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We Own This City (2022): Biography/Crime/Drama

A chronicle of the unspeakable corruption of the Baltimore Police Department’s Gun Trace Task Force.

A must-see! We Own This City is not just a miniseries, it’s a case study. The more you go into it the more it divides you and the more it makes you question what you believe in. Political beliefs are based mostly on our readings and/or on our experiences in life. Again, the more we read and the more we experience life, these political beliefs of ours get either more enhanced or debunked. Needless to say that certain people just stick to the beliefs they were taught, learn nothing from life, and, inevitably, mentally stagnate. But that is another story for another time…

Based on the book by Justin Fenton, creators George Pelecanos and David Simon, and director Reinaldo Marcus Green stick to the facts and stun with their accuracy. While dramatised, the events displayed are purely shocking. Not just for the American audience who is, unfortunately, used to experiencing those events on a regular basis, especially African-Americans, but for the rest of the world that only gets quick snippets of those tragic events, and, if not most times, sometimes the distorted version of them. What Pelecanos, Simon, and Green have achieved is introduce right off the bat, in a non-linear manner all the main players and their involvement in this case as well as the set-up of the scenery of that case. Admittedly, even though too complex for my standards, they immediately cut to the chase and still manage to intrigue with that complexity. The intriguing factor though passes the torch on to the devastating corruption that constantly and increasingly keeps blurring the lines of legality and morality. What’s more, the deeper you get into it, the more you start questioning the already doubtful system, the role it plays, who it represents, the reason(s) it’s there as well as the way it has been developed, the people who pull the strings, and the way they are pulling them.

On the other hand, the series will make you question the role of society, the individual within it, and its relationship to that system. As We Own This City colourfully portrays, society comprises totally innocent individuals, minor criminals, and major criminals. Respectfully, the system comprises hard-working and honest people, apathetic ones, and deeply corrupted. The burning and realistic question that instantly rises then is: How is this going to work? How will a corrupted system be able to serve a corrupted society? A less burning and unrealistic question (yet tremendously important) is the oldest one in the book: Does the corrupted system ruin society or does the corrupted society unavoidably generate a ruined system (chicken/egg)? We Own This City addresses those questions, deliberately messes with your head, and provides academic food for thought once the 6th episode’s credits start rolling (and way after that).

Jon Bernthal, Wunmi Mosaku, Jamie Hector, Josh Charles, Dagmara Dominczyk, Delaney Williams, Treat Williams, and the rest of the beautiful cast AMAZE with their shockingly realistic performances, conveying the intended messages to the audience. Bernthal is an extremely diverse actor, a powerhouse, that deserves a lot of praise, and so does Hector. I remember how much I hated Marlo in The Wire (2004 – 2008) and how much I loved and empathised with Sean in this one.

You will love it! You absolutely will! It’s a must-see if you like series like The Wire and The Shield (2002 – 2008).

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Smile (2022): Horror/Mystery/Thriller

A patient’s suicide will lead a therapist down a dark path against a malevolent force.

Raises the stakes, and excites, but doesn’t fully deliver… There are numerous types of narrations that the camera can help convey to the audience. One of them is the “omniscient narration” where the audience gets to experience situations that the characters can’t. For example, be at multiple places at once and have background knowledge of the characters without them knowing it – they haven’t disclosed it, but you have seen it. This is part of the reason why you get to engage more with their suffering and the events surrounding them. But not only. Not wanting to bore you more with jargon, I’ll move on to what I believe matters while watching Smile.

For the horror part, the film successfully relies on the contradiction between the abhorrent anticipation of death and the eerie smiles right before it happens. Smiling is a feeling that should derive from happiness and not from a malevolent presence that totally ruins one’s life before taking it. And Smile effectively builds up the suspense that leads to the pending horrors. While the narrative is not original – a paranormal evil that forces people to harm others or themselves, and the protagonist, racing against time, needs to find a way to break that curse before it’s too late – Smile has certain strengths and weaknesses. Horror, in that respect, is the strong suit.

For the thriller part, the film utilises the fear of doubting oneself and the feeling of helplessness. And that feeling is especially enhanced when the heroine is meant to be an expert in explaining and controlling those emotions and feelings. Writer/director Parker Finn manages to balance those two genres really well and offers a refreshing perspective on something that has been said and done numerous times before.

The script’s weakest point is Rose trying to explain what is happening to her to the people around her. Being a doctor, even deeply and severely traumatised, she should be able to convey her message in a slightly less “crazy” manner; rationalise it in a more effective way, at least, to the people that she should have known how they would react. In that respect, the drama isn’t as powerful as the situation demands it to be.

As I’ve said numerous times before, it’s worth mentioning that none of the efforts behind the camera would matter if the cast in front of the camera didn’t deliver. Sosie Bacon, first and foremost, and all the supporting cast deliver convincing performances that increase the believability of something extraordinarily unrealistic such as the specific supernatural force. And while at it, the fact that Finn chooses not to explain its origin or its true motives is something that you will judge.

On a different note, I guess here there is a discounted underlying message given (or not) in a Hollywood manner. The invisibility and therefore unpredictability of mental illness that constitutes it harder or even sometimes impossible to diagnose, let alone treat, makes the person suffering from it… all alone. And that’s infinitely scarier drama than any CGI.

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Emily the Criminal (2022): Crime/Drama/Thriller

After being constantly rejected due to her past, a young woman is pulled into the criminal underworld where she sinks deeper and deeper.

Bold, manipulative, and real! Shoulder-mounted camera and tracking shots always raise the bar high. The story is straightforward from the very beginning. She has skills, but she has a past, and if she ever wants to make money, she has to go rogue. And writer/director John Patton Ford and actress Aubrey Plaza capture that from the opening shot. That mockery disguised in an interview’s clothes, the first job’s minor suspense, the second job’s increased tension, the painful reality of constantly working paycheck to paycheck and still making less than what you have to pay out, and the harsh realisation that your life keeps endlessly amounting to absolute nothing, gradually and painfully unfold like visual poetry. The question becomes then, what happens when the shit hits the fan after all the choices that one has made but they didn’t seem much of a choice at the time? Other than Plaza, Theo Rossi does a great job as Youcef (massive fan of him since Sons of Anarchy) and Gina Gershon lights up the shot she’s in even if she appears for a split second.

Excellent thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat and will make you doubt the honesty you think you have with yourself. Is Emily turning to crime just because “the system” lets her down or has always been the criminal she revealed herself to be? Again, brilliant performances and brilliantly paced, built up and escalated.

Ultimately, what has always been known becomes once more apparent; the crime world has one rule, there are no rules. And the one thing that is certain, is that nothing is.

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P.S. Thoroughly thought title!

P.P.S. If you’ve been to such interviews, you know. You know…

The Twin (2022): Drama/Horror/Mystery

After losing one of their twins in a tragic accident, a family of three relocates to Finland only to face a devastating reality.

Great ending, but somewhat lost on its way there. Let me start with a major concern because, overall, it’s a worth-watching horror with a great lead. The death of the kid (inciting incident) is discounted. This is by far the worst tragedy a family can face and it happens straight away and you don’t get to see a thing. There are visual manipulations that could manipulate the event and still make you feel lost for words. If you had visually experienced something, Rachel’s (Teresa Palmer) reaction would have shuttered you, and the rest of the family’s reactions would have affected you more. It just happens too fast, too soon. Having said that, let’s move on.

Understandably, Elliot’s behaviour becomes the thriller’s epicentre and the basic suspicion that something is fundamentally wrong. Due to preexisting knowledge, you know what has happened (or not), you just don’t know how it happened and, consequently, how it can be reversed. Revealing the “true” reason behind it is the first twist, something that will add flavour to the narrative and you’ll want to see where this is going. The convolution of the second one though, will make you question what you already know or you think you know, and, when it all comes to full circle, it’ll be up to you to decide whether it all made sense or not and if it was what you thought it was. If you ask me, the drama prevails while the horror fails.

After everything was said and done, I expected more of a European school of filmmaking from director Taneli Mustonen and not Hollywood. Representative examples of my expectations would be The Hole in the Ground (2019): https://kaygazpro.com/2022/05/16/the-hole-in-the-ground-2019-drama-horror-mystery/ and The Innocents (2021): https://kaygazpro.com/2022/03/23/the-innocents-2021-drama-horror-mystery/. Pay attention to Daniel Lindholm’s photography, it’s thrilling! Furthermore, loads of credits go to Teresa Palmer who deserves attention that she has not received. Again, if you would like to see her in something more realistic and European, I’d recommend Berlin Syndrome (2017). She’s brilliant!

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P.S. If you are interested, in my podcast, I have extensively looked into the role of kids in horror films by talking with the exceptional Michelle Satchwell: https://kaygazpro.com/2020/09/09/kids-source-of-evil-vs-source-of-resolution/. I’m sure you’ll find it illuminating.

Don’t Worry Darling (2022): Drama/Thriller

In the 1950s, a housewife starts gradually suspecting that the ostensibly peaceful suburbia she lives in is nothing like it seems to be.

Intriguing concept, but lacks depth. Suburbia, defined gender roles, Mccarthy’s paranoia, and a hint of mystery blend into an overly euphoric society that raises questions from the very beginning. Who are they? Where are they? Why are they there? What are the men doing? Why are they doing it? I’m not asking more so I don’t spoil it.

While all the ingredients are there and the premise of the film is intriguing, the plot lacks depth. Without telling you much, due to preexisting knowledge of certain mystery films, you will quickly get the idea of the town’s conspicuous facade. Once you do, what you can hope for is for something totally extraordinary to happen that will make you say: I didn’t see that coming! Will you be blown out of the water when you least expect it? I’ll leave that up to you to figure out.

Since its birth, art had always been questioning society and the world we live in. The film industry has done it on numerous occasions – I’m not naming films to not betray the narrative – and Don’t Worry Darling is no exception. Shane and Carey Van Dyke’s story and Katie Silberman’s script are exciting and Olivia Wilde’s lens captures that excitement but not necessarily the thrill; the suspense’s buildup and climax. Does it worth a watch? Yes. Even though there is an agenda that reflects today’s troubled and confused society? Yes. To me though, Don’t Worry Darling is a prime example of theory contradicting practice. It is directed by a woman with the intent to empower women, but, in reality, both men and women messed it up in the process and the film paid the price. For more BS on Hollywood trying to be diverse, ask actress KiKi Layne on what she has to say: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt10731256/trivia?item=tr6531755

Florence Pugh, Harry Styles, Olivia Wilde, KiKi Layne, Gemma Chan, Chris Pine, and the rest of the cast perform well, but surely you’ll find their performances a lot better elsewhere.

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P.S. Half of the main cast is British.

All Quiet on the Western Front (2022): Action/Drama/War

The atrocities of WWI as seen through the eyes of a young soldier.

A brutal and soul-wrenching view at the real face of war… Walking on the shoulders of giants, such as Apocalypse Now (1979) Saving Private Ryan (1998), and Red Thin Line (1998), All Quiet on the Western Front earns its rightful place in the pantheon of war films.

The first element that stands out is James Friend’s captivating photography. The beautiful landscapes will be the first visual to catch your attention… followed by the human justification of the worst violence, called war. While perfectly framed, its ugliness remains daunting and always unspeakable.

Based on the book by Erich Maria Remarque, director Edward Berger has managed to pull off what seemed impossible in recent years; the atrocities of a war that tormented a whole continent and changed the fate of the rest of the world. While this is the third film based on the book, Berger claims that it is another adaptation of the book and not a remake of the previous two films that owe their success to the horrendous events described by Remarque who experienced that war firsthand. And so does this one. All Quiet on the Western Front is Germany’s official submission for the Best International Feature Film category of the 95th Academy Awards in 2023 and also Germany’s most expensive Netflix film. It is worth noting that none of the wonderful efforts behind the camera would matter if the people in front of it didn’t do such an excellent job. Felix Kammerer, Albrecht Schuh, Aaron Hilmer, Moritz Klaus, Edin Hasanovic, Daniel BrΓΌhl, and the rest of the cast’s performance is purely triumphant.

Warning: This is not an easy watch. It depicts realities that no generation can tolerate, especially ours. Yet, certain human monsters, as I compose this, make people relive those abhorrent years while they enjoy the comfort of their own couch and warmth.

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The Stranger (2022): Crime/Drama/Thriller

An ostensibly random encounter turns into an elaborative secret operation against a prime suspect of a heinous crime.

Slow-burn, dark, compelling, and different! The Australian filmmaking school at its best! The introduction, disclosure, and development of Mark and Henry will blow you out of the water. This is the character development that film schools refer to. Who they were in the first act and who they are revealed to be in the end will keep applying constant pressure against your chest. By unfolding these characters along with the mission’s extent and nature, writer/director Thomas M. Wright creates a mixture that slowly and mentally painfully comes closer and closer to imploding. The charismatic thespians Joel Edgerton and Sean Harris put heart and soul into their characters and, while I usually say “shine” in front of the camera, in this instance, they put life’s light out, hence that constant pressure on your chest. Jada Alberts’ performance immensely contributes to the deprivation of the human psyche’s light.

There is not a lot I can say without ruining the experience for you so I can only urge you to turn off your lights and put your phones on silent to enjoy an incredible Australian cinematic experience. The script is solid, the editing converts the story into an intricate plot, and everything you get to know, you get to know it when you need to and not when you want to. Interestingly, what you don’t get to know is hinted at or implied, leaving it up to you to interpret it – the polar opposite of what Hollywood offers.

The beginning, as well as the ending, are visual poetry. The narrated images serve as an expression of feelings that eerily initiate and befittingly conclude this journey. Based on the book by Katie Kyriacou and a real-life haunting case, Wright creates a dark and heavy-on-the-soul masterpiece that, once seen, will not be easily forgotten.

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Barbarian (2022): Horror/Thriller

A woman arrives at her Airbnb rental only to confront horrors beyond her wildest nightmares.

The epitome of suspense and the confusion after that…

From a filmmaking point of view: What a 44-minute thrill! A slow-burn thriller that cuts your breath short by manipulating you as to who Keith (Bill SkarsgΓ₯rd) is. Can be trusted? Is he who he claims he is? Is Tess (Georgina Campbell) overly suspicious about nothing? What would you do if you were her? Her relatable character and the predicament she has to face become the solid foundation of suspense and the driver to move the story forward. And then an unexpected, horrific, and atrocious nightmare begins and unimaginably escalates – no spoilers… By cutting to AJ (Justin Long), all writer/director Zach Cregger does is leave you hanging, on one hand, but, on the other, he provides a great introduction to him, what has happened to him, and, once more, urges you to decide as to whether he is who he claims he is or someone who is accused of being. Furthermore, he eventually connects the stories perfectly. Without telling you how much later on, Cregger cuts to the “answers” of burning questions that ultimately (unintentionally?) create more. From then on, I’ll leave it up to you. Tone, pace, and rhythm change, and the narrative takes an even more unexpected turn. Last but not least, a lengthy round of applause goes to Campbell, SkarsgΓ₯rd, and Long who give exceptional performances.

From a sociopolitical point of view: A cleverly camouflaged (but not enough) “woke” film… The role of the white, heterosexual male, the role of the female ethnic minority, and the role of the police, to name but a few, are laid out there for you. I was in two minds at first, but the moment I heard about Reagan (no spoilers) it all became clear. Political agendas made films. From The Birth of a Nation (1915) to Oktober (1927), to Casablanca (1942), to John Wayne, to the white, heterosexual, overly muscular American “hero” of the Reagan administration, to today… films always had an agenda. Arguably, back then was a lot more difficult for the average cinemagoer to spot these agendas, but nowadays they become clear as rain. And, for me, it is off-putting. The agenda takes the focus from the narrative and places to politics. Something that you will not spot as often in independent productions as their aim is a lot more focused. Hollywood and forced-down-the-throat agendas go way back, but the good news is that there are still films out there that effortlessly aim to elevate strong female protagonists and minorities that Hollywood has been neglecting for so long and now is trying to “prove” it has been reformed (see comments on previous films I have reviewed on forced diversity).

To sum it up, the best and scariest part is the layering – distinguished and emphasised by the highly skillful editing. Hands down, one hell of a ride to hell on earth: What could possibly be beneath something that creepily lurks underground? Then, the worst and most uncalled-for part is its political agenda.

Regardless, I hope you enjoy it. It’s really worth the shot!

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Halloween Ends (2022): Horror/Thriller

Michael Myers faces Laurie Strode for one last time, massacring whoever stands in his way.

Mixed bag of feelings but highly recommended. I’ll keep this one deliberately short as I’d love you to watch it and make up your mind. I did recommend Halloween Kills (2021): https://kaygazpro.com/2021/10/30/halloween-kills-2021-horror-thriller/ and I definitely recommend this one. Halloween Kills provides a great sequel to Halloween (2018) and also provides an answer to the most significant question of both the canonical and non-canonical films: Why does Michael Myers seem invincible… on Halloween day? Respectively, Halloween Ends provides the ending (?) all Halloween films – especially the canonical ones – deserve (?). Maybe, on the way there you’ll pick on a few “narrative discrepancies”, but, no matter what, an end needs to be put to the saga of Michael Myers who had been leaving behind him piles of bodies and very long blood trails, for a very long time (?).

David Gordon Green helms it one more time, balancing action, drama, comedy, and horror in a way that let many fans down and even though some of the “accusations” have a solid basis, some of them are as brutal as Myers. What needs to be said is that Jamie Lee Curtis is still the iconic Laurie Strode who set the solid foundation of the modern dynamic on-screen heroines.

Despite its flaws, I hope you enjoy it. It’s Halloween and this one seems to be the appropriate film/finale for the “spooktacular pumpkin period” (bad joke, I know).

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The Midnight Club (2022): Drama/Horror/Mystery

Eight terminally ill young men and women find companionship at a place where nothing is what it seems and gather at night to exchange horror stories.

Millennial horror with some pleasant surprises! So… It is presented as if Ilonka gets the short straw in life and she happens to find… Hold on… that’s not right. A seventeen-year-old getting the news that they are going to die soon should not be treated as a “short straw”. It’s heartbreaking, demoralising, earth-shattering… actually, it’s something that cannot be described in words. And, here, it’s been described a lot and utterly watered down. Then, to an even greater extent, apply that to every kid involved.

As if that’s not enough… one of my favourite worst practices in films nowadays, the one that I have spoken about numerous times, can also be found here; the forced diversity. And whoever thinks that Hollywood gives everyone an opportunity in this way and that I shouldn’t be a stuck-up b!@Β£#, I would say that I only accept that theory if everyone couldn’t as well be an underwear or a fragrance model. Where is the opportunity for obese young’uns or unattractive youngsters? All of them are good-looking young men and women and that’s amazing, but destroys the illusion of whatever realism can a series like this offer, distracts from the story, undermines human intelligence, and only becomes a crowd-pleaser. More credits, on this occasion, will have to go to Ruth Codd (Anya) whose character allows her to be more expressive than the others.

Other than that, here’s what you sign up for: Editing that cuts to close-up reactions so you constantly know exactly how everyone feels. Dialogues that are 100% scripted where everyone knows exactly what to say, how to say it, when to say it, and who to say it to. Jokes that are not funny. Childish misunderstandings and childish reactions to them, emphasised by the editing mentioned above. Then, as also mentioned above, clichΓ©d characters portrayed by model-like actors/actresses who challenge nothing, really.

As for the stories themselves, they are original. They are great bedtime stories, and while not horror, they are eerily entertaining. Their narrative will hype you up, but the visuals will somewhat let you down. I believe it would be great if one could listen to these stories in an audio form (podcast?). This way, our own images would have been created and we would have, potentially, enjoyed them more.

It seems like I don’t have a lot of positives to say so, I’m going to stop here. Part of the reason is that Mike Flanagan has raised the bar very high with his previous miniseries and films and this one, cannot possibly reach it. It has nothing to do with the actors and actresses. They shine in front of the camera, and I’m glad they all look so gorgeous. It is Flanagan who seems that he didn’t take their terminal state seriously and therefore their characters are as superficial as they are. As I have mentioned in a previous review, on Dahmer (2022): https://kaygazpro.com/2022/10/18/dahmer-monster-the-jeffrey-dahmer-story-2022-biography-crime-drama/, Netflix is responsible for superficial and mindless entertainment as well as films and series that can shock you to your core. Unfortunately, The Midnight Club belongs to the former category.

I am not sure how much control Flanagan had over this project so, if you’d like to watch a few of his best works, I definitely recommend The Haunting of Hill House (2018), The Haunting of Bly Manor (2020), and The Midnight Mass (2021) – And, hopefully, The Fall of the House of Usher (2023) will be as amazing!

Despite my negative review, I would like to conclude with something that I got from the series’ overall vibe. Life is priceless and the ones who are fortunate enough to get to live it should not take it for granted. Because the less fortunate ones put up a real fight for it.

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Hellraiser (2022): Horror/Mystery/Thriller

The infamous puzzle box is found by a troubled young woman who will, inevitably, have to confront the merciless Cenobites.

Watching the trailer I couldn’t help but ask myself, what’s wrong with it? Well, for starters, it didn’t look “dirty” enough. Then, it didn’t look gory, it revealed too much in too little time, and, consequently, didn’t leave much to look forward to. Anyway, the marketing could have been rubbish so, I couldn’t wait for the film itself.

The inciting incident, at the billionaire’s mansion, will get you hooked but will not excite you. It’s a good start but it could have been a lot more. The characters themselves are decent, more investment has been made in Riley, and Odessa A’zion nails it as a troubled personality. The rest were so and so. Therefore, whatever happens to them as the narrative unfolds, will not bring tears to your eyes and you probably won’t even say ‘oh no!’.

Speaking of narrative, the film follows the same recipe its predecessors did, offering really nothing new or groundbreaking. The only “new” is the digital VFX and make-up that do the film no favours whatsoever. Unfortunately, that is an even greater weakness than the narrative because it makes the Cenobites look… fake. And if they look fake, the illusion of their “reality” crumbles. Hellraiser (2022) is the typical example of the parts being greater than the sum – when it should have been the other way around.

Favourite moments include, and are unfortunately limited to: the beginning of the bathroom sequence, the beginning of the infirmary sequence, and the introduction of the notepad. The bathroom doesn’t come through – nothing happens, the infirmary gets you excited – and leaves you hanging, and the notepad, as informative as it may be, is not enough to make it the film it deserved to be. A film that represents unfathomable gore, twisted darkness, and unbearable infliction of pain.

Here’s my advice, if you want to discover director David Bruckner’s real talent watch these: VHS (2012) – his, but also all segments, Southbound (2015) – a favourite of mine, The Ritual (2017): https://kaygazpro.com/2018/10/26/the-ritual-2017-horror-mystery-thriller/ (one of my earliest reviews, really synoptic), and The Night House (2020) https://kaygazpro.com/2021/10/27/the-night-house-2020-horror-mystery-thriller/

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Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story (2022): Biography/Crime/Drama

The chronicle of the life of Jeffrey Dahmer, experienced through the lives of the people who knew him, or thought they knew him, and the ones who were unfortunate enough to cross paths with him.

It’s almost Halloween so this is my first choice for this festive period. A different type of boogeyman. A real one…

So far, Netflix has been behind superficial and mindless entertainment that makes one wonder how and why they could spend millions on such productions, and, on the other hand, it is responsible for films and mini-series that can shock you to your core. Dahmer is a representative example of the latter. Ryan Murphy, the man behind American Horror Story (2011), is hell-bent on making you feel uncomfortable and he 100% succeeds in doing so. While taking that into consideration, please, read below my review / short analysis, and, if you haven’t watched it, maybe pay attention to certain details. Then, if you have, even retrospectively, use my two cents to compare it to what you thought of it. My aim is to “bullet point” the way the narrative has been approached. Murphy…

… Throughout the episodes spends a significant amount of time trying to “blueprint” the reasons why Dahmer became the “person” he became. Reasons include, but are not limited to:

  • The hernia and anesthesia (mentioned twice).
  • Mother’s paranoia and lack of love.
  • Dad’s obsession with roadkill dissection.
  • The parent’s divorce.
  • Society’s homophobia (instigated the first murder?).
  • The police’s incompetence (mentioned numerous times) and its cinematic depiction give a justification or seek a reason behind Dahner’s psychopathic and murderous tendencies. I presume there is an argument there that if he had been caught and stopped, these tendencies wouldn’t have developed (Dahmer mentions it had become too easy).
  • Towards the end though, Dahmer himself suspects that he was probably born like this…

It feels like the blame needs to be shared or has to be put on someone so Dahmer’s mentality and, consequently, actions make, somehow, sense. Pay attention to how much attention is given to the police not caring. Pay attention to the montage (thoughts) after his father asks himself if he could have done more and how deeply he blames himself. Pay attention to how the system didn’t care to counsel him and even let him go with a slap on the wrist after he got caught masturbating in public.

… Throughout the episodes shifts the focus of the series.

While the whole series is provocative and all episodes are spine-chilling, episode 6 is the one that, in my humble opinion, raises the most concerns. Tony Hughes is shown being born, loved, and struggling in life, but being nothing but optimistic. Murphy gets the audience to love him more than any other character and that is right after he got us wondering whose fault it is that Dahmer became one of life’s biggest mistakes and after taking some of the blame off of him to pass it around. Murphy, on this occasion, tricks us into believing that there could have been hope for Dahmer if he had found love, unconditional or otherwise, but, inevitably, hope painfully dies everywhere around him, after all. My question here is simple: Why? Why would you shift the focus like that halfway into it? What is the endgame? What is he aiming at as a filmmaker?

… Revisits the police’s incompetence for one last round.

So, the loss of faith in the system, again. Glenda’s story is one of the countless testimonials where incompetent people undermine others, considering them inferior because they look different. Another question: Who knew that incompetence ruled for so long (and still does)? Answer: Everyone did!

… Treats Jeffrey Dahmer as a case study.

Making it to the last two episodes, it’s not only the focus that shifts this time but also the tone. While it is undoubtedly brilliantly made, the last two episodes become what the rest of the series had avoided that far; “too” Hollywood. The series could as well have ended in episode 7 and further details, such as life in prison, and more, could be delivered with title cards. Yet, this is not the case. The comparison to serial killer John Wayne Gacy opens the door for Murphy to raise yet another question: Could someone like Dhamer be forgiven? Also, can someone like him find Jesus, repent and truly change? I think the answers have been given previously (see Episode 6) and there is no reason to keep investigating that. Furthermore, I believe that Murphy wanted to raise even more questions (as if there is not enough to take in that far): Could the two serial killers be considered as one and the same? In other words, do their motives differentiate them or should they both be treated socially, clinically, and legally the same way? Be it as it may, to me, the only positive here is that we get more of Niecy Nash’s wonderful acting.

And that applies to every actor/actress participating in the series. Without the charismatic acting of, first and foremost, Evans Peter, and then Richard Jenkins, Molly Ringwald, Michael Learned, Karen Malina White, Rodney Burford, Shaun Brown, and everyone who even briefly appears in front of the camera, the series wouldn’t have been the same.

Conclusion

The series is, purposefully, manipulative and the order of the tragic and horrific events becomes, cinematically, as important as the events themselves. The non-chronological way of telling the story, the importance of when to start and how to finish, and what to include and what to leave out are all part of a narrative that, as stated above, is meant to shock. Every episode becomes a testament to Dahmer’s character, and every episode builds up his gradual monstrosity, which raises more and more questions about the world we live in. Speaking of the monstrosity, I’ll leave you with some food for thought. Keeping in mind that this is a real person when the series’ title reads: Dahner – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story, what kind of monster does it refer it to?

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P.S. It’s funny how Netflix raises the issue of Lionel Dahmer profiting from the book and the publishing company from the graphic novel. If you know what I mean…

Vesper (2022): Adventure/Drama/Sci-fi

After an apocalyptic disaster, a girl with certain skills and her paralysed father are trying to find a cure for the planet while trying to survive.

Intriguing, refreshing, beautifully flawed, and utterly atmospheric. Human hubris… the cause behind the apocalypse in numerous sci-fi/thrillers becomes here as well the reason behind our world’s ending. Thinking of knowing what we are doing and having mastered God’s complex we once more ruined nature and she triumphally returned the favour. From then on, it’s just a matter of surviving, adapting, and trying to find miraculously a solution to the calamity we so successfully caused.

As stated in the beginning, it is refreshing but not necessarily original. Having said that, it is a (cinematically) satisfactory and at the same time unpleasant view of how our post-apocalyptic world would look if that certain disaster occurred (no spoilers). Unlike Hollywood, the visual effects here only serve the narrative’s development without overshadowing it and without attempting to impress you. Writers/directors Kristina Buozyte and Bruno Samper offer a unique European perspective, made in the rural landscapes of Lithuania. Extra credits should be given to the cinematographer Feliksas Abrukauskas for the eerie and nightmarish mise-en-scΓ¨ne (everything that exists in the frame). Last but not least, a huge round of applause goes to the film’s wonderful cast: Raffiella Chapman, Eddie Marsan, Rosy McEwen, and Richard Brake.

Highly recommended to hardcore sci-fi fans and to everyone who loves paying attention to details!

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Speak No Evil (2022): Drama/Horror/Thriller

After meeting accidentally in Italy, a Dutch and a Danish couple meet up again for a weekend in the Dutch countryside where things go awfully wrong.

Shockingly suspenseful! It is the little things that will make your heart skip a beat. While nothing is ostensibly happening in Italy, Sune Kolster’s music wants you to know that something will happen. What seems innocent or just odd in the beginning will get unbearably awkward and uncomfortable later. The slow-paced editing builds up the narrative in a manner that makes the audience a narrator who knows more than the Danish couple. But neither we nor them can foresee what is about to happen. A prime example of editing (or lack thereof) is the moment where Agnes is told what to do on the table – the perfect establishment shot that involves actions/reactions simultaneously is like a volcano ready to errupt. Other instances of incredible pace and rhythm involve the dancing competition and then the chaos that follows after that.

There is nothing much to say without ruining the experience for you so I’ll keep it short and conclude with the great acting. Morten Burian, Sidsel Siem Koch, Fedja van HuΓͺt, Karina Smulders, and the kids play beautifully their part (I’m sure the kids don’t have the full picture), adding to a realism that will cut your breath. Writer/director’s Christian Tafdrup visual explication of evilness becomes a spine-chilling reminder that, arguably, the invention of monsters such as werewolves, vampires, and zombies might be our way of coping and/or even projecting a possessed “darkness” that we could never admit to ourselves…

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Amercement (2020): Drama

A small-time drug dealer struggles to get a legitimate job and, before knowing it, he dives deeper and deeper into the criminal world.

A reality that doesn’t sound like Greek to any Greek. Co-writer/director Fokion Bogris captures through his lens the reality of the Athenian streets and the petty, unorganised crime like few have before him. From a narrative’s point of view, using profusely “lowlifes”, Bogris challenges toxic masculinity, personal and social insecurities, and homophobia through characters that have loads to hide and plenty to lie about. Everyone wants to “score big” or live the “easy life” with the least possible effort, crossing the lines of immoral and illegal without even realising it or caring about it.

From a filmmaking point of view, he creates a neo-noir atmosphere and a sense of realism that numerous members of the Greek audience will identify themselves with. While “realism” in film theory is a subject that opens a lot of cans of worms that make theorists (endlessly) argue with each other, in this instance, what I mean is that, through its minimal editing, it reduces the shot-reverse-shot techniques and, depending on the subject matter, it focuses on either the action or the reaction. In either case, both become – intentionally or unintentionally – funny as, more often than not, the characters’ close-ups express the intended feelings. The same applies when all characters are included in the shot and the audience gets to experience everyone’s feelings simultaneously. Add the colossal amount of slang and vulgar language to the mix and the result enhances the realistic effect to the point of surrealism; a movement that, arguably, can characterise numerous societies nowadays.

That particular filmmaking path, paved initially by writer/director Yannis Economides, has upped the game for the Greek cinema and the Greek filmmakers and has given the actors the opportunity to express themselves in a way they struggled to do before, present society in a way that could not be really presented before, and make a statement that the Greek cinema can be as competitive and daring as anybody else’s. Having said that, that school of thought wouldn’t exist now if filmmakers such as Theodoros Angelopoulos, Pantelis Voulgaris, Constantine Giannaris, and Panos H. Koutras (and many more) hadn’t offered so much to the film industry.

Finally, the last round of applause goes to the cast that shines in front of the camera: Vagelis Evangelinos, Stathis Stamoulakatos, Maria Baloutsou, Vasilis Anastasiou, and Sissy Toumasi.

Amercement is definitely worth your while as it’s an eye-opener, “welcoming” its audience to the dark side of the… world as you know it.

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Fall (2022): Thriller

In an attempt to rekindle their friendship, two young women decide to climb a 2,000-foot radio tower where they get trapped.

The daring opening sequence that will get you excited will be immediately followed by clichΓ©s that could have been easily avoided. By cutting to the bar, closing up to the whisky glass, and, over somber music, explaining the emotions that are simultaneously shown, the filmmakers miscalculate already the audience’s intelligence. Not a good start, admittedly. What’s done right after that is the tower’s build-up. The editing’s pace and rhythm warn you that this is a beyond expression bad idea, but if they wouldn’t go for it, the film wouldn’t have been made and we wouldn’t be talking about it.

So, the main sequence, the tower’s climbing, and reaching the top… is absolutely terrifying! From the comfort of my chair, I was not able to breathe so, I can’t even begin to imagine how it would be if one was actually up there. And when calamity strikes it gets even worse. What you’ll probably start experiencing then is shortness of breath and vertigo, because producer/co-writer/director Scott Mann utilises these scenes beautifully – or should I say fearfully? Even just standing or sitting at this height cuts most people’s breath short, never mind moving around, looking down, and hanging by it. I could barely sit still on my chair. Anyway, how much better does it get after that? Well, while the story remains intense – mostly due to the height they are at and the efforts they put to find a solution – the dialogues don’t get much better. The subplot does not really help the story’s advancement. Be it as it may, shortness of breath and vertigo persist till the very end of the second act.

Overall, Hunter’s idea was stupid and selfishly she dragged with her Becky, someone who hadn’t climbed in a year, due to climbing lost her boyfriend, is currently self-destructive and depressed, and, consequently, is in a horrible physical condition (even though due to Hollywood reasons she still looks fit). And more stupidly, when they get up there, she asks her to do something way even more stupid by telling her: “The old Becky would have done it”. Do I need to mention that they decided to climb an over 2000-foot tower of rusty and unstable metal with so much skin out? What can I say…

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P.S. While the B67 TV tower doesn’t exist, it is based on a radio tower of similar height that people have been using for climbing and then jumping off with a parachute.

Where the Crawdads Sing (2022): Drama/Mystery/Thriller

When a dead body is found in the marshes, a recluse young woman becomes immediately the prime suspect.

Engaging, thought-provoking, and deeply emotional! The brilliant opening sequence that promises a lot starts delivering immediately. The found body (inciting incident) and the accusation of Kya Clark lead to the flashback that reveals the American South’s problems in an emotional yet non-judgmental way. The domestic abuse and the notion of the outcast immediately prevail in the film, something that will get you to know Kya, humanise her before anybody else does, and, consequently, make up your mind about her way before the lawyer, the judge, the jurors, and the crowd does.

Love, innocence, fragility, and the happiness found in everything that society ignores or learned how to turn the blind eye to, set the foundation for the drama to flourish, hook you in, and open the gates to the mystery that has already started permeating it. Based on Delia Owen’s novel and Lucy Alibar’s script, Olivia Newman’s directing provides a good taste of the South of the 60s – leaving out or smoothly bypassing (surprisingly?) THE major problem – but also leaving a lot of food for thought behind, such as the lack of individual morals, the long collapse of societal ideals, and the downright detachment from nature. One of the hats behind this beautiful production is worn by the amazing Reese Witherspoon.

Daisy Edgar-Jones (the British pulling a fantastic South American accent), David Strathairn, the man whose performance has never failed to impress, Taylor John Smith (as Tate), and the brief appearance of the diverse Garret Dillahunt create this ecstatic atmosphere that blends the thrill and the romance and lead this journey to its rightful destination. A destination that will raise questions from as back as the court and the presentation of facts to the man’s reaction upon his discovery – no spoilers.

Highly recommended to everyone who has ever felt, even momentarily, the way Kaya has her whole life.

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P.S. Take it from someone who has never been a fan of Taylor Swift: The end-credits song is Oscar-worthy and a perfect match to the film’s narrative! It left me gobsmacked!

The Sadness (2021): Horror

A young couple tries to survive the spread of a virus that brings out people’s darkest side.

Brace yourselves!!! The slow-burn first act is the calm before the storm; the everyday life with the everyday problems as we know it. You know it’s gonna go crazy, you just have no idea how much. Once it gets started, the horror introduced with Jim will get you hooked and cut your breath short until you get to experience the introduction again with Kat… tenfold! The train’s claustrophobic sequence is one of the bloodiest and most excruciating cinematic experiences you’ve ever had.

Producer, writer, and director Rob Jabbaz makes sure to shock you to your core in the beginning, but then, somehow, he manages to find a funny side to it, as if he parodies, momentarily, what he started. Once most of the horror has been unleashed and extremely graphically portrayed, Jabbaz seizes the opportunity to politicise it – it was shot throughout the pandemic, after all – slows the pace down, and gives you the time to wonder where it’s heading. And this is where I stop. The rest’s up to you to figure out and decide whether all this violence was justified and how the allusions and metaphors were laid out to you.

The first round of applause goes to Berant Zhu, Regina Lei, Tzu-Chiang Wang, and the rest of the cast who deliver some really disturbing performances. It would be intriguing to ask them how they felt after portraying such characters. The second round goes to the crew that did a fantastic job behind the cameras despite the numerous pandemic restrictions.

Highly recommended for all hardcore horror fans!

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Elvis (2022): Biography/Drama/Music

The blessings and tribulations of the man who left behind him an everlasting legacy.

Mesmerising, vibrant, insightful, and saddening. The beauty of Buz Luhrmann’s films lies, predominantly, in his sense of pace and rhythm; in his sense of editing. Elvis introduces a “superhero” whose powers are music and showmanship, and Luhrmann comes on really strong, really fast. In the first half hour, he manages to build the foundation of an icon that is destined to follow a meteorite’s trajectory. What comes next is the introduction of tribulations of the still rapidly rising star. Segregation laws, massive hysteria, national paranoia, and personally costly decisions shape the image of a man, unknown to the public, who has to face demons as you and I do. And Luhrmann showcases that the world keeps changing while trying to fit Elvis in it – while not sparing the details of how hard that is. Notably, finding and losing (only to find one last time) that place, when everything around moves so fast, is the most crucial part of the hero’s journey.

Luhrmann puts on an electrifying and prestigious show! He builds up the rise and (internal) fall of Elvis as we know him. Now is the time though to praise the people who are also responsible for that show. First and foremost Austin Butler (Elvis) – who we might see at the Oscars. He took the role amongst A-list actors way more known than he is and all I can say is that he fully deserved it. His performance now will always be associated with Elvis Presley; he became Elvis Presley. Tom Hanks shines as his disgusting manager, he is inarguably one of the greatest actors alive. Sam Bromell, Craig Pearce, and Jeremy Doner kept the script non-linear and tight and offered a fresh and unique perspective. Mandy Walker whose lens expresses all the intended feelings. Jonathan Redmond and Matt Villa masterly weave these feelings together and lead to my very first comment on the immaculate pace and rhythm that flows through Luhrmann’s films. Costume designer, Catherine Martin, goes the extra mile and gets hundreds of costumes to dress up Elvis and the rest of the cast and I’m positive we’ll also see her at the Oscars. Last but not least, extra credits go to EVERYONE else in front and behind the camera who worked on the film.

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P.S. To corroborate my point, if you want to get an idea of Luhrmann’s sense of editing, watch Moulin Rouge! (2001), and more specifically, the “El Tango de Roxanne” sequence (01:18:08 – 01:25:31). It lasts 443” and contains 419 cuts – approximately, one cut per second (I had to watch it at half the speed to count all of them)! In editing’s (unofficial) terms… a proper “frame-fucking”!

Dashcam (II) (2021): Horror

An entertaining livestream during the pandemic takes a turn for the worse when the host, unwillingly, gets involved with shadowy people and dark entities.

Dumb, laughable, nonsensical… everything a horror film shouldn’t be! In a nutshell, how this horror sub-genre came to be: found-footage, webcam, dashcam. Needless to say which category Dashcam falls under… Let’s start with the basics: Annie Hardy – the character, not the person – is the biggest douche you’ve ever encountered in a film and you won’t show any sympathy for her. Stretch, on the other hand, is somewhat indifferent. Director Rob Savage did a horrible job with the camera. I presume the editor, Brenna Rangott, spent most of the time piecing together badly shot, shaky, incoherent footage. Last but not least, we, the audience, spent all of our time, the whole 67′, wondering what the hell was going on – or 75′ if you stayed till the very end to watch Hardy freestyling with the end credits’ names.

If you consider Dashcam as a found-footage horror, you’ll get annoyed and disappointed. If you see it as a parody of the sub-genre though, with a funny leading actress, you’ll have a decent laugh. Jason Blum has produced some of the best horrors of the 21st century so, he’s allowed to have a misfire every now and then. My issues are with the particular film and not Blum or his company. But, speaking of laughter, the best part of the film is the side comments, they range from amusing to hilarious. I truly believe that if something similar happened in real life, the comments would literally be that. Now, from a filmmaking point of view, that is horrible because terms such as mise-en-scΓ¨ne (what’s included in the frame) fly out of the window. The audience’s attention is focused on the side of the screen when the action takes place elsewhere. It’s like focusing on reactions while being unaware of what these reactions are for. From a societal point of view, it is worse than horrible because it showcases that a fellow human’s dire need of help becomes the people’s entertainment and amusement. The evident collapse of humanity becomes, then, the real horror.

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Trauma (2017): Action/Drama/Horror

Two female couples get attacked by a father and his son while partying, but their revenge only causes further calamity.

Sadistic, brutal, and shockingly atrocious! I’ll keep it short… You know what you sign up for from the perversive opening sequence! What succeeds it is terrible filmmaking techniques, no matter how you look at it. Script, directing, acting, photography, and editing, do it no favours whatsoever but don’t be fooled by any of that, its sickness permeates the rest of the sequences, solely seeking to shock. Now, the shock works on two levels: On how shockingly bad the film itself is made and how shockingly disgusting its content is.

I would recommend Trauma as much as I would recommend A Serbian Film (2010) which is not at all. At least, the latter is well-made. But if you are really looking for a brilliantly made disturbing horror, I would definitely recommend Martyrs (2008). Personally, I prefer psychological horrors as they, among others, delve into the abyss of our minds and souls, but any well-made horror intrigues me the same. And this isn’t one of them. Trauma is aimlessly selling raw gore and loses on every other front.

It is not easy to make a film! Never mind a film that inspires awe, evokes the intended feelings, has a purpose, and remains true to it. All of the above and everything that has thrilled you, moved you, amused you, and made you fall in love with cinema… is what Trauma lacks of.

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P.S. Kudos go only to the person or team that made the poster.

Dashcam (2021): Horror/Thriller

A news editor, and aspiring journalist, receives a dashcam video that turns a simple crime into a government-level conspiracy theory.

Suspenseful, realistic, weak at times, but worth your while. The intentionally misleading opening shot will put a smile on your face as it indicates how much the hero goes out of the house. Overall, the film’s premise relies on pseudo-realism. Facebook, FaceTime, the vernacular, the body language, and even the way the news is edited are all indicators that these are real people like you and me (I was about to use “normal”, but that is a term I don’t understand anymore). Upon introducing the main characters, producer/writer/director Christian Nilsson cuts right to the chase with the landing of the footage (inciting incident) that was circulating the rumours of the alleged conspiracy theory.

What the audience encounters next is a perfect example of how the editing creates meaning; how the editing builds up the suspense. As an editor myself, there is so much I could tell you about the details of the film’s editing and the areas it is focusing on, but chances are I’m gonna bore you to tears. Personally, the idea of the conspiracy and the way it is built up in that sequence is the best part of the film. It is the part where you are still mystified and unsure, you want to believe Jake is up to something, and the part where you really want to know how the story will end. From the moment Jake calls Mara and then exits the building though, it somewhat loses that grip, giving an anticlimactic feeling. The reason behind my argument is that it answers questions about specific facts, on one hand, but it doesn’t question broader issues related to the facts provided – in other words how factual the facts are. I guess every investigating mind can approach it differently, but this is the way Nilsson does and I respect it.

Don’t let that discourage you, though. Dashcam lasts only an hour and twenty minutes, it is a low-budget indie that was shot during lockdowns, and the cast does a great job. It is an entertaining film to take your mind off things, wonder what you would have done if you were Jake, think about the ending for a minute, and go to bed. Francis Ford Coppola and Brian de Palma are Nilsson’s apparent influences – The Conversation (1974) and Blow Out (1981), respectively – but comparing Nilsson to them would be unfair as they were far more experienced and studio-level filmmakers.

Fun facts:

The film is about a New York Governor’s scandal that premiered the same day a real-life New York State Governor was accused of a sexual scandal.

Also coincidentally, there were two Dashcams in 2021. I’ll follow up right after this with the second one.

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You Won’t Be Alone (2022): Drama/Horror

Despite her mother’s best efforts, an ancient spirit kidnaps a young girl in an attempt to serve her forever.

A taste of Balkan folklore with a pinch of Witch (2016). As per Focus Features, the production company behind the film, it takes place in the 19th century FYROM – they said Macedonia, but let’s leave it at that. They also said that writer/director Goran Stolevski based the film’s shape-shifting legends on stories coming from his family. That sounds highly likely as all Balkan countries are inundated with such legends and myths which, partially, shaped those societies as we know them today. Having traveled through the Balkans a few times, I’ll tell you that the people, especially in villages, are nothing but welcoming and warm, still keeping to their norms and traditions. Just like you see in the film.

What Stolevski has achieved is a (Malick-esque) chronicle of the perception of life as seen through the eyes of a soul that knows nothing of “good” or “bad”, unaffected by morality and immorality respectively; “… like a river. It flows and flows… and still stays in the same spot.” And, as such, I’ll dare say that Stolevski’s perspective is unique. The way I see it, he raises significant questions: Does evil have a choice in life? Is evil predestined to remain evil? Even better, can evil be actually evil when that meaning is unknown to it?

Technically speaking, Matthew Chuang’s cinematography is immaculate and it needs to be praised highly. He mounts the camera over the shoulder and his tracking shots, from full to close-ups, deliver all the intended feelings and emotions. An extra round of applause goes to the whole cast that shines in front of the camera. Maybe the amazing Noomi Rapace is the main marketing attraction, but EVERYONE is spectacular! Both in front and behind the camera.

I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. The question I’ll leave you with is, does life run in a full circle?

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Everything, Everywhere, All At Once (2022): Action/Adventure/Comedy

A woman who struggles with everyday life engages with every aspect of her multiverse self to save every universe.

Funny, exciting, surrealistic, and absolutely brilliant! The opening sequence at the laundromat sets the film’s pace and rhythm. It introduces the heroes and heroines, establishes their characters, and makes it clear where everyone stands in the world. The dialogues are sharp, the editing is “snappy”, and the inciting incident (Alpha Waymond) moves the story forward to the second act.

From then on, The Matrix (1999) meets The One (2001). The Multiverse and the infinite versions of everyone’s self clashing create a concoction of euphoric and exciting emotions that, combined with the action and the underlying drama, offers a unique cinematic experience. I am certain that full analyses will be written in the near and distant future about this film, but, for now, I’ll just leave you with these few comments in an attempt to urge you to watch it. If I were still a film student or ignorant of how the ropes work, I couldn’t for the life of me figure out how writers/directors Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (aka the Daniels) pitched that script to production companies. Honestly, how does anyone ask for funding, pitching sequences where a butt-naked security guy jumps out of nowhere and lands on an oval tax award, aiming to connect to a different universe and engage with a more equipped to the occasion self? How about a female couple with hotdog fingers, licking each other’s mustard… Yes, hotdog fingers. Licking each other’s mustard – no euphemisms, here!

Being a bit more pragmatic/cynical nowadays though, and by reading the end credits, I can only assume that executive producers Joe and Anthony Russo made the green light turn a lot easier just by showing up. The Russos believed in the Daniels’ script and helped bring it to life. And, personally, I applaud them. Actually, I applaud all cast and crew for giving themselves 100%. And by doing so, Everything Everywhere All At Once became A24’s greatest financial and critical success. Michelle Yeoh matures like the finest wine and for over three decades has offered nothing but excitement, cry, and laughter, and, here, all of the above. Alongside her, Ke Huy Quan, best known for his stellar performances as Short Round in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) and Data in Goonies (1985), Stephanie Hsu, James Hong, and, the one and only, Jamie Lee Curtis who will have you in stitches.

Everything Everywhere All At Once is your must-see for this year and so is Men (2022): https://kaygazpro.com/2022/06/29/men-2022-drama-horror-sci-fi/, another A24 cinematic achievement. I may constantly sound like I’m sponsored by A24, but rest assured I am not. I praise them because they have the guts to produce scripts that other production companies wouldn’t even read ten pages. They are phenomenal in what they do and they immensely add to the worldwide cinema’s evolution.

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P.S. I certainly didn’t speak highly of the Russo’s last film The Gray Man (2022): https://kaygazpro.com/2022/08/02/the-gray-man-2022-action-thriller/ but, here, even as producers, they utterly redeem themselves.

P.P.S. Language, generational differences, and political/existential beliefs are the film’s underlying themes. Look out for clues while watching.

Mudbound (2017): Drama/War

Two men come back to rural Mississippi after WWII, become friends, but only face bigotry and racism.

One of Netflix’s greatest and most underrated films! Directing, cinematography, writing, editing, acting, and the numerous departments that worked behind the cameras is the reason why they say that it takes a village to make a film. Based on Hillary Jordan’s novel, co-writer/director Dee Rees brings to life a film that many neglected, underappreciated, or just turned the blind eye to, but Netflix primarily distributed, after premiering at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival – received a long-standing ovation.

Every sequence has something to tell. Every sequence moves the story forward, holding cinematic techniques that “teach” filmmaking. For example, when Ronsel is on the bus, showing without telling, the shot speaks volumes about the atrocious outcome of Jim Crow’s segregation laws that divided the people. The same laws that Ronsel encountered while trying to exit the shop from the front door. Anger, frustration, and unfathomable sadness are the main emotions that take over, but Rees’s angle is not judgemental. Before and after, sequences such as the congregation at the church, Ronsel and Jamie opening up, and the KKK acting as jury, judge, and executioner can be thoroughly analysed in regard to acting, directing, cinematography, and editing. Rachel Morrison became the first female cinematographer to be nominated for an Oscar, and even though she didn’t win it, she earned everyone’s respect worldwide.

In front of the camera, Jason Mitchell, Carey Mulligan, Jason Clarke, Mary J. Blige, Garrett Hedlund, Rob Morgan, Jonathan Banks, and the rest of the cast create incredible chemistry with utterly fulfilling performances. The fact that Mudbound is current and finds application to this day and age, indicates how much societies have failed. The fact that individuals make a positive difference though is what Rees aims at and, in the end, despair turns into hope. Without it, what are we left with, anyway? In addition, what do you think “Mudbound” means?

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P.S. Hit the link to get a glimpse of the film’s achievements: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt2396589/trivia/?ref_=tt_trv_trv

P.P.S. My previous review was on The Gray Man (2022): https://kaygazpro.com/2022/08/02/the-gray-man-2022-action-thriller/. Inarguably, it wasn’t a positive one. And even though that is an original Netflix film and Mudbound isn’t, arguably, one can claim that what characterises the streaming giant is diversity, and another the utter lack of identity.

The Gray Man (2022): Action/Thriller

A CIA agent becomes the agency’s target and all hell breaks loose.

Great cast, great potential, and a tremendous waste of both. Not uncommon for a special agent’s job to be dubious. Especially, right off the bat. But knowing, right after, that Ryan Gosling and Chris Evans will go toe to toe, most certainly makes it immensely interesting. But is it? The airplane sequence’s development is really, I mean, really uncalled for. Six has already displayed certain skills that brand him a top-tier assassin, but the CGI and the humanly impossible do nothing but take away these abilities, stating that without it he cannot do what the narrative suggests he is trained to do.

Regardless, he gets a chance to redeem himself. What happens next? Loads and loads and loads of human hunting, shooting, and Michael Bay-level of destruction. The “Prague on Fire” sequence is a representative example of that, and, in all honesty, no further elaboration is needed. There is a lot of impressive yet unrealistic action, knock-off Die Hard-esque and half-cooked dialogues that, again, discount its full potential. The good news is Ana de Armas, Jessica Henwick, Billy Bob Thornton, Alfre Woodard, and the well-anticipated confrontation of Gosling and Evans.

Producers/directors Anthony and Joe Russo were given $200m dollars to make it, deeming it the most expensive Netflix original film, tying it with Red Notice (2021). While the Russos know how to shoot both action and dramatic sequences (and Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely how to write them) – Captain America: Civil War (2016), Avengers: Infinity War (2018), Avengers: Endgame (2019), etc., The Gray Man falls really short. While the multi-chopped style of editing seems to be the obvious reason, if during principal photography the choreography is not well prepared, or if the actors are not given the opportunity to fully express themselves without being cut, the editing can only do so much (damage or good). Unfortunately, that particular childish narrative represents the side of Hollywood that only cares about the cash cow and not the audience’s intelligence. Oh! And, once more, everyone could have also been a fragrance or an underwear model. #

Is it worth your time? Well, it’ll make you forget your problems for a couple of hours, make you smile a little, and send you to bed.

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The Scribbler (2014): Mystery/Sci-fi/Thriller

In a building full of people with mental illnesses, a young woman with multiple personalities has yet to reveal her most dangerous one.

Neo-noir, suspenseful, entertaining, and criminally underrated! From the very opening sequence, cinematography, mise-en-scene, visual effects, sound design, and editing work perfectly together, setting up the scene for the perfect whodunit. How so? The Scribbler is based on Dan Schaffer’s graphic novel and director John Suits directs it as if you are reading the comic strips right off its pages. It is a faithful, dark, atmospheric adaptation inundated with humour, suspense, thrill, sensational appearances, and craziness aplenty! Katie Cassidy, Garret Dillahunt, Michelle Trachtenberg, Gina Gershon, and Sacha Grey go full berserk on screen, in a surrealistic tower of misfits who lack home, normalcy, sanity, and identity. And then Eliza Dushku and Michael Imperioli try to put the pieces together…

Admittedly, the first time I watched it I didn’t pay attention to plot holes, gimmicks, or didn’t even try to reason with the plot’s absurdities. The stylistic choices take over and the ethereal presences overshadow the details (significant or not) that matter in other genres. Furthermore, the film’s surrealism “allows” certain questions to be raised and reason to be defied. Looking at it from an academic point of view, one can only detect faults and find arguments on something that, personally, I found uncalled for. My advice is to get comfy, have no expectations, and watch something different that will make you forget your problems for an hour and a half. The Scribbler is highly enjoyable, and, unfortunately, went largely unnoticed.

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Men (2022): Drama/Horror/Sci-fi

After her husband commits suicide, a young woman escapes to the countryside only to encounter horrors she would never expect.

A24… The production company that aims at the different, the radical, the unconventional. Starting off with Harper (Jessie Buckley) and only getting a glimpse of what is hunting her, we take the trip straight to the countryside where she’ll be residing for two weeks – that is the plan, anyway. Geoffrey (Rory Kinnear), the house owner with British-English you’ll definitely admire and will put a smile on your face, shows her around, and so, the main players and environment have been established. But…

The first plot point, the beautiful yet extremely scary tunnel, instigates the thrill; it is where your heart will skip the first beat. From then on, the naked man, the troubled kid, the eccentric Vicar, the police’s incompetence, and everything that happens till the end Act II escalates the horror to the next level. Not a lot can be explained but that’s what enhances the mystery. The eerie and haunting operatic music throughout the montage sequences will keep you at the very edge of your seats, inarguably, mouth agape. “Paranoia” doesn’t even begin to describe it! Beware of the entities presented inside the church. Also, beware of the dandelionsΒ as well. Both of them play a significant role to the narrative’s understanding. And this is where I stop.

Alex Garland, the writer/director of Ex-Machina (2014) and Annihilation (2018) and writer of 28 Days Later (2002) and Never Let me Go (2010) is not a crowd-pleaser, and, consequently, is not for everyone. His lens serves his narrative well, offering realistic thrills to surrealistic scenarios – from alien invasions to men going utterly berserk. Jessie Buckley and Rory Kinnear absolutely shine in front of the camera!

If you are not British or not accustomed to British folkloric tales and myths, you’ll be utterly confused. If you are, you’ll get the gist, but won’t be able to explain it, anyway. And that’s the goal. In an attempt to find answers, I only got more confused so, as intended by the filmmakers, I only provided a few possible explanations to myself – without meaning that they are the right ones. Because there is no right one.

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P.S. In reality, in the English countryside, you will encounter the most beautiful places and the most beautiful people.

Watcher (2022): Drama/Horror/Thriller

A young woman moves with her husband from America to Romania, and soon she realises that someone is watching every move of hers.

A deceiving, slow-burn thriller with a great leading actress. Why deceiving, huh? What you know and what you think you know is not the same. Ostensibly, the plot revolves around a young woman who is afraid that someone is watching her, and, potentially, following her. The subplot revolves around the same young woman who is lonely, in a foreign country, alone (for the most part), arguably depressed, and who neither speaks nor understands a word of what everyone’s saying. Until you know for sure, the line between the plot and the subplot is vague.

Zack Ford’s script and Chloe Okuno’s lens keep the narrative restricted. Okuno, like a watcher (pun intended), follows Julia wherever she goes and depicts reality as perceived through her eyes, only. Respectively, Michael Block’s editing discloses what you need to know, hiding carefully what you want to. The result of both is the deception mentioned above. Maika Monroe is an amazing and massively underrated actress. Watching It Follows (2014) and The Guest (2014) one can tell how much still she has to offer, especially in the horror/thriller genre. Also, Burn Gorman’s portrayal as a lonely man is brilliant.

It is a horrible feeling to be surrounded by an unfamiliar environment, language, and people, especially when being in an unstable mental state. Nothing and no one is what they seem to be. And Okuno and Monroe nail that feeling!

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Crimes of the Future (2022): Drama/Horror/Sci-fi

In the not-so-distant future, certain humans evolve in unexpected ways, and while some embrace it and see the artistic side of it, others only want to suppress it.

Intricate, interesting, and largely unspecified. It’s been eight years since we last saw a feature film from David Cronenberg – Maps to the Stars (2014) so, brace yourselves. The first act, and the Orchidbed in particular, inevitably leads back to Cronenberg’s early films that gave him his unique identity – The Brood (1979), Scanners (1981), Videodrome (1983), etc. Such elements can also be found throughout the rest of the film (the Sark autopsy, the Breakfaster Chair…) but it’s not just the prosthetics or the visual effects. The surrealistic acting, the Kafqu-esque atmosphere, the blurry distinction between art and science, and the dark consideration of what both are, constitute a dystopian, decadent future (not far from present-day) whose reality seems to belong to another Earth similar to ours, with humans identical to us, but with (un)natural elements and behaviours that are barely recognised or understood. The Fly (1986), Naked Lunch (1991), and eXistenZ (1999) add to the films mentioned above and, in their own respect, they have shaped equally different realities.

From a filmmaking point of view, admittedly, I didn’t find it challenging. Douglas Koch’s photography serves the narrative well, but that is pretty much is. The narrative in and of itself though is. Cronenberg has a long history of examining society through the lens of sexuality and technology and Crimes of the Future isn’t an exception. The new ways of experiencing pleasure, the alien-like technology that fulfills specific needs, and the evolution of people who consume… “plastic”, are all allegories of the world we live in. Did you get them? If yes, what did you think of them? How effective were they? If you thought they weren’t, why?

I find it hard to imagine how Cronenberg pitched this script, especially when it came to defining the audience. Shot entirely in Greece with actors from all over the world, the film has, on one hand, a universal taste, and, on the other hand, a small crowd to follow. Viggo Mortensen, LΓ©a Seydoux, Kristen Stewart, Scott Speedman, Lihi Kornowski, Don McKellar, Nadia Litz, Tanaya Beatty, Welket BunguΓ©, and Yorgos Pirpassopoulos do a great job in front of the camera, but the narrative is such that can leave you undecided in regard to their chemistry.

To every Cronenberg fan: Watch it! Can’t wait to hear your thoughts on it.

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The Northman (2022): Action/Adventure/Drama

A Viking prince devises an elaborative plan to avenge his father’s murderer.

Vicious, challenging, and visually compelling! Whoever follows Robert Eggers’ films, The Witch (2015) and The Lighthouse (2019), knows he’s famous for surrealistic acting, expressionistic photography, protracted shots, and idiosyncratic vernacular. And The Northman is no exception.

The first thing that needs to be mentioned is that Eggers worked closely with historians and archaeologists to meticulously visualise the medieval Scandinavian legend, namely Amleth. And if you are aware of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet”, I’m sure you can put two and two together. The Northman is Eggers’ first studio-level film, and, reading the interviews he gave, one can tell that it is not the film he initially had in mind, but its final cut is not a result he is disappointed with either. That old story in Hollywood’s book where the studios always interfere with the creative processes…

The dialect used, even though not easy to write or speak, will not blow your socks off like it did in his previous films. The reason is that the gore and the violence take the torch and lead your senses to a medieval spectacle where the slaughter of men, women, and children was the way to resolve differences and show superiority. While the film represents a specific historic era and should serve as a reminder that civilisation has evolved, today’s far-right decided to perceive it as a reminder that this is how things should be. Maybe, let them be the reminder that comparing two totally different eras and peoples is a historical fallacy, and their way of thinking is a representative example of unfathomably bottomless buffoonery.

Alexander SkarsgΓ₯rd, Anya Taylor-Joy, Nicole Kidman, Claes Bang, Ethan Hawke, Willem Dafoe, and all the rest of the cast give stupendous performances! Give it a go, it is an amazing cinematic experience you will not regret!

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The Lure (2015): Drama/Fantasy/Horror

Two mermaid sisters get a job at a cabaret and while one of them seeks people’s love, the other one wants to devour them.

Unique approach towards an unexpected genre. The Lure is a gory and brutal musical that mesmerises. When it came out it shocked certain audiences as very few could have envisaged a horror/musical of that sort. Interestingly, the same year, I got the same feeling from Bone Tomahawk (2015), a horror/western that shocked fans of both genres as, again, who would have thought this “marriage” could work? But is The Lure as effective?

I have a feeling that horror fans will not be particularly thrilled. On the other hand, I’m not sure musical fans will give it a go either. Needless to say that Hans Christian Andersen’s fans will sit this one out too. Who is it for, then? My guess is for cinefiles; lovers of the different, the daring, and the unconventional. The Lure is for those who delve into the mise-en-scene as much as they delve into montage, but also combinations of narrative techniques. Having said that, a musical is comprised by only two major elements: dancing and singing. And I found neither compelling enough.

So while the story’s originality and dare win points, both of them fall significantly short. My question is then, why make it a musical in the first place? For the sake of different? Director Agnieszka Smoszynska has used plenty of nudity and gore, but I didn’t find her lens as daring (as intended?). My favourite sequence was after the domestic where everyone falls into a limbo. Overall though, I failed to engage with Silver’s and Golden’s predicament.

To conclude on a semi-positive note though, the acting is solid by everyone even though they could have achieved much more if the singing and dancing had a more pivotal role and more effort was put into the choreography.

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Ambulance (2022): Action/Crime/Drama

When two robbers hijack an ambulance, they manage to turn a simple heist into a full-scale manhunt.

High-octane action that does not convince, but most certainly entertains. Michael Bay… The man behind the most phantasmagorical cinematic explosions, car crashes, plane crashes, endless verbosity, epidermic dramas and yet, the man who has got the world unfathomably excited like few before him. And that’s exactly what the Ambulance is going to do; excite you.

Narrative-wise, what you sign up for is what I mentioned above – minus the plane crash. From a filmmaking point of view, you get: Dutch angles, areal shots, close-ups, extreme close-ups, tracking shots, slo-mo’s, Steadicam shots, over-the-shoulder, dash-cam shot, and all that in the mix, edited in the most fast-paced sequences you’ve ever seen. So, what did I think of it? I loved it! This is exactly the fictional action-packed films we all need to blow some steam off and forget out real-life issues.

The cast includes Jake Gyllenhaal, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Eiza Gonzalez, Garret Dillahunt, and more. While the situation is extremely unrealistic, they work really well with one another, creating an electric and entertaining atmosphere. Having said that, after an hour and thirty minutes, the ambulance starts running on fumes – pun intended – and becomes repetitive. Interestingly though, the film dares you to draw the line between the good and the bad guys. And it does it well.

Based on the Danish film Ambulancen (2005), which runs almost an hour shorter than this one, Chris Fedak’s script offers nothing but excitement. The excitement of guns and shootings that belongs to the big screen, the small screen, and the books. The excitement that belongs to fiction! The excitement that has no place in the real world and, especially, schools! I hope everyone gets to find peace in their heart except for the gun lobby. I hope they find the justice they deserve.

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P.S. There are two clear homages to great films: To Live and Die in LA (1985) – Driving in the wrong direction, and Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991) – Driving in the LA river.

Monstrous (2022): Horror/Mystery/Thriller

Fleeing her ex-husband, a mother with her young son move to a secluded house where a dark and sinister force resides.

Mysterious and eventually dramatic, yet doesn’t manage to hit the spot. Putting it on knowing nothing about it, I felt quite neutral, at first. Even though the narrative is quite restricted, the audience knows less than Laura and Cody and, therefore, is trying to catch up on cues such as Cody’s recurrent nightmare and the constantly ringing phone. The first plot point (the bridge between the first and the second act), arguably, builds up the suspense and increases the tension… only to calm down again immediately after. Overall, should you decide to watch it, you might find the pace and rhythm fluctuating “irregularly”.

I remember Christina Ricci when she was as young as Cody in The Adams Family (1991) and, in a way, I grew up watching her grow up in her films. She’s a tremendously talented actress, having played diverse and perplexed roles, and she deserves every praise under the sun. For reasons that only she and Hollywood are aware of though, she started choosing films that didn’t have much to offer to the genre they belonged to. Having said that, admittedly, there are a couple of films she’s been in and I would like to watch.

After everything is said and done, looking back to Carol Chrest’s script and Chris Sivertson’s directing, one can say with certainty that the drama overcomes the horror in the end and you can tell because of how heavy your heart feels. I know how mine felt, and that was mostly due to Ricci. As said above, she is a remarkable actress and always lives up to her standards.

Something that might help you watch it in a positive light is the little references to her mental health. Furthermore, the party sequence got me a bit as did her attempts to keep it together. There are some strong moments there, but, as I have repeatedly said, the sum should always be greater than its parts.

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Double Helix (2021): Short/Drama/Sci-fi

Two siblings escape their home and hide in an abandoned school, but the “Song of Life” will unexpectedly change their lives.

Concise, current, and thought-provoking. Writer/director Sheng Qiu brings to life the intentionally unemotional, Double Helix that shows without telling that “life” has yet to be defined.

Protracted shots, montage sequences, minimalistic soundtrack, underplayed performances and “Lynchian” narrative examine the ancient human attempt to become God and its inevitable consequences. Based on Jinkang Wang’s famous science fiction novel “Song of Life”, Double Helix combines Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” with the superfluous human need to explore boundaries we could overcome, but not necessarily should. Great watch! I hope one day we get to see the feature, preferably, with both Xi’an Cao and Zhenzhen Xiaoli. Extra credits go to cinematographer Ranjun Xu, and editor Jianfan Yu.

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The Hole in the Ground (2019): Drama/Horror/Mystery

A young mother and her son move out to the Irish countryside, but not long after she begins to suspect that it might not be him anymore.

Dark, atmospheric, and suspenseful! Strong inciting incident, followed by solid suspense build-up. And after that… it only gets better! Photography, Art Direction, and Visual Effects create a dark and eerie atmosphere that accompanies the equally dark and eerie narrative. The first stroll in that forest will most certainly convince you…

Mysterious and suspicious events will follow and, sooner or later, with the boy acting the he does, you won’t help but get a feeling of The Omen (1976). But if you think the boy is scary, wait until you meet Noreen, the woman who has sunk into the deepest psychological abyss. So, in regard to what can scare you the most, between the forest, the kid, and the old lady you have quite the choice to make. Eventually though, I don’t think that any of them is more scary than the feeling that your only child… is not actually yours…

The Hole in the Ground joins my pantheon of Irish horror films* that manages, in a tiny budget, to evoke all the intended feelings. Writer Stephen Shields and writer/director Lee Cronin write and direct respectively a solid horror which draws elements from ancient folklore legends to modern psychology. SeΓ‘na Kerslake, James Quinn Markey, Kati Outinen, and James Cosmo do a wonderful job in front of the camera, believing in Cronin’s vision and projecting the intended fears onto the audience. Arguably though, the ending could have been shorter and a lot scarier if it had maintained the, until then levels of plausibility. But, that is subjective so, it’s up to you to decide. Regardless of what you think of the third act, this is a highly recommended indie horror. A24 is always on top of the game!

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* A couple of Irish horrors that stood out for me in recent years are:

A Good Woman is Hard to Find (2019): https://kaygazpro.com/2020/09/24/a-good-woman-is-hard-to-find-2019-crime-drama-thriller/

and

Sea Fever (2019): https://kaygazpro.com/2020/04/19/sea-fever-2019-horror-sci-fi/

River of Salvation (2020): Crime/Drama

A single, pedicure therapist who lives with her younger brother is trying to make ends meet while dealing with personal tribulations.

Dreams, sacrifices, and the unbearable hardships of life… Gripping opening act that distinctively introduces the characters, sets up the scenery, and presents the ordeals they have to face. Director Qisheng Gao amazes with the number of protracted shots that provide the opportunity for the actors to unfold their thespian skills and for the audience to absorb, on one hand, the tiny, yet significant details of the mise-en-scΓ¨ne (all the visual information within the frame), and, on the other hand, what one of the greatest film theorists, AndrΓ© Bazin, kept emphasizing on; the drama’s realism. Furthermore, Gao’s slow-paced editing does not rush the story, controls the film’s pace and rhythm, and reveals the key information the audience needs to know, when they need to know it. Inevitably, that increases their anticipation in regard to what and when they want to know.

As for the narrative itself, it hits the nail the harshest possible way as it addresses the ancient battle inside us of who we are, who we want to be, and who society wants us to be, in times where the bills can hardly be paid and the food on the table can barely suffice. While Gao deserves every praise under the sun, actress Yanxi Li crawls under the skin of the role, becomes Rong, and masterfully conveys the silent pain a woman in her position endures to keep her head above water while trying to save whoever around her is in need of salvation.

And all that while a dark secret lies underneath the surface…

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Lan Yu (2001): Drama/Romance

A young, gay student from the countryside arrives in Beijing and falls in love with an older businessman who is undecided as to what life he wants to lead.

A sweet and sour, beautiful, yet thought-provoking drama! The story’s beauty lies in its simplicity; the complexity of romance. Contradictory, isn’t it? It’s because we are. And so are human relationships. The ancient source of artistic inspiration, the expression of feelings – or lack thereof, will always be contemporary and the more we turn the blind eye to it, the more we will have to face it.

Lan Yu (Ye Liu) and Chen Handong (Jun Hu) fall in love despite their efforts not to, but the heart hardly ever abides by our mind’s decisions. Ironically, the cause of drama is Chen, the more mature and more experienced of the two, who doesn’t even know what he doesn’t want. Therefore, when life presents to him the choice, he only blows past it, and moves on. But, does he? Life works in mysterious ways and, when he least expects it, time reveals to him opportunities he was too blind to see in the past.

From a filmmaking point of view, the narrative is constantly restricted so, from beginning till end, what you know, or think you know as audience is what the heroes do and vice versa, something that increases the suspense as much as it increases the tension. Writer Jimmy Ngai and director Stanley Kwan, based on an anonymous novel published online, bring to life a provoking drama that will make you question your life’s choices, and ask the one simple question that, as much as we would all loved to, we’ll never find an answer. What if…

An all round applause for Kwan, Liu, Hu, and all cast and crew who challenge through art their political system and cultural norms, and keep the fire of unconditional and unrestricted forward-thinking burning.

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Hard Love (2021): Documentary

Five single women from different cities discuss what love means to them and why it is difficult to find it.

The intricacies of love and human relationships… What do five women of different age, cities, and social and financial backgrounds have in common? The difficulty to find love. From a young, successful entrepreneur to a struggling, divorced mum, the search for love turns into a life quest for a number of women in China and it makes one wonder why it takes Tracy Dong’s lens to bring it to light. We live in a world where the technological advancements have propelled the means of communication, and yet we struggle like never before to find our other half that will make us happy. Messsenger, WhatsApp, Viber, digital matchmaking platforms, such as Tinder and Plenty of Fish, or simply texting and calling have made it immensely easy to reach out to someone that potentially matches our standards, and, yet again, we still struggle to find that common denominator. One may wonder what happened to the “face to face” contact…

Dong’s omniscient lens “infiltrates” these beautiful (in and out) women’s lives and reveals the number of ways they are trying to find men to like them, and, surprisingly or not, she shows that appearance is not the problem. What women think of themselves, what men think of them, and what they expect from one another raise absurd expectations and create intricate scenarios, making it extremely hard for people to truly connect. To understand that respect and trust cannot be demanded, but only earned.

Extremely well-structured, non-judgmental, and humorous documentary from Tracy Dong that deserves to see the publicity lights, and surface that middle ground called understanding. Kudos as well to all the women that came forward to present to the world, in the simplest possible way, one of the most basic human needs; how they feel!

We don’t deserve to be alone. So, let’s not be…

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Raw (2016): Drama/Horror

A young and innocent student starts rediscovering herself when she develops a desire for human flesh.

Provocative, unsettling, and in need of purpose. Not your average first act… The initiation, portrayed in a colourful cinematic way, includes protracted shots of mild chaos and disturbance, such as taking drugs, dancing, kissing, shagging, etc, as part of a normal routine. No political statements there, just young men, women, and non-binary people having fun.

In the second act, the same natural course is maintained while operating on animals. As someone who not only doesn’t eat meat, but is an animal rights advocate I was uncomfortable watching certain scenes, but I don’t know how much will that affect you. For yet another half an hour, the initiation keeps coning and going while Justine starts developing the irresistible desire for raw meat and then human flesh. Certain scenes could be described as either disturbing or uncomfortable, depending on who you are talking to, or plainly unnecessary. What will define it is the way you will perceive them within the narrative. Do you think the film wouldn’t be the same without them? If they weren’t there, would it make a difference? Again, the answers will define the way you perceive them. Characteristically, the endless hair coming out of Justine’s mouth in the toilet, and the sex scene (you’ll know) are quite effective if you ask me. Are they enough though?

Writer/director Julia Ducournau knows how to shock the audiences. But as I’ve said numerous times, the sum should always be always bigger than its parts. And I don’t think this is the case here. In the end, I don’t know why I watched it (again). I struggled to find purpose. Admittedly, the second time I watched it to write a more accurate review and because, not so long ago, I watched Ducournau’s Titane (2021): https://kaygazpro.com/2021/11/12/titane-2021-drama-horror-sci-fi/ and wanted to compare and contrast. I hope you give it a go though because actresses Garance Marillier and Ella Rumpf go really over the top.

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X (2022): Horror

In 1979, a young crew of filmmakers rent out an isolated house to shoot an adult film, but when its elderly hosts find out they reveal their sinister intentions.

A horror like only A24 knows how to do! What the police come across in the opening sequence is the result of a massacre you’ll see all about it. So, 24 hours prior to that, the crew packs it up and sets off for the house that will make everyone famous and rich. The adult film that will change everyone’s life. The shoot that will accomplish everyone’s American dream. With heroes, antiheroes, villains, and old houses straight out the Texas Chainsaw Massacre (any version), the set-up is ready for the bloody inevitable – pun intended.

From a filmmaking point of you, the editing tells beautifully the parallel stories between the film’s shooting and the old “lady’s” story while breathtakingly builds up the suspense. For a while, it might feel like that nothing is happening, but I assure you that it is the calm before the storm. After the verbal reference to Psycho (1960), the visual one confirms the pending bloodbath. Gruesome moments follow that hold no punches and, undoubtedly, cut anyone’s breath short. There is no way to describe them without giving the gore away so, I’m just gonna leave it here.

Writer/producer/co-editor/director Ti West creates a good old-fashioned horror that deserves the cinematic experience with like-minded people or the company of your own self. His narrative abides with the horrors of the era it represents, and Eliot Rocket’s photography, the make-up and the special effects department deserve a separate praise. As for the editing, West and David Kashevaroff, on one hand, naturally unfold parallel stories, and, on the other hand, break almost all rules of pace and rhythm by connecting sequences… unnaturally. While film theorists would laugh at the way X has been edited, I’d say that the splatter and gory nature of the film justifies just about any technique under the sun. Intentionally, the porn shooting within the film does not fall far from the film itself.

There are some really strong moments there, such as the stealthy crocodile, the granny waving, and, more or less, every gruesome murder you see on screen, and these moments are very much worth of your time. Furthermore, watch out for the impressive performances from Mia Goth, Jenna Ortega, Kid Kudi, and Britanny Snow. Highly recommended!

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P.S. Bare in mind, that throughout all this I was alone in the cinema.

P.P.S. Shot in New Zealand.

P.P.S. There is an prequel coming up…

The Cellar (2022): Horror

When a family moves into an old house and the daughter disappears, the mother realises that a sinister entity dwells in the cellar.

Interesting, but standard. I remember watching Elisha Cuthbert in films when she was a teenager. Now, she is a mom of one. So, I’ll try, to my best ability, to pass on, objectively, constructive criticism. There are a lot of outdated techniques here, such as: constant background music to enhance the fear / suspense (the picture should always suffice without it), something’s about to happen but isn’t happening, overreacting to nothing, and, of course, jump scares! For example, I understand the need for creating atmosphere, but Ellie holding a candle while talking on the phone that she could have put on speaker phone and use its torch to see much better where she is going is… irrational. And such irrationalities are scattered throughout the film.

Kuthbert was, among others, Kim Bauer in 24 (2001-2010), Danielle in The Girl Next Door, and Carly in House of Wax (2005). As much as it is hard for me to differentiate her from those roles, I must say that she does a great job as a mom of a teenage girl she once used to be and she is a very decent actress. Brendan Muldowney’s The Cellar though will never be celebrated as they don’t stand out at all due to both outdated narrative and filmmaking techniques. It’ll just make you forget whatever is troubling you for about an hour and a half.

Admittedly, the “steps-counting” sequence is unexpectedly suspenseful, the mathematical equation is quite innovative, and the ending is very befitting. But the whole should always be greater than the sum of its parts. And in this case, it just isn’t.

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Midnight Mass (2021): Drama/Fantasy/Horror

A small island community is taken aback by the arrival of a new young priest and miracle occurrences that turn out to be sinister omens.

What a miniseries to watch around Easter! No matter how much I praise it, little to no justice will be given to any of the episodes or the sum of all of them. Therefore, I’ll keep it deliberately short so you can enjoy every moment of it. In a nutshell, from an audiovisual point of view, this is what you should expect: Mike Flanagan’s protracted shots and meticulous mise-en-scΓ¨ne (framing and information within the frame), well-paced and structured editing, The Newton Brothers’ enchanting soundtrack, and gripping performances by: Kate Siegel, Zach Gilford, Kristin Lehman, Samantha Sloyan, Rahul Kohli, Annarah Cymone, Annabeth Gish, Alex Essoe, Ed Flynn, Hamish Linklater, Joe Collie, and everyone else in between. From a narrative point of view, expect non-linear storytelling that constantly withholds information, intentionally misleads, carefully and thoroughly releases clues that you are called to put together, and… a grand finale!

Midnight Mass is a nearly perfect miniseries with Flanagan’s unique signature and Netflix back-up once more. The man behind miniseries, such as The Haunting of Hill House (2018), The Haunting of Bly Manor (2020), and films like Hush (2016), and Doctor Sleep (2019), strikes back with another ‘haunting’ series that will keep you on the edge of your seats. Other than continuously and masterfully building up the suspense, Midnight Mass unleashes the immense drama a person experiences… when they have to live with the consequences of their actions while not being able to live with themselves… when they have to face the curse of time that only flows forward and cannot be reversed… when they endure everything for the long-pursue of redemption. Watch out, especially, the episode with Erin and Riley on the boat. One of my favourite finales that topped my mounting expectations.

There are numerous production details to talk about but most of them would ruin your experience. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did, and I wish you Happy Easter! Be well!

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P.S. My beloved Ioanna, you know that one’s for you πŸ™‚

Black Crab (2022): Action/Adventure/Drama

In a dystopian future, six soldiers are tasked with the transport of a mysterious package to a safe place that has the ability to end the civil war that has ravaged the country.

The vicious and dramatic opening sequence provides just enough information to pick your interest, get your attention, and throw you straight into the abyss of the plot. Caroline Edh’s (Noomi Rapace) skills and abilities are naturally shown without being told and the introduction of the mission creates more mystery, enough to maintain the suspense and make one wonder what it is that they are carrying across the sea that can end the war.

From the moment the mission commences, sequence after sequence, the six elite soldiers are presented with the atrocities of war and this is where one can argue that it gets quite scripted, but I found it well-written, acted, shot, and edited so it kept me at the edge of my seat. Overall, in terms of structure, the narrative follows the rules by the book. There’s nothing surprising really, but there’s nothing wrong with it either. Co-writer/director Adam Berg brings to life a dystopian sci-fi that, even though due to the heavy CGI, it lacks the natural darkness the Scandinavian cinema has always offered, it still manages to generate the intended emotions. Rapace is made for such roles (for any role, actually) and she rightfully steals the show.

I deliberately went for another Swedish film back to back only to emphasise on the diversity of the Swedish cinema. A Man Called Ove: https://kaygazpro.com/2022/04/13/a-man-called-ove-2015-comedy-drama-romance/ was my previous review and as much as Black Crab cannot top it up, it hits the spot and entertains the way it is supposed to do.

While the ending might trigger mixed feelings, you won’t regret watching it. It’ll make you forget the atrocities of the real war out there as well as the pandemic that, even though it has taken the back seat, it still hovers over our heads.

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A Man Called Ove (2015): Comedy/Drama/Romance

After his wife dies, a bad-tempered old man loses the will to live, especially when his new neighbours arrive.

Loneliness, old age, cynicism… and not necessarily in that order. Right off the bat, from the opening sequence, Ove (Rolf LassgΓ₯rd) steals the show as the non-bending tree that will take on the whole world. A man who once was fortunate enough to find happiness… but sadly and abruptly that happiness left him.

The initial emotional flashback provides the right amount of information about who Ove was before he became the dishevelled version of his current self. The sweet and sour present, the dark humour of the twisted fate that doesn’t allow him to leave life on his own terms will make you smile while, strangely, making your heart skip a beat. As the flashbacks unfold, his younger self’s social awkwardness, the determination to overcome it, and the introduction of the wonderful Sonja add plenty of colour to the life of a man who paints it all black. From then on, fate’s mysteries and intricacies will lead you to something that you will have to see for yourselves.

Based on the novel by Fredrik Backman, writer/director Hannes Holm creates an incredibly nostalgic comedy/drama for all ages and sexes, and 27 wins, and 18 nominations – 2 Oscars amongst them – are not enough to praise this Swedish quality of a film. Rolf LassgΓ₯rd, Bahar Pars, Ida Engvoll, and Filip Berg’s performances are priceless – including Orlando and Magic, the two cats involved. For the life of me, in the end, I “saw” the black hole of despair Ove was in, but before I got sucked in, I got pulled out by… Sonja. You’ll see…

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The Greatest Showman (2017): Biography/Drama/Musical

The son of a poor tailor grows up to be a visionary who risks everything to become the greatest showman on Earth.

The dream to make it in life… The ambition to embrace who you really are and to be finally accepted and rewarded for it. That’s what The Greatest Showman is about. Based on actual events and on real people, the film’s narrative is accompanied by, arguably, the most moving songs you’ve ever listened to in a musical. They lack neither the political statement nor the social message while they make you want to sing and dance to their rhythm. Eleven out of these songs were written by lyricists Benj Pasek and Justin Paul who won the Oscar for La La Land (2016). No matter how much I praise them and the songs, I will not do them justice.

The visuals are as amazing, they are gripping, and they mesmerising. Everyone gives a stellar performance and works amazing with one another as if they were all meant to work together. Hugh Jackman, Michelle Williams, Zac Efron, Zendaya, Rebecca Ferguson, Keala Settle, Yahea Abdul-Mateen II, and the rest of the cast purely shine and dominate the screen, and months of preparation, finally, pays off.

Michael Gracey’s directorial feature debut makes The Greatest Showman the Rocky (1976) of musicals. Call it however you wanna call it, praise it to the best of your abilities, listen to everyone else telling you how great it is… the audiovisual outcome of the thousands of people working on it can be only fully appreciated only by watching it. It spent years in preproduction with all studios fearing that an original musical of that budget [$84,000,000 (estimated)] might not perform well, but against all odds, and against ferocious competition, it made $436,949,634 worldwide.

Watch it while thinking where you are and where you want to be or where you were and where you are now and you’ll find your heart skipping a beat. More than once.

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Strange But True (2019): Thriller

Years after a teenage boy died, his then-girlfriend shows up pregnant in his family’s broken house, claiming that it’s his.

Gripping thriller that went under the radar. The opening sequence on its own is interesting, but nothing new. Melissa’s announcement that she is pregnant with Charlene’s son, who died five years prior to that, becomes a proper head-scratcher, but combining it to the opening sequence captivates your attention whether you want it or not. As if that’s not enough, the psychic’s information, the role of the estranged father, Bill and Gail’s subplot, and all that in regard to the opening sequence keep the suspense at peak level throughout most of the film.

The plot in and of itself is heavy and unbearable to whoever has suffered such a loss. Strange But True gives you the feeling that in every sequence something is about to happen, unfortunately nothing good, and the plot gets more and more intricate and dark as the story unfolds. The thrill and drama blend with each other, creating a concoction of overwhelming feelings, making one wonder how will this situation be resolved.

Based on John Searles novel, and penned for the screen by Eric Garcia, Rowan Athale’s massively underrated thriller definitely deserves your attention. There is also a great cast leading it and supporting it: Nick Robinson, Amy Ryan, Greg Kinnear, Brian Cox, Margaret Qualley, and Blythe Danner give amazing performances, truly believing in Athale’s vision. Past the end credits, upon realising the truth, you won’t help but wonder. Pontius Pilate raised the question: “Quid est veritas?” (What is truth?) Do we recognise it when we hear it? Is my truth the same as yours? Is your truth same as others’? Or we all live in a different one? Strange But True addresses the “truth” without being absorbed by it, and, eventually, reveals an ambiguous silver lining that comes from a very dark cloud.

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The Cursed (2021): Fantasy/Horror/Mystery

When a creature of unknown origins terrorizes a small village in 19th-century France, a pathologist with certain skills is invited to explain and give an end to the horror.

Fantasy and reality blend in a great atmospheric, period horror. WWI: The atrocious, yet mysterious opening sequence will get your attention. Cut to the two interweaving stories after that, the mystery increases and the foundation of what is about to happen is built on both the story and character development. The clash is established in a 100”-shot of massacre, followed by, a brutal amputation and an undeniably daring burial. From then on, the inevitable hell is released through oneiric (dreamy) and realistic sequences that will make you want to avert your eyes, but you’ll feel obliged not to.

From start to finish, writer/director Sean Ellis creates an atmospheric supernatural horror, delving in superstition, religion, science and reason, but also into the deepest fears lurking inside our unconscious mind. Furthermore, Boyd Holbrook, Kelly Reilly, Alistair Petrie, Roxane Duran, and the rest of the supporting cast do an incredible job in front of the lens. The Beast of GΓ©vaudan is something that, indeed, happened in a village in rural France, but without being 100% sure, I think it happened a century prior the era depicted in the film. Regardless, it is an over-celebrated and potentially inflated story that culminated in an urban legend that we are still speculating about today as no sufficient evidence explained what it really was or where it came from.

Definitely, a must-watch for every horror fan! Sean Ellis is the genius behind films such as Anthropoid (2016), and my two favourites Cashback (2006), The Broken (2008) – reviews will follow soon. These are absolute cinematic experiences for every filmgoer, and mark my words: Ellis will use his brilliance and make a film in the near future that will make everyone wondering where that came from.

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The Innocents (2021): Drama/Horror/Mystery

During the summer holidays, four children befriend one another as they develop psychic abilities that prove to be anything but innocent.

Slow-burn, atmospheric, and psychologically brutal. I’m not sure how much the children knew about what they were doing in the individual scenes or if they are now allowed to watch the final cut, but would be interesting to find out. As in previous cases though, chances are that they don’t and they find out when they are old enough to watch it themselves and make sense of it. Remember, to them, what they do is just instructions that, without having the big picture, it may as well be just fun. For us though, the adult audience… is soul-wrenching.

The premise is rather simple: Kids are associated with innocence, yeah? And even though that is something you might expect to see here, you will not! These kids do not represent innocence. Not all of them anyway. If you are a horror fan it cannot not remind you of films, such as The Village of the Damned (1960) or Children of the Corn (1984). But it’s neither. The connection between the children starts as mysterious, fun and sweet, but gradually escalates to a dark, sinister, and contradicting connection of unidentified origins.

Very well written, shot, edited, and acted! Eskil Vogt’s The Innocents is definitely worth your attention. Pay attention to the little details: Pessi Levanto’s soundtrack; how his music is used, when it is used. Sturla Brandth GrΓΈvlen’s cinematography; from the long shots (the ominous, invisible force…) to the kids’ close-ups (… affecting them). Extra attention also to Jens Christian Fodstad’s editing and how beautifully the narrative visually flows. All kids do a tremendous job in front of the camera and get a lengthy round of applause, it is Alva Brynsmo Ramstad (Anna) who is tasked with the hardest role and her performance is stellar! I could not tell at first if she was acting. Hats off to all the kids!

Finally, if you are interested, I have extensively delved into the portrayal of kids in horror films on my podcast Kids in Horror: Source of Evil vs Source of Resolution: https://kaygazpro.com/2020/09/09/kids-source-of-evil-vs-source-of-resolution/ Michelle Satchwell, the Head of the Social Sciences Department at a large school in Derbyshire, UK, analyses the use of kids in horror films and examines the genre through the prism of Evolutionary, Cognitive, Psychodynamic, and Social Psychology.

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Like No One Before You (2022): Horror/Drama/Short

A medium’s life changes when she decides to go after the man behind a series of brutal murders.

Like No One Before You is a story narrated from Tina’s standpoint. The horror she goes through answers the questions and fills the gaps that Josephine’s story left behind: https://kaygazpro.com/2022/03/09/like-the-palm-of-your-hand-2022-horror-drama-short/ Thank you ever so much for your support! Stay safe!

DISCLAIMER: This story contains strong language, and is intended for an older youth audience. Listener discretion is advised.

Based on my homonymous short script, Like No One Before You.

Β© 2022 Konstantinos Papathanasiou. All rights reserved.