Calibre (2018): Drama/Thriller

A weekend of quality time turns into a living nightmare for two friends in a remote Scottish village.

Low budget, high quality, excellent deliverance! Absolutely captivating! Two friends go hunting in the countryside at a time when everything works out well for them. What can go wrong, right? Calibre is the epitome of how one’s life can descend into darkness right before it makes it to hell. A hell, no religion has prepared you for.

I won’t tell you much, but I’ll tell you this: it’s not an easy watch. It offers a soul-wrenching realism that will unavoidably place you in Vaughn and Marcus’ shoes, but especially Vaughn’s. It will make you question what you would have done if you were them and will challenge your emotions and principles. On the other hand, you will be placed in Logan’s shoes too. Keep this in mind, a remote local community’s sense of justice might be different to anyone who has not been born or raised in a place feeling forgotten and abandoned by the rest of the world. Watch it and see what happens. Feel the suspense escalating by the minute as well as the psychological torment.

Netflix couldn’t get this more right! Writer/director Matt Palmer puts together a flawless drama/thriller, offering a suspense masterclass. Jack Lowden, Martin McCann, Tony Curran, and the rest of the cast deliver exceptional performances, amplifying the already heightened suspense and drama. My advice is to read nothing about it! Turn the lights off, put Netflix on, choose it, and experience the horror of consequences.

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P.S. That was the second time I watched it and I felt the tension even more.

VFW (2019): Action/Crime/Horror

In a not-so-distant dystopian future, a group of veterans barricades themselves in a bar to save a young woman from a drug dealer and his goonies.

Hail the man who paved the path… the great John Carpenter! Director Joe Begos honours Carpenter and Grindhouse films with a modern low-budget, gory, bloody, dystopian horror that will take you back to the 80s’ fun the movies had to offer. Great photography, great editing that defies time, space, and continuity errors, great practical make-up effects, great synthwave music that accompanies the film throughout, and great acting by Stephen Lang, William Saddler, Fred Williamson, and Martin Kove – all acting veterans that Begos gives them a chance to work together.

Just for your information, as per IMDb, the film’s budget was meant to be $20M, but when purchased by Cinestate/Fangoria, the production company that made it, it was cut down to a six-figure number. What I want to say with this is that movies are categorised as entertainment, but they belong to the film industry. It’s a business. A really tough one. So, production, management, marketing, distribution, and numerous other “gatekeepers” that you may have never heard of will influence in innumerable ways the film’s final cut. Back in the 60s, dealing with “auteurism” was illuminating and innovative. Now, nobody wants to hear it.

Back to the film, there is nothing to examine, really. VFW works as it is, I wouldn’t change anything. It’s not Devil’s Rejects (2005), but who cares. Whatever flaw you find, and you will, is highly entertaining and, potentially, meant to be found. Just forget your problems and enjoy for an hour and a half. There is enough bitterness out there for a thousand lifetimes.

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P.S. Not long after the film’s wrap, Cinestate was shut down because one of the producers was ultimately revealed to be the Harvey Weinstein of indie cinema. Fear not though, other pieces of shit like him who knew all about it and covered it up went on to work for other production companies whose films most or some of us have thoroughly enjoyed. Yeah…

Thoroughbreds (2017): Comedy/Crime/Drama

Two diametrically opposite upper-class teenagers try to devise an intricate and sketchy plan.

Two amazing actresses in a quirky and unpredictable thriller. The slow-burn and verbose Chapter One patiently sets up the scenery and provides insight into who Amanda and Lily are, what they hide inside them, and what they can potentially unleash. This is where Chapter Two comes in and gives you a glimpse of that and provides the visual justification the crime needs to be committed – a little bit more fast-paced, admittedly, but not significantly. And you also get to know Tim, the accomplice. Chapter Three, the actual crime (?), is what carries the most suspense. Or is it? Chapter Four… actually, I am not telling you about Chapter Four.

Cory Finley has written and directed a deliberately “emotionless” or emotionally confusing (at best) film. From a directing point of view, the protracted shots are a visual feast. They thoroughly frame the action, leading the audience to what they think might happen or purposefully misleading them to what actually does. But what really holds the attention is Olivia Cooke and Anya Taylor-Joy. They are remarkable, and they have fruitful careers in and outside of Hollywood. Their diversity is simply astonishing. Unfortunately, though, not long after the film’s wrap, Anton Yelchin tragically passed at the age of 27. The film is dedicated to his memory, and we surely and sorely miss him.

I recommend it to anyone who has patience with art. To anyone who knows how to follow the narrative and accept it for what it is and not what they would like it to be and to anyone who appreciates great acting. If you are going to like it or not, cannot be predicted. Regardless, I say have a go at it. I believe it’ll be worth your while.

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It’s Kind of a Funny Story (2010): Comedy/Drama/Romance

A clinically-depressed teenager checks himself into an adult psychiatric ward and… a kind of funny story unfolds.

Based on Ned Vizzini’s homonymous novel and his actual brief hospitalisation in 2004, It’s Kind of a Funny Story is actually kinda funny the way it is told. While nothing is or should be funny, mind you that what you see is Vizzini’s reality and the way he perceived it at the time. Also, remember that the funniest comedies derive from the deepest dramas. And that’s what writers/directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck brilliantly do, they beautifully bring out both. They feel Vizzini’s inner struggle, they endorse it, they respect it, and they bring out the didactic and sensitive side of it. Keir Gilchrist (Craig), Zach Galifianakis (Bobby), and Emma Roberts (Noelle) enter Vizzini’s world, and under the supervision of Boden and Fleck, bring tears as much as they form smiles. Lauren Graham, Jim Gaffigan, Zoë Kravitz, and Thomas Mann (who a few years later aced it in Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, link below) do a great job in showing the lack of understanding the former people need to cope with the world. As a feel-good film, based on an extreme yet realistic situation, when asked towards the end how Craig feels about his release, he responds with what the takeaway of the film is; that he “can handle it”.

Sorrowfully though, eventually, Vizzini couldn’t. And, sadly, three years after the film’s release, he actually did what for so long had been going through his mind. But his admirable effort, strength, and will are what we need to keep in our minds.

With It’s Kind of a Funny Story, I conclude the list of some of my favourite comedies/dramas/romances that Hollywood has managed to hit the nail on the head. While I am not a huge fan of romances, I cannot not appreciate the efforts of the directors, writers, editors, cinematographers, actors, and all cast and crew that have contributed to making these films as amazing as they are. The rest of the list includes Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (2015): https://kaygazpro.com/2022/12/27/me-and-earl-and-the-dying-girl-2015-comedy-drama-romance/, The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012): https://kaygazpro.com/2020/12/16/the-perks-of-being-a-wallflower-2012-drama-romance/, Ruby Sparks (2012): https://kaygazpro.com/2022/12/27/ruby-sparks-2012-comedy-drama-fantasy/, and The Rules of Attraction (2002): https://kaygazpro.com/2022/12/28/the-rules-of-attraction-2002-comedy-drama-romance/ and 500 Days of Summer (2009): https://kaygazpro.com/2022/12/29/500-days-of-summer-2009-comedy-drama-romance/.

This is the side of Hollywood that not only doesn’t insult human intelligence but actually gives plenty of food for thought and evokes all the intended emotions – which is what cinema is meant to do. Please, feel free to explore more of those films and create a list that made you laugh and cry, and, why not, move on to other genres as well that, potentially, thrill you, horrify you, etc. Regardless, I will always do my best to keep you posted on the latest releases as well as older ones that you potentially missed or forgot about over the years.

This is also my last review for this year. I concluded it with films that when I watched back then and rewatched now have had a positive (even cathartic) impact on me and I hope you feel the same. I wish you and your families a healthy, happy, and incredibly productive 2023. Be always well and stay safe!

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Comet (2014): Comedy/Drama/Romance

A couple’s six-year relationship is experienced through parallel universes.

Justin Long and Emmy Rossum! And if that alone doesn’t sound appealing enough (which it should, by the way), know that Sam Esmail pens the script and sits in the director’s chair. Yes, the talent behind Mr. Robot (2015) who is also Rossum’s husband in real life. Oh, and Rossum and Long are also the producers, but enough of that.

Comet is not an easy film to make or make sense of. While science is referenced numerous times, art is brought up a lot, and philosophy takes over every parallel universe none of it really matters individually as much as it matters collectively. To the point that they matter so much, that become incomprehensible to the human brain, and, alas, love is what matters the most even if we can’t comprehend that either. Does love mean happiness, sadness, personal completion, or fulfillment? Something else? Does it mean some or all of that to us? Or to some of us? If not all, what does it mean to the rest? Furthermore, why is it that we can never fully express ourselves until it is too late? And when that “late” comes, all the should-haves, the could-haves, the would-haves immensely flood our reason and intricately overwhelm our emotions, feeling like no matter how many lives we had, like a Nietzschean theory, we would always doom it, experiencing all universes colliding, crashing on us.

Dell and Kimberly seem to be inundated with such questions and it seems like no matter how many parallel universes they go through, there will never be an “ideal”. The signs that they desperately try to make sense of, are personal interpretations of a world that will never come to be, longing for the little things from other worlds that they think if they combined together they would create the perfect scenario in which their relationship would be what they individually want it to be.

Having said all that, there is no reason to talk about match-cuts between universes, thorough mise-en-scène, amazing acting, and further elaborative filmmaking techniques. Just know that it is a beautiful film, based on a beautiful script with numerous funny and dramatic lines, performed beautifully by a beautiful on-screen couple.

As I’ve said before, the exploration of the human mind through voiceovers, monologues, dialogues, and generally the provocative inner conflict belongs to a series of films I’m currently revisiting and reviewing and I believe that has gone largely under the radar. Comet is definitely part of that series that adds to Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (2015): https://kaygazpro.com/2022/12/27/me-and-earl-and-the-dying-girl-2015-comedy-drama-romance/, The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012): https://kaygazpro.com/2020/12/16/the-perks-of-being-a-wallflower-2012-drama-romance/, Ruby Sparks (2012): https://kaygazpro.com/2022/12/27/ruby-sparks-2012-comedy-drama-fantasy/, and The Rules of Attraction (2002): https://kaygazpro.com/2022/12/28/the-rules-of-attraction-2002-comedy-drama-romance/. More to follow!

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Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (2015): Comedy/Drama/Romance

An awkward high school student who makes spoof films is forced to hang out with a girl that has just been diagnosed with cancer.

The side of Hollywood that can genuinely make you laugh as much as it can make you cry. This is what I call a flawless Hollywood film! You may think my view is a tad bold, but hear me out. The narration, the characters, the utterances, and the actions are shown in the surrealistic way they loop in Greg’s mind. And who has never thought: “Oh, if anyone could see how I make sense of this world in my mind…” Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is Greg’s perception of his world as seen through his eyes, but if I were to be more technical, through Jesse Andrews’ novel/script and Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s lense.

There is a lot to pay attention to, but let me summarise my top details for you just to get an idea and, maybe, appreciate somehow what I think deserves appreciation.

  • The hilarious and inventive spoof titles include, but are not limited to: ‘Anatomy of a Burger’ [Anatomy of a Murder (1959)], ‘Death in Tennis’ [Death in Venice (1971)], ‘Gross Encounters of the Turd Kind’ [Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)], ‘Raging Bullshit’ [Raging Bull (1980)], ‘A Sockwork Orange’ [A Clockwork Orange (1971)], ‘The 400 Bros’ (The 400 Blows (1959)].
  • The extremely well-written dialogues and monologues are funny, dramatic, and/or both. They will make you laugh, and cry separately and/or at the same time.
  • Thomas Mann (Greg), Olivia Cooke (Rachel), RJ Cyler (Earl), Connie Britton (Greg’s mom), Nick Offerman (Greg’s dad), Molly Shannon (Denise), and Jon Bernthal’s (Mr. McCarthy) performances are just beautiful!
  • From a filmmaking point of view, when Greg’s mom initially tries to convince her son that he must hang out with Rachel, her endless, non-stop verbal diarrhea is seen and heard uncut all the way from downstairs to upstairs till Greg slams shut the door. The continuation of her speech is accompanied by a continuous shot.
  • Respectively, when Rachel makes the discussion about her treatment and discusses it with Greg (01:01:33 – 01:06:53), the five-minute shot remains uncut, not distracting the audience’s attention from the heavy accusations exchanged.
  • But if we were to analyse the cuts and the montages throughout the film, I would draw the conclusion that they are there to visually explicate the good, the bad, the ugly, and the beautiful. For example, the editing controls the rhythm of the film by creating sequences of various paces, such as the introduction of the high school – narrated by Greg, the animation cuts that anecdotally appear out of nowhere and purely visually make the point they want to make, and the mixture of such sequences that constantly and meticulously regulate the comedy/drama balance.

In an attempt to avoid making this review into analysis, I’ll stop here and let you watch it. The aforementioned are merely examples that corroborate my point, but there is so much more that you will fall in love with. I will make reference to this extended review in reviews of similar films that I will not say so much about. I am leaving such films for the end of the year as I have nothing negative to say, and have made an impact on my expectations of films, raising the bar quite high. Look out for similar reviews that I will upload in the following days. A film of the same level and category is none other than The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012): https://kaygazpro.com/2020/12/16/the-perks-of-being-a-wallflower-2012-drama-romance/. Again, what I see as Hollywood’s strongest suit.

It took me years to watch it again and it evoked the exact same feelings as it did back then. I laughed out loud and burst into tears altogether. I hope you experience it the same way.

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Ruby Sparks (2012): Comedy/Drama/Fantasy

A lonely and eccentric young novelist starts writing a book about his dream girl only to wake up one morning and see her right in front of him.

Ruby Sparks misplaces your dreams and crawls under your skin. At first, you get a glimpse of reality. You see how it is, you get to know Calvin, the way he experiences the world, and the way the world experiences him. Then you get a glimpse of fantasy, an insight into what is happening inside Calvin’s head. What follows is beautiful montages of reality and fantasy, and the result is the marriage of the two that creates the predicament. The comedy as well as the suspense of that predicament work perfectly on different levels. Calvin and his brother Harry know that she is a product of the former’s imagination. Then, everyone else doesn’t, including Ruby. You, as the audience, know all that, but no one knows where the story is heading. No one knows how this love story is going to end. Will she find out? How will she find out? If she will, how will she react? What will that mean for them individually? What will it mean for them collectively?

Real-life couple Paul Dano and Zoe Kazan (also producers) have amazing chemistry, chemistry initially created by Zoe Kazan herself (script) and brought to life by directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris [Well-known for Little Miss Sunshine (2006)]. As for the story itself, there are numerous ways to interpret its meaning. My advice is, don’t try to make sense of the “how” just of “why”. The way I see it, our imagination is limitless. The world we create inside our heads can be anything we want to it be. All emotions and feelings can change into what we want them to be, and we can be the people we always wanted to be. A wise man once said that the writer’s job is the loneliest job in the world. Not only do they isolate themselves from the rest of the world to write, but they also become gods of worlds that don’t exist. I believe the problem arises the moment that “God” comes back from that isolation and realises the lack of control they have over reality.

Again, you can make whatever you want of it, there are no right or wrong answers. If there is something certain that is the fact that it is beautifully made and worth your while. Ruby Sparks is part of a series of films that I believe belongs to Hollywood’s most appealing side – and I review them back to back. Similar films I have reviewed and couldn’t recommend more are: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (2015) https://kaygazpro.com/2022/12/27/me-and-earl-and-the-dying-girl-2015-comedy-drama-romance/ and The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012):  https://kaygazpro.com/2020/12/16/the-perks-of-being-a-wallflower-2012-drama-romance/

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A Very Harold and Kumar Christmas 3D (2011): Adventure/Comedy

Having taken different paths in life, Harold and Kumar meet after a long time only to find themselves, again, in a pickle.

Funny, insulting to everyone, and truthful to the franchise. I’ll be short and to the point. The narrative remains the same: The situation calls for Harold and Kumar to reunite, to go through one hell of an adventure where everyone gets high as a kite, wreaking havoc, and in the end, everyone to live happily ever after. Rough Mexican in-laws, the Russian mob, an animated killer snowman, kids on drugs, Santa Claus, and Neil Patrick Harris are but a few stops in Harold and Kumar’s journey. Kal Penn and John Cho make a great duet and as with the rest of the films, they offer the smiles we need in times like these, and, especially, this season. Neil Patrick Harris always nails it and his comeback is very welcome. Patton Oswalt, Elias Koteas, and Danny Trejo are also great additions as they are both extremely charismatic thespians and, even though they show up just a little, they make all the difference in the world.

If you are sensitive to political correctness don’t watch it. Watch something that does not intend to insult race, sexual orientation, or religion. On the other hand, watch it if you want to moan about how insulting and inappropriate it is. Todd Strauss-Schulson’s A Very Harold and Kumar Christmas 3D comes unapologetically after everyone and everything. Easily digestible and highly enjoyable. And as a wise man once said, if only quality sold we wouldn’t have fast food.

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Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010): Adventure/Fantasy/Horror

A group of excavators in Finland unearth an ancient secret, and it is up to local hunters to deal with it.

You wanna know the truth about Santa? Watch Rare Exports if you don’t! Also, watch it if you are looking for some Finnish Christmas entertainment! Well, it is not a secret that the excavators dug up… Santa Claus! A mean, bloodthirsty, flesh-eating Santa! Writer/director Jalmari Helander hooks the audience on what might be at the bottom of the mountain, but carefully reveals details in a show-don’t-tell manner, during the opening credits. While he spends a significant amount of time on the Sami people’s hardships at the Korvatunturi mountains, he’s not fooling around when the “rescue mission” begins – no spoilers. He builds it up gradually, slowly, and steadily, while disclosing the atrocities those beings can commit.

Rare Exports is a suspenseful dark comedy that is not meant to be taken seriously. It is meant to entertain and keep you company for less than an hour and twenty minutes and give you a glimpse of the natural conditions the Sami people live in. There is no such thing as plot holes or mistakes in films like this one so I’ll stop here, hoping that, in this short review, I have convinced you to watch a film… “From the land of the original Santa Claus”.

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P.S. Legend has it that the Korvatunturi area is where Santa Claus’ workshop is, making toys and wrapping gifts with his elves.

Sint (2010): Comedy/Horror

It is December 5, St. Nicholas’ Eve, and under the full moon, Santa Claus will materialise to kidnap children and turn Amsterdam into a bloodbath.

Bloody, somewhat funny, but cheap! After a medieval level of slaughter – shot like those reenactments one can see on museum screens – that is followed by a modern family massacre, the introduction of post-modern Dutch society raises a lot of eyebrows. From exchanging dildos at school under the teacher’s watchful eye to police officers who shoot presents at the police station and everyone takes as a matter of course, writer/director Dick Maas makes obvious right off the bat what kind of film he’s made. Well, let me be blatant. It’s bad! Not like the bad ones that end up becoming cult films years later. Just. Bad. Script, directing, acting, VFX… you name it! Bad. In all honesty, the editing is actually good. It puts all these horrendous shots into perspective, creating a smooth continuity. There is no point in analysing it really as I will just keep slagging it off, and that is not the reason why I review films. That said, the film created a movement against it in the Netherlands even before it came out when the poster of St. Nicholas portrayed as a proud leader of the Walking Dead was released. Reading that made me actually want to watch it, but…

If anything, I learned a lot about St. Nicholas, and Santa Klaus, and the way they are being perceived and celebrated in the Netherlands. But that is something you can look up in a book or online. If you really want to get a (horrifying) Dutch filmmaking experience, you definitely need to watch Speak No Evil (2022) https://kaygazpro.com/2022/09/27/speak-no-evil-2022-drama-horror-thriller/. It will cut your breath short!

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Trauma (2017): Action/Drama/Horror

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

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

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

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

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

Mudbound (2017): Drama/War

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Lure (2015): Drama/Fantasy/Horror

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

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

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

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

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

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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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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 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/

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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…

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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.

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*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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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.

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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.

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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!

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.

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!

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…

Voice from the Stone (2017): Drama/Mystery/Thriller

A nurse is called to an old mansion in Italy to aid a boy that stopped talking after his mother died.

As they say, you can make a bad film from a good script, but you can never make a good film from a bad script. Even though I’m not going to claim that the script is bad, I’m going to claim that its flow is substantially problematic. From what I read, the script’s development was stuck for years and Verena’s role passed from Maggie Gyllenhaal, to Olga Kurylenko, to, eventually, Emilia Clarke. As you can see, if the script solely relies on beauty to evoke the desired feelings, it is doomed to fail. Emilia Clarke, besides her striking beauty is a fine actress. But her character is flat and despite Clarke’s decent efforts, she cannot save it. Unfortunately, the same applies for everyone else involved.

Speaking of flat, that’s what the story is too. Nothing’s happening for the most part of it no matter how hard you want to. Michael Wandmacher’s beautifully composed suspenseful music accompanies a narrative that is anything but. While rendered mostly in monotone, Peter Simonite’s haunting photography offers a cold, foggy and mysterious atmosphere throughout most of the film, and, cautiously, ‘warms’ it when the narrative dictates. Be it as it may, unfortunately, chances are that you’ll be let down by Eric D. Howell’s film. Shame really, as the potential is there, in Italy more specifically, adopting European filmmaking standards and neglecting the influences from overseas.

As much as I enjoy watching Clarke naked – every time – I believe that she needs to have a word with her manager about how many films she is going to appear naked in. I repeat, I am not complaining, but for her career’s sake, she may need to reconsider. Films like Voice from the Stone are, as aforementioned, doomed to fail as their target audience is unspecified and so are their appealing criteria. To clarify, other than Emilia Clarke as a beautiful woman and Marton Csokas as a constantly intriguing villain, the film appeals to no one. Hence, projects like this keep changing hands over the years and they end up like a creative purée where everyone has stuck their fingers in.

Stay safe!

Tone-Deaf (2019): Comedy/Horror/Thriller

A woman down on her luck decides to rent a house in the countryside for the weekend only to find out that it belongs to a psychopath.

Entertaining, scary, and surrealistically crazy! I bet you’ve heard about these two types of films: character-driven and story-driven. Well, this is one helluva crazy character-driven comedy/horror by Richard Bates Jr. who did his absolute best to gather and develop characters you would only think of if you were on dope. Honestly, it’s one of them films that you don’t know how or why to suggest it to anyone, yet you do.

Like quite a few other horrors lately, Tone-Deaf (or Killer Instinct?) focuses on the Grand Canyon-size gap between the Millennials, and the old-fashioned, not politically-correct people, makes fun of both by breaking the 4th wall, and soliloquies that are meant to make you think, but also entertain you. Do they achieve that though? Yes and no. They set the foundation of contemplation but don’t delve into it and, consequently, they end up unnoticeable.

I enjoyed it for the most part, especially some anecdotal parts, such as the sequence in the Tinder guy’s place (no spoilers), but I was disappointed with the ending. I found the second act’s last dialogues childish, rushed, and out of character. Surely, that could have been improved but most definitely wasn’t. Anyway, it’s a film that will take your mind off things, Robert Patrick’s and Amanda Crew’s performances are quite enjoyable, and they make quite the team as the villain and anti-heroine respectively.

Stay Safe!

Snatchers (2019): Comedy/Horror/Sci-fi

A teenage girl has sex for the first time and wakes up the next day pregnant with an alien that wants to multiply and conquer the world.

Funny and entertaining, that’s it! Starting off with living, breathing high school clichés, I couldn’t see how this was going to be promising. Boy, am I glad to be wrong. Snatchers might not be horror per se but, as aforementioned, it is funny and highly entertaining! Mary Nepi, Gabrielle Elyse, J.J. Nolan, Austin Fryberger, Rich Fulcher, and Ashley Argota are nailing their parts and under the meticulous guidance of the directors Stephen Cedars and Benji Kleiman, who are in full control of every shot they’ve taken, and through ‘snappy’ editing, they control the narrative’s pace and rhythm throughout all acts. I know it’s not a film that has been or will be talked about, but films like Snatchers highly indicate that editing defines principal photography. In other words, postproduction starts in preproduction however convoluted that may sound.

There is so much to say about certain filmmaking details, just like the one mentioned above, but, honestly, I find no reason to implicate film theories when you can just enjoy it without my verbosity. It makes one wonder the reasons behind certain malicious reviews when, even just watching the trailer, you know what you sign up for. The script’s nonsensical trajectory makes actually sense as it adds to the non-believability which is actually intentional and slyly parodies similar actual horror films that most of us have grown up with.

To sum it up, Snatchers is great fun, especially for millennials but not only. Don’t take it seriously as, again, intentionally, it doesn’t take seriously itself. Something that I actually prefer to self-righteous and self-important films that aim to pseudo-philosophise, be wannabe didactic, or end up being pedantic. Based on the 2015, 6-minute homonymous short film by the same directors and main actors, Snatchers earns its stripes in the comedy/horror pantheon and I very much look forward to watching Kleiman’s and Cedars’ next project. Remember, the comedy-horror balance is not written on stone and it takes a whole village to be achieved.

Stay safe!

Other People (2016): Comedy/Drama

An underachieving gay writer returns home after many years to support his terminally I’ll mom… and face the rest of the family.

The type of American cinema that knows what to cut out, when, and how to balance feelings. Succeeding in making a comedy/drama is as hard as making a comedy/horror. And Other People will make you laugh as much as it will make you cry. Jesse Plemons and Molly Shannon make an excellent on-screen duet and writer/director Chris Kelly gives them the opportunity to shine and evoke all the intended emotions.

Tragicomedy describes all three acts with little things such as the milkshake order, which in its simplicity I found genuinely hilarious, or mum farting. The dialogues are authentic and the performances are immense. There is so much I could say to connect film theories on cinematic realism to the independent American cinema but I see no reason to do so. Therefore, I’ll keep this one shorter than usual and hope that you get the chance to watch it and laugh and cry and, respectively, recommend it to as many people as possible to share your experience. Because, as we tend to think, real-life events such as the ones unfolding in the film are situations experienced only by… other people.

Stay safe!

The Night Of: A Case Study of Realism in HBO’s Cinematic World

“The World of Apu” is a bimonthly, diverse, and multilingual online film magazine which explores film cultures from around the world.

Below you can find my analysis on the must-watch mini TV series The Night Of; one of HBO’s most captivating productions. I hope you enjoy it. Stay safe!

The Night Of: A Case Study of Realism in HBO’s Cinematic World

P.S. RIP Michael Kenneth Williams. What an unfortunate coincidence he died the day I published this article. He’ll be sorely missed…

References

1Just in case you picked on True Detective, season 2, please, read my counterarguments here: http://theworldofapu.com/true-detective-2014-2019/

i(Anon) (2021). ‘Real’. [Online]. Available: <https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/real>

ii(Anon) (2021). ‘Realistic’. [Online]. Available: <https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/realistic>

iiiBuckland, W. (2006). Directed by Steven Spielberg: Poetics of the Contemporary Hollywood Blockbuster. New York: Continuum, pp. 44-51

ivBuckland, W.,pp. 44-51

vBuckland, W.,pp. 44-51

vi Hayward, S. (2006) Cinema Studies: The Key Concepts. Third Edition. Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group. p. 334

vii Bazin, A (2005) What is Cinema? Vol. 1. University of California Press Berkeley, Los Angeles, London. p. 12

Upstate Story (2018): Drama

A peek at the week of a man who struggles to go through it.

Well-written story that deserves some budget to take off. Upstate Story is the case where the script is better than the film. Not because writer/director Shaun Rose doesn’t have the skills to pull it off, but strictly due to budgetary restraints that don’t allow him to develop it the way he envisioned it.

Upstate Story surfaces an enormous problem that many people fail to address and, consequently, deal with; the unfulfillment. The notion that we could have done so much more with our lives if were just given the chance. What makes it worse, is asking, to the point of begging, for this chance from people who have been given that chance and didn’t deserve it to begin with. And then time goes by and that chance seems further and further away, sucking, at first, our energy and then our lives like a black hole of despair. And while these nihilistic thoughts consume us like woodworms, during these darkest hours, Upstate Story‘s hidden positivity urges us to always hang onto whatever we consider a lighthouse in our lives, and be guided by it so we don’t crash on the rocks.

Ellis Martin is a real-life, relatable character that can be developed into a person that one day will find the purpose he so eagerly seeks and write a book called “Against All Odds” or “Finding the Strength”, but he can also become the person who grabs a gun and enters a mall. He represents a surprisingly huge portion of people out there who have unexplored skills that could make all the difference in the world. A person’s thoughts represent them and Ellis’ choice of words renders him the poster-child of the endless Freudian battle between id, ego, and superego.

Yes, few minutes from here and there could be shaved off in the cutting room and, yes, a lot more could have been done to make it visually more impressive, but that leads us back to the no-budget-indie-filmmaking issue. Just try to be in the hero’s shoes for an hour and, maybe, imagine that this minimalism expresses and represents countless people who struggle with a dead-end nine to survive job. If it were a small-budget film, it would have swept through the festivals and be an Oscar bait if Billy Bob Thornton was in it. Even so, it was selected as a semi-finalist at the Los Angeles Cinefest, and it’s a proud winner of the Feature Film Silver Award at CINEMAFEST 2018.

Stay safe!

Friday the 13th – An Unlucky Day (?) and the Birth of an Instant Classic

Tonight, Michelle Satchwell comes back once more with, as always intriguing information regarding Friday the 13th both as a day and as a film. Is it actually an unlucky day? Does it still have an impact on us and the society we live in? What is it that made it a great horror film back then and why is it still considered cult today?

References

Michelle’s book: Psychology Review: A-level Exam Skills and Practice Paperback – 30 Oct. 2020 ISBN-10: 1398308013

Baron-Cohen, S (2001). Theory of Mind in normal development and Autism. Department of Experimental Psychology and Psychiatry, Cambridge. 

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/238603356_Theory_of_Mind_in_normal_development_and_autism

Yuki, Metal (2007). Are the windows to the soul the same in East and West? Cultural differences in using the eyes and mouth as cues to recognise emotions in Japan and United States. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology (43), pp 303 -311. 

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/222549401_Are_the_windows_to_the_soul_the_same_in_the_East_and_West_Cultural_differences_in_using_the_eyes_and_mouth_as_cues_to_recognize_emotions_in_Japan_and_the_United_States

Rosenthal, A. M. (1964). Thirty-eight witnesses: The Kitty Genovese Case. Melville House Publishing. https://www.mhpbooks.com/books/thirty-eight-witnesses/

In-group and Out-group in Social Identity Theory (in reference to bullies); Tajfel, H (1979). Individuals and groups in psychology. British Journal of Social and Critical Psychology (18), pp 183 -190. 

https://bpspsychub.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.2044-8260.1979.tb00324.x

Skinner, B, F (1948). ‘Superstition’ in the pigeon. Journal of Experimental Psychology (38), pp. 166 -172. 

https://psycnet.apa.org/record/1948-04299-001

(Behaviourists / Learning Theory Approach) Negative Reinforcement in Operant Conditioning of phobias; https://www.psychologyhub.co.uk/the-behavioural-approach-to-explaining-and-treating-phobias-the-two-process-model-including-classical-and-operant-conditioning/

(Social Learning Theory Approach) Role Models; 

https://gcse-psychology.fandom.com/wiki/Social_Learning_Theory_-_Phobias

(Cognitive Approach) Confirmation bias; https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/seeing-what-others-dont/201905/the-curious-case-confirmation-bias

(Anomalistic Approach) Discriminative stimulus; https://www.murdoch.edu.au/news/articles/on-friday-the-13th-leave-the-superstitions-at-home


(Psychodynamic Approach in relation to the Mother-Son bond) Oedipus Complex in Phallic Stage of Psychosexual Development; Freud, S (1905). Three essays on the theory of sexuality. Standard Edition (7), pp. 123 – 246. https://www.sas.upenn.edu/~cavitch/pdf-library/Freud_SE_Three_Essays_complete.pdf
(Psychodynamic Approach in relation to the Mother-Son bond) Schizophrenogenic Mother; Fromm-Reichmann, F (1948) Notes on the development of treatment of schizophrenics by psychoanalytic psychotherapy. Psychiatry, 11(3), 263–273.

(Evolutionary Approach in relation to the Mother-Son bond) Bowlby, J. (1956). Mother-child separation. Mental Health and Infant Development, 1, 117 – 122. 

https://www.simplypsychology.org/bowlby.html

(Evolutionary Approach in relation to the Mother-Son bond) Bowlby, J. (1944). Forty-four juvenile thieves: Their characters and home life. International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 25(19-52), 107-127. 

https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/Forty-four-juvenile-thieves%3A-their-characters-and-Bowlby/ecc5eeaef75614e4129f0088bb472c5de2a7800c

Uncanny Valley

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/why-uncanny-valley-human-look-alikes-put-us-on-edge/

SOCIOLOGY SPECIFIC:
Stephen: The murder that changed a nation. (2018). https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0b0br42 (Three part documentary looking at institutional racism in the UK in the 1990s). 

Halo effect; Thorndike, E (1920). The constant error in psychological ratings. Teachers College, Columbia University. http://web.mit.edu/curhan/www/docs/Articles/biases/4_J_Applied_Psychology_25_(Thorndike).pdf

Anti-school subcultures and working class as bullies; Willis, P (1977). Learning to Labour. Columbia University Press Edition https://www.tutor2u.net/sociology/reference/classic-texts-paul-willis-learning-to-labour-1977
Anti-school subcultures form in working class; Mac an Ghaill (1994). The making of men. Oxford University Press. 

https://hecticteachersalevelsociologysite.wordpress.com/roles-and-processes-in-school/student-sub-cultures/

Youth buy their identity; Polhemus, T. Supermarket of Style. http://www.tedpolhemus.com/main_concept5%20467.html

GENERIC:

Paraskevidekatriaphobia (fear of Friday 13th); https://www.fearof.net/fear-of-friday-the-13th-phobia-paraskevidekatriaphobia-or-friggatriskaidekaphobia/

Triskaidekaphobia (fear of number 13); https://www.verywellmind.com/triskaidekaphobia-2671880

Tetraphobia (fear of number 4); https://people.howstuffworks.com/number-4-unlucky.htm

Heptadecaphobia (fear of number 17); https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heptadecaphobia

Frequency of Friday 13th; https://www.inverse.com/article/26371-friday-the-13th-upcoming-dates

History behind Friday 13th and social impact; https://www.history.com/topics/folklore/friday-the-13thhttps://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/article/what-is-friday-13th-superstition-facts-sciencehttps://people.howstuffworks.com/friday-thirteenth.htm
https://www.psychologicalscience.org/news/releases/do-you-fear-now-that-friday-the-13th-is-here.html

How odd: We’re hard-wired to prefer even numbers; https://www.wired.co.uk/article/alex-bellos

Male nudity; https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0080761/trivia

Lunacy etymology; https://www.etymonline.com/word/lunacy

The Vanishing (2018): Crime/Drama/Mystery

A wooden chest full of gold and greed initiate a chain of events that leads to the disappearance of three lighthouse keepers.

Intense, dark, suspenseful, unpredictable, and superb performances! Knowing that it’s based on the mystery of the Flannan Isles’ actual lighthouse keepers and their controversial logbooks, The Vanishing becomes the absolute thrilling treat. The film’s beauty is that even though you know what will happen in the end (the title and tagline imply it) it makes you want to know the speculation of what will become of them. The “when” and “how” alone intensify the suspense and overshadow what we think is obvious. Furthermore, the shockingly realistic performances make you want the resolution to be delayed so you can see more of Peter Mullan, Gerald Butler, and Connor Swindells on screen. Special mention deserves the editor Morten Højbjerg who knows when to cut and, more importantly, where not to. His editing focuses on the performances and let’s the shot “breathe” enough so you can get the full experience of the thespians. My only objection is the ending which, I believe I speak for all us when I say that, we were really looking forward to it. I found it anticlimactic when so much could have been done with it. Even though the script is the most obvious candidate to take the fall here, director Kristoffer Nyholm should have been the one to expand further and give the open ending the film deserves. Unfortunately, this is not the case but that’s what I think anyway. Maybe, you’ll feel otherwise.

Maybe, we’ll never find out what became of them 120+ years ago, but upon watching it we can tell with certainty that films like this showcase Butler’s true talent without having to water down his amazing Scottish accent. Hollywood should have been utilising his skills a lot more in films such as this rather than in typical cash cows. Having said that, Greenland (2020): https://kaygazpro.com/2020/11/30/greenland-2020-action-drama-thriller/ was realistically terrifying and him and Morena Baccarin were excellent leads. The same applies to Mullan who’s versatility is undeniable – see Ozark (2017) – and he’s breathtaking in everything he’s in.

Definitely worth the shot for an intriguing night full of mystery and a show-don’t-tell lesson that everything comes with a price.

Stay safe!

Arctic (2018): Adventure/Drama

Long after his plane crash-landed in the Arctic, a man must decide whether to stay at the crash site or set out for the unknown to seek help.

The European way of unfolding a narrative with a touch of Scandinavian darkness and a taste of Icelandic identity. Writer/director Joe Penna and writer/editor Ryan Morrison have beautifully paced the drama that leads to the fork that saves your life or points you at certain death. And regardless what road you take, you can’t know which is which. Until it’s probably too late… Penna and Morrison have been collaborating since the beginning of their career to this very day. If you haven’t watched their sci-fi Stowaway (2021), you definitely need to: https://kaygazpro.com/2021/04/28/stowaway-2021-drama-sci-fi-thriller/. Special mention deserves the cinematographer Tómas Örn Tómasson – native Icelander – who knows exactly what he needs to shoot and how. All three collaborate perfectly behind the camera and give you a great value for your money.

And while all crew works tirelessly behind the camera, the person in front of the camera that cuts your breath is non other than the highly expressive and diverse, Mads Mikkelsen. All the struggle, the frustration, the agony, and the horror is written on his forehead while he’s trying to keep it together and save both their lives. Seeing is believing so, go for it and see for yourselves.

Arctic, Penna’s feature film debut, rightfully, received a 10-minute standing ovation at its premiere, at the Cannes film festival. Interestingly, only a few months ago I watched George Clooney’s The Midnight Sky (2020) https://kaygazpro.com/2021/01/04/the-midnight-sky-2020-drama-fantasy-sci-fi/ and I couldn’t help but compare the differences and similarities. As much as it’s tempting present them or some of them now, I’ll resist. They are, essentially, different films and for different reasons I liked them both. If you watch or have watched them both though, ask yourselves this: What drives you? What is it that keeps you going through life’s hardship? When all hope seems lost, how do you find the strength to “squeeze hard”? Don’t undermine Clooney either as both him and Penna present the world through their lens. As we experience life through our eyes.

Stay safe!

Time out of Mind (2014): Drama

A homeless man is going from shelter to shelter, trying to find a way to approach his estranged daughter.

In a depressing and honest way, it reveals an America that most people turn their blind eye to. One can easily extrapolate and claim that it reveals a world most people turn the blind eye to. Writer/Director Oren Moverman, the man behind The Messenger (2009), Rampart (2011), and The Dinner (2017) does an extensive research on homelessness in New York and brings to our attention an issue that we walk past daily no matter where we live. Richard Gere, a man who is in real life an advocate for the homeless, fully understands Moverman’s vision and commits 100% to the character, delivering a totally different than usual performance. Cinematographer Bobby Bukowski frames him through reflections, amongst bystanders, and from a distance (also careful when to go close), and shows without telling how George positions himself within society. Respectively, editor Alex Hall leaves those protracted zoom-in and zoom-out shots uncut, making the audience “look” for a significant amount of time what the bystanders don’t – parallelism with ourselves that have probably done the same in real life. Excellent example of mise-en-scène and how it creates meaning.

The off-screen space though also speaks volumes. Very interestingly, most of the times, you are listening to dialogues that come from an unspecified location. With a decent surround one can tell if it’s from behind, left, or right but it is of no importance. What matters is that it is happening, George listens to it as we do, but as he pays no attention to who says what, it stays out of the frame. A personal interpretation is that all this diegetic sound is pointing at how loud and verbose the big city is and how little it matters to someone who doesn’t know if or where is going to find his next meal and bed.

I highly recommend this film, but a warning needs to be issued. The film feels like one act. Something that someone should have probably notice in postproduction and shave off about half an hour. Time out of Mind feels endless as, unfortunately, nothing is happening. Ben Vereen and Jena Malone support him to their best abilities but their role is limited. Once again, unfortunately, what at first seems to be an extensive character development, stagnates the story development, and can lose the audience’s attention with its inactivity.

Stay safe!

Dredd (2012): Action/Crime/Sci-Fi

In a dystopian future, where the police are judges, juries, and executioners, Judge Dredd and a rookie are sent to take down a violent gang that is dealing an extremely dangerous drug.

Misunderstood yet highly entertaining! Dredd, makes you forget whatever is happening out there but this was not the case when it was released. Back then, it evoked some mixed feelings and, unfortunately, the vast majority didn’t appreciate it. The rest of us signed a petition for a sequel to no avail. Times have changed, we have moved on and so have the actors. Karl Urban is leading The Boys (2019) now and he couldn’t care less about a role that he doesn’t show his face and people doubt it. Having said that, as far as I read recently, he wouldn’t mind taking on the role if offered. It won’t be though. What’s more, it’s interesting watching Olivia Thirlby coming out of her comfort zone shooting everything and everyone up and the transformed but wonderful Lena Headey running the vicious gang.

Dredd remains loyal to the graphic novel with the city blocks’ names, the judge’s helmet and the golden chain in MaMa’s penthouse, the “fatties”, and, of course, the Clint Eastwood voice tribute to stand out. For those who are not aware, the character is partially based on Clint Eastwood’s “Dirty Harry” so, the voice will always be that reminder.

Pete Travis, a director who deserves a lot more spotlight [see also Omagh (2004) and Vantage Point (2008)] as mentioned above, has deeply understood the anti-hero’s nature and the dystopian futuristic”cyberpunk” world, giving us a final cut that, we, the fans deeply enjoyed and, unfortunately, won’t see more of it. The reasons vary: Came out in a bad time? People didn’t really appreciate it? Studios saw only numbers and didn’t care about its quality? Whatever your pick is, it’s a shame really.

I just wanted to remind you of it. After all, that’s what every dystopia is; a reminder. And, if you haven’t watched it, knock yourselves out! It’s quite the experience.

Stay safe!

Dark Waters (2019): Biography/Drama/History

Unsubstantiated evidence against a giant chemical company is thoroughly examined by a corporate defense attorney who sees what everyone else was turning the blind eye to and goes tooth and nail against them.

Dark Waters‘ cast and theme are its two major selling points: Mark Ruffalo, Anne Hathaway, Tim Robbins, Bill Pullman, and Bill Camp need no introduction and no matter what I say can make them better thespians than they already are. Which brings me to the second selling point straight away, the theme. One person trying to take down a colossal chemical company while having everything to lose – special emphasis on “everything”.

Automatically, in my books, whoever dares that against any company of that magnitude, or any magnitude, or their government is a hero, and half an hour into the film, you want him to crash them with everything he’s got! Rob Bilott is one of the most relatable kind of heroes out there, the world needs more of him, and we root for him to do what the rest of us can’t – or haven’t had the chance yet. The narrative is thrilling, dramatic and unfolds beautifully through parallel editing that moves the story forward, provides the necessary information, and increases the tension to pin you to your seats. Ruffalo is the man of the hour and who could direct him better than director Todd Haynes who has mastered biographic films or films “based on true events”.

It makes you sick to your stomach that innumerable companies like these get away with such crimes for so long or forever. Makes you sick that money is worth more than lives – human, animal, and plant. There are two major takeaways here:

  1. However you think you’ve had it bad, there are people who have had it a lot worse than most of us.
  2. YOU can make a difference! No matter how small you think you are, no matter how much “you against the world” you feel, you can make a difference!

Stay safe!

P.S. Are you ready? As per IMDb: “DuPont’s stock price dropped by 7.15 points from 72.18 to 65.03 the week this movie was released on 12th November”. https://www.imdb.com/title/tt9071322/trivia?item=tr5294319

P.P.S. I’ll start doing a lot more reviews like Dark Waters.

The Importance of Dystopia in Sci-fi / Horror

Tonight, I created a short, yet concise episode about something that I was contemplating some time ago and published for the first time in The World of Apu online film magazine. As the episode’s title implies, it is regarding the pessimistic or even horrific view of our future.

References

https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/society

https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/utopia

https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/dystopia

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Dialogues_of_Plato

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aldous_Huxley

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jacques_Lob

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philip_K._Dick

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isaac_Asimov

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Octavia_E._Butler

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ray_Bradbury

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arthur_C._Clarke

http://theworldofapu.com/category/film-analysis/

Dystopian Films

Metropolis (1927)

The Day the Earth Caught Fire (1961)

Alphaville (1965)

Fahrenheit 451 (1966)

The Omega Man (1971)

A Clockwork Orange (1971)

THX 1138 (1971)

Mad Max Franchise (1979, 1981, 1985, 2015)

Brave New World (1980)

Escape from New York (1981)

Blade Runner (1982)

Videodrome (1983)

Nineteen Sighty-Four (1984)

Threads (1984)

Brazil (1985)

Dead Man’s Letters (1986)

RoboCop (1987)

The Running Man (1987)

Total Recall (1990)

Demolition Man (1993)

Fortress (1993)

The Stand (1994)

The City of Lost Children (1995)

Judge Dredd (1995)

12 Monkeys (1995)

Johnny Mnemonic (1995)

Strange Days (1995)

Waterworld (1995)

Starship Troopers (1997)

The Fifth Element (1997)

Gattaca (1997)

The Postman (1997)

Dark City (1998)

Pleasantville (1998)

eXistenZ (1999)

The Matrix (1999)

Battle Royale (2000)

On the Beach (2000)

A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)

Equilibrium (2002)

Minority Report (2002)

Resident Evil (2002)

The Time Machine (2002)

28 Days Later (2002)

Code 46 (2003)

I, Robot (2004)

The Island (2005)

V for Vendetta (2005)

A Scanner Darkly (2006)

I Am Legend (2007)

28 Weeks Later (2007)

Children of Men (2008)

Blindness (2008)

Daybreakers (2009)

District 9 (2009)

The Road (2009)

Watchmen (2009)

Book of Eli (2010)

Never Let Me Go (2010)

The Divide (2011)

Cloud Atlas (2012)

Looper (2012)

Snowpiercer (2013)

The Congress (2013)

Elysium (2013)

The Purge (2013)

The Zero Theorem (2013)

The Rover (2014)

Z for Zachariah (2015)

Westworld (2016 – )

The Handmaid’s Tale (2017 – )

Hotel Artemis (2018)

Ready Player One (2018)

Brave New World (2020)

Until the Edge of the World (2019): Drama

Not understanding why her father lies unconscious in a hospital, a little girl’s vivid imagination places him on a journey to the moon.

Daniel Bertram’s writing (but also directing), Serhii Reznik’s and Billy Ray Schlag’s ambient music, Alicia Valencia Pollex’s acting, and Knut Adass’ dark cinematography promise, right off the bat, a tear-jerker; a drama that cannot end up well.

The restricted narrative though adds a mystery to it. The audience knows as much as Flo does, or as much as she understands, if you may. It approaches the tragedy from everyone’s perspective; Flo’s, the mother’s, but also the father’s and the restricted narrative affects them too, as no one knows each other’s thoughts or true feelings. In the case of Flo and her mother, they are even unable to understand each other. Interestingly, only the audience is able to experience the father’s inner world, turning us to omniscient viewers.

It definitely follows an unconventional way to tell the story but don’t cast any stones, yet. How do you experience tragedy? And how would you prepare a little kid for it? At the end of the day, is anyone really ever prepared? From an artistic point of view, scenes such as: the non-boiling milk, the rain during a starry night, the reflections, the mixture of colours turning into clouds, and the animated painting, spark our imagination, significantly reducing the situation’s cynical or orthological approach. For example, I’ve never thought of the moon, the Earth’s satellite, in such a poetic or existential way.

I very much recommend it to whoever is looking for a non-traditional / unconventional storytelling. Until the Edge of the World is quite depressing though and may not suit people who struggle in these difficult times.

Stay safe!

The Contribution of Heroines, and the Role of Feminism in the Horror Genre – Part 2

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Tonight, I’m releasing the second part of the interview with Michelle Satchwell. Michelle analyses Martyrs and its contribution to the horror genre but she also uses it as a reference for the role of women in torture horrors. Moreover, she talks about advertisements and gender roles in the 80s, and how females have been portrayed, could have been portrayed and how that has affected the present. Last but not least, she talks about the representation of ethnic minorities and non-binary people in the film industry and what potentially the future holds.

Feminism References
Evolutionary Psychologists (no specific names), they focus on reproductive success in mate selection in humans.

Tuchman (1978) Symbolic annihilation (narrow range of roles for females).

Glascock (2001) Leading female characters (e.g. Lara Croft).

Bristol Fawcett Society (2008) Imbalance in media representation.

Ferguson (1983) Forever feminine; focusing on womens’ magazines and the cult of feminity.  Women focus on “him, home and looking good (for him)”.

Johnson and Young (2002) Impact of advertising on children.

McRobbie and Garber (1976) Bedroom culture.

Heidensohn (1985) Social Control of women and crime.

Westwood (1999) Transgression and Gender. “Transgressive female roles that go beyond gendered expectations”.

Gauntlett (2008) The representation of gender roles in the media. “Do the traits of the characters challenge conventional masculinity?”

Julia Kristeva (1980) Powers of Horror: An essay on Abjection.

Freud (1905) Psychosexual stages of development (Pre-Oedpial stage). 

Frieda-Fromm-Reichmann (1984) Schizophrenogenic mother theory.

Further References

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suburb

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Lives_Matter

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LGBT

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Woke

Media Representations of women

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suffragette

https://www.waterstones.com/author/sallie-westwood/8084

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cultural_homogenization#:~:text=Cultural%20homogenization%20is%20an%20aspect,but%20customs%2C%20ideas%20and%20values.

Sociological key terms:

Liberal

Marxist

Radical

Black Feminists 

Desensitised

Patriarchy

Agency

Power and Control

Malestream Criminology

White Knight / Saviour Complex

Male Gaze

Vicarious Reinforcement

Toxic Masculinity

Myth of Male Power (Strong)

Halo Effect

Heteronormative

Social Norms

Interactionism

Pluralist View (Reflects Taste of Audience)

Gatekeepers (Stakeholders)

Double Deviant

Takers of Shit

Dual Burden

Idealised Mother

Myth of Motherhood

Chivalry Thesis

Meritocracy

False-class Conscious

Ageism

Fatphobic

Cultural Homogenisation (of Western Individualist Views)

Cross-Cultural Research

Transgressive Sociology

The Contribution of Heroines, and the Role of Feminism in the Horror Genre – Part 1

Tonight, I’m interviewing Michelle Satchwell. Michelle is coming back on the show to talk about the role of women in horror films. Class, gender, and race will also be analysed as to how they have been portrayed over the decades and if and how nowadays things have changed. Michelle analyses classic female-led horror films through sociopolitical theories and practices, and sheds light on how psychology examines these filmic portrayals.

References

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abjection

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sigmund_Freud

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_actions

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interactionism

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oedipus_complex

https://link.springer.com/referenceworkentry/10.1007%2F978-3-319-15877-8_482-1#:~:text=Introduction,the%20illness%20(Hartwell%201996).

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Informal_social_control#:~:text=Informal%20social%20control%2C%20or%20the,such%20as%20citizen%20patrol%20groups.

https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/psychology/evolutionary-theory#:~:text=Evolutionary%20theory%20highlights%20the%20adaptive,%2C%20health%2C%20or%20physical%20size.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slut-shaming

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Albert_Bandura

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Final_girl#:~:text=Clover%20argues%20that%20for%20a,the%20part%20of%20a%20male.

https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/the-white-knight-syndrome/200905/white-knight-commonalities#:~:text=White%20knights%20often%20have%20a,be%20hurt%20easily%20by%20others.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marxism

Prisons: Depravity and Decadence in Horror / Sci-fi… and in Real Life

Tonight, I’m interviewing Dr. Neni Panourgia. Dr. Panourgia is Affiliated Faculty at the Program in Hellenic Studies. She is an anthropologist, Associate Professor at the Prison Education Program, Psychology Department, and Academic Adviser at the Justice in Education Initiative at Columbia University. Tonight, she is talking about the prison system in the US and how that has affected their current but also futuristic cinematic depiction. Without further ado, here’s the interview.

Biography

https://hellenic.columbia.edu/people/profile/388

Books

The Whisperer in Darkness (2011): Mystery / Sci-Fi / Thriller

Alleged evidence of ancient creatures will make a professor travel to a remote village only to discover that the truth is a lot more frightening than he anticipated.

Pseudo-noir and semi-serious, H.P. Lovecraft’s adaptation does not rank very high on my “Favourite Lovecraft Films”. Having said that, this merely means that I didn’t enjoy this ecranisation. Writer/director Sean Branney and writer Andrew Leman collaborate once more on a Lovecraft’s adaptation in reverse roles – Leman directed The Call of Cthulhu (2005) and Branney wrote the script – and, I must say, the way they have envisioned Lovecraft’s writings, his world, and his creatures is captivating. As much as the film itself resembles a student project, the script is tight, engaging, and… Lovecraftian!

There are moments, I believe, taken from In the Mouth of Madness (1994): https://kgpfilmreviews.com/2019/01/04/in-the-mouth-of-madness-1994-drama-horror-mystery/ (by far my favourite Lovecraftian adaptation) but it is definitely not plagiarism, just inspired by it. There are numerous filmmaking issues that I will not go into as I respect the hard effort the filmmakers put into it. It is a very decent film with very honest intentions. If you are passionate about Lovecraft, like I am, you will turn the blind eye to whatever seems not real and you’ll enjoy the visualised version of the homonymous story by Branney and Leman, two truly loyal fans of the man who changed the literature of horror as we know it.

Stay safe!