This conspiracy-laden mess sees a beautiful couple, Gabe & Brinn Howarth (Cam Gigandet and Brit Shaw) - the owners of a small down diner - suffering in the grips of Gabe's seizure-inducing dreams, which blur the lines between reality and fantasy.
In his dreams, the mild-mannered Gabe is a hitman who murders everyone he encounters. Enter psychiatrist Dr Reece (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), a leading expert in the study of waking dreams, who treats Gabe (barely saying 'hello' before prescribing handfuls of medication) and tries to put a stop to the nightmares.
To nobody's surprise Gabe begins recognising the faces from his visions as those of real people being murdered in the newspapers and it isn't long before Gabe suspects that dreams are actually reality.... Or not. Cue local law enforcement, Sheriff Hodge (a grisly Michael Beihn), who steps in to investigate, and just like everyone else in the film, may or may not have an inkling as to what's going on.
THE SHADOW EFFECT is the third feature from brothers Obin and Amariah Olson and it is a ham-fisted concoction, peppered with shonky CGI and uninspired direction that takes cues from a dozen other better films. This is surprising considering that the writers, Chad and Evan Law (minor powerhouses in the DTV actioneer realm), have a CV littered with quality scripts that belie their budgets.
THE SHADOW EFFECT is the weakest chink in their armour. It's is a mixed bag of hackneyed concepts and lacklustre acting, leaving the viewer with a minimally engaging 90-minutes of nonsense and sense that we've seen it all before. Indeed, the film steals from just about similarly themed title, not least of all THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE, THE BOURNE IDENTITY and SOURCE CODE. And believe me it surely lacks the flair, conviction and originality of them all.
In fact, it's a film so self-aware and rigid that almost every move made by anyone on screen is forced and contrived. The big-boys of the cast, Meyers and Beihn do what they can with a limited scope. Beihn can do this kind of stuff in his sleep, but it's Meyers that surprise the most, not because his face is plastered all over the poster (though his screen time amounts to about 6-minutes), but because the good-will he amassed from a half-way decent performance on TVs VIKINGS, ROOTS and THE TUDORS is squandered on one throw-away role that does him no favours.
Shame. There's nothing wrong with a derivative story, but couple it with a DOA production and it's a recipe for failure. Thank God, then, for Michael Beihn.
The film begins in 2007 with a wealthy CEO (Tilda Swinton) addressing the media to reveal a new project for her corporation. Having genetically engineered a new super-pig the 'Super Pig Project' is launched, which will see 26 of the new creatures sent to farms all across the world, where they will be raised and monitored over the course of 10-years. The hopes are for the program to create a new food source and help address the pending global food shortage.
We are introduced to Okja - a friendly super-pig - 10-years later on a farm in a remote mountain region of South Korea, where she lives her life roaming the countryside freely with her teenage friend Mija (Ahn Seo-hyun). Their friendship is a tight bond and when the corporation's people come knocking the reality of the program sinks in. Okja is taken away and shipped back to America to be made an example of. Mija runs away, following Okja's trail and finds herself caught up in an adventure that sees her jet-setting the world and being mixed up with a notorious Animal welfare organisation called ALF (Animal Liberation Front). What ensues is a strange and wonderful adventure that is as equally exhilarating as it is moving.
Korean director Bong Joon-ho is a visceral filmmaker whose most notable films have been THE HOST (2006) and SNOWPEIRCER (2013), and despite OKJA being a peculiar direction for him to explore, it is nevertheless another stunning demonstration of his visual and technical prowess. Never one to rest on his laurels OKJA is one of the year's most delightful, yet challenging films, and one that will be sure to confront many unsuspecting viewers.
At first I was irritated by the use of profanity throughout the film, feeling that it was unnecessary and crass for such an enchanting story. But as the plot unfolded it became apparent that Joon-ho was (likely) forewarning parents that this is NOT a family-friendly adventure, but rather a dark and twisted story of morality and ethics. OKJA delves into some truly sinister themes, making it a deliberately provocative and uncomfortable experience in the guise of a kids flick.
Generally I am not a fan of politically motivated films either, which push agenda on people, and so there is a part of me that resisted OKJA. I am familiar with the message being pushed and I spent the second half of the film wishing that it were a morally ambiguous adventure. Nevertheless I was so swept up by the creativity and quirkiness of the film that I was able to suppress my cynicism. I was mesmerised by the unconventional concept and overwhelmed by its imagery, and there were moments that reminded me what it was like to first discover the work of Jean-Pierre Jeunet (DELICATESSEN, AMELIE). It was this constant state of being displeased and delighted that ultimately had me singing OKJA's praises! The themes that I found to be tedious are, in turn, what lends the film its edge. I wanted to shake Joon-ho's hand as he twisted a warm and delightful tale into a dark and disturbing nightmare. It's definitely not one for the kids, but certainly an adventure for the young at heart.
The ensemble cast is fantastic with an even balance of Korean and American actors making it a multicultural experience. The film alternates between the two languages, thus adding yet another texture to it's already multilayered structure. The Korean cast includes Ahn Seo-hyun in the lead role (she is an unassuming actress with a maturity far beyond her 13-years of age), Byun Hee-bong, Yoon Je-moon and Choi Woo-sik. To be honest I don't know any of these people, although most of them have worked with director Joon-ho previously. The American's (well, Westerners) include Tilda Swinton, Jake Gyllenhaal, Paul Dano and Giancarlo Esposito (Gus from Breaking Bad)... oh and Australian Daniel Henshall (SNOWTOWN) also plays a substantial part. Needless to say that the cast is impressive, with Swinton, Dano and Gyllenhaal fully embracing the outrageousness of it all. Gyllenhaal's eccentric Animal zoologist character is a particular stand-out and might just be one of the most absurd figures to grace the screen this year... he channels Hunter S Thompson and Geraldo Riviera to hilarious effect. And of course there's Okja herself; a brilliantly realised creation through the use of seamless CGI.
A lot can be said about Netflix – good and bad – but one thing is certain... they are creating some remarkable original content. First they changed the face of documentary storytelling by exploring long-format and turning it into must-see television, and now they're committing themselves to unconventional fiction. I salute their tenaciousness and hope that OKJA is just one of many more to come.
As the title suggests the film is set in the year 2307 where the Earth is 300 years into a new ice age and all surviving humans live beneath the ground. With next to no genuine man-power to drive the failing society scientists have bio-engineered a humanoid species with a tolerance for subzero temperatures. When one of the humanoids threatens an uprising the humans assemble a team of soldiers to defeat the impending rebellion. What ensues is a fast-paced expedition that pits the heroes against a merciless enemy and an unforgiving environment.
From the get go 2307: A WINTERS DREAM creates a familiar impression and evokes memories of some of cinema's most beloved properties. My mind immediately turned to John Carpenter's THE THING and Ridley Scott's BLADERUNNER, and with its subterranean production design I couldn't help but think of Albert Pyun's ALIEN FROM LA. In fact Pyun's influence seems (to me) to be the strongest of them all. I imagine if it weren't for his poor health Pyun would be making films of this calibre. Its story of rogue humanoids and their post-apocalyptic environment is lifted straight out of the Book-of-Pyun, of which numerous titles can be cited. RADIOACTIVE DREAMS for example, or NEMESIS and KNIGHTS. But I digress...
Joey Curtis's take on a reliable formula is a commendable effort, and despite the hindrance of budget restraints he has crafted a good-looking film that employs a good balance of CGI with practical effects... although some of that CGI leaves much to be desired. The cast are all decent, with the film's co-writer Paul Sidhu serving as the film's lead. The script is dependable but not exceptional, and it walks the three-act structure reasonably well. With so many aforementioned titles influencing the narrative the film hopscotches between genres and tropes. At one moment the characters are pitted against a science-fiction driven environment, and the next moment they are knee-deep in a classic Western setting. These scenic transitions could have easily derailed the story and yet they keep the flow engaging and viscerally arresting.
With a direct-to-video release limiting the film's reach, and a mostly unknown cast curbing its appeal 2307: WINTER'S DREAM will arrive under the radar, and while it may be far from perfect it is a movie that genre fans should check out regardless. There's never enough winter-ravished post-apocalyptic movies as far as I'm concerned.
He meets a beautiful young teacher (Charlotte Le Bon) who is in a relationship with a world renowned American reporter (Christian Bale) and they fall in love following several encounters. When the war reaches Turkey the city is beset by the Ottoman military and all Armenian leaders and intellectuals are rounded up and deported. It isn't long before the Turks launch a ruthless campaign to systemically exterminate the Armenian people.
We watch the whole barbaric atrocity unfold through the eyes of our three protagonists as they desperately fight for survival. Their ordeal sees them suffer incredible losses - as well as capture and escape - as their friends and loved ones are slaughtered before their eyes. It is a harrowing cinematic experience to say the least and it depicts the horrors of genocide in a similarly shocking way to HOTEL RWANDA. With an unflinching focus it is immediately clear that director terry George feels deeply about documenting these crimes of the past and in doing so he contributes to the ever-important annals of history, lest we forget. And with that in mind it is regrettable that he has chosen to follow three entirely fictitious characters.
Perhaps it was a case of not being able to pin-point any particular accounts of survival to warrant a feature-length film (I find that hard to believe) or maybe George felt compelled to heighten the drama with a narrative that he could manipulate... whatever the case might be, I found their personal plight distracting from the greater historical context, and felt cheated by the contrived love story that wove its way throughout the events. The love triangle, as presented, took me back to the schmultzy melodrama of THE ENGLISH PATIENT and impeded what was an otherwise superb piece of filmmaking.
What did resonate with me was the impressive production design and incredible cinematography. With stunning panoramic shots of the setting sun over dune-swept deserts and breathtaking mountainous terrains, the look of the film is epic in its scope and awe-inspiring in its presentation. The tone of the film transitions eloquently from the paradisal urban sprawl of pre-war Turkey to a War ravished hell paved with corpses. The juxtaposition between peace and disharmony is jarring and the film presents us with a confronting moment in history that has, until now, remained relatively undocumented in mainstream film. In terms of documenting an atrocity Terry George has essentially done for the Armenian genocide what Spielberg did for the Jewish holocaust in SCHINDLER'S LIST.
The cast is impressive with Isaac and Bale giving particularly strong turns. Bale is the stronger of the two, although ever so slightly, as he conjures a surly and external performance. His character witnesses the war from a foreign perspective, desperate to inform the outside world of what's happening, whereas Isaac's character falls victim to the hell that's been inflicted upon his people. He endures the barbarity and endures a much more personal character arc. They spend much of the screen time apart and both command their scenes with unwavering strength, and when their paths do cross they share a brilliant and mesmerising dynamic. Le Bon's presence is less convincing with a sense that she is out of her depth, and while she is not “bad” by any means, her character might have been far more engaging if cast differently. A few other notable names cameo throughout the film and help elevate its overall impact above the unfortunate love story.
When it comes to depicting historical atrocities filmmakers have a responsibility to be be honest, and to capture stories as earnestly as possible. Canadian director Atom Egoyan previously explored the Armenian genocide in his 2002 film ARARAT, although he did so from a contemporary and retrospective point of view, and so THE PROMISE is a missed opportunity to truly recapture an important moment in time without fabrication. As a technical achievement THE PROMISE is excellent. As a performance piece is it outstanding. And as a depiction of war it is powerful... but with its unnecessarily contrived melodrama accompanied by needless bookended narration it doesn't quite hit the mark the way films like HOTEL RWANDA, SALVADOR or THE KILLING FIELDS did. And so to summarise THE PROMISE is a very good film, but it could have been a great one!
Set in 2015, co-writer and director Ronnie Thompson's exceptionally stylish film is the true (mostly) story of the Hatton Garden Safe Deposit Robbery, where four older gentlemen who are pushing retirement took a bank for £200-million and became the stuff of legend, pulling off what was called 'the largest heist in English legal history', it's a story so unbelievable that it was only a matter of time before someone turned it into a film.
Safe-cracker films can be tricky to pull off. After all, we are essentially watching someone break into a door, so how do you keep it lively? Particularly when the events are so recent that the facts are readily available at the touch of a button?
Thompson and co-writers, Ray Bogdanovich and Dean Lines, smartly focus on the 'how' of the robbery. Google will allow you to, pretty quickly, discover the fate of the group, but what is murky in the articles is the thieves methodology and, wisely, that's what ONE LAST HEIST gives us.
There is the obvious nods to the films of Guy Richie (split screens, voice overs, etc) and while their stylistic flourishes can sometimes labor Thompson's film errs on the side of caution, never overusing the tropes and miraculously only relying on them when they work.
Unlike Richie though, OLH is surprisingly tame when it comes to the sort of colourful language and violence that might be expected in British gangster films. Perhaps it's because it's not really a gangster film at its core, but rather a film about some delightful guys (who like a cup of tea and a triangle-cut sandwich for lunch) who just happen to rob safes... It's kinda like the film you'd imagine Richie and Loach would make if they ever met at a truck-stop diner and spun a yarn.
Thompson scored lucky with his cast. Every single player oozes charm and affability. They're gruff and professional without ever losing their warmth and humanity. The kind of guys you'd like to see get away with the job. Mathew Good as XXX, the one fabricated character in the film, is actually the one with the least to do, seemingly falling short of the others amiability in order to purely serve the story. Shame.
ONE LAST HEIST won't be a major home-entertainment release but it is most definitely one you should seek out. Infinitely better than a hundred shitty Nicholas Sparks adaptations.