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Daikaijû Gamera
(1965)

What if Godzilla were a gigantic turtle?
Gamera, the Giant Monster was Daiei's answer to Toho's Godzilla franchise. Despite a low budget that also explains why the movie was still shot in black and white in the mid-sixties, this first film of the franchise was crafted with care, imagination and passion. The story revolves around a gigantic prehistoric turtle that is awoken in the Arctic after the explosion of an atomic bomb. The titular creature moves towards Japan to feast upon its thermonuclear plants. Doctors and military plan on defeating Gamera but the turtle is much more resilient than it initially appears. A group of international scientists must prepare a risky plan to get rid of Gamera.

This movie convinces on numerous levels. First of all, the fact that the movie was shot in black and white gives it an atmospheric retro touch connecting it to the first two outstanding Godzilla movies.

Up next, the locations varying from Arctic Inuit camps over isolated islands in the Pacific to Japanese airports and ports offer much diversity.

Thirdly, the special effects have been created with creativity and care despite a low budget which shows that imagination is much more valuable than money. The gigantic turtle itself offers quite a few surprises that are only revealed step by step in this very entertaining film.

Fourthly, the plot comes around with a few nice twists and turns. The characters are quite diversified, dynamic and sympathetic. It's interesting to observe them trying to figure out how to get rid of the gigantic turtle without hurting it. The film's daring conclusion certainly leaves its mark and can be called surprising to say the least.

Fifthly, the movie has a perfect length of seventy-eight minutes. Not one single second is wasted here and the swift pace still entertains from start to finish. The scriptwriting is still very efficient in that regard many decades later. This movie remains the best possible introduction to the franchise and is one of the very best kaiju films ever created.

In the end, Gamera, the Giant Monster is a creative, entertaining and gripping science-fiction film that has been crafted with care, imagination and passion which explains why it has aged so well despite its monetary and technical limitation that were already obvious at the time of its creation. Everyone involved in this movie deserves nothing but respect and recognition. Any fan of Japanese cinema should have watched this amazing film and I can highly recommend the two recently issued boxed sets by Arrow Films that are worth their slightly expensive prices.

Pan deng zhe
(2019)

Great scenery and amazing special effects but an overload of melodramatic side stories and propaganda
Pan Deng Zhe or The Climbers is a Chinese action-adventure movie inspired by historic events. The movie explores how a group of Chinese mountaineers attempts to ascend Mount Everest from the perilous north side. The film exposes the intense relationships between the mountaineers and the challenges related to the expedition.

The movie has been shot on location in the Tibet Autonomous Region. The settings are therefore quite authentic and the landscapes are absolutely breathtaking. Lead actor Wu Jing conducted a cold tolerance training before the shooting and his dedication shows off in a convincing performance. The intense scenes on the mountain have been filmed with great care in form of emotional acting skills and impressive special effects.

The movie also has a few downsides. The numerous highly emotional relationships between the members of the expedition feel somewhat exaggerated and only distract from the already fascinating main plot and the stunning mountaineering scenes. As many other Chinese productions, this film has also an extremely strong patriotic side as it's constantly claimed that Mount Everest is a Chinese mountain that must be climed by Chinese mountaineers which has to be proven and shown to the entire world.

If you are willing to ignore the overtly emotional side stories and the strong propaganda, you will discover a good mountaineering film that should please fans of movies such as Vertical Limit. The settings and special effects alone are worth watching this movie as its high budget shows off quite impressively. To leave an even better mark, this movie should have had less dramatic side stories, less propaganda and more skilled actresses and actors.

Crazy Samurai Musashi
(2020)

The title tells you everything you need to know
Crazy Samurai: 400 vs. 1, also known as Crazy Samurai Musashi, is based upon writer, swordsman, strategist, ronin and philosopher Musashi Miyamoto who has inspired numerous legends. This low-budget movie shows how the titular hero confronts four hundred swordsmen when arriving to duel the disgraced Yoshioka dojo.

This movie can be separated into three scenes. The first scene is filled with atmosphere, context and tension as the members of the disgraced dojo expect the swordsman to arrive. They are planning on ambushing him but are obviously underestimating their enemy's wit.

The second scene has been filmed in one single take and lasts for seventy-seven minutes. Musashi Miyamoto confronts his enemies. They fight in a forest, on a field, in a house, in a court and later on in a small village. There are a few elements that offer some short breaks from the fight sequences such as the protagonist's brief monologues, the argument between two samurai and a peasant girl who betrays the hero.

The final scene takes place several years after the events portrayed before. It shows us what Musashi Miyamoto has become and what his foes are willing to do to murder him for once and for all.

The movie title already indicates exactly what you get here. This film is filled with fight scenes from start to finish. The stamina of lead actor Sakaguchi Taku is quite remarkable. The beautiful locations bring to life Japan in the early seventeenth century. Some of the fight scenes end up being a little bit repetitive. The visual effects look quite cheap but one gets used to them. The ending of the second scene felt a little bit unfinished in my opinion but didn't have an overall negative impact.

To keep it short, this movie is only interesting for martial arts enthusiasts and people who are interested in Japanese culture, history and legends. The movie has an unusual approach which makes it interesting to watch despite some repetition here and there. You should not expect witty dialogues, profound plot and unexpected twists here. Genre fans will get what they want and everyone else should simply ignore this film.

Geom-gaek
(2020)

Detailed action epic told in one hundred entertaining minutes
Geom-gaek, internationally known as The Swordsman, is an epic historic action drama from South Korea. The story revolves around Tae-yul, the best swordsman in Joseon who is unable to protect the king during an uprising. He decides to live as a recluse in the mountains with his daughter. As his eyesight is getting worse from a past injury, his daughter seeks to find a treatment for him. She also wants to get the opportunity to move to town and work as a maid in a rich family. She ignores her father's pleas to be careful and soon gets caught up in a web of conspiracy as she is kidnapped by a ruthless slave trader. Tae-yul has to face the demons of his past to save his daughter's life.

This movie convinces on many levels. The story is diversified and comes around with several changes and twists that will keep viewers on the edge of their seats until the very end. The plot is epic but coherently told in one hundred highly entertaining minutes. The characters are complex, intriguing and profound and especially the lead character is an unlikely hero that is easy to empathize with. The acting performances are equally great and especially the quirky female support actresses add some energy to the movie. The fight scenes convince with elegant yet gritty choreography involving a multitude of styles and weapons. The settings and locations truly bring the seventeenth century back to life. The isolated farms, poor villages, busy cities, imposing living quarters of the soldiers and the magnificent castle and its surroundings are absolutely stunning. The camera work is calm and precise. The light techniques make the numerous scenes happening in the dark or at night work very well. The sound effects offer the highest standards and should please action movie fans from all around the world.

To keep it short, Geom-gaek or The Swordsman is an epic historic action film with an intelligent story, amazing settings, gripping fight scenes, excellent cinematography and intriguing characters. Fans of historic action films from all around the world should give this movie a try. It's certainly better than anything Hollywood has released in the same genre for the past two decades. This movie underlines yet again that the greatest contemporary movies come from South Korea in my humble opinion.

Promising Young Woman
(2020)

Inspiring to tackle social issues in our real world
Promising Young Woman is a dramatic thriller on the pulse of time that deserves the attention and acclaim it has gotten. The movie revolves around Cassie who was once planning on becoming a doctor. When her best friend got raped and the investigation got dropped, Cassie's life changed forever. She dropped out of school, still lives at her parents' house and has no friends. Instead, she regularly feigns drunkenness in clubs, allowing men to take her to their homes, and revealing sobriety when they try to take advantage of her. Cassie's life changes yet again when she meets a former classmate named Ryan who wants to go on a date with her. The initial romance is cut short when Cassie learns that the man who raped her best friend is getting married. She decides that those who committed the crime and those who dropped the case must pay for their actions. She encounters former witnesses, perpetrators and lawyers who react very differently to those past events. Things take an even more sinister turn when Cassie learns that the rape was filmed and that her new romantic interest was one of the bystanders.

This dramatic thriller convinces on many levels. The issue of rape culture is exposed very directly and honestly and offers food for debate and thought. The lead character is particularly fascinating because she is brutally vengeful but also steadfastly loyal to her best friend. The movie cleverly meanders from sinister crime scenes over pitch-black comedy to hopeful romantic moments. This makes the film unpredictable and especially the final forty-five minutes will keep the audience on the edge of its seats. The acting performances are authentic as the actresses and actors become one with their roles. The soft, nostalgic and melodic soundtrack creates a stark contrast to the gloomy story. The camera work is calm and precise and recalls the cinematic works of the late seventies and early eighties on more than one occasion. The light and sound effects as well as the locations and settings further give the movie a slight vintage vibe.

In the end, Promising Young Woman is a movie that is professionally crafted, thoroughly entertaining and most importantly exposes an important issue that still exists in the twenty-first century. Some viewers might find that message exaggerated, inappropriate or offensive but it's important to discuss it, get information about it and ultimately tackle that issue in our real world. From that point of view, this film is perhaps not the very best but certainly the most relevant Hollywood film in recent memory.

The Little Things
(2021)

Gripping neo-noir crime drama with excellent lead actors
The Little Things is an excellent neo-noir crime thriller that takes place in California during the nineties. The movie follows Joe Deacon, a sheriff that retired from the Los Angeles Police Department under controversial circumstances and now works in a rural county. However, the county isn't as peaceful as one might expect since there have been a series of grisly femicides that suggest that a serial killer might be on the loose. Joe Deacon is sent to Los Angeles for a routine job but he gets entangled with a grisly femicide. When he learns that similar crimes have been committed in the area in the past, Joe Deacon gets convinced that the cases in his county and the murders in Los Angeles might be related. This suspicion soon becomes an obsession. Joe Deacon is met with criticism and even hostility by some former colleagues but young detective Jim Baxter appreciates his dedication, experience and instinct. The two men soon realize that they have more things in common than they initially believed as their investigation finally gets a break. Repair store worker Albert Sparma is a crime buff living in the area of the crime scenes in Los Angeles and turns out to be a sociopath who taunts the police. Joe Deacon and Jim Baxter start getting convinced that he is the serial killer they are both looking for but they don't have any solid proofs. Things take a sinister turn when the two partners want to arrest the suspect by any means necessary while the potential culprit willingly manipulates and provokes them.

This movie convinces on numerous levels. First of all, the film oozes with sinister atmosphere from start to finish. This slow burn intensifies in its second half and leads to a stunning finale that will still haunt you long after the movie has ended. The three main characters are very intriguing and portrayed splendidly by talented veteran actors Denzel Washington, Rami Maled and Jared Leto. The dialogues have depth and the scriptwriting is quite profound. This movie would also work very well as a novel. The gloomy settings bring the early nineties to life in an authentic way. The camera work is calm and precise like most crime dramas from that era. The light and sound effects are employed with care and especially the night shots and crime scenes are haunting.

In the end, The Little Things if one of the greatest neo-noir movies in recent memory. This movie finds the perfect balance between profound dramatic parts and gloomy thriller elements. This film has been crafted very professionally. Especially the three charismatic lead actors stand out and make a very good movie excellent. Anyone who appreciates dark crime movies should give The Little Things a shot.

Byeonshin
(2019)

Slow-burn supernatural horror movie that goes back to the style of the seventies without being old-fashioned
Byeonshin, internationally known as Metamorphosis, is a supernatural horror movie from South Korea. The movie starts with a scene where a priest tries an excorcism on a girl who is possessed by an evil spirit. The exorcism ends in a disaster and the reclusive priest thinks about moving abroad to take some distance from those horrible events. Around the same time, his brother's family moves to a new city. Even though the house looks amazing, the peace is quickly disturbed by a creepy neighbour who seems to be performing rituals with dead animals in the middle of the night. Even though the police starts investigating, they can't find any proofs for such rituals. Every single day, strange things start occuring in the neighbourhood and especially in the family. The mother has an emotional breakdown during breakfast. The father sneaks into his daughter's bedroom in the middle of the night but can't recall it the next day. As things slowly spiral out of control, the family asks the priest to intervene on his last day before moving abroad. The exorcist doesn't realize however that he has already been targeted by a menacing supernatural force as well.

This horror movie convinces with a steadily increasing gloomy atmosphere rather than with predictable jump scares. The acting performances add a lot to the atmosphere as one constantly tries to figure out who is acting normally and who might be possessed. The locations have been chosen with care and especially the opening exorcism, the neighbour's creepy house and the car accident scene will leave lasting impressions. The light and sound effects are employed with care rather than with exaggeration and complement the story appropriately.

In the end, Byeonshin or Metamorphosis, is a supernatural horror movie for those who have gotten sick of Hollywood's predictable sequels of jump-scare horror flicks. This movie goes back to the roots of classic horror cinema of the seventies as it values atmosphere over shock effects. This film doesn't include much gore but rather focuses on psychological horror elements. What we have here is a slow burn that starts with a bang and then slows down to gradually unfold its bleak vibes until a dramatic finale. This film doesn't quite rival some other excellent South Korean horror movies of recent memory such as The Wailing, Rampant and Train to Busan but it proves once again that South Korean cinema is currently the best in the world in my opinion.

Mafia Inc
(2019)

An interesting alternative to The Irishman
Mafia Inc is an epic gangster drama from Quebec that is partially based upon true events. It tells the story of a tailor's son who got rejected by his father and his dying mother and becomes a member of a mafia family in Montreal because he is friends with one of the godfather's sons. The protagonist is seen as an adoptive son and soon climbs the ranks. However, his ambitions quickly cause some tension and he ultimately becomes a liability. Things get even more complicated when his sister starts dating one of the godfather's sons. The tension reaches its height when the police gets involved.

This epic gangster drama convinces on many levels. The settings bring the early nineties in and around Montreal to life in a realistic way. Some scenes take place in Italy and Venezuela and add some diversity.

The characters in this film are quite intriguing even though they are very antipathic. The ambitious protagonist who is getting more relentless in every scene, his young sister that changes drastically throughout the story, his helpless father who finally decides to stand his ground and the charismatic godfather who can be gentle in one moment and pitiless in the next one are certainly outstanding. The acting performances go along with this as the performers become one with their roles.

The storytelling in this film is quite balanced. It introduces the characters properly, adds a few flashbacks here and there and finds the perfect balance between meaningful dialogues and quite violent scenes. The movie never idolizes criminal organizations and portrays how ruthless that kind of illegal business is.

There are very few things to criticize about this movie. The story is obviously not exactly new. Several scenes are therefore a little bit predictable.

However, fans of gangster films such as The Godfather, Once Upon a Time in America and The Untouchables should certainly appreciate this dynamic, profound and realistic movie. The characters, settings and stories are so interesting that one might soon expect one or two sequels. It's certainly an interesting alternative to the overlong The Irishman.

The Irishman
(2019)

Solid gangster drama with a few lengths
The Irishman is an epic gangster drama by renowned director Martin Scorsese that clocks in at three and a half hours. Based upon true events, it tells the story of a truck driver who gets involved in organized crime. Irish-American war veteran Frank Sheeran starts doing different jobs for Russell Buffalino, a gangster boss who seems calm and diplomatic on the surface but who doesn't hesitate to be headstrong and violent when needed. Frank Sheeran is soon assigned to protect labour union leader Jimmy Hoffa who becomes a close friend to his family. As Jimmy Hoffa becomes more ambitious and egoistic as time goes by, he starts to be considered a liability by the organized crime members who had once supported him. Russell Buffalino orders Frank Sheeran to take out Jimmy Hoffa. Will the hitman be loyal to his boss or protect the man who has become his best friend?

The Irishman convinces on several levels. First of all, the settings from the fifties until the early years of the new millennium have been recreated with extraordinary care regarding cars, fashion and music. The soundtrack of this film is particularly outstanding and underlines the atmosphere of every single scene very accurately. The acting performances by veterans Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci and Al Pacino are absolutely outstanding as they become one with their respective characters. The entire movie has been filmed in a calm and precise way that makes it almost look like a documentary. Despite its ambitious length, most parts of the film have solid flow and it was no challenge to watch the entire movie in one single session.

This movie however also has a few minor flaws. Despite its solid flow, the movie includes several unnecessary lengths. Especially the hotel bedroom conversations between Frank Sheeran and Jimmy Hoffa drag on for far too long. While the three main characters are properly developed, several side characters such as Frank Sheeran's family members are lacking progression and depth. The story is obviously based upon true events but the film is a little bit too slow, quiet and predictable for a gangster flick.

The bottom line is that this type of gangster drama should please genre fans but might seem a little bit tame, overlong and old-fashioned to younger audiences. The most outstanding elements are the precise directing, excellent acting performances and magnificent soundtrack. The movie's unconventional ending was very fitting, philosophical and thought-provoking in my opinion but other reviewers might criticize a certain lack of closure. This movie can't compete with Martin Scorsese's own Goodfellas but it's still a more than decent genre flick.

Gretel & Hansel
(2020)

Creative adaptation of a gothic fairy tale
Gretel & Hansel is loosely based upon the German folk tale Hänsel & Grethel by the Brothers Grimm. It tells the story of an independent sister and her childish brother who leave their hometown behind to join a group of woodcutters to get some work and earn some money in order to get some food and find a place to live. They are wandering through a forest and almost starving to death when they smell food coming from an isolated house. They are invited by the mysterious owner to share a meal with her and spend the night. The two siblings soon start to suspect that strange things are going on in that house and that the strange lady might not be as friendly as it had initially seemed.

Despite surprisingly harsh critics, this reinvention of this German fairy tale is actually one of the best of its numerous adaptations. This movie convinces with excellent visual effects that contrast gloomy and monotonous surroundings with bright and surreal colours. The calm and slow camera work blends in perfectly and adds to the movie's creepy atmosphere. The characters are quite intriguing from the mentally unstable mother over the helpful hunter to the creepy lady. The acting performances are excellent. Sophia Lillis convinces as boyish teenage girl who needs to take care of her younger brother and discover her hidden magical talents. Sam Leakey incarnates the quirky, naive and annoying little brother very well. Alice Krige shines as mysterious old woman with much knowledge and numerous skeletons in her closet. The film convinces with fluid pace and perfect length as it entertains through eighty-seven gripping minutes.

There are few things to complain about. Some of the dialogues between Gretel and the mysterious woman could have been cut short. The ending could have been a little bit more detailed to tell us about the fates of the two siblings.

In the end, Gretel & Hansel offers a gloomy mixture of fantasy, horror and mystery elements. The visual effects are as stunning as the acting performances. The story isn't particularly surprising but well-executed. If you like ancient tales with sinister vibes, then you should enjoy watching this movie on a cold dark night.

Sound of Metal
(2019)

Profound messages meet shallow stereotypes
Sound of Metal is a drama about a young couple that is facing numerous challenges. Ruben is a former drug addict with a sucidal side who has found salvation in being the drummer of a metal band and being in a relationship with the only other member, guitarist and singer Lou. She has some problems of her own as she had to deal with her mother's suicide and mutilates herself. The couple is on a tour through the United States of America in a van when Ruben realizes that he is losing his hearing. After consulting a doctor, he is told that he has to stop being exposed to loud music and that potential surgery might cost several tens of thousands of dollars and isn't covered by any insurances. Ruben struggles to accept his fate but ultimately joins a rural shelter for deaf recovering addicts. His girlfriend isn't allowed to stay and ultimately returns living in France with her father. Ruben has come to a point in his life where he must ask himself several important questions. Should he accept becoming deaf or try the expensive surgery? Should he stay in the camp or return home? Should he continue his relationship with his girlfriend in France or start a new life in the United States of America?

This movie convinces on several levels. The acting performances by Riz Ahmed and Olivia Cooke are excellent. The former portrays a desperate but resilient young man that is easy to empathize with. The latter incarnates a tough young woman with a soft core who is still trying to figure out her identity. The numerous side characters in this movie are also interesting, especially the war veteran in charge of the rural shelter played by Paul Raci who becomes a father figure for the film's protagonist. This film shows that there is always hope in desperate situations and that it's possible to have a decent life even after going through difficult medical issues.

Sound of Metal however also has several flaws. The two lead characters face too many struggles at once. Combing borderline personality disorder, deafness, drug addiction, family issues and suicidal thoughts is a little bit overwhelming. The way the heavy metal scene is portrayed in this movie is filled with unnecessary stereotypes. I have been listening to this type of music for several decades and know many friends who have done so as well and nobody we know has any of the psychological troubles shown in the movie. Making loud music doesn't mean that you are trying to fight some inner demons. The message that the female protagonist returns to France and lives with her rich father and now performs boring French piano ballads in the key of Brassens, Brel and Dassin with him makes her happy is quite strange to say the least.

In the end, Sound of Metal is a decent drama but portrays the metal scene quite negatively as the story is filled with closed-minded stereotypes. The concept and message behind the movie are very positive but the scripwriters overloaded the characters with personal and psychological issues. The bottom line is that this drama is emotional and engaging but the story could have been more balanced and simplified to make this movie even more efficient.

Wrong Turn 5: Bloodlines
(2012)

Trust the officer instead of the prisoner
Wrong Turn 5: Bloodlines is an unexpected return to form after the dreadful fourth entry and ultimately a passable brutal horror film. This entry revolves around a group of friends who get targeted by three inbred cannibalistic brothers and their mastermind on their way to a music festival. They get some support from a courageous police officer and a drunk prisoner but the protagonists find themselves caught right between the three pitiless brothers and their imprisoned sadistic master.

On the positive side, the movie convinces with great pace and has less lengths than its immediate predecessor. The fact that the movie is mostly set in a police station in a temporarily abandoned small town adds a few new locations to the franchise. Most of the film takes place over the course of one night which adds some atmosphere and tension. The addition of a new villain is quite efficient as he is more intelligent and also more sinister than the mentally challenged cannibals.

There are also a few negative things to be pointed out. The movie introduces the protagonists with an awkward scene of soft pornography that certainly wasn't needed in a horror movie. While the villain and the officer have some depth, the group of friends are overall rather shallow and fail to carry the movie on their own. The story is quite simplistic and especially the closing scene will make you sigh with frustration.

In the end, Wrong Turn 5: Bloodlines features enough solid ideas to justify its existence. It can't compete with the franchise's strongest entries but is a step forward after the horrendous predecessor. It's probably my third favourite entry in the franchise. Fans of brutal horror b-movies in general and this franchise in particular can certainly enjoy this film on a cold night with a few friends.

Wrong Turn 4: Bloody Beginnings
(2011)

Losing track of creativity and intensity
Wrong Turn 4: Bloody Beginnings is the weakest entry in the horror movie franchise so far. The story revolves around a group of friends who get lost on their snowmobile trip to a shack. They seek shelter from a blizzard in an abandoned sanitarium. Since they are cut from the outside world, they start exploring the sinister past of the creepy location. Soon enough, they realize that the site isn't as abandoned as it had originally seemed to be. Three former patients had started an uprising decades ago and now live in their former sanitarium. Unfortunately, these patients are three inbred cannibalistic brothers who welcome the group of friends with sharp weapons and teeth.

There are a few positive elements worth being pointed out about this overall average to bad movie. The location is certainly quite intriguing and offers some creepy vibes. The light and sound techniques used in the movie enhance the sinister atmosphere. The film's prologue offers some interesting background information about the three inbred cannibals. The torture and killing scenes will keeper viewers on the edge of their seats.

However, several things are wrong with this film. The movie includes too many pornographic elements that don't add anything to the story or the characters at all. Speaking of the characters, they are particularly shallow and unlikeable which makes it difficult to root for their survival. The film also includes noticeable lengths as especially the first half drags on for far too long before the horror elements finally unfold. The closing scenes are rather unimaginative and one would have hoped for a more spectacular conclusion.

In the end, Wrong Turn 4: Bloody Beginning is only interesting for avid fans of brutal horror movies and unconditional supporters of the franchise. Everyone else can skip this shallow entry without any regrets or perhaps watch it on a boring winter night with a few friends. If the franchise had stopped after the third entry, it would have ended on a high note instead of dragging on in dishonour.

Wrong Turn 3: Left for Dead
(2009)

Never Trust a Former Convict
Wrong Turn 3: Left for Dead is the strongest entry in the brutal horror film franchise along with its excellent immediate predecessor. This third movie revolves around a group of convicts and corrections officers who get trapped deep into the forests of West Virginia when their bus gets destroyed by the family of inbred cannibals during a nightly transfer. Tensions quickly arise between the outnumbered corrections officers and the aggressive convicts. However, the convicts also have some conflicts among one another. The group is joined by the lone survivor of a canoe group that got attacked a few days earlier. Things get even more complicated when the group finds a stranded truck filled with bags of money in the forest. While two police officers desperately try to find the group in the middle of the night, the different characters soon realize that the members of their group are just as dangerous as the cannibals.

This horror film convinces on numerous levels. The idea to make this movie take place over the course of one single night certainly adds some atmosphere, flow and tension. The characters are more fleshed out than earlier as viewers will root for the brave corrections officer and the resilient canoe group survivor while they will root against the manipulative gangster boss and the brutal racist among the convicts. The side stories revolving around the mysterious truck filled with bags of money and the two police officers who try to find out what happened to the group of convicts and corrections officers make the movie quite diversified, dynamic and entertaining. This movie is a little bit less brutal than its immediate predecessor but that makes the actual torture and murder scenes much more efficient. The locations have as usual been chosen with care. The lighting and sound engineering enhance the movie's gloomy atmosphere very well.

There are very few elements to criticize for fans of the franchise and horror movie aficionados in general. The plot is at times a little bit predictable. Especially the survivors were quite easy to predict which wasn't the case in the raw predecessor. The scene after the credits felt a little bit forced in my opinion and should have been left out as the involved characters acted quite differently from what had been shown in the preceding ninety minutes or so.

In the end, Wrong Turn 3: Left for Dead shows a more atmospheric side of the franchise and introduces some more profound characters than its predecessors. Fans of the two brutal predecessors will still get enough to chew on. The predictable plot and unnecessary scene after the credits keep this film from being the very best of the franchise but the movie is definitely better than its reputation might suggest. Enjoy this slasher horror flick with some drinks and snacks with your friends on a cold dark night to appreciate Wrong Turn 3: Left for Dead to the fullest.

Wrong Turn 2: Dead End
(2007)

Blood Is Thicker Than Water
Wrong Turn 2: Dead End is the sequel to the surprisingly successful first instalment released four years prior. The idea is still the same as the film follows a group of reality show contestants and organizers who get tracked down by inbred cannibals in the wilderness of West Virginia.

The movie starts on a rather low note since the characters involved are particularly unlikable. Some examples include a former military who shows his muscles but not much brainpower, a misogynistic loser who constantly makes dirty jokes and a superficial woman willing to give blowjobs in exchange for screen time. The first half hour is rather difficult to sit through.

However, the movie gets much better once the horror elements kick in. The surviving characters start getting more fleshed out and become more likable as well. The death and torture scenes are very brutal, even by the genre's standards and the rather modest budget. Especially the final scenes at an abandoned mill deep in the forest are among the franchise's greatest moments. The film also offers some background information on the inbred cannibals as several characters from the first film make an appearance again. It's interesting that the cannibals are presented as a loyal family with strong ties in this instalment rather than just as creepy hillbillies as in the first film. The movie even has an environmental message that explains the villains' atrocious malformations. The film's final scene is particularly ugly and memorable in that regard. The film's final hour gets better with every minute and will keep you on the edge of your seat.

In the end, Wrong Turn 2: Dead End is one of the few cases in cinematic history when a sequel is much better than the original film. Don't get fooled by the shallow opening thirty minutes that make you expect the worst. Once the introductions to all the characters are done, the film quickens up the pace as the death scenes are much more brutal than those of the predecessor and the plot is less predictable and even shares some interesting background information and an environmental message. Fans of bloody slashers should certainly watch and appreciate this film and might want to check out the entire franchise for that matter.

Wrong Turn
(2003)

All Along the Watchtower
Wrong Turn is a brutal horror movie that I watched twice with friends back when I was seventeen years old. I have recently been rediscovering this movie during the ongoing pandemic. My verdict is that this is an entertaining movie for genre fans but not the greatest film in the franchise.

The story is quite simple. Six young adults get stranded in the wilderness of West Virginia. We follow a couple of pot-smokers, a more childish but romantic couple as well as a smart young woman recently left by her boyfriend and an outsider who was on his way to North Carolina. The group soon realizes that a group of inbred cannibals are chasing them without mercy. Since they have no cellular network, they plan on contacting authorities from a watchtower.

On the positive side, the locations look absolutely stunning here and have been chosen with care. The movie includes some scary moments such as when the lead characters are hiding in the cabin of the cannibals. The scenes involving the watchtower are quite intense and certainly the most memorable ones from the entire film. The final scene also leaves a gripping impact.

On the negative side, the movie needs some time to get you on the edge of your seat. The opening half hour or so could have been cut by at least ten minutes to make this film even more intense. The characters aren't particularly fleshed out as the pot-smoking couple remains superficial and the romantic couple simply behaves in the silliest way and gets quite annoying. The plot is filled with horror movie tropes and quite predictable.

In the end, I would recommend watching Wrong Turn if you crave a brutal horror movie that doesn't overstay its welcome, has no pretention and is easy to follow from start to finish. The movie is best enjoyed with a couple of friends on Halloween or on your own during the pandemic in the comfort of your living room. While many viewers claim that the first film is the best of the franchise, I think that the two immediate successors are both more brutal and more creative. If you like this film, you should certainly like its sequels as well. Those who criticize this movie for being shallow should be aware that a horror movie doesn't need to have much intellectual depth and should rather focus on bleak atmosphere which this franchise does very well in my opinion.

The Witches
(2020)

Dynamic, entertaining and imaginative comedy for the whole family
Based upon a novel by Roald Dahl and a movie by Nicolas Roeg, The Witches has been harshly criticized in comparison upon release. The movie tells the story of a young boy and his grandmother who confront a congregation of witches at a fancy hotel.

Personally, I have been entertained very well by this movie that mixes comedy with a few hints of adventure and horror. The characters are charismatic, diversified and intriguing. The plot has epic proportions but is nevertheless easy to follow from start to finish. The locations have been chosen with great care and are truly inspiring. The special effects are absolutely outstanding and well-integrated into the movie. The sountrack is quite diversified and underlines the different atmospheres throughout the movie skillfully. The acting performances by an eccentric Anne Hathaway and a quirky Octavia Spencer are second to none. Codie-Lei Eastick and Jahzir Bruno convince as charismatic child actors with lots of potential. The movie has a perfect running time and didn't have any noticeable lengths. Since I have enjoyed this movie as an adult, I could imagine that it might be even more exciting for a younger audience as this truly is a film for the whole family.

I won't compare this movie to the novel or the original film and I can understand that the expectations of some nostalgic fans couldn't be met. However, The Witches is a dynamic, entertaining and imaginative comedy film for the whole family in my humble opinion. Ignore the harsh reviews and spend some quality time at the cinema with your loved ones in difficult times.

News of the World
(2020)

Inspiring hope in rough times
News of the World is an emotional western drama set only just after the conclusion of the devastating Civil War. Veteran Captain Kidd has lost his wife to a disease while being at the front line. He tries to escape his grim past by traveling through the country and reading newspapers to citizens in order to inspire change and hope. One day, he comes across a carriage that has been knocked over. The driver has been brutally murdered and the only survivor is a young girl who doesn't speak English. Captain Kidd discovers that her name is Johanna and that she got kidnapped by the Kiowa as a child when they murdered her entire family. She has spent most of her childhood with the Kiowa and her identity is much closer to Native American culture than to her German origins. Captain Kidd plans on bringing her to her aunt, uncle and cousins but the two protagonists have to travel through the entire state of Texas for about six weeks to get there. On their challenging journey, they come across human traffickers and radical militia and must face carriage accidents and sandstorms.

This wonderful western convinces on numerous levels. First of all, the characters are truly intriguing with the grieving, kind-hearted and well-mannered captain and the wild, lost and intelligent child. The acting performances by Tom Hanks and Helena Zengel are absolutely outstanding and would certainly deserve Academy Awards nominations. The different segments of the movie are truly intriguing as well as the protagonists come across hateful and helpful characters and face beautiful and dangerous natural phenomenons. The locations have been chosen with care and bring the war beauty of the Wild West to life in an authentic way. The camera work is calm and precise, the sound effects are immersive and intense and the soundtrack underlines the movie's atmosphere perfectly.

Even though the movie might have a few minor lengths here and there, News of the World is one of the greatest contemporary westerns in recent memory. The excellent acting performances, profound characters and diversified plot shouldn't only please genre fans but anyone craving for a heartfelt drama with some tense action scenes. This movie hasn't received the attention it deserves due to the pandemic, so make sure to watch it once cinemas in your region are reopening. While Tom Hanks confirms his status as one of the greatest actors of all time, News of the World is also the breakthrough performance for young German actress Helena Zengel who will hopefully be casted for further Hollywood movies instead of wasting her precious talent on sleep-inducing German televison movies.

Mulgoe
(2018)

Twisted political intrigue meets bloody monster hunt
Monstrum is a South Korean historical fiction movie that bears a resemblance to the excellent Rampant. The film takes place during the sixteenth century and follows two story lines that intertwine. One part of the movie focuses on a strange monster that brutally murders farmers and travelers in the country. The second part focuses on a political conspiracy that menaces King Jungjong.

This excellent movie convinces on numerous levels. The film is filled with brutal, gloomy and mysterious scenes that should equally please fans of action and horror movies. The locations have been chosen with care and bring the historical period back to life with poor villages, magnificent castles and isolated farms. The plot line is tense, dynamic and clever as the two stories intertwine progressively, fluidly and cleverly. The characters are particularly intriguing, especially the colourful lead characters who are investigating the sinister deaths. The entire movie leads to a dramatic finale culminating with explosive action scenes that will leave a lasting impression.

There are only two minor elements to criticize. First of all, the ending feels as if the scriptwriters had tried to pull a rabbit out of a hat. This breaks with the gloomy fanasty sequences and leads to a stereotypical happy ending. In addition to this, some important questions regarding the monster are left unanswered. Secondly, the film Rampant that was released at the same time has a very similar story line but is overall the slightly better movie because it's even more entertaining, intense and surprising. If you have watched and appreciated Monstrum, you must try out Rampant, too.

In the end, Monstrum is another excellent contemporary South Korean movie. This historical fantasy movie mixes a twisted political intrigue with a bloody monster hunt and leads to a spectacular finale. If you like this movie, you should definitely watch Rampant as well. Along with Train to Busan, these three films are among the very best horror and fantasy movies of the last decade as South Korean cinema has left Hollywood behind throughout the past two decades.

The Rising Hawk
(2019)

Birds of different feather can also flock together
The Rising Hawk is an Ukrainian historical action drama that involves an American and an Uzbek director and actresses and actors from England, Ireland, Kazakhstan and numerous other countries. To my very positive surprise, the final result manages to be authentic, coherent and gripping.

The story takes place in the Carpathian Mountains of the thirteenth century. Zakhar Berkut is the leader of a farm village on a mountain. His sons Ivan, who is married and has a son, as well as Maksym, who is still single, are the greatest hunters of their community. Zakhar Berkut wants to convince his arch enemy, wealthy boyar Tuhar Volk, to join a gathering of different communities and sends his sons to negotiate with him. They manage to impress the selfish boyar on a hunting trip as Maksym saves the boyar's rebellious daughter Myroslava and falls in love with her. Tuhar Volk is everything but pleased about that relationship and also expects neighbouring communities to follow his orders rather than cooperating with them. Those fragile relationships are put under further pressure when Mongolian invader Burunda Khan pushes westwards. When the son of the Mongolian general is murdered by Maksym, Burunda Khan is hell-bent on revenge. The different Eastern European communities must cooperate and be willing to sacrifice themselves to fight against their common enemy and for a better tomorrow.

This movie has been marketed as an action film about a Mongolian invasion but the first hour of the movie takes its time to introduce us to the different Eastern European communities, their relations with one another and their most important members. This part of the film can be considered a historical fiction drama. The characters are charismatic, diversified and intriguing. The relationship between brave hunter Maksym and rebellious Myroslava is developed carefully. Tuhar Volk oozes with charisma as sinister leader with significant strengths and weaknesses. The locations are absolutely stunning from ancestral villages over dense forests and wide meadows to snowy mountains.

The second part of the movie quickens up the pace and gets significantly more brutal. Burunda Khan impresses as pitiless but intelligent commander and his ruthless son leaves his mark as a terrifying sadist. Tuhar Volk becomes a key figure in this second part of the movie as he is torn between owing a debt to the Mongolian invader and protecting the rival community that has welcomed his own daughter. The movie ends with epic battle scenes, intriguing conspiracies and numerous deaths on all sides involved in the conflict.

Don't get fooled by the slow pace of the first hour since this historical fiction drama slowly shifts to a brutal action film that leaves a lasting impression. The Rising Hawk proves that birds of different feather can also flock together. It's an excellent example for a compelling international project that has managed to overcome its challenges and produced a diversified movie that entertains from start to finish. The Rising Hawk deserves more critical acclaim and attention. Anyone who cares about historical fiction and action dramas should watch this unexpected blockbuster.

Marked Man
(2020)

Weak military action film but intriguing historical drama
There are two ways to approach Mongolian military drama Marked Man, also known as The Warlord. If you compare this movie to similar productions from other countries, the lack of budget becomes quite obvious which leads to an absence of gripping action scenes and reduces this film to a documentary-styled drama with propagandistic tendancies. On the other side, it's also possible to analyze this movie as one of the few films to come out of Mongolia that manages to entertain and teach international viewers about the way the Second World War unfolded in that country.

This movie deals with the Battles of Khalkhin Gol between Mongolia and Japan that took place between May and September 1939. The story follows courageous private Dandar who becomes the commander of a horse battalion upon his superior's death. Even though the Japanese have better equipment, Dandar's heroic leadership manages to push back the enemy and leads to a surprising Mongolian victory which is followed by a ceasefire agreement. However, an investigator suspects that Dandar might have orchestrated his superior's death in order to become a commander and even accuses him to be a spy for the Japanese. Things get even more complicated when the Soviet Union gets involved as their ideological convictions clash with traditional Mongolian culture. Heroic commander Dandar becomes an outcast, is accused of treason in a fake trial and has to serve time in a prisoner-of-war camp with the very enemies he had defeated.

As you can see, the movie's plot is diversified, emotional and intriguing. The characters are authentic and charismatic. The locations have been chosen with care. Especially the final twenty minutes that take place after the battles provide much depth.

On the other side, the fight scenes in this film are static and repetitive. Some side characters and their intentions remain mysterious or superficial as only the main character is going through significant development. The movie misses the occasion to portray how the former commander gets along with the Japanese soldiers in the prisoner-of-war camp. The movie's biggest issue is the dreadful American English dubbing that is often out of rhythm and even missing entire lines. I would have prefered to watch this movie in Mongolian with English subtitles.

In the end, military drama Marked Man is of interest for those who care about Mongolian culture and history. Even in a globalized world, it's rare to find a Mongolian movie and even more difficult to find one that doesn't deal with Genghis Khan and his offspring. This movie tells us about an unknown part of the Second World War and the story is intriguing enough for me to pardon the film's cheap budget, dreadful dubbing and dated fight scenes. If you are looking for a great military film, you have to look elsewhere but if you want to watch a historical drama, you might actually appreciate this movie like I did.

Nervous Part 2: Versus Side Story
(2004)

Situation comedy and quirky dialogues
Nervous Part 2: Versus Side Story is the second and final short film loosely based upon Japanese fantasy slasher Versus. This short film actually has a few more connections to the original film than the shorter and underdeveloped first strike. This short film takes place some time after the events portrayed in Versus. The two police officers, one gangster and the escapee have no recollection of their past and live in a sanitarium. They are closely observed by a concerned nurse and a much more distant doctor. The four men befriend one another since they don't really know who they are. However, things quickly spiral out of control when flashbacks are slowly creeping back into their minds. Those painful memories turn friends into enemies again.

This short film is more than twice as long as the first strike and has some more development. The dialogues are very similar to the original film. There certainly is some entertaining situation comedy that keeps the short film going. Towards the end, there are some humorous fight scenes as well. The ending is quite unexpected but fits the comic tone of this short film.

The short film's flaw is that it lacks diversity as it's based upon situation comedy for sixteen minutes. The ending is even somewhat childish and leaves the audience waiting for a more sinister turn in vain.

In the end, fans of the original fantasy slasher Versus can watch this short film without any regrets. It's similar in tone and style and features quirky dialogues and absurd situation comedy. On the other side, this film can rather be considered a gimmick for die-hard fans rather than an interesting work of fiction on its own. If you don't know Versus, then there is obviously no point whatsoever in watching this. On the other hand, this short film is completely independent from the other short film. Both of these short films can be found among the extras of the ultimate version of Versus that has recently been released on Blu-ray by Arrow Media.

Nervous Part 1: Versus Side Story
(2004)

Nice gimmick for fans of the fantasy slasher Versus
Nervous Part 1: Versus Side Story is one of two short films related to Japanese fantasy slasher Versus. This first short film focuses on the two officers who are chasing two escapees in the original film. The quieter officer has a much more sinister side in this short film. He wants to conduct an interview with an eyewitness at the police station. However, the interview room is filled with bloody bodies who come back to life. The scared eyewitness soon understands that the police officer is responsible for those atrocities and that he is next on the list for a rather unusual reason.

This short film is only loosely assoaciated to the original movie. It convinces with gloomy settings, strange dialogues and tense atmosphere. It's certainly entertainig from start to finish with its limited running time of about seven minutes.

On the negative side, the story itself is as thin as it gets. Furthermore, this short film's antagonist has a behaviour that was never evident in the original film which is slightly confusing. It's a good thing that the content of this short film was released separately and not interwoven into the original full length feature.

In the end, this short film is obviously only interesting for fans of the original full length feature Versus. It can be found among the extras of the ultimate version of the film on the recent Arrow Media Blu-ray release. This short film entertains decently and convinces with gloomy atmosphere but the story is rather shallow and unimportant.

Versus
(2000)

Violent fun ride based upon passion instead of pretention
Versus is a Japanese movie that is quite challenging to classify. It includes elements of fantasy with portals leading to other worlds. It could be described as a horror movie due to the presence of murderous zombies. This is also an action film featuring shootings, martial arts and even swords fights. There are also minor thriller elements since we get introduced to two criminals who have escaped from prison and are tracked down by two officers. While such a genre potpourri might potentially be confusing, this overblown madness is exactly the film's guideline.

The story is just as eclectic. Two detainees escape from prison and are supposed to meet with other criminals in a nearby forest. Things spiral out of control when that group brings along a kidnapped woman while their boss doesn't show up. One of the prisoners and the mysterious woman flee the scene and are followed by the criminals. However, the nearby forest isn't as calm as it seems as both parties soon face murderous zombies. They also learn that the gangster boss has led the prisoners and the woman to the woods on purpose as he has an evil plan on his mind.

This Japanese cult movie is nothing for the faint-hearted. Instead of focusing on a consistent story, the movie consists almost entirely of crazy characters, violent fight scenes and tons of guts and gore. It's the kind of movie a teenager obsessed with video games would love to make. This unpretentious approach however is quite unique and entertaining from start to finish. The movie features numerous memorable scenes and the country roads, forests and rivers provide a gloomy, isolated and ominous atmosphere.

On the negative side, the film's budget was extremely limited and it shows. The crew made the best out of it but some fight scenes look fake and the recurring locations end up getting a little bit redundant.

This film has received a quite generous Blu-ray release by Arrow Media that includes a big booklet, the original version of the film as well as the ultimate version, numerous interviews, deleted scenes and even two short films associated to some characters in the film. This release might be expensive but truly offers value for money. Stick to the ultimate version of Versus and enjoy the bloody ride through mysterious Japanese forests to the fullest.

Kuroi ame
(1989)

Strength in despair
Black Rain is a Japanese drama shot entirely in black and white which is based upon the novel of the same title by Masuji Ibuse. The movie tells the story of a small family that survives the atomic bombing of Hiroshima while witnessing its horrifying impacts on citizens, infrastructures and nature. Five years later, a young woman lives with her aunt and her uncle as well as her elderly grandmother in an idyllic village in the mountains. Her aunt and her uncle want her to get married and have her own family but most prospects refuse to engage in a relationship because the young woman was covered by black rain fallout five years earlier. Slowly but steadily, other survivors living in the village start succumbing to radiation sickness. The aunt starts to get sick as well and the uncle plans on finally getting their niece married. The young woman has different plans however as she refuses a promising prospect and rather befriends the neighbour and former soldier who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder.

This intense drama is told very slowly and intensely as it needs some time to unfold. Once the tragic consequences of radiation sickness, interwoven with flashbacks of a destroyed city, start becoming more and more important, the movie becomes truly emotional, haunting and profound. Few movies have portrayed the horrors of war so efficiently without using any violence. Some people claim that the ending is abrupt or unfinished but I find it perfectly appropriate in its bleak conclusion that leaves several burning questions unanswered.

The stylistic device to shoot this movie in black and white has been an excellent choice. It reminds us that the movie is based upon historical events. It also shows that there is a looming shadow on the lives of the survivors who might be dying an agonizing and slow death.

Despite those tragic circumstances and effects, the movie isn't entirely bleak. The way the uncle and aunt care about the niece is heartfelt. The relationship between the beautiful young woman and her tormented neighbour is beautiful. There is some comic relief in a few scenes, for example when the tormented neighbour accidentally prevents a gangster to look for and beat up a female dancer who has gone into hiding in the remote village.

On the other side, the movie slightly overstays its welcome and could have been shortened by at least twenty minutes without leaving anything out. The fact that the scenes of the atomic bombing take place at the very beginning and then again towards the middle section make the movie feel slightly unfocused. It would have been better to either show all the scenes in the opening thirty minutes or to start the movie immediately in the village and only show the flashbacks in one short session at the very end to reveal the reason behind the mysterious ailments. Another negative element is that some side stories are introduced but never fully told in the film. The fate of the female dancer who goes into hiding but is researched by some gangsters is never revealed which makes the introduction of this side story pointless in itself.

Still, Black Rain is a haunting drama about one of the most controversial historical events. Even nowadays, historians disagree whether the atomic bombing was a reasonable or a terrible decision. This Japanese movie doesn't make the mistake of taking position and blaming Americans. It simply shows the cold hard facts and how that traumatizing event continues to haunt survivors many years later. The most beautiful thing about this movie is that there is the possibility to die gracefully despite knowing your gloomy fate. This is what makes the characters in this film so sympathetic as they don't complain about their destinies but show strength in despair.

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