN. His character is the only uncorrupt one, and the key one that puts the whole story into prospective. The good must always prevail. The script contains a few too many close calls for his character. As for the ambiguous baddies, there are too many too count. Interesting enough, many do good for the wrong reasons. The true baddie appears to be the Russian moll, Irina played by Kate Winslet , complete with Russian accent and is barely recognizable in her makeup.. She is also doing bad for a good reason, to aid her crooked husband escape.

Hillcoat keeps the action and fury fast and furious and nonstop. Be prepared to be glued to your seats! The film alternates between highly charged action and drama sequences. For the action segments, the bank heist at the film’s start is hard to beat. The robbers show no mercy and show they mean business. They do not shout warnings. They fire and beat up the victims, and talk later. All this makes the heist even more gripping. Hillcoat also realizes that the devil is in the details. On the highway, a robber points his rifle at a car, only to have it rammed from behind and the robber moving backwards to avoid being hit. The camerawork is excellent, the best example being the one where the camera pulls back during a car chase showing where each in on the maze of highways in the city.

Hillcoat does not skimp on the violence as evident by showing a bag of bloodied teeth at another point in the film. The characters are always angry, screaming at each other but not without reason. Every character is desperate. Every character is ready to kill.

Stay for the end credits. The 1980’s song ‘Pigs” (called so for obvious reasons) by Cypress Hill is inventive, catchy, hilarious and totally appropriate. The song can also be played on YouTube.

Movie Review: THE CLUB (EL CLUB) (Chile) ***1/2

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the_club.jpgEL CLUB (Chile 2015) ***1/2
Directed by Pablo Larrain

Review by Gilbert Seah

Pablo Larrain’s (NO, TONY MANERO) latest film is a very different drama that is as absorbing as it is deadly slow-moving. The title of THE CLUB (EL CLUB) refers to an open prison for disgraced priests. The 4 priests and nun confined there in the seaside town of La Boca in Chile by the church are about to have their idyllic sojourn shaken to the ground.
EL CLUB is a very complex film, in a way similar to last year’s CALVARY starring Brendan Gleeson, a black comedy about a priest taking on the sins of a murderer. Both films coincidentally take place in a seaside setting.

The film begins innocently with a greyhound race that takes place in La Boca. The grey greyhound wins the race. It is slowly revealed that the animal is trained by a father who resides in the roomed building. There are three other priests who all place bets. It turns out that Father Vidal (Alfredo Castro), Father Ortega (Alejandro Goic), former army chaplain Father Silva (Jaime Vadell), and senile Father Ramirez (Alejandro Sieveking), disgraced priests are all dutifully tended to by a similarly “retired” nun, Sister Monica (Antonia Zegers), who is apparently not that innocent. She is called a bitch by one of the fathers later on in the film.

Trouble brews when another disgraced priest, Father Lazcano (Jose Soza) is delivered to the house. He shoots himself after a young local fisherman, Sandokan (Roberto Farias), recognizes him. Sandokan, kind of a crazed bum, remembers the abuses he suffered as an altar boy at Lazcano’s hands and starts screaming the abuses outside the doorstep. Then the church dispatches Father Garcia (Marcelo Alonso), a crisis counsellor, to settle things. The priests come to believe, that Father Garcia’s intention is to close the house down.

The story turns into a horrid tale of survival. It is each man for himself, even for Sandokan and Father Garcia who is disliked and looked upon with suspicion by all.

Director Larrain is a great story teller always keeping the audience in anticipation with always a twist in the story around very corner. His camera work is meticulous, capturing the tranquility and imprisonment of the subjects despite the beautiful seaside setting. Violence is kept at a minimum, and mostly left to the imagination. He also keeps each priest as interesting as the other – each having their own individuality despite being there for the identical purpose.
One of the greatest pleasures of the film is the director’s use of Arvo Part’s music. I first heard the Estonian composer’s music, ‘Spiegel I’m Speigel’ when I first saw Gus Van Sant’s 2002 film, GERRY years back. Part known for his classical and religious music, he delivers a beautiful score that adds to both the serenity and eeriness of the film’s proceedings.

Whether the film ending is a happy one is arguable – best left to the audience to decide. But EL CLUB is a story that concerns many key issues – identity, beliefs, redemption, fulfilment but mostly forgiveness and how one can live with oneself after any terrible deed.

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