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Reviews for December 18th, 2015

Inside Men

Directed by Woo Min-ho

      Woo Jang-hoon (Jo Seung-woo), a young prosecutor, desperately wants to boost his career, so he investigates political corruption involving in a smarmy congressman, Jang Pil-wo (Lee Kyeong-yeong), who yearns to become President. He discovers financial documents would serve as evidence of that corruption, and hopes to find them to make his case stronger. Ahn Sang-goo (Lee Byung-hun), a former political henchman, finds those crucial documents before Jang-hoon does, but ends up in serious trouble from his powerful superiors once they learn that he's made a copy of the evidence. Meanwhile, Kang-hee (Baek Yoon-sik), an editorial columnist for a newspaper can influence public opinion of politicians depending on what he writes. The Jang Pil-wo makes sure to befriend Kang-hee and ensure that he'll be well-paid if he ends up as President.

      Inside Men feels as thrilling as The Departed, and it has just as many twists and turns along the way. The screenplay by writer/director Woo Min-ho may seem complex, but it's not complicated as long as you pay close attention. By beginning with a prologue when Woo Jang-hoon is about to disclose the evidence of corruption at a press conference and then flashing back to the events that led him there, Inside Men becomes more intriguing than if it were 100% linear. Even though a lot goes on in terms of plot, that doesn't mean that it's all dry, pedestrian and exhausting like Tinker Tailer Soldier Spy---far from it. In fact, Woo Min-ho wisely incorporates just enough comic relief and exciting action sequences that help to loosen up and enliven the heaviness of the intricate, thought-provoking plot. The film is stylishly edited with a fast enough pace so that there are no dull moments to be found. Moreover, Jo Seung-woo makes for a very charismatic lead, and he has some memorable scenes with Kang-hee and Jang Pil-wo. Even though Inside Men clocks over 2 hours, it's still captivating, exciting and intriguing with edge-of-your-seat suspense. It's the best Asian crime thriller since Infernal Affairs.

Number of times I checked my watch: 0
Released by Dreamwest Pictures and Showbox.
Opens at Edgewater Multiplex Cinemas.


Directed by Jason Moore


Number of times I checked my watch: 6
Released by Universal Pictures.
Opens nationwide.

Son of Saul

Directed by László Nemes

      Saul Ausländer (Géza Röhrig), a Hungarian Jew, is forced to assist the Nazis as they exterminate Jews in the gas chambers at the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. One day, he comes across a dead boy in the death chamber, and feels an immediate connection to him as though he were his very own son. He desperately seeks to take the boy's corpse, to find a rabbi and to give him a proper Jewish burial.

      From the first frame until the last, the spellbinding Son of Saul unflinchingly immerses you in the experiences of its protagonist. You hear what he hears, you see what he sees and you'll also feel what he feels. Writer/director László Nemes and co-writer Cara Royer wisely keep the film lean in its story with minimal use of dialogue thereby trusting you as an intelligent audience member who can think and feel without being hit over the head with being told how and what to think and feel. There's a constant sense of dread throughout the film and suspense as you hope that Saul succeeds with his plans to give the boy a proper Jewish burial. It helps tremendously that Géza Röhrig is very well-cast by Éva Zabezsinszkij because he gives a very convincingly moving performance filled with a truly special effect called humanism. His face looks very expressive, so you can grasp what he's thinking and feeling even when he's not speaking. Images, sounds and atmosphere speak louder than words.

      Nemes and cinematographer Mátyás Erdély allow the camera to follow Saul very closely--he's always in the frame--which helps to hook you in even further on an emotional level. You'll find many quietly powerful, emotionally devastating scenes that will stay with you for a long time after the end credits roll. Interestingly, though, there's nothing in terms of gore to gross you out; Nemes and Royer leave that to your imagination thereby those scenes psychologically horrifying. Together with editor Matthieu Taponier, they keep the running time down to an ideal 107 minutes because it if it were past the 2 hours mark, it would have been too exhausting. Ultimately, Son of Saul is one of the most powerful Holocaust films since Schindler's List.

Number of times I checked my watch: 0
Released by Sony Pictures Classics.
Opens at Film Forum and Lincoln Plaza Cinemas.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Directed by J.J. Abrams

      Poe (Oscar Isaac), a Resistance fighter pilot, Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), goes on a mission to find Luke Skywalker with the help of an android, BB8, that has a crucial map inside of it that would lead directly to Skywalker. Finn (John Boyega), a stormtrooper for the First Order army led by Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), defects after witness an entire village being slaughtered by his own army, so he joins the Resistance instead. Eventually, a scavenger named Rey (Daisy Ridley) joins Finn, but the mission doesn't quite go smoothly because of several obstacles along the way. What those particular obstacles are won't be spoiled here because I don't want to spoil all fun and surprises to be found throughout the adventure.

      The new Star Wars: The Force Awakens delivers plenty of exciting thrills, thrilling action sequences and dazzling visuals that should please audiences a palpable level, but the screenplay by Lawrence Kasdan, J.J. Abrams and Michael Arndt also has a few poignant scenes that provide the film with a much-needed heartbeat beneath it all along with some witty comic relief. Those are its truly special effects; CGI and everything else that you consider to be special effects are what I call merely "standard effects." The plot itself may seem complex given that it's stuffed with so many different characters and lots of backstory, but it never becomes complicated or convoluted because there's just the right amount of exposition so that you can clearly understand what's going on without being confused. Nor does the film feel tedius or overlong; if it were 3 hours like The Lord of the Rings instead of 2 hours and 15 minutes, it would've overstayed its welcome and dragged. Yes, the dialogue lacks subtlety and there's not much room for interpretation, but, to be fair, I doubt anyone who watches Star Wars: The Force Awakens will be looking for subtlety anyway; if you want subtlety, go watch Brooklyn or 45 Years instead. Unlike those two very different films, though, Star Wars: The Force Awakens must be seen on the big screen preferably with a good surround sound system and large crowd that will cheer and clap during all of the rousing moments. On the small screen, it wouldn't be as much fun or immersive.

      A great film is as good as it's villain, and, in this case, Kylo Ren is quite an effective and memorable masked villain---and fortunately, you'll be able to decipher his words even when he speaks through his mask. It helps that the talented Adam Driver is very well-cast, and the same can be said about Domhnall Gleeson who plays General Hux, another high-ranking member of the First Order. The most radiant actors, though, are John Boyega and Daisy Ridley both of whom have charisma, great comedic timing and impeccable acting skills. Mark my words: they are destined to become big stars. Ultimately, Star Wars: The Force Awakens delivers everything you want in a Star Wars movie. It's worth waiting in line for, and lives up to the hype.

Number of times I checked my watch: 2
Released by Walt Disney Pictures.
Opens nationwide.


Directed by Joshua Yi

      Sun Wukong (Liuxun Zimo), the Monkey King, and Sha Wujing (Joshua Yi), the Sand Monk, along with Wang Dacui (Bai Ke White) set out on a quest to restore peace in the town of Stone Ox by attempting to defeat evil demons, i.e. a tiger demon, taking over the town. The film begins, though, one day into the future when a Buddhist monk named Tang Seng (Wilson Chen) passed by the town along with Wukong, Wujing and a pig demon (Mike D. Angelo) and notice that something wicked is going on over there.

      The best way to describe Surprise is that it's a wild, outrageous and anarchic action comedy that's pure escapist fun, as long as you're willing to check your brain at the door. The visual effects, especially when it comes to the demons, have an oddly charming 80's vibe. Writer/director Joshua Yi keeps the pace moving quickly, but most importantly, he sets the film's tone right from the get-go with an over-the-top action sequence. At times, though, the plot takes itself a little too seriously as it tries to add emotional moments into the mix which feel uneven, but, fortunately, those moments are ephemeral. It's toward the end with the non-stop action scenes where the film begins to feel a bit tedious and exhausting. Ultimately, though, Surprise is a wildly entertaining addition to the Journey to the West series of films.

Number of times I checked my watch: 3
Released by Magnum Films.
Opens at AMC Empire.
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