Films of 2016

Films of 2016
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Review Casino Royale (2006): The making of a human bond.

genre: action, adventure, espionage

The first time I heard about this remake i was a bit skeptic. Later when I found out they would place the story in the present time I could see the possibilities. I must admit that I was disappointed the first time I saw this movie. But I understand why they had to change the Bond formula. Die Another Day was a fun movie but even for a Bond movie way over the top! Still a Bond movie has to contain gadgets, outrageous stunts and a lot of action. Since these are what make the movies stand out from other action adventures. Casino Royale has dismissed these and gone are the typical trademarks. So what is left? A new Bond, that is more realistic than his predecessors. James Bond has to rely more on his own strength and intelligence than before. And because of this he does make mistakes. This makes him very human. That aspect does deserve praise. After some considerable thought I think it was the right course to take. It's nice to see a realistic Bond handling matters. I never had doubts about Daniel Craig, I know he is a very good actor. And he is the main reason this Bond movie works! He actually saved the movie. A lesser actor couldn't have pulled of what he did. He managed to be vulnerable and human and at the same time be masculine and rough when needed. People don't seem to realize that this actually is Bond's first mission and that this movie is the prelude of the Bond we know from the previous movies. Daniel Craig makes this transformation very believable. As you can see in the end he finally has become 007. I know that for most it will take a while to get used to the new concept. But I think Craig has proven himself to be a very good Bond. It's a shame that he doesn't want to play the role anymore. Especially since he was awesome in Spectre. If only the movie itself were also. 

Overall this (together with Skyfall) should be counted as one of the best in the franchise. (Personally I prefer Skyfall because of  how it successfully blended the old and new Bond elements. Still don't let that detract you from watching this if you haven't yet.) 

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Review Marked for Death (1990): Memorable villain but everything else is average.

genre: action, martial arts

Two things I come to realize watching back older Steven Seagal films. One I sure was a lot more accepting and forgiving of bad films back then and second Seagal's style of fighting can be downright boring to watch.

Marked for Death was a film I enjoyed thoroughly the first time I watched it. Now having seen it again I was incredibly disappointed. So much so that at one point I was rooting for Screwface (the main villain of the story) to be successful in killing John Hatcher (Steven Seagal). But the guy apart from being creepy and scary was very ineffective. He basically was all show and talk. I don't mind lengthy monologues by villains as long as they back up those words by action and resolve. If you want to kill someone then just do it already. Don't waste precious seconds with useless rituals. Especially if most of these rituals are made up and make fun of real traditions and religions. 

John Hatcher is a burned out DEA agent who suddenly feels like there is no point in doing his job anymore. I could go into the reasons why he feels that way but it's not that important. All you need to know is that as far as he is concerned he is out of the game. Until he crosses paths with a Rastafarian gang member who he apprehends. From that moment on he is made an enemy of this Rastafarian gang lead by Screwface (played by Basil Wallace). After a drive-by shooting on his sister's place his niece gets wounded and this is when Hatcher has had enough and gets back into it and starts doing what he does best. As if being branded as an enemy was not enough Hatcher now is Marked for Death. For some reason though this newfound determination still is not enough for them to deal with Hatcher. All it does is making him angrier and as you and I know it's not going to be pretty if Steven Seagal is angry. Although it's hard to tell with Steven since he basically always looks the same. I assume he was. 

The action is what you expect but surprisingly enough less hand to hand combat. More like the bad guys waiting in turn to have their limbs torn and bones broken. And as exciting as this might sound it got boring after a while since one thing ruined it for me. No one is truly resisting him. There isn't a single person in the film that puts up a proper fight. Something I could have lived with if at least all of the combat was done stylishly. But it is here where I come to realize that Seagal's style of fighting is not that compelling to watch. In fact it is downright boring. All he does is basically grab other people's arms and then they roll making it seem like he is throwing them. And maybe he is the one doing it. Only it simply does not provide the eye candy I want. Because you see Seagal barely punches or kicks in this one. I know that is very typical to Aikido. However would it have hurt for him to do more? Or that he at least would get into fights with people who could dish out some pain on to him before he takes them out? 

Now there is one thing that redeems the film. No matter how cartoonish or ridiculous the mystique surrounding Screwface does help make him into an interesting villain. (He could have been more so but let's not get into that). You would think twice to take him on. So is this film worth your time? I think this is one best suited to watch very late at night or rainy Sunday. Otherwise stay clear.

Fun fact: Jimmy Cliff appears in this film with song John Crow. Apparently Steven Seagal also performed in this song. 

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Review Under Siege (1992): Die Hard on a battleship / One of Steven Seagal's best films!

genre: action, thriller

There is no mistaking that this film was trying to cash in on the success of Die Hard. But it's a well made copy since the formula seems to suit Steven Seagal perfectly.

It is actually very enjoyable to see Seagal come into action and kick ass wherever he goes. The cook named Casey Ryback right from the start is a pain in the ass to some of the staff. In particular Gary Busey. And from his many interactions we kinda know that Seagal is not just a cook. I am aware that this take on it is done to emphasize the surprise factor. Still, I do want to point out that there is nothing wrong with being a cook. In my book it's a profession that deserves respect. (Unless you are one of those that lack any creativity or passion for it.) Anyway it is clear that Casey is the John McClane of this story and that he will be fighting off bad guys left and right and eventually will save the day. He gets some unwanted assistance from Erika Eleniak as Jordan Tate who would scream her longs out and thus endanger them otherwise. But as it turns out she has more balls (no pun intended) than Damian Chapa as Tackman and is very useful to Ryback. (Whatever happened to her? Quick google search led me to her what I assume is her Twitter account which seems to be updated regularly. Only am not entirely sure if it is the real Erika. One of the links given does lead to a legit looking site called Cheryl Sabato Artist Management where she appears to be signed on as celebrity. Cheryl BTW is wife of Antonio Sabato Jr. another has been. He showed up at the Republican National Convention where he makes an embarrassment of himself. But I digress. Just wanted to give you this info in case you were wondering.)

Now one thing that I need to point is that I have seen this film a couple of times already and that the suspense element was completely absent for me. But I guess that this could be said for every film that follows the die hard formula. However most of you won't care about the suspense element too much since of course the main draw is the action. And the action of course is top notch. Seagal's style of fighting is a perfect fit for the close quarters combat. Even when at times you simply feel sorry for the bad guys since they obviously are no match for super cook Casey. But it is so much fun to see these ruthless and very capable terrorists get overpowered by this one man. Actually there is one beef I have with this film. All of the events play out on a battleship. These people are supposed to be the best that America has to offer. The toughest and bravest. But it only takes a few soldiers to take them out of commission? Come on. That simply is unbelievable. Hence you are required you suspend disbelief or shut off your brain. 

I have mixed feelings about the bad guys. Especially Tommy Lee Jones. He is not nearly as villainous as he could have been. I mean compared to Alan Rickman as Hans Gruber in Die Hard he is a pussy cat. I hate to say it but his role could have been played by anyone and it would not have mattered one bit. Their super plan also is incredibly unimaginative not to say outrageously stupid. But isn't it always? In the end even this ridiculous plot serves it's purpose just fine and contributes to one of the better Die Hard Clones ever made. If you have not seen this yet then you should. Especially if you need convincing if Steven Seagal also made some good movies in his career. 

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Review Righting Wrongs a.k.a. Above the Law a.k.a. Zhi fa xian feng (1986): Yuen Biao goes Charles Bronson / A Hong Kong Classic!

genre: action, crime, martial arts

Now when I say classic that doesn't mean this is a perfect movie. Far from it. However it does have some qualities to it that will never get tiring or boring.

There are quite a few big names involved that make this film into more than your average action flick. Corey Yuen directed and acts in this film. His character Bad Egg provides most of the comic relief but also is essential to the main plot. Then there is Karen Sheperd as Karen (very imaginative no?) who is beautiful but very deadly. Cynthia Rothrock has a prominent role as Cindy. She is an inspector for the CID and is in charge of this high profile vigilante case. This vigilante is named Hsia Ling-Cheng played by Yuen Biao. He is a lawyer who has lost faith in the judicial system and is strongly guided by his own sense of justice where he takes the law in his own hands and kills the guilty. Funny note is the fact that the law book given to him as a gift saves his life twice. Apparently the law has more faith in him than vice versa. Even understanding where he is coming from you might be under the impression he has a few screws loose. Only that thought or feeling will go away once you encounter the main bad guy of the story. I won't spoil it for you but let's just say he truly belongs in the hall of fame of most despicable villains.

There are very little distractions in the main plot. Every plot development is in functional and in service of the action. Even the comic relief bits between Bad Egg and Bad Egg's father (played by Ma Wu) are vital to the main plot as it leads to an event that has it's impact on both Hsia and Cindy. It is clear that this film wants to convey to you that the bad guys get away with everything and that the innocent suffer greatly because of this. It is exactly this feeling that sides you with Yuen Biao's character since honestly you would be inhumane if you don't.

With both Yuen Biao and Corey Yuen also choreographing the action and stunts I should not even have to tell you that the action is more than excellent. There are some jaw dropping moments for sure. Not as much as I would have hoped but then again I simply can't get enough of this so naturally I want more. Yuen Biao does some stunts that show why he is considered the most skilled of the Peking Opera School brothers (Sammo Hung, Jackie Chan, Yuen Wah, Yuen Biao, Corey Yuen and many more). Another thing that stands out is how brutal and violent the action is. Even if everything is make believe the way the action sequences are set up you get a sense it wasn't entirely safe. Watch the interview with Cynthia Rothrock and her experience on making the film. (Doesn't she look great? She is 59. )

Another example of the brutal action is the hangar scene that you just have to see to believe. Although it does depend on which version of the film you are watching since there is one with an alternative ending. But it is exactly this relentlessness in these Hong Kong flicks what appealed to me. Stylish action combined with darkness. Instead of just darkness and grittiness. There is a difference you know. So yes if for some reason you have not watched this gem yet then I can recommend this to you wholeheartedly.  

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Review Above the Law a.k.a. Nico (1988): Steven's Seagal film debut and among his best!

genre: action, crime, martial arts

This used to be one of my favourites. Now having watched it after so many years I feel it is not anymore. But don't let this influence you since it is still heaps better than any of his direct to video movies. And I can say that without having watched the majority of those. Because let's face it the Steven Seagal of now can't compare to the Steven Seagal that was.

You don't have to wait long to see why. In the introductory scene we see a young Seagal demonstrating his skills and immediately you will notice how fast he was. I mean lightning fast. His movements were very smooth and it really looks like he can handle himself in a fight. In many of his recent films he doesn't even do the majority of his fights himself anymore. Which if you think about it is real puzzling. Because that is the one thing we watch his movies for. Not in a million years would I ever watch his film for his acting unless he found some magic pill that suddenly makes him a decent actor. Although I do have to say that I never found Seagal to be a bad actor. Only you never could never separate the emotions he was supposed to be portraying. Maybe if you looked closely at his eye brows or something. Anyway no matter how you feel about him as an actor in his debut he does manage to have a commanding presence with his looks and mannerisms. You actually buy him as the hero who only wants to do good even if that means breaking a few bones here and there. Him being married to Sharon Stone though felt like reaching. But this was before she was a huge star and we knew what she was about. Pam Grier as Jacks plays his partner and she is designated the " I am too old for this..." role and somehow it suits her. I only wished she had been given more prominence because if you ask me it is very criminal not to use the fine actress she is to her full potential.

What can I say about the story? It's very preachy and supposedly very real and confronting. Maybe back at the time but now it's nothing new under the sun. It probably won't surprise you that Steven Seagal contributed in writing the script. And that the focus lies on the so called intrigue. This would not have been such a bad thing had it not detracted from the action that much. It may surprise you that there is not nearly enough action as in his later films. A shame really since it's the action that is the best what this film has to offer. But I have to say that there were some scenes where Steven cracked me up with his oneliners. Thug: " I don't think you can take us all, badass. " Nico shoots one of them and then replies: " No, but I'll get an A for effort. "  Another thing I liked was the soundtrack. Granted it was the same theme over and over again but it suited the film and that is what counts right?

So is this worth your time? While it has not aged well it still is better than the crap he is making nowadays and he is looking very good in his young years. So if you have not seen his debut yet then I would say it is worth your time.

Some fun facts: 

Steven Seagal broke the wrist of Sean Connery while training for Never Say Never Again.

He talks about his wrist being broken around 2:20.

Steven Seagal was involved as martial arts coordinator in The Challenge (1982).

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Review The Blonde Fury a.k.a. Female Reporter a.k.a. Righting Wongs II a.k.a. Shi jie da shai: For the fans of Cynthia Rothrock and Eighties Hong Kong flicks!

genre: martial arts, action

The Blonde Fury was marketed as a follow up to Zhi fa xian feng a.k.a. Above the Law (1986) starring Yuen Biao and Cynthia Rothrock. This time only Cynthia and a few other cast members return. Whether she is playing the same character from that movie is unclear. But it does not really matter much. It's not like there is much depth to her character. What is important though is the fact that Above the Law is one of the best action films made in the Eighties and very likely one of the main reasons will motivate people to watch this film. 

Cynthia Rothrock

Back in the day I watched whatever Hong Kong flick I could get my hands on. Above the Law (1986) was easily one of the best I had seen so naturally I was interested in what the sequel had to offer. At the time it was a no brainer for me to love it. So how does it hold up now? Well, in some elements pretty good actually. The action is superb as you would expect. But there aren't that many action scenes and the few that are present don't last that long. It could be argued that some of these action sequences are memorable Cynthia fighting bad guys on a scaffolding and big net certainly aren't scenes you will forget easily but do they truly impress? Now I would say no. When I watched this for the first time they did. 

For some reason director / actor Hoi Mang focuses on the plot a little too much where you are confronted with the typical goofy and comedic antics that will be lost on the Western audience. If you have watched as many HK flicks as I have it is something you get used to. So for me it never had been that big of an issue. However it does become one if it distracts from the action too much. Which is the case here. This is something you should consider in deciding to watch this film. However for the fans of Cynthia Rothrock and Eighties Hong Kong flicks you can't pass this up since it does offer some great action. (It's with films like these that I am miss watching stuff on VCR. You could fastforward through the scenes without missing anything.)

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Review The Wicker Man (1973): Highly overrated.

genre: horror, mystery

After reading so many praising reviews I was very motivated to watch The Wicker Man. First I considered watching the remake with Nicolas Cage first.  But nobody seemed to be happy with that version and decided to leave that alone for now. So I watched the original and to be honest I am at a loss of words. This movie has to be one of the most overrated movies ever made. If you can even call this a movie. It was more of a musical than a conventional movie about cult traditions. As a true thriller / horror this fails miserably.

Be warned this review will contain (mild) spoilers. 

From the moment Edward Woodward comes to the island it is obvious that something will happen to him. You don't have to be a genius to discover that. He is called to the island in order to find a missing girl.  During his investigation he soon finds out that strange things are going on like villagers running around naked, having sex on the beach, pagan rituals, villagers singing songs. And because of this he suspects foul play. After witnessing these strange events you really beginning to expect that the viewer also is being made a fool of. The so called twist isn't a twist but just an ending. Since the result of the event in the end doesn't get revealed. This annoyed me a great deal. What was the point of this movie? To entertain me, to shock me, to educate me on ignorance or other man's religion? This movie is neither thrilling, scary or exciting. I did laugh at some scenes since it was so ridiculous. But overall it was so dull and irritating. Not once does the sergeant call for backup. Maybe he was proud, but he seemed quite intelligent so why didn't he? And if you suspect foul play you are not going to announce that. Certainly not to the people who you can't trust. In this case the whole village couldn't be trusted. It could be that he was blinded by his sense of justice. But even then it is a bit far fetched that he didn't make more of an effort to leave the island to get help. I really tried my best to understand why many reviewers liked this movie. I can only speculate and will keep those thoughts to myself since they can be considered rude. I do think that this movie is really bad. If it wasn't for Edward Woodward, Christopher Lee and some beautiful women I would fall a sleep. I am not a fan of musicals and I already had doubts of combining song and dance with thriller elements. The result is a movie that thanks to strange events and some songs starts out interesting but ultimately fails in surprising the viewer. No matter from what angle you look at it. 

The real mystery and horror to me is the fact that they have made a remake of this poor movie. Why not make a movie about that thought and process? That would be far more intriguing and interesting than this.

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Review Sausage Party (2016): Fails as a satire and parody / Disappointing

genre: animation, comedy

The trailer of Sausage Party pretty much showed everything you needed to know about the animated film and it looked like it was going to be a lot of fun.  I was prepared for the worst joke wise especially knowing Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg were involved as writers. But it was all for nothing. Sausage Party barely has meat and certainly is not festive.

It's obvious that this animated film is trying to parody Pixar movies with their moral lessons about friendship and whatever they are trying to preach to you. Sausage Party especially takes a jab at Toy Story. However most of the jokes are far from witty and sharp. And the little that could be seen as clever gets bogged down by the juvenile approach to dialogue and story. There is a lot of cursing in this film which is fine if it actually came out naturally and unforced. But here it's used to a degree that it simply is done to appear adult and edgy. The same can be said about the sex jokes. No attempt is made to be original. Every joke that is in the movie is predictable to a tee. I was expecting some real creativity concerning this but apparently that is too much to ask these days. All of it is superficial and not witty one bit. 

Another thing that Sausage Party is trying to tackle is religion. It's so clear what they are going for and yes I can't deny that some of the points made sense. But everything was so pushed and forced that it never struck a cord with me. Perhaps this also was done on purpose and something they tried to make fun of. Only not once did it make me laugh. It felt like they were playing it safe and never had the intention to push the issues. Why not show more of the hatred between characters Sammy and Lavash who clearly were representing Arabs and Israelis? Or do more with them that would point out the disconnect between them? It was nice to have them realize they weren't that different from each other. Only it simplified this issue so much that it completely ignores the deep rooted political complexities attached to it. 

To be fair the lack of wit did not stand in the way of me wanting to enjoy this. I was very ready to embrace the crude physical comedy. But it is here where the laziness is exposed. Pretty much every event in this films plays out as you expect it to be. And that might be enough for some. For me it's not. I want to be surprised. I don't mind being shocked. Sometimes I want or even need to be. Only Sausage Party is never that shocking or crude. I can't believe I am saying this but I expected a lot more dirty jokes. And yes I have seen the finale and it is nowhere near as offensive or funny as it could have been. 

I do have to add that the voice acting is done well. Edward Norton as Sammy (parodying Woody Allen) was spot on. Both Kristen Wigg as Brenda the bun and Salma Hayek as Theresa the taco were sexy and charming. Is this enough to keep you watching? In my case it was but I can imagine that if you aren't in the mood for it that it will feel like a waste of your time. Especially if you were expecting to laugh non stop. Sausage Party therefore is a very disappointing film for me. 

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Review Veteran a.k.a. Beterang (2015): Simple but effective good versus bad tale!

genre: action, crime, comedy

One thing you have to understand about Veteran (directed by Ryoo Seung-wan) that it isn't a pure action flick. It has some decent enough action in it but that's not what it's about. Very important to be aware of in case you were expecting this.

Especially in the beginning you will be confronted with some crazy antics that could put you off the film since it's a little too comedic and silly. My advice is to be patient as the main story starts after 22 minutes or so. Can those first 22 minutes be ignored then? Not really. It perhaps is a little too long for an introduction but does set up a few essential elements of the film. You will get to know main character Seo Do-cheol (Jung-min Hwang) and what he is about and how he interacts with his friends and colleagues. He is not your perfect hero but he is a good man and cop who can dish out pain when required. At one point he gets involved into an a case concerning Chauffeur Bae (who he has worked with) and a big corporate director Jo Tae-oh (Ah In Yoo). I won't reveal that much about the case itself but it's safe to say that Jo is one of the most despicable human beings in the world. He is a prime example of a rich spoiled brat who thinks he can get away with anything solely for the reason that he is born into money. His character has very little to no likable qualities about him which make him very conveniently evil. But then again it is very serviceable in the good versus bad tale. All Seo Do-cheol wants is justice and humanity but apparently that is too much to ask from this corporation. Now the whole approach to the little man versus big corporate is over simplified where all of the members this particular corporation are soulless and evil. But it does a good job of symbolizing the frustration and anger people have when dealing with companies like this since they do seem to think they are above the law. It's made very clear where your loyalties should lie and it almost is therapeutic to watch Seo battle this corporation. 

While at this point the story is to be taken seriously there are many moments where the comedy shines through and will have you laughing. I thought this was done well and quite refreshing since it prevented the story from becoming too dark and negative. And actually it dialed down the melodrama considerably which usually takes center stage. I don't know about you but for me that is a big plus. In this day and age almost every movie wants to be dark, gritty and edgy only not every movie is suited to be approached like that. Besides if every movie is dark and edgy it simply loses the desired effect and becomes boring. It is very refreshing to see that there still are film makers who try to do things differently. Especially after The Berlin File which also is directed by Ryoo Seung-wan and that took itself far too seriously.

So what about the action? The stunts and action scenes are choreographed by Jung Doo-hong who you might know from Arahan and The City of Violence. And the action therefore is very good. At least it looked like our main character could handle himself in a fight. But like I said the focus is not on the action so there is not that much present which might be disappointing if you were expecting this. I wasn't and was rooting for main character Seo all the way since he is very likable and you want him to succeed in his quest to fight the injustice that has been done. Overall this a very entertaining film throughout but it is one that avoids complexities and substance just so you know.

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Review Now You See Me 2 (2016): Improvement on the original! It's a kind of magic.

genre: action, adventure, crime, thriller, mystery

If you would ask me what transpired in the original I honestly could not tell you. I know I enjoyed it but that for the most part I was disappointed since it was incredibly forgettable. Not so with this one.

This film managed to hold my attention throughout and make me laugh. I already was prepared for the magic tricks to be CGI heavy so I had no hope for these illusions to be real or realistic. It certainly helps to suspend disbelief in parts otherwise you will have a hard time accepting most of the events. Once I did I it was very easy to get carried away and join the horsemen in their adventure. Although there were some things that I thought this film could have done without. The double role of Woody Harrelson. He did a good enough job to distinct the two but other than that it was rather pointless. The other thing that bugged me slightly was Jesse Eisenberg. He is really starting to get on my nerves. Does he even have range? I mean how is his role any different from all the previous roles he has played? 

The acting for the rest is solid and how can it not be with names like Morgan Freeman, Mark Ruffalo, Michael Caine and Daniel Radcliffe. This is the first time Radcliffe played a villain. Not a very competent one but nevertheless a new direction for him and like always is splendid. Don't get your hopes up to much though he is not in this as much as I would have liked to. But that is not his fault. The film moves in quite a fast pace and event wise a lot is happening so it makes sense for his role to be minimal. Newest addition to the horsemen is Lizzy Kaplan who makes you forget all about Isla Fisher. Her character can be a little too energetic but she will grow on you. 

The story of course is centered about tricks and twists and while I figured out most of them long before they were revealed the way it was presented was cool and entertaining. Let's put it this way it made me feel like going to magic shows and embrace magic like I used to. So yes this sequel is definitely worth your time. 

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Review Reverb (2008): You will need an aspirin after watching this!

genre: horror

When I read the plot outline on IMDB I was expecting a creepier version of  Blow Out starring John Travolta. Which was an excellent thriller made by Brian De Palma in case you never heard of that title.  The first half hour looked like it was heading that direction and had my psyched. But then the story went where it should not have gone and made the mistake going over the top.  No subtle scenes. Very annoying cuts and use of sound that will make your eyes and ears hurt.  The what appeared to be clever thriller becomes a ridiculous horror that asks too much of your imagination. I understood what they were trying to do. To create a new horror icon that lives on through his music. And yes if you think about it that does sound like a cool idea if done right. But the way they executed it damaged the movie considerably. The actors weren't that bad so I won't blame them.  But the guy who edited this flick should be punished. Naturally he must have gotten the ok from director Eitan Arrusi whoever that is. (Has not done anything in the moviebizz after this film.) With an idea they had they could have created a brilliant thriller / horror. But this movie proves that a good idea alone isn't enough. You need someone who is able to make it work on the screen. And Eitan Arrusi clearly wasn't up to the task. 

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