FlixChatter Review – Netflix’s EXTRACTION (2020)

Netflix is trying to take on the big Hollywood studios by producing quite a bit of pricey original films within the last couple of years. While their more prestigious films such ROMA and THE IRISHMAN received rave reviews and decent amount of views. Most of their original action/adventure films didn’t do quite well, for example last year’s very expensive TRIPLE FRONTIER was a dud. EXTRACTION is their latest action film that became their biggest hit to date, viewership wise anyway.

As the story begins, we’re introduced to Ovi (Rudhraksh Jaiswal), he’s the son of a ruthless drug lord named Mahajan (Pankaj Tripathi). Mahajan is in prison but still very powerful within the crime syndicate of India. While out partying with his friends at a night club, Ovi is kidnapped by men working for Amir (Priyanshu Painyuli), Ovi’s father rival. Upon learning the news that his son has been kidnapped by his rival, Mahajan orders his right-hand man Saju (Randeep Hooda) to do whatever it takes to get his son back alive. Saju hires a mercenary team whose leader is Nik (Golshifteh Farahani), she recruits her old teammate Tyler (Chris Hemsworth) to join the team in rescuing Ovi from danger.

At first Tyler wasn’t interested because he’s still grieving the death of his son. But when Nik told him that the fee is very high, Tyler decided to join her. They traveled to Dhaka to get Ovi and once Tyler found the boy, things went south real fast. He realized that his team has been double crossed and he will need to use all of his skills to keep Ovi and himself alive from the local police and henchmen who’re all chase after them.

Based on a graphic novel named Ciudad written by Ande Parks and The Russo Brothers. The screenplay is credited to only Joe Russo and it’s decent script for an action film. The story is pretty simple and quite predictable. It did try to get too serious for its own good about half way through the story but thankfully it didn’t linger on that too much.

The biggest draw for this film of course is the action and first-time director Sam Hargrave delivered the goods. Being that Hargrave was a stunt coordinator for many of the big Hollywood blockbusters, he knows how to shoot action scenes properly. There’s a “one shot” action sequence that will blow you away, one of the best action scenes I’ve seen in recent years.

Hemsworth hasn’t had much luck in films outside of the MCU but he seems to be a good fit in this role. His 6’2″ muscular frame makes him more believable that he can take on several foes at the same time than say someone like 5’5″ Tom Cruise. There’s not much that was asked of him for the role but Hemsworth did try to give a more personal performance. Being that his character lost a son and now he’s being a father figure to a kid he doesn’t know but trying to save his life. Unfortunately, none of the supporting actors really stood out for me, they were okay in their respective roles but pretty forgettable to me.

It appears Netflix has found a franchise and a sequel has already been moved into pre-production. If you’re a fan of the John Wick franchise, then you’ll enjoy this film.

3/5 stars

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So have you seen EXTRACTION? Well, what did you think?

FlixChatter Review – ARKANSAS (2020)

Directed by: Clark Duke
Written by:
Clark Duke and Andrew Boonkrong 
Cast:
Liam Hemsworth, Clark Duke, Michael Kenneth Williams,
Vivica A. Fox, John Malkovich, Vince Vaughn

Crime thriller is one of my favorite genres and I’ve seen countless films and TV shows based on the Italian mobs and drug cartels in South America. But there aren’t many films about the crime lords in the Southern States of America. Arkansas is a new film that tells the story of low-level crime syndicate in the deep south. It has the same spirit as some of Quentin Tarantino’s and The Coen Brothers’ crime films.

Just like Tarantino’s films, Arkansas breaks its story into chapters. In chapter 1, we meet two low level drug dealers named Kyle (Liam Hemsworth) and Swin (Clark Duke). They’ve been assigned by their boss named Frog (Vince Vaughn) to move drugs into a new location. On their way to their destination, they ran into a park ranger named Bright (John Malkovich) who ordered them to follow him to his home. Bright tells them that he’s actually their new boss, this is the order from their big boss Frog. Under Bright’s orders, the Kyle and Swin must do the drug dealings in the southern state areas such as Alabama, Louisiana and Georgia. While out to do their business one day, Swin met a pretty young nurse named Johanna (Eden Brolin). Kyle warns Swin to not get involved with anyone who might disrupt their rise to power in the syndicate but Swin fell for Johanna and the two became an item. After a drug deal with one of their contacts went wrong, Kyle and Swin must figure out ways to stay alive and keep Frog happy. In the next chapter, we get to see how Frog rose to become one of the biggest crime lords in the south. As anyone who’ve seen Tarantino’s films, you’ll eventually see how things will tie together and culminate in a violent ending.

Based on John Brandon‘s best-selling book of the same name, the screenplay was written by Andrew Boonkrong and Clark Duke, the latter also directed the picture. I’ve never read the novel but this is a well written screenplay and I really enjoyed the dialog from each of the characters, but I wish they didn’t try to copy too much from Tarantino’s films. There’s so much good material to be told in a new way but Boonkrong and Duke decided to structure the story that’s been done too many times before. Maybe another round of rewrite by an experienced writer could’ve made the script even better. Some of the characters needs to flesh out a bit more.

This is Duke’s debut film and I was surprised that the producers actually let him direct it. He didn’t do a bad job of directing this film, he just copied style from other more experienced and talented directors. Maybe Duke’s skills will grow as a director with more experience, but I think this one should’ve been directed by someone else. I believe that with a script this good, a more polished and experienced director could’ve elevated it to an excellent picture. This is a material meant for talented directors like David Fincher, Chan-wook Park or Bong Joon Ho.

Clark Duke with Liam Hemsworth

Performances by the actors were pretty good, I’m still not sold on Liam Hemsworth as a leading man material and unfortunately, he didn’t convince me in this film. It’s probably not fault since his character needs to be flesh out a bit more. For a lead character, we don’t really know much about him. Also, his southern accent wasn’t convincing at all. Duke wrote himself a better role and he’s more of the comic relief character and kind of sympathetic one too. Even though he has smaller screen time, Malkovich was a hoot as the small time crime boss. The most well thought out character in the film is Vaughn’s Frog, heck he’s actually the main character of the story. Vaughn gave one of his best performances here, but his southern accent needed a little work. Unfortunately, the two female characters in the film didn’t really have much to do. Johanna is an interesting character and I wanted to know more about her, but she ended up just being the love interest. Same with Vivica A. Fox’s Her, she has history with Frog and the script should’ve expanded on their relationship.

Despite by quibbles, I still think it’s a good crime thriller. If you’re a fan of QT’s or The Coen Brothers’ thrillers, then you’ll enjoy this one. I just think it could’ve been an excellent film with a more polished script and talented director behind the cameras.

3/5 stars

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So have you seen ARKANSAS? Well, what did you think?

Mini Reviews: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011) + Wind River (2017)

Happy Monday everyone! It’s been a pretty hectic week last week with freelance gigs, script updates, etc. There’s a hint of Spring (finally!) after such a long and pretty miserable Winter, in fact, we pretty much hibernated most weekends the past couple of months. Well, that gave us a chance to catch up on a bunch of new-to-me movies. Today I’ve got a pair of excellent, moody crime thrillers that both took place in the Winter months.

Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

Journalist Mikael Blomkvist is aided in his search for a woman who has been missing for forty years by Lisbeth Salander, a young computer hacker.

Directed by: David Fincher
Screenplay by: Steven Zaillian

For a while I sort of avoided this adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s crime novel (part of the Millennium trilogy), both the Swedish version and this English language version. I just thought it’d be too violent and that I wouldn’t enjoy it. But well, my hubby and I were in the mood for a good crime noir, and since we both liked Gone Girl, we thought we’d give this one a shot. Well, I wasn’t disappointed.

David Fincher is a master in building suspense even with relatively little action. I quite like Daniel Craig as the disgraced journalist Mikael Blomkvist, who’s hired by a retired CEO Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer) to investigate the disappearance of his grandniece Harriet. Vanger exposed some really strange family dynamics which lives up to his descriptions, and then some. The film took its time before Mikael and Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara) meets, as their story runs in parallel until their eventual meet-up.

I knew going into this that this is a violent film, especially dealing with brutal sexual assault and rape, but still, it’s quite harrowing to watch. The way Lisbeth retaliates for this brutality has that ‘wish fulfillment’ fantasy, as the wicked assailant has no idea who he’s dealing with. Mara’s transformation as Lisbeth is astounding and she completely lost herself in the role as the brilliant but antisocial hacker. I thought Mara’s a bit of an unusual choice to play her, but she pulled it off. Lisbeth is quite a mesmerizing and intimidating character, an undoubtedly challenging-but-flashy role every prominent actress would want to portray.

What I like most about this movie is the way the story unfolds. I actually like the deliberate, almost unhurried pace, but every moment is never without a sense of dread. Fincher’s direction is superb, using the setting (in Sweden and various Nordic countries) to great effect in conveying the perfect mood for the film. It’s the kind of mystery thriller that fully immerses you in the story and rewards your patience. Stellan Skarsgård is pretty memorable here as well in a quiet, but sinister role as Harriet’s brother.

I have to say though, the scenes towards the end with Lisbeth inhabiting a completely different persona as a femme fatale is feels a bit off from the rest of the film. The hurried pacing and more glamorous setting makes it feel like a Bond movie (with Lisbeth playing ‘Jane’ Bond) which is amusing given Craig’s casting. Honestly, it took me out of the movie a bit. I enjoyed watching the scenes, it’s just that the whole thing feels incredulous. Perhaps that is the point, Lisbeth going way out of her comfort zone to help someone she cares about.

Despite the gruesome scenes, I actually like this film enough that I might even rewatch it at some point. There are SO much details during the investigation that I likely missed a few things. It also got me intrigued to see the original Swedish versions starring Noomi Rapace as Lisbeth.

WIND RIVER (2017)

A veteran hunter helps an FBI agent investigate the murder of a young woman on a Wyoming Native American reservation.

Written & Directed by: Taylor Sheridan

After seeing The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, my hubby and I are craving for more mystery thrillers. I was impressed by Taylor Sheridan‘s impressive writing in Sicario, but haven’t seen anything else he’s done since. Well, he’s definitely no ‘one hit wonder.’

The film opens with a card that says “inspired by true events,” which makes the scene that follows all the more excruciating to watch. A panic-stricken young woman is running in a vast snowy land on the Wind River Indian Reservation with barely enough clothing to survive the harsh climate. Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner), an expert tracker working for U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Agency, discovered her frozen body and alerted the FBI. The Feds sent a rookie agent, Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen) who arrived from Las Vegas and soon realized this case is way in over her head.

The unlikely partnership between Lambert and Banner is the core of the story and it’s intriguing to watch. The fact that Renner and Olsen worked together in Avengers: Age of Ultron two years prior is amusing, but it’s a testament to their acting that I quickly forgot about that fact as the film progressed. I love that Sheridan’s just as concerned with his characters as he is with solving a murder case, putting this film far and above a typical CSI or Law & Order’s ‘whodunnit’ episode. Soon we learn about Lambert’s past and why this case is so hugely personal to him. Sheridan also toys with our expectations, in a good way, in the way he presents the murder suspects. I’m also impressed by the skilled use of flashback to tell a crucial detail, without spoon-feeding the audience too much details. I also appreciate that the film is not gratuitously violent nor gory.

Renner is particularly strong here in a soulful, emotionally-grounded performance as a man who’ve been through hell and back. Lambert offers a nice contrast to the inexperienced Banner, teaching her the ropes without being condescending. Veteran character actor Graham Greene as the Tribal Police chief Ben plays a crucial role here. “This is the land of you’re on your own.” Ben sheds lights into how the Native American community like Wind River is marginalized and barely gets the attention they deserve, as evidenced by the lack of federal support Banner gets to solve this case. I like Jon Bernthal‘s casting as well which again toys with our expectations given the tough guy roles he often plays.

The desolate setting here is a character in itself, in which the location is pivotal to the story. It’s a bleak film to be sure, but a deeply engrossing one and it’s not without hope. That scene towards the end of Lambert and his friend Martin (Gil Birmingham) is a powerful one that ties well with an earlier scene after the girl’s body’s just discovered. I find myself engrossed in this slow-burn mystery, which also rewards your patience with a satisfying ending. I’d say it’s a pretty strong directorial debut from Sheridan, though it made me curious to see how the film would look like under someone like David Fincher. In any case, Sheridan is definitely a gifted writer and a promising director, I’m definitely keen on seeing more of his work in the future!


So have you seen either one of these films? I’d love to hear what you think!

FlixChatter Review: SICARIO (2015)

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Director Denis Villeneuve loves to make films about dark subjects, in his latest one he decides to tackle the dark world of war on drugs here in United States.

After a raid that’s gone terribly wrong on a home that belongs to a very powerful drug cartel, young FBI agent Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) decides to volunteer to be part of a secret mission that’s being lead by a mysterious agent named Matt Graver (Josh Brolin). She’s on a need-to-know basis on this mission, she also meets another mysterious agent named Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro); who tells her that they’re going to find the biggest drug dealer in the world and take him down. Their first task was to transfer a prisoner from Mexico back to the States but some thugs decided to attempt the break the prisoner free.

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This lead to a shootout that killed all of the thugs in the middle of the highway and Macer was not too happy about it. She’s a by the book type of an agent and thought what happened during the shootout was illegal. But both Graver and Alejandro told her this is how it’s done in the real world and she has to deal with it. As the movie progresses, Macer starts to wonder if she’s in over her head and not sure if she could trust either of the men she thought had her back.

Sicario_EmilyBlunt

I can’t say that I’m a fan of Emily Blunt since I haven’t seen many of her work. But she’s very good here as the ambitious young agent who thinks she can make a difference. Basically she represents us the audience, she’s seeing this ugly world of drug war for the first time, there are no rules and innocent people gets kill in the middle of it. Brolin is his usual self; he’s a mysterious character that you don’t really know which side he’s on. Del Toro on the other hand, really shines in this movie. His character is a cross between James Bond and Anton Chigurh from No Country For Old Men. He’s a cold blooded killer that can’t stop, but there’s a reason behind his madness.

Sicario_Benicio

Director Denis Villeneuve did a great job of setting up the tension of every intense scenes but chose not to show the graphic violence you’d expect in this kind of film. The script by Taylor Sheridan is very well-written and full of twists and turns. For example, there’s a potential love story that I thought would derail the movie but then it turned ugly real fast. You think you figured something out, but he threw a curve ball at you.

Last but certainly not least is Roger Deakins‘ excellent cinematography, just like his other famous work, the shots in this film were all jaw dropping. There were a lot of wide shots of landscape and city that you have to see on the big screen to appreciate his beautiful work; maybe the Oscar voters will finally give him the golden statue this year.

With great performances, tight direction, well-written script and superlative cinematography, this is one of the year’s best films and I can’t wait to see it again. It’s very highly recommended.

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So have you seen SICARIO? Well, what did you think?

FlixChatter [Guest] Review: Only God Forgives (2013)

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Nicolas Winding Refn made a name for himself after directing 2011’s Drive, many thought that film should’ve been nominated for best picture at the Oscars. I really enjoyed it but I thought it’s more style-over-substance type of movie, so when Only God Forgives was announced as his next movie, I hoped it would actually be less style and more good storytelling. Unfortunately that was not the case, in fact OGF might be a prime example of a film that’s all style and not much substance.

The film begins with a scene at a Thai boxing arena, we’re first introduced to Julian (Ryan Gosling) and his brother Billy (Tom Burke). We then were shown that the boxing arena is actually a front for drug dealings runs by both Julian and Billy. Later Billy decided to go out and have some fun. He went to a local whore house and asked the pimp if he has any 14 year girls that he can have sex with. The pimp told him no and Billy went crazy and beat up him up. A few minutes later, Billy was able to find a young hooker on the street. The next scene we see cops are surrounding a hotel where Billy took the young hooker.

Here’s where we were introduced to Chang (Vithaya Pansringarm), he’s some sort of a police chief and pretty much the judge, jury and executioner. As it turned out, Billy raped and murdered the young hooker. Chang surveyed the scene and then brought in the hooker’s father, he let the father go into the room and beats Billy to death. Then Chang lectured the father about letting his daughter have sex for money, the father begged for his forgiveness but Chang decided to punish him by chopping one of his arms off. Later on, Billy’s and Julian’s mom Crystal (Kristin Scott Thomas) arrived from the States. She wants revenge for her son’s death and orders a hit on everyone who was responsible for his death.

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There’s isn’t much story in this film, it’s basically a revenge flick that involves people killing one another. Refn seems to be more interested in showing moving images than actually telling a story. Here he mimic other filmmakers such as Kubrick, Lynch, Malick and his idol Alejandro Jodorowsky. In fact, he dedicated this film to Jodorowsky and the film kind of reminds me of Santa Sangre, Jodorowsky’s weird thriller that involves a mother and son. Many shots in the movie reminded me of Kubrick’s The Shining and Lynch’s Blue Velvet. Then there’s the visual and music which reminds me of Malick’s films. I think this was one of the few films I saw where the cameras hardly moved, Refn seems to be using many steady cam shots and have his actors do most of the moving around.

Performance-wise, I think the actors did as well as they could considering that the script had no plot whatsoever. Gosling hardly spoke throughout the film, all he did was either stare at the actors across from him or walking around looking somber. I’m not sure what Refn wanted out of that role. I’m curious as to how the character would’ve turned had Luke Evans starred in it, he had to back out because of scheduling conflicts with The Hobbit. Pansringarm’s Chang is some kind of god or higher power being, he walks around with dark clothes and no one can seem to hurt or kill him, my assumption is that the film’s title refers to him. I think the best performance belongs to Kristin Scott Thomas, she reminded me of Gary Oldman’s performance in Leon: The Professional. It’s way over the top performance but you somehow believe that kind of person do exist in real life.

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There’s been a lot of talk about the film’s violent content and yes it’s quite brutal. But not as bad some of the more extreme films such as Irreversible, Hostel or any of those torture porn flicks. Refn actually cut away some of the more violent scenes or he just didn’t show it. I’m actually glad he did that because I don’t think I can handle some of the more brutal scenes, like the rape of the young hooker, I hate rape scenes, I find them more disturbing and disgusting than seeing someone getting their head blown off. Now he did show some quite violent sequences, especially the scene where Chang tortured a guy who put out a hit on him, that was hard to watch.

Despite my not-so-enthusiastic review, I actually enjoyed this film. It has some great visual shots, Refn and his camera guy really did a good job of capturing the gritty look of Bangkok. There are some cool action sequences too, I really like the way Refn set up the scene where Chang and his men were ambushed by a bunch of thugs. But the highlight sequence for me was the much-advertised fight scene between Julian and Chang. Those expecting a big fight like other martial arts films will probably be disappointed, the fight actually ended pretty quickly. Since Chang is an experienced kick-boxer, he was able to kick the crap out of Julian easily. Thai actress/pop star Yayaying Rhatha Phongam, who’s apparently a big star in her native country, plays a call girl whom Julian is a frequent customer, but her role is not really significant in the film.

With a better script that focuses more on storytelling and characters development, this could’ve been a great crime thriller. I wanted to know more about Julian’s relationship with his mother, it sort of implied that she had sex with both of her sons, which is why both of them are so messed up. Then there’s Chang. Even though he’s written as this sort of higher being, I wanted to know more about him. If this was written by Quentin Tarantino, I think it would’ve been a great gangster flick. Even though I have a lot of complaints about this film, I really liked it and probably will see it again soon. Fans of Drive might be disappointed though but if you’re a fan of Kubrick, Malick or Lynch, you might like this film.


3 out of 5 reels


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Thoughts on this film? Agree/disagree w/ this review? Well, let’s hear it!