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. Seána 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-scène (all the visual information within the frame), and, on the other hand, what one of the greatest film theorists, André 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-scène (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 🙂

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 Lassgård) 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 Lassgård, 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 Gévaudan 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 Grøvlen’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.

© 2022 Konstantinos Papathanasiou. All rights reserved.

After Yang (2021): Drama/Sci-fi

In the not-so distant-future, a family’s A.I. breaks down, and, when certain secrets are revealed, everyone starts reevaluating life’s values.

Going from kinda melancholic, to kinda funny, to clearly confusing, Kogonada’s After Yang determines from the very beginning what kind of a film it is. Based on the short story by Alexander Weinstein “Saying Goodbye to Yang”, After Yang walks a tightrope, loses its balance and falls, depending on your school of thought, either onto monotony or somnolence. If you are a fan of Yorgos Lanthimos’ emotionless films, Dogtooth (2009), The Lobster (2015), and The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017), you might find it interesting – and it actually is. It’s no surprise Colin Farrell is in it as he has been in two of Lanthimos’ films and, I’m glad he is for it shows that he is beyond Hollywood cliché roles that boost his personality and not his acting skills. Next to him, Jodie Turner-Smith (Kyra), Justin H. Min (Yang), and Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja (Mika) complete the main, and wonderfully diverse cast.

On the other hand, personally, I prefer films that evoke emotions as their expression fills me with emotions, and, consequently, I express myself. After Yang left me emotionally flat; I grasp the philosophical approach, but I believe it falls short cinematically. Having said that, pay attention to the editing when characters philosophise; the expression of their thoughts right before the expression of their sentences. What does that mean to you? How do you interpret it? What’s the reason behind it? Photography, admittedly, adds to the quality of the film as do certain visual effects, still though, I struggled to get emotionally attached to the narrative. In the end, I liked how the story concluded and how it got there as it left me speculating and/or imagining the real meaning of the plot. Some more questions for you: What does family mean to you? What do memories mean to you? What are we without them?

As mentioned above, there is philosophy aplenty involved. Its cinematic approach though might leave you unengaged with the narrative – but, it may not. This might be due to the kind of action, the kind of utterances, the flat performances, or, simply, the way the story unfolds. I would recommend it to a particular audience as some people I know would watch it and debate or accept my arguments and others would fall asleep the first half hour, blaming me then and asking for their time back.

Now that you know, it’s up to you.

Solidarity for Ukraine 🇺🇦 🙏

Stay safe!

Like the Palm of your Hand (2022): Horror/Drama/Short

A young palm reader’s life changes when she accidentally encounters the man behind a series of brutal murders.

Like the Palm of your Hand is a story narrated from Josephine’s standpoint. The raised questions and the created gaps will be answered and filled next week when Tina’s standpoint will be revealed. Thank you ever so much for your support! Stay tuned and… 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 the Palm of your Hand.

© 2022 Konstantinos Papathanasiou. All rights reserved.

The Taking of Deborah Logan (2014): Horror/Mystery/Thriller

A film crew makes a medical documentary on an elderly woman who suffers from Alzheimer’s, but as she deteriorates, a series of inexplicable events prove to be something more sinister.

Terrifying, despite its small wrinkles. Alzheimer’s on its own is dramatic as much as it is horrific. The people who have it and the people who love them, to say that they suffer is an understatement. But for lack of a better word, that’s what they do. Writer/editor Gavin Heffernan and writer/editor/director Adam Robitel seem to have done a thorough research on the subject and seem to have understood the calamitous situation the people who face it go through. Of course, they decide to add some extra sinistry to a condition that couldn’t be more painful, both physically and mentally so, in the end, you’ll get to decide if that addition actually adds to it or takes away from it.

While there are certain sequences that are terrifying, most of the times, I felt like crying my eyes out. Jill Larson is EXTRAORDINARY in this role, and I think I speak for all of us when I say that no one would want to see their beloveds suffering this way from that or any other disease. It is not disheartening or demoralising… it is crippling, it is bone-shuttering, and it is soul-wrenching. For everyone involved. Larson deserves every praise under the sun for making this found-footage, pseudo-documentary ‘believable’.

I have an interesting comparison for you! Watch The Taking of Deborah Logan, and compare and contrast it with the one below. Two different cinematic experiences that can make everyone appreciate verisimilitude, and the diverse power of narrative. Also, a cinematic reminder that the avoidance of repetitive patterns is not optional, it is pivotal. Relic (2020): https://kaygazpro.com/2020/07/15/relic-2020-drama-horror/

Solidarity for Ukraine 🇺🇦 🙏

Stay safe!

P.S. Produced by, the disgraced now, Bryan Singer.

The Assistant (2019): Drama

A personal assistant’s long day, working for an executive producer who, he and everyone in between, keep abusing their authority.

Welcome to the business side of the film industry. Where, like any other business, $h!t always rolls downhill. And like any other business, one needs to start from the bottom of that hill… from the abyss of nothingness! Where even the cockroaches give one orders. This is exactly what Jane’s (Julia Garner) story is about. Another day at the office…

From the very beginning, Jane’s paid slavery, other than written on her forehead, is dictated by Kitty Green’s lengthy shots and slow editing (Blair McClendon co-edited it). Green produced, wrote, directed, and edited a drama of an aspiring young woman who sacrifices her personal life to do her best at work, only to get bullied by her superiors who abuse their position and treat their inferiors like children of a lesser God. What Green successfully manages to achieve is to constantly indicate that no matter how high or low one is, they’ll manage to give the same amount of abuse, if not more, to the people below them. And as mentioned in the beginning, the one in the bottom gets it all. Watch when Jane herself speaks to the driver, these are the first signs indicating that she herself has already… (you’ll get it).

Regardless of who gets the biggest portion of that $h!t though, what remains a fact is that no one is really happy in the end. Not at all. Not by a long shot. Ambition is characterised by desire and determination and most of us have it in life. It’s something that grows inside us and something that becomes obvious to the people around us. And for that reason, it goes hand by hand with expectation – both ours and the people around us. Trying to constantly match ambition and expectation, it takes a significant toll on our lives, and the time will inevitably come where we will have to ask ourselves: Where do I draw a line? When does ambition stops being ambition and becomes vanity? When I sell my soul, will I know I have done it?

Kitty Green’s creation and Julia Garner’s performance will give you a sneak peek, on a random “Tuesday” of the people working “behind the cameras” in a film’s pre-production process. I’ve seen it, been through it, and I know how it feels like. You become that “Tuesday’s” worth of dogshit. Or less…

Solidarity for Ukraine 🇺🇦 🙏

Stay safe!

Prisoners of the Ghostland (2021): Action/Fantasy/Sci-fi

A man with a dark past is sent to an allegedly cursed place to find and bring back a missing woman.

Experimental, surrealistic, and intricately poetic. Don’t expect to make much sense in the beginning… Or in the middle… Or in the end… I’ll keep it deliberately brief so you can decide for yourselves if this is your cup of tea or not.

It seems like Nicolas Cage and Sofia Butella’s story takes place in a dystopic, surrealistic, post-apocalyptic, Westernised Japan stuck (metaphorically) in (a futuristic) time. How did that happen? It doesn’t really matter. Through diverse filmmaking techniques, such as Tarantin-esque and Lynchean, Prisoners of the Ghostland is inundated with surrealistic performances and utterances, and oneiric (dreamy) and trippy sequences. Furthermore, the spirit of ancient Greek drama that guides it, from the chorus to the means of expression, adds to the hero’s journey on the way of redemption. What to expect, in a nutshell: A story that doesn’t make too much sense, in a film that doesn’t care to explain (not the way you would expect to, anyway). And neither feels guilty about it nor apologises for it.

For your information… the film faced certain setbacks. Director Sion Sono suffered a heart attack and the film was moved from Mexico to Japan, and that delayed the production for about 1 year. It took 17 years for the writer Reza Sixo Safai took to get the film made so, if it wasn’t for Sion’s health, it still would have been 16. This is the fourth collaboration between XYZ Films and Cage who, once more, goes on berserk mode. If you are interested, Mandy (2018): https://kaygazpro.com/2018/12/01/mandy-2018-action-horror-thriller/ and Color out of Space (2019): https://kaygazpro.com/2020/02/07/color-out-of-space-2019-horror-sci-fi/ are equally colourful and crazy. But even they make more sense than this one. Oh, if that’s your thing, don’t forget this one: Willy’s Wonderland (2021): https://kaygazpro.com/2021/11/24/willys-wonderland-2021-action-comedy-horror/

Cage’s surrealistic acting is unique and it’s his trademark. Love him or loathe him, he has managed to stand out and create a specific fan club that follows him. He even got acting schools to focus on his way of performing, calling him the David Lynch of acting (Lynch has praised him already). Needless to say that Butella is mesmerising as ever and, as in previous films, she doesn’t mind getting her hands dirty.

Now that you know, it’s up to you of you are going to give it a shot or not.

Solidarity for Ukraine 🇺🇦 🙏

Stay safe!

The Desperate Hour (2022): Thriller

A mother goes above and beyond to save her child after a horrific event that forced authorities to place a small town on lockdown.

Suspenseful and thrilling, despite its small faults. The first act, the set-up, manages in fifteen minutes to effectively provide all the necessary background info about the family and the surrounding environment. Even though I found it a bit too American at times, maybe you won’t even notice. In parallel, it lays a solid foundation for the second act’s suspenseful sequences.

As the film’s trailer and IMDb’s logline don’t disclose what the predicament is, I’d rather keep it under the wraps as well. The incident refers to the plague that wreaks havoc in the US, and I’m sure hundreds of families who have been through that will not be able to watch it no matter which side of the fence they stand.

I’ll say no more about the plot, so you get its full force when you come across it. It’s only an hour and twenty minutes and it’s definitely worth your time. Naomi Watts is incredible and she carries the whole film on her shoulders. She is a powerful actress and she hasn’t stopped proving it. Other than Watts, the film’s strong suit is the off-screen and restricted narrative. You constantly know as much as the mother does and the facts you don’t know are replaced by dark imagination, hair-raising speculations, and terrifying thoughts.

Somewhere down the line it gets somewhat far-fetched, but don’t let that prevent you from watching it. Chris Sparling, the writer behind Buried (2010) and Sea of Trees (2015) and director Phillip Noyce, the man behind Sliver (1993), The Quite American (2002) and The Giver (2014) bring to life a lockdown film that will cut your breath short despite the script’s minor wrinkles or its filmmaking techniques. I hope it gets your attention.

Solidarity for Ukraine 🇺🇦 🙏

Stay safe!

Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2022): Crime/Horror/Thriller

A group of youngsters decides to revive a ghost town in Texas without possibly imagining that it is Leatherface’s home.

If you’ve watched the latest Wrong Turn (2021): https://kaygazpro.com/2021/03/04/wrong-turn-2021-horror-thriller/ there is no need to explain to you why shoving political agendas down one’s throat can ruin a film. Texas Chainsaw Massacre scared me a bit at first, but managed to saved it quick. And then it ruined it again… Leatherface’s brutality shows no remorse nor mercy before he even wears the face. As a matter of fact, he is the film’s best ingredient.

David Blue Garcia Massacre‘s narrative is built on millennial characters, behaviours, and mentalities that I cannot so much relate to. I find it difficult to understand why would one react to such a horror the way most of them do. But, that is just me. Maybe, you’ll be able to. There is an emotional clash here between totally indifferent (to me) notions, such as “sjw” and “cancel society” and an utterly lethal Leatherface who unleashes his full cinematic potential. Even the bus scenes, admittedly a bloody and visceral sequence, could have been constructed with no music and a lot slower editing to let every savagely violent murder be better visually absorbed.

Tobe Hooper (interestingly, wearing the producer’s hat) and Marcus Nispel created a real suffering to more realistic people that didn’t directly involve politics. Leatherface on its own is a political and, consequently, societal outcome of all the wrongs humanity ever had to offer. Leatherface is a real-life human monster so, being preoccupied with including a forcefully diverse cast – which is insulting rather than politically correct – and building the narrative around that is bound to butcher the film – pun intended. The film originally failed the test screenings with flying colours and the production went from studio to studio. In the end, Netflix got it saying “yeah, whatever. Bring it”.

It seems that today’s hate, racism, bigotry, misanthrope, or however else you want to call it is consuming us individually, but also collectively. Whoever wants to spread hate in society is not welcome in it. History teaches us that change takes time. Go off-grid and leave us and cinema alone. Producers are wasting their money and we are wasting our time. Everyone loses in the end.

Again and again, Leatherface is the one worth watching while the narrative will, potentially, leave you indifferent. Watch it and make up your own minds. And always remember: The passion for violence, physical or psychological, should never transgress fiction!

Stay safe!

P.S. The plotholes and gimmicks are endless.

P.P.S. Imagine wanting to change the world, start knocking on doors to deliver your message, and the first person who answers is Leatherface…

Kimi (2022): Crime/Drama/Thriller

An agoraphobic voice stream interpreter detects a heinous crime and gradually realises that she is next.

Mild suspense and good acting get you through it. Behold… the legacy of Alfred Hitchcock and Rear Window (1954), adapted for the young adults of today, and the exhausting times of our pandemic. Writer David Koepp and director Steven Soderbergh create a world similar to ours with COVID, masks, lockdown references, texting as a means of communication, and, of course, Siri and Alexa that have entered our lives, and, if I’m allowed, infiltrated our homes. In Kimi, this might be the subplot, but it is what still scares me the most – so glad I don’t have either.

Back to the plot, the crime itself is an audio recording, visualised by Angela in her mind. Is it how she pictured it? Is it something else? Maybe worse? The suspense builds up through relatively slow editing that allows the viewer to take in the frames’ information (mise en scène) and “enter” Angela’s world. Soderbergh’s close-ups, tracking shots, low angles, and Dutch shots, effectively manipulate the space Angela is in with a voyeuristic and omnipotent lens that provides information on both the prey and the predator, but carefully and discloses it. Too carefully I will add and that information could have easily manipulated the plot as well, creating a twist – but, no. On the other hand, Zoë Kravitz is the real deal. She’s incredibly convincing as the agoraphobic tech-girl who loses her marbles upon realising what the stakes are. She carries the film on her shoulders.

In the end, for me, the believability was lost for reasons you’ll probably discover should you decide to watch it. I found it quite disjointed. But, don’t let that discourage you. It’s enjoyable even though you won’t be thinking much about it past the end credits. Minor details that I found interesting include, but are not limited to: 1. The way Angela visualises the murder in her mind. Watch it and think about the way you compose images in your head. What shape are they in? Are they continuous? How clear are they? 2. In a drugged state, in the mini van, the way that through her eyes, the audience and Angela alike, perceive both her and her surroundings, while listening to the thugs chatting. These are details a meticulous director pays attention to and proves once more that Soderbergh takes control of both his on-screen but also off-screen narrative – everything happening inside and outside the frame.

Stay safe!

Mother/Android (2021): Drama/Sci-fi/Thriller

A pregnant woman and her boyfriend seek a safe place to survive the uprising of the androids that have eliminated most of the human world.

Hollywood’s post-apocalyptic attempt to thrill, doesn’t hit the spot. I’m gonna keep this deliberately short. The good news is Chloë Grace Moretz. Moretz was born to become an actress thus, she is amazing no matter what kind of film she’s in. Even in films such as the Shadow in the Cloud (2020): https://kaygazpro.com/2021/01/20/shadow-in-the-cloud-2020-action-horror-war/ that had a great premise and incredibly poor development (mother against monsters vs mother against androids).

Everything else is a three-act free-fall to solid concrete. Producer/writer/director Mattson Tomlin’s film lacks the understanding of both the apocalyptic and the post-apocalyptic stage. Simple as! There is nothing more to it. It is an underwhelming idea of what would have happened if androids rebelled against the species that created them. James Cameron succeeded in providing that version of our future about thirty-eight years ago and has yet to be surpassed.

Admittedly, some handheld shots work really well, but it is the narrative that doesn’t. Other than androids’ predicament, certain human decisions and actions are far beyond understanding, such as nine-month pregnant Georgia’s decision to save Sam. That defies all wrongs of decision-making ever made in the human history of wrongs. Yeah, that much sense it makes! And I will not even get started on the countless plotholes. Shame, really. But I insist on Moretz’s amazing performance (at everything she’s in).

Stay safe!

P.S. To every aspiring screenwriter out there – including me: Producers who constantly claim they seek perfection, innovation, and uniqueness in your scripts in order to consider it… they are lying!

Pontypool (2008): Fantasy/Horror/Thriller

What seems to be just another day in the studio for a radio broadcaster and his team, turns into a living nightmare when disturbing information comes in of brutal killings around town.

Claustrophobic and satirical, with poignant messages hidden under the surface. I love that film! It is the simplicity, the mystery, the restricted narrative, and definitely Stephen McHattie! The lady banging on the window in the first act is the harbinger of doom and the twenty-minute gap between that and the first information coming in from Ken about “the riot” serves as the doom’s delay. The moment the suspicions become confirmation, the audience’s imagination starts riding into the unknown, filling it with grotesque images of horrible death not seen at all. What is that crowd? Why do they do atrocious things to other people? What do these specific words trigger? Why do these specific words trigger it?

In the end, it feels like a satyre of certain known horror films, such as Night of the Living Dead (1968) and Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978), but it carries a couple of messages that are open for debate. Without spoiling it to you, the mention of the “separatists”, and the use of the English language play a significant role to those subliminal messages’ interpretation.

Based on Tony Burgess’ novel “Pontypool Changes Everything”, who also penned the script, director Bruce McDonald brings to life a humorous horror that is meant to scare, entertain, and make you think at the same time. Lisa Houle, and Georgina Reilly amazingly accompany McHattie It is a must-watch regardless of how you look at it. I hope you enjoy it!

Stay safe!

Dark Crimes (2016): Crime/Drama/Thriller

A businessman’s murder case will trigger an investigation on a writer who wrote about it, down to the detail.

Great story, with even greater flaws. The daring opening sequence will neither disgust you nor leave you flabbergasted. Arguably, certain close-ups would have achieved one or the other, but that would have probably led to an R-rated final cut so, director Alexandros Avranas uses them instead on the characters. How important is that sequence to the narrative’s development, then? Would it still be effective without it?

Based on David Grann’s article “True Crimes – A Postmodern Murder Mystery” (The New Yorker, February 11, 2008), Jeremy Brock’s script cuts right to the chase and doesn’t invest in the characters’ involved. The problem with this is that, as audience, we relate to no one. Literally, no one. Unfortunately, that leads to not caring about about anyone, or anything. Eventually, that leads to the suspense’s murder, and the film’s downfall.

While non of the action is shot closely, the faces’ close-ups in conjuction with the positioning of the camera right in front of the actors during dialogue – like talking to it – and their placement right in the middle of the frame, feels like awkwardly breaking the fourth wall for an unknown to everyone reason.

While the story is strong, brutal and real, these directorial decisions not only distract but also confuse. Another issue I spotted was the short sentences and the very scripted arguments, i.e., only after one would finish a sentence the other person would start talking. That is, probably, due to the effort the native English speaking actors put to speak in a Polish accent and the Polish/non-native English speaking actors to speak in English – with the exception of Martin Csokas (Kozlov) who is of Hungarian descent, speaks the language, and is quite convincing.*

I’ve watched Avranas’ previous work and I would recommend you to watch Miss Violence (2013), and the controversial (for some) Love Me Not (2017). As for the cast, Jim Carrey, Marton Csokas, Charlotte Gainsbourgh, and Agata Kulesza, as bright as they may be in front of the camera, they don’t get the chance to shine. Jim Carrey was great in The Number 23 (2007), regardless of its critical and box office performance, but the the accents issue and Avranas’ choices made one wonder how he used to be the highest paid comedian out there.

Stay safe!

*He is New Zealander and can pull also off British and American accents.

The Art of Self-Defense (2019): Action/Comedy/Crime

A socially awkward and self-doubting young man decides to join an eccentric dojo after being attacked on the street.

Awkward, sarcastic, dark, misleadingly funny, but disturbingly dramatic under the surface. The Art of Self-Defense is a case study from numerous aspects, and choosing that particular martial art as a means to “prove” it, brings a questionable and head-scratching outcome. Here it goes…

As per IMDb, writer/director Riley Stearns also trains and teaches Brazilian jiu-jitsu. The picture on the dojo’s wall is of Grandmaster Morihei Ueshiba Osensei, the founder of aikido. In the same dojo, Sensei (Alessandro Nivola) while respecting Osensei and preaching his ways, he teaches Karate. Taking for granted that Stearns knows they are three different martial arts and that he doesn’t undermine his audience’s intelligence, I come to the conclusion that the mix-up is deliberately placed there, and more particularly, in Casey’s head.

Other than the martial arts, there are quite a few things that don’t add up. Without any spoilers, that particular punch at the office in regard to the extremely mild consequences, the answering machine’s message, the night class, the characters comprising it, the normally accepted old-fashioned patriarchy and misogyny, the dog(s) and how that relates to the film’s denouement, the Sensei himself… These, and a lot more, don’t connect properly in the end, leading me to believe that Stearns follows a “Lynchian” way of storytelling.

I can’t say a lot more, and I don’t want to, really. Stearns has created a dark psychological comedy/drama that you’ll either love it or loathe it. Expect surrealistic reactions and events that, when thought of in a real-case scenario, they would create emotional contradictions. Jesse Eisenberg, Alessandro Nivola, and Imogen Potts impress with the way they choose to conceal, implode and explode their emotions, delivering the unpredictable performances the obscure narrative demands. I hope you appreciate it.

Stay safe!

P.S. Eisenberg and Potts collaborated again the same year in yet another allegorical/psychological film that deserves your attention. Vivarium (2019): https://kaygazpro.com/2020/03/31/vivarium-2019-horror-mystery-sci-fi/

These Final Hours (2013): Drama/Sci-fi/Thriller

With only a few hours left before the end of the world, a man needs to decide where his consciousness lies.

Impactful and soul-wrenching apocalyptic indie drama! Right off the bat, the end is nigh! The comet has hit the Earth, half of the world is already gone, and Perth is the last place the firestorm is going to hit! James’ last journey to redemption is also our tour to the end of humanity. The comet may be the one that kills the planet, but it seems that humanity has died way before that. The journey consists of violence, amorality, guns, drugs, partying, death aplenty, and… maybe hope, right before it dries up. Twelve hours to a destination that, in this case, it actually matters as much as the journey itself.

The film’s quality shows in all three stages of production. The script is solid, the mise-en-scene is thoroughly meticulous from beginning till end, and the editing moves the story forward by pacing it, keeping the interest always at peak level – excellent use of flashbacks. Writer/director Zak Hilditch incredibly utilises his small budget, investing it in an apocalyptic drama that reveals the hair-raising nature of ours, but also the one that makes us proud of the tiny little things we have or we can achieve in life… even right before death.

Nathan Phillips, Angourie Rice, Jessica De Gouw and Kathryn Beck deserve a massive round of applause for their incredible performances that bring to life characters that go through an unfathomable situation. The end of the world is something that we may not be thinking about seriously but These Final Hours is a nightmare but also food for thought for all of us. The Australian cinema has proved time and time again that it can deliver gripping and gruesome dramas and horrors, and this one is no exception.

Stay safe!

Every Secret Thing (2014): Crime/Drama/Mystery

A little girl’s disappearance makes a detective focus her investigation on two young women who just came out of prison for killing a baby seven years prior to that.

Thrilling, yet something missing. I believe a story is as good as one tells it. The inciting incident, the death of an infant at the hands of two young girls is powerful and the foundation of a nightmare that terrifies the parents the same way the boogeyman terrifies the kids. The second missing girl, right after the girls’ release from prison, now eighteen years old, makes your heart skip a bit, turning it into a dark “whodunit” that makes the audience constantly wonder which of the two may have done it – if it’s one of them.

Everyone immediately involved with the case carries a cross that leaves an awful stigma in their soul that cannot be removed. The girls, Alice Manning (Danielle Macdonald) and Ronnie Fuller (Dakota Fanning) for doing back then what they did. Mrs. Manning (Diane Lane) for even walking around town when everyone knows what her daughter had done. Detective Nancy Porter (Elizabeth Banks) who found the first baby, got mentally traumatised, and now relives the horror once more, not knowing if she’ll get redemption or deeper scars.

The plot gives the chance to everyone to unfold their point of view that sticks to “facts” that are merely their personal interpretation of a twisted reality looping in their head – with the exception of Detective Porter. She is the one who has to read between the lines of the rest call “truth” and find out what has happened to the little girl before it’s too late.

Based on Laura Lippman’s novel, Every Secret Thing is a gripping “race against time” drama/thriller from writer Nicole Holofcener, director Amy Berg, and producer Frances McDormand that, even though it’s not without faults, it manages to get your attention and sustain it till the very end. Having said that, Berg decided not to invest too much in the drama surrounding this horrifying situation and that works against the suspense’s build-up. I believe that taking the time to shift the focus, every now and then, to the characters’ personal moments it would give the audience an inner view of why everyone acts the way they do. In addition, that would work well with the flashbacks.

Regardless, it deserves a watch as all actresses are very charismatic and each and every one of them contribute to the aforementioned thrill.

Stay safe!

The Wind (2018): Horror/Mystery/Thriller

A tragic event makes a woman not be able to distinguish what is real and what isn’t in a secluded house, in the Western frontier of the late 1800s.

The opening sequence’s protracted shots, the abrupt cuts, the non-linear narrative, and the soundtrack that accompanies them are elements of indie films that, when used appropriately, can tell a story in an unconventional way that has the potential to defy the usual Hollywood standards (clichés). The Wind starts off that way and its plot unfolds in three different timelines. Even though dissimilar in duration, their forceful impact leaves a mark for a variety of reasons.

How that impact will affect us is subjective so, as objectively as humanly possible, I will only comment on the filmmaking techniques and the metaphor it carries. Apart from the techniques mentioned above, the Dutch angles (diagonal shots), certain jump scares, and the when and how the flashbacks are used add to the film’s quality and make you contemplate what is happening and when is happening as the story progresses. The Wind is the feature debut for director Emma Tammi as well for writer Teresa Sutherland, who, both of them, bring to life a western/horror that is not cut and dry. Is it metaphysical? Is it paranormal? Is it psychological? It will inevitably confuse you, but simultaneously, will intrigue you, make you think twice, and question everything you will have seen until the end credits start rolling down. Caitlin Gerard, Ashley Zukerman, Julia Goldani Telles, and Dylan McTee believe in Tammi’s vision and deliver convincing performances, but most credits have to go to Gerard carrying the horror on her shoulders

For no specific reason, I had high hopes about this one, and, in the end, I loved it. The open ending leaves numerous possibilities for interpretation and you may switch your TV off, but your mind will want to reexamine the scattered clues left for you from beginning till end. The Wind is a low-budget film that incredibly utilises every penny invested in it. A must-watch for every mind-bending horror fan out there.

For spoilers, please, have a look at the separate section below. Read only AFTER you watch it!

Stay safe!

P.S. Think carefully which “tragic event” I am referring to in the logline.

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SPOILER ALERT!

The clues that will, potentially, help you make up your mind, or, at least, point you in the right direction are the following:

  • Maybe she lost a child, maybe she didn’t.
  • Her washing line has only women’s clothing – maybe she never had a husband, or if she did it was before her journey there.
  • Similarly, the reverent may have never visited her. She didn’t know him even though he was (probably) the first person she met upon arriving there – he gave her the demon booklet.
  • Respectively, maybe the neighbours never existed and all of them were people who she may had met on her way there and fictitiously constructed stories about them.
  • Incidents that further indicate that she is not mentally well are the following: The goat and the wolves pose equal threat to her, she carries a very specific drug (opioid?) in a box that comes in frequently handy, in the end she is not stabbed, then seen on a bed in the middle of nowhere, and then on the ground.

You can approach it, I believe in two ways:

1. By explaining it in a similar manner to other American, early-settlement mysteries, such as the lost colony of Roanoke Island.

2. As one oneiric (dreamy, even though “nightmarish” might be more appropriate) sequence of a woman who succumbed to her mental traumas, and loneliness and isolation only unbearably added to her unfathomable pain. Having said that, she maybe even never made it to any house, suffering on her own, constantly descending to paranoia, in the middle of nowhere.

A Classic Horror Story (2021): Drama/Horror/Mystery

A group of carpoolers will inexplicably wake up one morning in the middle of a forest, the home of a bloodthirsty cult.

Bloody and mysterious, but nothing you haven’t seen before. The dark and hostile opening sequence reeks of pending vulgar, cult-y death! The technique of cutting away to the humorous introduction of characters (future victims), but also the characters themselves constitute a… classic (American) horror story. Of course, the film is Italian so, let’s see how that translates.

Admittedly, the first bloody sequence, half an hour into the film, is going to cut your breath and make you want to avert your eyes, but chances are that you won’t. From then on, expect some more of that, but not much more in general. It is a film that you won’t be talking about past the end credits. It has been done before numerous times the last twenty years, and better:  Wrong Turn (2003), Wolf Creek (2005), The Hills Have Eyes (2006), I Spit on Your Grave (2010), The Killing List (2011), The Ritual (2017), Midsommar (2019), etc. By adding all of the above into the mix, it doesn’t necessarily make the mix more flavoured. On the other hand, this merely means that it cannot be gruesomely and morbidly entertaining. And it is, just don’t expect much. Writers/directors Roberto De Feo and Paolo Strippoli and Netflix create an amalgamation of horrors with a touch of social pedantry and a hint of urban pseudo-philosophy.

The show is mostly stolen by Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz who is a very convincing actress and, inarguably, one of the hottest women in the film industry. Coincidentally(?), she’s the leading actress of Revenge (2017), portraying a woman who suffers a vicious physical and sexual attack (and takes a bloody revenge after that). Exploitation film finds its roots to the early “talkies”, right after the silent era, and it seems that almost a hundred years later still sells. I guess, for as long as there is a demand there’ll always be a supply. Even though I watch, analyse, and academically research films from every walk of life, I am a horror fan and watch all kinds of horrors. But, if one day that sub-genre eclipsed, I wouldn’t miss it. The is a hideous sadomasochistic psychology behind it, making it the harbinger of snuff films. But that is a different discussion for a different place.

Stay safe!

Ghostbusters: Afterlife (2021): Adventure/Comedy/Fantasy

Facing financial difficulties, a single mum, daughter of an original Ghostbuster, and her two kids move to a small town and reconnect with their legacy when they have to face a powerful entity.

Nostalgic, respectful, funny, and beautifully unrealistic! With E.T. the Extraterrestrial (1982) leading the way to Stranger Things (2016 – ) – 40 years, come to think about it – the use of children in sci-fi/fantasy adventure is constantly on demand. Of course, that journey started with The Wizard of Oz (1939), followed by Alice in Wonderland (1951) and then later productions, but postmodern cinema follows Spielberg’s example as seen by numerous films and series that followed his critically acclaimed classic that unprecedentedly (then) smashed the box office.

Ghostbusters: Afterlife brings back to the silver screen that nostalgia that Stranger Things brought prior to it to our tellies. If you think that Finn Wolfgard (Trevor) is coincidentally in both of them you are wrong as, in one episode, he was dressed up as a Ghostbuster and writer/director Jason Reitman became aware of it. Reitman is the son of Ivan Reitman who directed both Ghostbusters (1984/1989) and dedicated his film to Harold Ramis (Egon Spengler). His film is officially the third installment and is the worthy successor of the previous two.

On IMDb, the production details scroll down about a mile so, here’s how it is in a nutshell… all kids have an amazing chemistry between them. Finn Wolfgard, the extremely talented McKenna Grace, Logan Kim, and Celeste O’Connor gracefully take up the torch and proudly put the uniforms on. Before getting suited and booted, Reitman’s plot solidly binds them together, and, after they do, they offer the laughter and thrill the Ghostbusters were meant to offer. Carrie Coon and Paul Rudd complete the main cast as reckless adults who are worst than the kids.

On a personal note, Hollywood might be offering now the racial variety it should have offered decades ago, but it still proves to be exploiting rather than doing it for equality and diversity. I’ve delved into it numerous times so, I won’t go through it again. Just ask yourselves this: from the main cast, is there anyone who couldn’t as well be a fragrance or fashion model? Right… We still have a long way to go!

Anyway, all cast and crew deserve a humongous round of applause as the result exceeds the vast majority’s expectations. Excellent punch lines and adventurous sequences fill a couple of hours of your life, taking your mind off pandemics, volcanoes, tsunamis, or other morbid news from around the globe.

Stay safe!

The Power of the Dog (2021): Drama/Romance/Western

A natural-born rancher and his business-oriented brother have to keep working and living together when the latter gets married to a woman that changes their status quo.

A superb psychological drama that delves into unknown personal motives by weaving a stealthy and obscure subplot. Of course, it was the raving reviews, nominations and awards that intrigued me to watch it, but it was Ari Wegner’s photography that hooked me, and the first dining scene that got my undivided attention. I hadn’t read much about it, or Thomas Savage’s novel so, its story and character development were quite the surprise.

Benedict Cumberbatch’s accent (Phil), Jesse Plemmons’ idiosyncratic performance (George), and Kirsten Dunst’s first leading role (Rose) since (the head-scratcing) Woodshock (2017) makes the mixture quite revelatory. The chemistry between them is explosive and Cumberbatch and Dunst go the extra mile while delivering their performances. Then, the polar opposite way their characters see but also deal with life, at first and then later, is all about every hero’s journey. The fact that it leads to a place we didn’t expect is part of that journey. I guess, if we did expect it, it wouldn’t be a ride worth following. With Rose’s suffering being the epicentre of the story, George’s apathy towards Phil’s passive aggression becomes the narrative’s driving force. By even slightly changing those actions and reactions, you get a completely different film.

While we are it, the narrative’s division to chapters puts it chronologically into perspective. As much as non-linear narratives are more appealing to me, in this case, it makes absolute sense to be constructed the way it is. The mesmerising producer/writer/director Jane Campion, the woman behind films such as, The Piano (1993) and Bright Star (2009) does a spectacular comeback with a well-carved drama that invests in love, hatred, despair, and alienation in a time where the gender roles where defined by archetypes.

Peter Sciberras’ editing controls the film’s overall rhythm by pacing the shots, especially, during dialogue sequences, balancing this way the utterances with their respective reactions, and enhancing the drama and the mystery behind the questions raised. The answers don’t come easy, but when they do they justify the aforementioned rhythm.

Assuming that it can be compared to The Legends of the Fall (1994): https://kaygazpro.com/2020/12/29/legends-of-the-fall-1994-drama-romance-war/ I would argue that the Legends is significantly more dramatic with a variety of breathtaking performances, something that here is only achieved by Dunst. But, then, the ending gives away a different kind of film so, whether the comparison can be made or not is purely subjective.

Stay safe!

P.S. Plemmons and Dunst are a couple in real life and have two sons together.

P.S. Cumberbatch and Dunst went into method acting and didn’t speak to each other while filming.

P.P.S. Even though it takes place in Montana, it was actually shot in Campion’s homeland, New Zealand.

People Like Us (2012): Comedy/Drama

After his dad dies, a man is obliged to give a large amount of money to a sister he never knew he had.

Based on a real drama, it evokes the right emotions despite its Hollywood style. Sales… Right off the bat, you get the pressure of selling and then selling some more in a fast-paced montage that increases the tension. And, in the end, for what? When Sam (Chris Pine) and Richards (Jon Favreau) meet, you get instantly the answer. Sales…

Anyway, when the pace slows down, the drama kicks in and starts speaking volumes of who Sam is, and what kind of a relationship him and his family have, revealing the complications with the people considered to be the closest to him. But the pace picks up again with Frankie’s introduction (Elizabeth Banks), offering an upbeat rhythm that relaxes the drama, adds the right comedic elements with her charm, and gets you comfortable in your couch wanting to see where this is heading and how it is going to end up. The hero’s journey begins with the question, how is he going to tell her?

There are plenty of montage sequences that can be characterised as too “American”, making it somewhat a “popcorn” flick, but, personally, I wasn’t distracted by it. The film’s narrative has two major qualities: As audience you know as much as Sam knows and that is enough to elevate the suspense because we already know that one thing that Frankie doesn’t. Additionally, the delay of resolution only perpetuates the inevitable and adds to the already intensified suspense, giving you enough time to contemplate the depth of the situation everyone is in.

When I first watched it, I found it difficult to believe that the people who wrote it and directed it, Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman respectively, are the same people behind blockbuster franchises, such as Transformers and Star Trek. I didn’t think they could pull off a drama like this, but I was pleasantly surprised I might say.

Based on true events, People Like Us finds a place in out hearts, and, despite its flaws, Chris Pine, Elizabeth Banks, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Olivia Wilde compensate plenty enough and what they are going through, in the end, becomes the relatable sweet and sour story that was promised in the first act. Have a go at it, you won’t regret it. It’ll put a smile on your face as much as it’ll bring you tears.

Lastly, Elizabeth Banks has no reason to get political because she is losing her charm and charisma as an actress. She is very talented and appreciated despite the couple of hits and misses that she has faced. She is a diverse actress and I believe she can take on a variety of roles, actually, on whatever studios land on her plate.

Stay safe!

My Heart Can’t Beat Unless You Tell It To (2020): Drama/Horror

Two older siblings take care of the younger one in a way that consumes them both physically and mentally.

Slow-burn, indie horror that invests in both character and story development. The gritty opening sequence captures the audience’s attention and promises a certain level of brutality. It’s not what it looks like though. From the beginning till (almost) the end, the film does not appeal to our emotions. Acts I and II feel emotionless, as the only one who exhibits some kind of emotions is the younger one, Thomas. But, writer/director Jonathan Cuartas aims exactly for that. What the siblings have been going through for who knows how long for, has exhausted them; it has drained their lives.

Surely, using the word “drain” is somewhat ironic given what it has been revealed they are doing, and even though we think we know why they are doing it, the fact that it is not been disclosed to us, it effectively builds up the suspense and makes us wonder when and how it will be revealed, as well as how this dark journey is going to end.

The film doesn’t try to fool anyone. It is a nano-budget project that tells a very specific story. Despite the budgetary constrains, Cuartas and the leading cast, Patrick Fugit, Ingrid Sophie Schram, and Owen Campbell give heart and soul to the project and lead you to a melancholic third act that matches the (inarguably depressing) previous two. Definitely not an uplifting film and most definitely not for everyone.

Credits should also be given to the director of photography, Michael Cuartas for the meticulous mise-en-scène throughout the film and composer Andrew Rease Shaw for the haunting music on these selected sequences. Last but not least, to the film editor T.J. Nelson for not only controlling incredibly the pace and rhythm but for something else as well. Even though ‘montage’ is often characterised as ‘editing’, it is, arguably, an oversimplification. There are numerous kinds of montage that serve different purposes, the narrative’s purposes. One kind is the ‘sequential analytical montage’ where what is revealed is the beginning of an action and the end of it. When you get to see the end, your mind fills the gaps with what happened in between. For example, if you see in one shot two cars speeding up against one another and in the next shot the two cars crashed onto each other, you can picture in your head how it happened. Orrrrrrr, when you see in one shot someone who his throat is about to be slit and in the next shot an amount of blood been stored and served…

Stay safe!

Hippopotamus (2018): Drama/Thriller

An abducted woman wakes up in a room with no memory of how she got there, while her kidnapper keeps giving her some kind of painkillers.

Interesting, yet poorly executed. The positive one-word or one-line reviews are placed on the films’ posters as part of the marketing and are meant to draw viewers in; excite them before they even go to the cinema or hit “play” at home. Hippopotamus‘ poster serves that very same goal. Does it live up to the expectations though?

From an audiovisual point of you, the ADR (Automated Dialogue Replacement) and sound mixing is poor. That stands out immediately, it doesn’t get any better throughout so I move on. From a visual point of view, it is also poor. On the 20th minute, there are a few well-edited dolly shots (a shot pattern that repeats about 20′ later, and then 30′ after that), but then the poor directing activity continues. Ingvild Deila’s and Stuart Mortimer’s acting is decent, but the characters seem and interact in a flat manner and the bad ADR only distracts the audience’s attention anyway. The real saviour of the film – at least, visually – is the editing.

From the script’s point of view, the slow-burn build-up technique only works if it amounts to something. That applies, especially, to scripts that their plot unfolds in single location. Hippopotamus ticks both boxes, but producer/writer/editor/director Edward A. Palmer leaves it to the point that audience’s attention has long wondered off. By the time the film makes it to the resolution, it is already late. Palmer seems to have had a vision that he pieced together well, but the pieces themselves proved to be problematic.

If you manage to make it up to the last part of the second act, you’ll be the judge of whether it was worth it or not. Personally, I didn’t face the twist as a revelatory experience. Far from it. After all the previous “buts” mentioned above though, I’ll throw in a positive one. Making any type of film, is not an easy task. From nano-budgets to tentpoles, every film faces its difficulties and I’m sure Hippopotamus was not short of those. No one can accuse a film where its cast and crew were paid next to nothing or nothing that they haven’t done a decent job. The fact that they managed to complete it and make it to Amazon Prime, is a humongous achievement if you ask me. And Hippopotamus easily stands out in the platform as one of the best achievements in that genre.

Stay safe!

Una (2016): Drama

A young woman visits the workplace of an older man, and the encounter reveals dark secrets that neither of them can put behind.

Unsettling theme, uneasy pace, and an uncomfortable watch. It becomes obvious from the very beginning what the premise is but David Harrower’s script (and original play), Benedict Andrews’ camera, and Nick Fenton’s editing use “predatory” techniques instead of just tackling what you already know is going to happen. Psychologically, it is like when anticipating someone to die but not being ready at all when they actually do. If the comparison seems unfair, this is what happened to Una; she died on the inside.

Fenton’s editing keeps this steady pace from beginning to end, offering neither excitement nor boredom, but maintaining a realistic sense of time for the story to unfold and disclose information that the audience is not sure if they want to know (until they know for sure they don’t). Benedict Andrews and director of photography Thimios Bakatakis mount the cameras over the shoulders and follow Una and Ray down a rabbit hole that depresses and divides our feelings. Cinema, by its nature is, intentionally or not, a form of voyeurism, but Andrews’ directing wants to make it obvious that this is the intended purpose. He wants you to be this omniscient voyeur of Una and Ray’s story and make sure you are uncertain about casting the stone you are holding. It is one of them films where you can’t wait to end, it doesn’t, you want to turn it off, but, simultaneously, you cannot not know the end. And as if the plot is not utterly stomach twirling enough, the subplot makes it even worse for Ray who, in the meantime, has been forced to announce to some of his employees that they are fired… while Una is there.

The moment I really wanted to put an end to both of their suffering (and mine) and turn it off, was about an hour and ten minutes into the film, where after Una’s particular line you know that this abhorrent situation is gonna go to hell. I could hear my heart pounding and felt like sweating. And I put a full stop here just in case you decide (after all that) to watch it. What’s important to do at this point is to praise Rooney Mara and Ben Mendelsohn for their performances on an individual level and their tough chemistry on a collective one.

Harrower and Andrews put their audience into a very tough spot by not distinguishing who is the prey and who is the victim when in a case like this it should have been pretty obvious. I do not condemn that, if anything it is remarkable, but it is not a film I can recommend to anyone.

Stay safe!

Dead Man Walking (1995): Crime/Drama

When a nun receives a letter of support from a convicted murderer on Death Row, she needs to find a way to comfort him as well as the victims’ families.

Heavy real drama, supported by incredible acting. Dead Man Walking starts off with the beginning of a tough relationship between Sister Helen Sejean and the convicted murderer on Death Row Matthew Poncelet. Coming from totally different backgrounds and currently being on opposite sides of the fence, this short-term relationship is meant to be tough; like no other relationship before it. And as if the plot is not morbidly unbearable, the subplot, how Sister Sejean deals with the heavy hits she receives, supports the plot and further burdens on her and the audience’s soul.

There are some extremely short straws handed in this story: The two kids who got brutally murdered, their parents who suffer their unspeakable loss, Matthew’s family who suffers the consequences of his unspeakable action, Matthew himself who suffers for reasons you’ll get to know in the end, and, last but not least, Sister Sejean who stands right in the middle of it. It is through her, that we get to experience everyone’s pain, and, ironically, the only person (except for the audience) who gets to experience hers is the person responsible for the inhumane acts and who is about to die. Sister Sejean burdens everyone’s suffering in her soul, in an attempt to help everyone involved find peace in their hearts.

Based on Sister Helen Sejean’s homonymous book “Dead Man Walking”, writer/director Tim Robbins brings to life the shattering and soul-crashing real drama/horror that cost the life of two young people and ruined the lives of so many around them. Watching it in the cinema back then, on a VHS a few years later, or on Blu-ray now, I must admit that it has been equally hard. Dead Man Walking is a heavy drama, paying respect to the audience’s intelligence without trying to proselytise, judge, or point you in any particular political or religious direction. Tim Robbins and Sean Penn were nominated for the Oscar, and Susan Sarandon got it.

Not that I have run out of newer films to watch, but every now and then I enjoy going back to films that made me love cinema as a kid and get a first cinematic view of the world that I got to know – more like, still get to know. I might not be well known for my religious beliefs, but no matter what the reason is, anyone helping or trying to help a fellow human being is a person I want to help achieve it.

Stay safe!

Last Night in Soho (2021): Drama/Horror/Mystery

New to the city of London, a young female student mysteriously connects, through dark and haunting visions, with a young female aspiring singer from the 1960s.

Impressive visuals and sounds in an unnecessarily convoluted story. Didn’t really feel like an Edgar Wright film, to be honest. No particular lengthy tracking shots, no editing with invisible cuts that extend an unnatural continuity… but then… after the first plot point… upon Eloise’s/Sandie’s entrance to the club… there are some daring shots and filmmaking techniques to be talked about, namely the dancing sequence between them two ladies and Jack.

From then on, it starts becoming transparent what’s going on, in a visually interesting and intricate way. Yeah, but is it transparent? Is it her mother’s condition and now her? There is a difference between “misleading” and “manipulating” and I’m a bigger fan of the latter because it requires preparation and, in the end, if done successfully, it can leave the audience mouth agape. If not, the result might be just… meh! Regarding misleading the audience though, if the reason for doing it is not solid, and if not done successfully, it can cause aggravation and it can be perceived as cheap and insulting. So, in my humble opinion, unless the filmmakers have that solid reason, it should be avoided.

Without spoiling it for you, Last Night in Soho is misleading when it could have been avoided. Eloise and Sandie could have been something more feasible, something more real that even when you know what it is, it is still terrifying. I wish I could elaborate on that more, but for more, please, have a look at (the not without flaws) Sucker Punch (2011): https://kaygazpro.com/2019/06/30/sucker-punch-2011-action-adventure-fantasy/.

Don’t be discouraged to watch it though. The visuals and sounds may not compensate completely for what I just mentioned above, but are rich and challenging. Writer Krysty Wilson-Cairns and writer/director Edgar Wright manage to recreate an amazing 60s London atmosphere that is not easy at all. The photography, the costume designs, the make-up and hair styles, the editing, and the soundtrack are beyond impressive and offer the intended cinematic experience. Furthermore, Thomasin McKenzie (who I couldn’t stop comparing her looks and acting to Abigail Breslin’s), Anya Taylor-Joy, Michael Ajao, Matt Smith, Terence Stamp, the late Diana Rigg (this was her last film), and the rest of the cast shine in front of the camera.

Losing oneself in the pursuit of happiness will always be more than one has bargained for. And insightful writers and directors have limitless ways of expressing that haunting journey. Of course, the same can be said for the broader sense of paranormal. See and decide for yourselves which one could have been more dominant scenario here.

Stay safe!

P.S. My worst experience working in Soho was, upon finishing at 03:00, walking to Trafalgar Square, waiting for the night bus for half an hour, and then being on it for another hour (amongst a variety of characters) until I make it to Northwest London.

Real Steel (2011): Action/Drama/Sci-fi

In the year 2020, where robot boxing is the main sports event, an ex-boxer and his estranged son discover a robot that has the potential to win fights, but also bring them closer.

Redemption, salvation, and hope in an adventure for the whole family! This is Hollywood adventure at its best! Behind the cameras, wearing the director’s hat, Shawn Levy, and wearing the producers’ hat, Robert Zemeckis and Steven Spielberg create a wonderful and inspiring story, for kids and adults alike. Based on the short story by Richard Matheson, John Gantis’ screenplay focuses on the estranged father/son relationship, and through robot boxing, the journey of reconciliation. Atom becomes the Deus ex machina of hope for them two and, consequently, for all of us who have stopped or forgot looking for it. The “David vs Goliath” fight is as old as the Bible, and, to his day, it still inspires, again, kids and adults alike, to face our fears and keep walking regardless of what life throws at us. The “delay of resolution” narrative technique fits perfectly here as both the story and character development unfold in an old-fashioned way, avoiding gimmicks, easy ways out, and yawnsome obstacles that stagnate the story.

Hugh Jackman and Dakota Goyo make an incredible father-son duo, Anthony Mackie, Hope Davis, the late James Rebhorn, and Kevin Durand complete the fantastic cast but… Evangeline Lilly is the one who lights up the room every time she’s in the shot. Her acting simply evokes all the intended emotions and her appearance is just mesmerising. Another special reference deserves the film’s editor Dean Zimmerman who spots the solid acting, isolates those responses, and places them exactly where they need to be placed to amplify the suspense, but also the drama. When you get a chance to watch it – or re-watch it – pay attention to the final battle between Atom and Zeus and see how these reactions within the action enhance the passion. When and how often he cuts to each character, but also how long he cuts to them makes the whole difference in the world. I’m not gonna bore you with it, and don’t really pay too much attention as you’ll miss the most important part; the story itself.

Probably my favourite Shawn Levy film, as much as I’m fond of all of his films in general. Definitely worth a watch and re-watch. With a plague hovering over our heads for over two years now, any inspiration is welcome.

Stay safe!

P.S. From the simplest boxing moves to the “rope-a-dope” technique, was all supervised by Sugar Ray Leonard himself.

The Matrix Resurrections (2021): Action/Sci-fi

Mr. Anderson lives an unfulfilled life, but glimpses of a different reality make him question what is real, what isn’t, and if he should follow once again the white rabbit.

Sour wine in a new, unmarketable bottle. Films that have impressively elaborated on the human consciousness, so far, involve, but are not limited to: Koyaanisqatsi (1982), Dark City (1998), The Thirteen Floor (1999), Inception (2010), Sucker Punch (2011), and, of course, the original Matrix Trilogy (1999 – 2003). Again, to name but a few. In The Matrix Resurrections it becomes clear that the Matrix, for the people still living in the Matrix, was just a game and the person who designed the game was no other than Thomas Anderson – a game designer working for a major company. In a meeting they have, the company’s CEO establishes that their parent company, the entertainment conglomerate corporation WarnerMedia will go ahead for the “Matrix 4” game with or without them. “Originality” becomes the key point of the meeting. Ironically, this is exactly what The Matrix Resurrections lacks. In a nutshell, and spoiler-free summary here are the major issues that The Matrix Resurrections suffers from:

  • Agent Smith has been upgraded to incomprehensible levels while his personality has been degraded – no disrespect to Jonathan Groff as it is his character development’s fault, and not his. If Hugo Weaving was offered the role, I can see why he gave it a pass.
  • The Analyst goes from God level to b*tch level within a few sequences so he left me utterly bamboozled; a shocking inconsistency. Between him and the Architect, there’s no comparison whatsoever. Again, not the actor’s fault (you’ll see who).
  • Morpheus is a pure downgrade. Remember the original Morpheus’ inspirational speech in Zion. If yes, stick to the memory, nothing like it here. Understandable why Laurence Fishburne had nothing to do with it (even though his answer was cryptic).
  • Io: Again, remember the wild dance (and sex) in Zion after Morpheus’ speech? Io develops no connection with the audience whatsoever.
  • Neo’s and Trinity’s chemistry, albeit existing, it is constricted by the narrative’s shallowness.
  • The choreography and fighting styles not only don’t stand out, but also look fake. Everyone just fights the same way. One style fits all. Especially, given that Keanu Reeves is portraying John Wick, the fight choreographer should have paid a lot more attention to the details.
  • Remember, upon the original trilogy’s release, how many of us ran to the music stores to buy the soundtracks’ CD’s? Well, this is not the case here either.

I feel I need to stop before I annihilate everything about it. The bottom line is that nothing is memorable. It is actually forgettable. Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Ann Moss age like a good wine, but I wish I could say the same thing about the film itself. If anything stood out at all, that is Bugs! Jessica Yu Li Henwick should get all the praise. It feels like she is the only one who goes the extra mile for what she says and does, and her effort is my only takeaway after the end credits start scrolling down.

Films are products of their time. Lana Wachowski’s The Matrix Resurrections does not only lack originality, it also lacks the original trilogy’s mysticism. It provides answers too soon, too fast, to trivial questions compared to what the original Matrix (1999) raised back then. It lacks the original characters’ authenticity and passion, and it lacks the narrative’s existential philosophy.

Warner Bros has been following a very dangerous distribution technique with its affiliated company HBO, distributing to both cinemas and HBO Max simultaneously. I guess as long as their parent company’s (AT&T) stock goes up, they don’t care as much for the films themselves. Welcome to the business of art. Or, is it the art of business…

Stay safe!

Don’t Look Up (2021): Comedy/Drama/Sci-fi

In a good news/bad news situation, two relatively unknown astronomers discover a comet, but they also go the extra mile to let everyone know that is going to hit the Earth.

Hilarious, depressing, and ultimately illuminating! Don’t Look Up cuts straight to the chase. A comet is about to hit the earth and the government and people are in la-la land. For the first half an hour, I was wondering when the comedy will stop overshadowing the drama. But when all characters and events were presented, I realised that this comedy will be camouflaging the drama throughout. Aristophanes “gave birth” to comedy in Athens, in times where his city was suffering under the Spartan siege. “Satire”, “farce” and “parody” are elements of comedy that ridicule and criticise people, society, and governments with the intention to raise awareness, but also educate. And this is the kind of comedy Don’t Look Up is.

The government is a joke and the majority of the people they represent even more so. Writer/director Adam McKay condenses quite a few messages into his film, but shows without telling that politics, social media, and tabloid are more important than life itself. Stupid shows and hosts, indifferent pop role models, and scandalous and moronic politicians all develop as part of the subplot that supports the comedy behind the horrific and dramatic plot, namely the extinction-level event that only surfaces the human buffoonery.

I particularly liked the parts that served as mockery to, additionally, certain Hollywood apocalyptic films, capitalism, and the influence of lobbies on our society and government. The part that I particularly didn’t like was Ariana Grande’s concert sequence that, in my opinion, cherished one of the things it successfully managed to trivialise minutes earlier; the indifferent pop role models. I can understand the antithesis it tried to create with the “rednecks”, but, for me, it ended up contradicting itself. Of course, the best part is actually the end. For obvious reasons, I cannot disclose it but it is surely the appropriate denouement of the two-hour laughter and thrill that preceded it.

McKay always manages somehow to assemble incredible cast – here, five Oscar winners and two Oscar nominees: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep, Cate Blanchett, Jonah Hill, Mark Rylance, and Timothée Chalamet. With them, Rob Morgan and Ron Perlman complete the diverse cast.

There is so much one could say about films like this. Surely, it’s a great Netflix investment that some people will like and some people won’t. Ironically, a film that mocks capitalism/lobbyists, “influencers”, and uses a comet as a metaphor for the global warning is distributed by a colossal company and adored by social media addicts and people who could’t care less about the environment. Go figure! Maybe, “satire”, “farce” and “parody” actually describe the world we live in. I still believe there is hope though.

I very much hope you enjoy it, as well as this festive period. This is my last film review for 2021.

Stay safe!

P.S. I believe it was George Bernard Shaw who said: “If you want to tell people the truth, you’d better make them laugh or they’ll kill you.”

P.P.S. If I had to vote for the most hateable character, that would be Peter Isherwell. The things I could say about this guy… Marginally, in second place, comes Jason Orlean.

A Million Little Pieces (2018): Drama

On the brink of death, a young alcoholic and drug dependent is sent to rehab to confront his addictions, but also the demons inside him.

Realistic enough approach with no easy ways out. The opening sequence tells it all. It is the alpha and the omega of life as an addict. The beginning of life’s end as we know it. But as the addict doesn’t. Not yet. Not until they actually die.

Wrtier/director Sam Taylor-Johnson introduces James’ personal calamity in a quite graphic way, but she clearly makes her point. Upon making it though, she focuses on the calamity’s solution, the rehab, and sinks her teeth in it. The film’s strong suit is that it doesn’t make it easy; neither for the addicts involved nor for the audience. The visuals are visceral and don’t hold back because the narrative doesn’t hold back. It is restricted as it starts from the end. It is the solution’s unbearable, soul-destroying strain that starts unfolding the problem, in glimpses, backwards. Taylor-Johnson uses the days of addiction as a means to delaying the resolution. Every time the audience thinks that James is making a step forward, she brings the past to the foreground as a moment of realisation that it is not going to be as easy as we would expect it to be. Alas, we get to witness James making two steps backwards, instead.

As for writer/actor Aaron Taylor-Johnson, admittedly, he has come a long way. From Kick Ass (2010) to today, he’s proved to be a diverse actor who puts heart and soul into everything he’s been in and A Million Little Pieces is no exception. My only distraction with portraying James Frey is that his physique doesn’t match a drug addicts’ physique so chances are that he didn’t want to give it up for the role – maybe, lose a couple of pounds. His acting is strong and he does go the extra mile on camera. Beside him, you can find David Dastmalchian, Billy Bob Thornton – shocking to see him being the sober one – as his mentor, and Odessa Young as James’ fellow messed up passenger in this horrendous journey. Giovani Ribisi deserves a special mention for he keeps surprising everyone with his diverse performances. Particularly here, the things he says and does are shocking and add to the situation’s decadence. Combining the two sequences, the one in the shower and the other handing over his daughter’s number to James, his journey, with the end remaining unknown, it is still complete.

Overall, I felt for James’ journey despite the controversy that surrounded the book after the real James Frey told the truth about it (I’m not going to go into it). It is one hell of a journey or, more accurately, one journey through hell that definitely raises awareness.

I very much hope you enjoy it, as well as this festive period.

Stay safe!

P.S. Juliette Lewis and Charlie Hunnam are in it as well, but I found their presence indifferent so, I’ll refer to them when I have something nice to say.

Encounter (2021): Sci-fi/Thriller

An ex-Marine runs away with his kids in the middle of the night, in an attempt to save them from an extraterrestrial organism that takes over people.

Captivating premise, convoluted and disoriented elaboration. Very intriguing opening sequence with interesting visuals that leads only to questions. An unknown amount of people seems to have been infected by an extraterrestrial organism that arrived on Earth inside an asteroid. The connection between that and the reason why Malik has taken the kids, although it makes sense, or should makes sense, is a head-scratcher. That is because the information is being given, at first, in a disjointed way.

Answers kept coming as the narrative unfolded, but I couldn’t help but notice the mixed feelings I’ve had during the process. It felt like while things were happening nothing was happening. The soundtrack, the sound levels, Malik’s relationship with his boys, the subplot’s connection to the plot… The latter, especially, confronts, contrasts, even contradicts the initial questions, something that raises yet another question: How bad is he? I say no more about the events, as spoilers are not allowed.

Once all answers are given, the uncertainty and confusion are been instantly replaced by transparency, and while that is meant to happen, that fact that the fog gets dissolved instantly, it disrupts the pace and rhythm. I can’t say with certainty if it’s the script that’s causing it or the editing, but I’ll go with the script. Writer Joe Barton and writer/director Michael Pearce raise ambiguous feelings while developing both the characters and the story and, admittedly, Jed Kurzel’s original music, albeit atmospheric, it interacts with the visuals in a way that… cancels out the intended feelings. Which, in all honesty, I am not sure what they were meant to be. This ambiguity reflects on Riz Ahmed’s and Octavia Spencer’s performances who look as bewildered about their utterances and actions.

If I had to put my finger on, I would say that the major cause of this is the epidermic approach of what is happening to (or with?) Malik. Again, I can’t anymore. Have a look for yourselves. I don’t regret watching it, but I’m glad I didn’t have any expectations. Maybe, you’ll feel differently.

I hope you enjoy it, as well as this festive period.

Stay safe!

Dead End (2003): Adventure/Horror/Mystery

A family’s trip to the in-laws on Christmas Eve becomes a nightmare in the middle of an endless, eerie forest.

Dead End is so bad that is amazing! Dead End is cult! Dead End belongs to the pantheon of Christmas horrors for numerous reasons. Let’s see… In Dead End, you get to experience the worst decisions ever made by anyone in the history of horror films. Forget about going to the basement when one hears a sound. We are talking about a series of THE most horrendous decisions you’ve ever seen. Dead End is a character-driven film so, it is the characters that move the story forward; people that you definitely don’t want to be next to you if you were to experience any horrific situation. From a filmmaking point of view, it often looks like a student project, but given the narrative’s development, I don’t think anyone should pay serious attention to how writers/directors Jean-Baptiste Andrea and Fabrice Canepa have made it. The jump cuts are definitely the highlight though.

Regardless of how I have described it so far, we need to keep in mind that Dead End has turned 18 and, maybe, that’s why it feels outdated. It could have easily been an episode of The Twilight Zone (1959) so, in the end, most of what’s been said and done kind of makes sense. Ray Wise and Lin Shaye (veteran in horror films) are a great on-screen, fighting couple and both of them perform brilliantly. Alexandra Holden and Amber Smith captivate with their presence.

If you are looking for something horrific yet entertaining, maybe, that’s the one for you. I very much hope you enjoy it, as well as this festive period.

Stay safe!

Winter’s Tale (2014): Drama/Fantasy/Mystery

An ostensibly ordinary thief who finds out he is gifted with a miracle falls in love with a woman who dies in his arms, and devotes his life to bringing her back.

A good, old-fashioned love story told in a modern, allegorical way. I remember watching it for the first time years ago and didn’t really get some parts, but I do remember being moved by the storytelling. Watching it now, admittedly, I got more out of it and the trick was to not pay attention to the details of how good, evil, destiny, and miracles work. It is what it is, and that is it. Once that is out of the way, the focus remains on the love story itself. Everything else mythologises our purpose on this Earth and, in a mystical way, sets the cogs of love in motion.

Jessica Brown Findlay stole the show for me as I found her utterly breathtaking. In an effort to be objective though, all performances are exceptional; Colin Farrell as a destiny seeker, Russell Crowe as a psychopathic demon, and Jennifer Connelly as an actress, a woman, and a human being. With them, Eva Marie Saint, Graham Greene, Kevin Durand, William Hurt and Will Smith complete the wonderful cast. Smith is not even on the credits and the only actor who knew about him being in the film was Crowe who shared scenes with him. Awesome stuff! I need to say how amazing I find the casting process. Crowe and Connelly have worked previously in A Beautiful Mind (2001), Crowe and Durand have worked together in Robin Hood (2010) and Noah (2014), and writer/director Akiva Goldsman with all of them in previous projects as a writer.

Goldman’s directorial debut could not be more sentimental. Steven Spielberg acquired the rights in 1983, shortly after Mark Helprin’s novel was released, Martin Scorsese was considered to direct it, and then numerous others, but, in the end, it just stayed on the shelf for years.

Even though I’ve been “accused” for being a cynic in real life (multiple times), that kind of sentimentality seems appropriate and befitting these days. Chances are that neither angels nor demons set the rules on why, how, or how long we should live on this planet, and the same applies for destiny and miracles, but when I remember the phrase “what we know is a drop, what we don’t know is an ocean” I drown my cynicism into that ocean and enjoy possibilities however unreasonable they might seem.

It’s Christmas time, in the middle of the pandemic, so we need as many miracles and help as we can get. From wherever or whoever that may be.

I very much hope you enjoy it, as well as this festive period. Happy Christmas!!!

Stay safe!

Black Christmas (2006): Horror

On Christmas Eve, a group of sorority girls are getting murdered one by one by an escaped psychopath who used to live in their house as a kid.

Blood, gore, incest, cannibalism, and sexualised females all up for the Christmas spirit. What can I say… Black Christmas is the poster child of standard Hollywood horror films that leave nothing to the imagination. All information is dumbed down and fully explained and that speaks volumes regarding the audience it aims to address. Based on Roy Moore’s 1974 original script, writer/director Glen Morgan creates a film that does a colossal disservice to the original film, and unfortunately, drags everything and everyone down with him. IMDb classifies it just as horror, but the comedic elements cannot be hidden, but if they were not meant to be comedic… well, they are anyway.

I could name and number everything that is wrong with the film, but I won’t. It will be like kicking down a film that has already suffered atrocious reviews and Morgan himself paid a very heavy price making this film. The only actress who made a successful career after Black Christmas is Mary Elizabeth Winstead who, to this day, proves to be an absolute gem. Don’t take my word for it though, see Kate (2021): https://kaygazpro.com/2021/11/01/kate-2021-action-adventure-crime/. Personally, I find Yan-Kay Crystal Lowe a gem that needs a lot more spotlight.

Reportedly, Morgan disowned his own film and blamed the Weinstein brothers for it. If anything, that’s the only reason I’m glad it didn’t do well. Out of the four Christmas horrors I reviewed this festive period, this one comes by far fourth, with:

I hope you enjoy this festive period! Stay safe!

Better Watch Out (2017): Comedy/Horror/Thriller

When the parents decide to have a Christmas night out, they hire a babysitter for their teenage boy, but what seems to be a home invasion will make their night a living hell.

The Christmas horror for the whole (15 and over) family. Expect something like Home Alone (1990) meets The Babysitter (2017). The premise, at first, is simple. The parents want to have a Christmas night out, they hire the neighbourhood’s beautiful girl to babysit their teenage boy, they leave, and not long after, a home invasion shakes them to their core. From what I see, IMDb doesn’t disclose much, if anything, so, I’ll make it deliberately generic, and keep it as well spoilers-free.

Very well structured both in terms of script and execution. In less than ten minutes, every character has been introduced as well as the house with all its rooms. The inciting incident is very well disguised and when it reveals itself, it shocks! From then on, there is a roller coaster of incidents that take place one after the other in a synchronised manner, not very well timed to keep it real, not too messy to confuse. Overall, in less than an hour and a half, Better Watch Out brutally entertains, horrifies, and leaves you in the end with wanting some more. Olivia DeJonge, Levi Miller, and Ed Oxenbould have an amazing chemistry between them and shine in front of the camera. I wish I could say more, but I will stop here.

Behind the camera, writer Zach Kahn and writer/director Chris Peckover create the kind of mixed genre that I particularly like. Comedy/horror is not easy to make. To be able to scare someone but also make them laugh takes a lot of consideration and preparation as these are polar opposite feelings. And to blend them into a film, especially involving kids, imposes a risk to the filmmakers when pitching such a project to the producers and distributors. Why? The target audience is not clear to them which means that it will potentially be unclear to the audience too. And from what I read, it didn’t do particularly well. But don’t be alarmed by that. As I’ve said before a few times, especially this time of the year, this is the kind of fictional excitement we need from the comfort of our couch. The one outdoors is definitely the one that we neither want nor need.

I very much hope you enjoy it, as well as this festive period.

Stay safe!

P.S. Olivia DeJonge and Ed Oxenbould play brother and sister in M. Night Shyamalan’s The Visit (2015).

Krampus (2015): Comedy/Drama/Fantasy

While the whole extended family has gathered, a boy condemns Christmas and unwillingly summons the demon of the festive period.

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989) goes dark in 20′! Funny opening sequence with everyone desecrating the Christmas spirit leads to the troubled family at hand and the visit of their extended family that immediately amplifies the troubles. The comedy element so far prevails and the kid’s wish becomes the necessary plot point that switches it to horror. Interestingly, IMDb does not classify Krampus as horror, but I’m sure if any of our families were involved in a remotely similar situation, it would be.

The moment the demon is introduced, Krampus turns really dark, eerie, and atmospheric, offering immediately the vibe of hopeless and desolating Christmas. Writer/director Michael Dougherty, the man behind Trick ‘r Treat (2007) https://kaygazpro.com/2019/10/31/trick-r-treat-2007-comedy-horror/ manages once more to get into the spirit of the respective festive period and entertains us with balanced laughter, family gore and the incarnation of the brutal Austrian/German pagan demon and his minions. Evil teddy bear-type toys, angel ornaments, a Jack-in-a box (that swallows kids), a robot, and numerous gingerbread cookie monsters offer pleasurable cinematic deaths and keep you company for over an hour and a half.

Personally, my favourite sequence is Omi’s animated flashback. This is the kind of storytelling Tim Burton would be proud of. It is heartbreaking and annihilates human nature. Its message that the adults pass on the torch of darkness to the kids, and they carry it on only to do the same with theirs, cuts my breath.

What the narrative’s evilness achieves, is both likeable and dislikeable characters to become relatable to the audience. You cannot help but empathise even for the suffering of those who, at first, you wouldn’t mind if they got rid of from the beginning. No one, especially around Christmas, deserves to experience such family-level brutality. And this is where the “success” of films like Krampus are based on: Christmas spirit massacre with a paradoxical message of hope. Pay close attention to the ending as there are two ways to interpret it. Which one do you choose?

So… Does Christmas romance depress you? Do Christmas comedies bore you? Does Christmas drama leave you indifferent? Well, try Christmas horror/comedy. Try Krampus! The answer to what if Santa went rogue (we’ve seen with Superman already).

I very much hope you enjoy it, as well as this festive period.

Stay safe!

P.S. While watching the opening slo-mo sequence with everyone busting in and fighting over Christmas stuff like it’s the end of the world, I couldn’t help but imagine people in 2020 and toilet paper. You know what I mean…