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

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

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

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

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Amercement (2020): Drama

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Fall (2022): Thriller

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Sadness (2021): Horror

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

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

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

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

Highly recommended for all hardcore horror fans!

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Elvis (2022): Biography/Drama/Music

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

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

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

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

Dashcam (II) (2021): Horror

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

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

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

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Dashcam (2021): Horror/Thriller

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

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

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

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

Fun facts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Gray Man (2022): Action/Thriller

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Watcher (2022): Drama/Horror/Thriller

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Northman (2022): Action/Adventure/Drama

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

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

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

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

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

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Ambulance (2022): Action/Crime/Drama

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monstrous (2022): Horror/Mystery/Thriller

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and

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

River of Salvation (2020): Crime/Drama

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

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

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

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

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Hard Love (2021): Documentary

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

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

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

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

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

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X (2022): Horror

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

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

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

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

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

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

P.P.S. Shot in New Zealand.

P.P.S. There is an prequel coming up…

The Cellar (2022): Horror

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

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

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

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

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Midnight Mass (2021): Drama/Fantasy/Horror

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

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

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

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

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P.S. My beloved Ioanna, you know that one’s for you 🙂

Black Crab (2022): Action/Adventure/Drama

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

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

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

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

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

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The Cursed (2021): Fantasy/Horror/Mystery

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

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

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

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

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The Innocents (2021): Drama/Horror/Mystery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 2022 Konstantinos Papathanasiou. All rights reserved.

After Yang (2021): Drama/Sci-fi

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

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

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

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

Now that you know, it’s up to you.

Solidarity for Ukraine 🇺🇦 🙏

Stay safe!

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

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

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

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

Based on my homonymous short script, Like the Palm of your Hand.

© 2022 Konstantinos Papathanasiou. All rights reserved.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Solidarity for Ukraine 🇺🇦 🙏

Stay safe!

The Desperate Hour (2022): Thriller

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

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

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

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

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

Solidarity for Ukraine 🇺🇦 🙏

Stay safe!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay safe!

P.S. The plotholes and gimmicks are endless.

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

Kimi (2022): Crime/Drama/Thriller

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

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

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

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

Stay safe!

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

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

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

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

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

Stay safe!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay safe!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay safe!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay safe!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay safe!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay safe!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay safe!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay safe!

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

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

A Million Little Pieces (2018): Drama

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay safe!

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

Encounter (2021): Sci-fi/Thriller

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay safe!

Office Christmas Party (2016): Comedy

In an attempt to save the company’s branch from shutting down, its manager decides to close a deal by throwing a party that is blown out of proportion.

Watched it for the third time and found it as hilarious! Act I: Every sequence is an introduction to the most surrealistic employee and manager you’ve ever met in your life! The plot point? Have a forbidden party that will seal the deal with the man who is going to save their company! This steadily-paced first act lights up the fuse of a satirical bomb that is about to explode.

Act II: The ostensibly boring party gets started and this is where the calm before the storm begins. Admittedly, the fuse seems to be burning and burning for a while, with funny lines, shenanigans and other minor unexpected circumstances, but that is only the delay of the inevitable. The first part’s editing is considerably slower than the second as the premise of the party needs to be fully introduced. The snow machine, the Game of Thrones‘ Iron Throne, the decorations, the booze, the trolleys, the staff, Jesus, the reindeer and horses… So, when the fuse is burnt, everything is blown out of proportion! Eating, drinking, making out, printing off genitalia, throwing offices out of the window, reindeer drinking water from the toilets, orgies all over, burning the place down… That is THE Christmas office party all of us wish we could have been in (and, arguably, keep on working there after). Of course, act III is the expected and unsurprising resolution, but Office Christmas Party promises a lot of laughter and not twists. The finale is befitting and just settles the intended scores.

Directors/producers Josh Gordon and Will Speck, bring to life the script of Justin Malen, Laura Solon, and Dan Mazer in the most Christmas-y dirty way possible. Jason Bateman, Olivia Munn, T.J. Miller, Jennifer Aniston, Kate McKinnon, Courtney B. Vance, Jillian Bell, Rob Corddry, Vanessa Bayer, Randall Park, Karan Soni, Jamie Chung, and all the rest of the cast and crew shine on camera, and show no remorse for, arguably, their funniest appearances. Bateman is one of a kind; it is unbelievable that it is the same guy who is in front and behind the camera in Ozark (2017 – 2022). I take my hat off to him. That was, by the way his fifth collaboration with Jennifer Aniston.

But, I will leave my hat off for the editors Jeff Groth and Evan Henke. Always remember, what you see is the final cut of a film that has numerous takes and numerous angles with numerous parameters to take into consideration when choosing, finally, the ‘right’ one. Christmas Office Party is inundated with funny lines, and performances. By finding the ‘right’ cut at the ‘right’ moment during or after the line, but also thinking of the actor’s/actress’ performance is… hell! When the speaker speaks the line and when the editor cuts to the reaction of the listener, and for how long after the line is art! Small part of my research is on that but, I’m only giving some food for thought.

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

Stay safe!

P.S. Upon wrapping up, all furniture and props (that remained intact) were donated to the Furniture Bank of Metro Atlanta which donated them to homeless people and people having suffered from domestic violence and move into stable housing (source: IMDb).

Sputnik (2020): Drama / Horror / Sci-Fi

When a Soviet spaceship crash lands and its astronaut is taken to a secret facility, an unconventional scientist is called in to examine its sole survivor who didn’t return entirely alone.

Well-crafted sci-fi horror made in Russia. Ego Abramenko’s Sputnik has a horror/sci-fi vibe that levels with Hollywood blockbusters. As much as this is promising, it poses the following issue: If it was dubbed in English, it would be like watching a Hollywood film. And more specifically, the Alien franchise. The name relates to space exploration and the first artificial satellites Russia sent orbiting around the Earth. It also means ‘companion’ or ‘fellow traveler’ which refers to the alien organism the astronaut is carrying inside him (information provided by IMDb).

By being shot, mostly, in the Shemyakin-Ovchinnikov Institute of Bio-organic Chemistry in Moscow, the audience can get a good sense of Soviet architecture, but also its harshness that is connected to the regime at the time. I very much enjoyed the first act and its slow-burn build-up, the plot point that connects to the main incident, and the narrative’s development until the first part of the second act. From then on, the action takes over, and even though the slaughter is appealing, it turns into a standard Hollywood-like film that is well-shot and well-edited, and that is it. What could I expect more? Drama and/or horror within the action. See Alien (1979), you cannot take your eyes off the chase because action, thriller, and horror blend in smoothly, and, simultaneously, unexpectedly.

In Sputnik, the action is expected, but this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t watch it. The visuals are impressive, the photography is dark, and the editing manipulates the information provided to large extent. Oksana Akinshina does a great job as the unconventional scientist who struggles between science and politics and proudly holds the films on her shoulders. Go for it and, if anything, get a fresh take of the ‘blockbuster’ meaning.

Stay safe!

The Protege (2021): Action/Crime/Thriller

When her mentor gets murdered, an assassin seeks revenge for the people behind the hit.

Entertaining, yet nothing innovative. I don’t really like to badmouth films, but here we are. Especially, the ones that decent effort has been put into them. I’ll start with some positive feedback: Maggie Q. Maggie Q has proved to be a diverse actress, seen in dramas, action/adventures, even horrors. Her acting skills extend beyond her fighting or modeling skills and when the role demands it she rises to the occasion.

Unfortunately, The Protege is not one of these occasions. Director Martin Campbell, after two James Bond films and numerous other successful (or not) action/thrillers does not meet, in my humble opinion, today’s standards. The story itself is a cliché, with nothing substantial to offer to the genre, and the characters feel under-developed. Personally, I didn’t relate with anyone and everything felt like a déjà vu from Luc Besson’s early films to today.

I’ve said it before numerous times about action films and I’ll say it again: From the moment films like John Wick (2014) and Atomic Blonde (2017) were released, the bar has been raised too high. Long shots is, partially, what cinematic realism stands for. And even though it is an extremely lengthy debate, the argument here is well-established: The action needs to be coherent, it has to be clear, and it has to have duration in order to be believable and be perceived as ‘real’. The director needs to work with the fight coordinator, the actors, and the stunts in preproduction so, during principal photography, everyone knows where they need to stand, where they need to land, and develop the hand-to-hand combat. The editing does not cut it anymore – pun intended. The editing needs to establish the continuity, not in every technique or counter-technique, but when the narrative demands it. Therefore, the info on the poster “From the studio that brought you John Wick…” sounds somewhat ironic. The film features Samuel L. Jackson and Michael Keaton but, as with the rest of the performances, don’t expect much.

Unfortunately again, the narrative here is something almost everyone has seen before, lowering the excitement levels to underground levels. Shame, really.

Stay safe!

Dark River (2017): Drama/Mystery/Thriller

Following her father’s death, a woman returns to the farm she grew up on after 15 years, but the reunion with her brother will have nothing but dire consequences.

The hand-held camera and close-ups on Alice after the opening sequence speak volumes from the very beginning about her esoteric world. Upon her return to the farm, and the siblings’ reunion, Ruth Wilson and Mark Stanley do a great job as estranged brother and sister, but the moment’s awkwardness, as well as the rest of the film’s pace and rhythm are well controlled by the editors Luke Dunkley and Nick Fenton. Writer/director Clio Barnard, Yorkshire lass born and raised, works with the excellent cinematographer Adriano Goldman, and delves into the personal drama Alice and Joe have to endure while developing simultaneously the tribulations of owing a farm nowadays. On one hand, their personal suffering seems impossible to be dealt with. While we get glimpses of the past, we can only imagine how hard it is for Alice to be back there. What we don’t know, until much later on, is how much Joe knows and how he positions himself in this predicament. Thus, we cannot fully comprehend the animosity between them.

On the other hand, owing that farm along with its innumerable troubles, only escalates that tension. What ideally could have happened, what did happen, as well as with how it could have been dealt with and how it was actually dealt with creates a family disaster of galactic proportions. That intensity is what describes the film. If I were forced to pick on something, that would be the fact that the tone is, from beginning to end, gloom and doom. As Dark River is mainly a drama, I would expect from it to give some hope before it takes it back. Instead, it just keeps on slowly and steadily taking it, leaving you bereft. Hence, the narrative’s element of surprise is lost there as, from a certain point on, you know that every new sequence you are about to watch is going to be a yet another calamitous encounter between the siblings.

Don’t be discouraged by that though. Dark River is the poster child of British indie cinema that only evokes emotions from relatable stories and characters and surfaces real dramas that take place in the world that you and I live in. Watch it and get to know an England so much different to the films that open with an aerial shot of London, shot wherever else after that, and dive into banalities that allegedly describe England. Dark River combines the cinematic realism and the English countryside, free of stereotypes and clichés.

Stay safe!

Antlers (2021): Drama/Horror/Mystery

In a quiet town in rural Oregon, a troubled middle-school teacher and her sheriff brother investigate a series of brutally murdered people only to be led to the awakening of an ancient creature.

Drama, horror, and mystery in a perfect balance! I’ve been waiting for this film for a long time! Three years to be precise! With Scott Cooper behind the camera – Crazy Heart (2009), Out of the Furnace (2013), Black Mass (2015), Hostiles (2017) – Keri Russell, and Jesse Plemons in front of the camera, and, among others, David S. Goyer and Guillermo Del Toro wearing the producers’ hat, how could I not. And the waiting was well worth it! It’s a case where Hollywood defies its own (uptight) rules, throws the textbook away, and finally gets it right. No fast-paced editing that confuses, no cardboard cut-out characters, and above all, no unnecessary jump-scares to compensate for the lack of narrative.

Antlers is the horror you need to watch to appreciate the slow-burn character and story development that only aims to stimulate your emotions and not to undermine your intelligence. Goyer is a master of thrill (most of his DC work excluded), Del Toro is a master of storytelling, and Russell and Plemons are amazing actors. The result is exactly what you would hope for. Admittedly, I found the ending, even though not anticlimactic… a bit flat! It easily resolved a terrifying build-up. I had high hopes it amounted to something as visceral as the first and second act up to that point – pun intended. But don’t let that stand in your way.

Based upon the short story “The Quiet Boy” by Nick Antosca, Antlers, is the kind of film where the plot relies on the subplot to support it. The personal unspeakable drama supports the horror unleashed onto these people, and, even though one can exist without other as separate entities, together they combine forces, pin you down, and cut your breath with the element of unpredictability and the uncertainty of who is worse: mythical, monstrous forces… or us…

Stay safe!

Copshop (2021): Action/Crime/Thriller

A ‘fixer’ gets deliberately arrested to escape a hired killer, but when the killer does the same and both end up in opposite cells, all hell breaks loose.

Cheery, yet dark action flick with a great on-screen duo. When you see Gerald Butler and Frank Grillo (also producers here) in an action/crime/thriller, it’s meant to be promising. And it is. The first act’s light mood, even though it’s not really a smokescreen, per se, it is misleading. The mood gets darker as Viddick and Murretto unfold the story behind the reason they have both ended up in that sub-floor detention block. Successfully humorous acting precedes Lamb’s pending massacre (you’ll find out who he is) and tricks into thinking that it’s all gonna be funny one-liners. Well, I say no more…

Other than Grillo and Butler, I must emphasise on the amazing performances given by Alexis Louder, Chad L. Coleman, and Toby Huss. Their contribution makes all the difference in the world. Having said that, Copshop is one of those films that no one will talk about in the foreseeable or unforeseeable future, but… it will most definitely gets you through the night. The pace and rhythm are just about right, there is a Desperado (1995) feel, a Dirty Harry (1971) feel, and a Dollars Trilogy feel that create a modern spaghetti standoff. Writer/producer/director Joe Carnahan is an expert on fast-paced action/thrillers – Smokin’ Aces (2006), Boss Level (2020), Wheelman (2017) – and with either or all three hats on his head, manages to perfectly balance the humour, the action, and the thrill for about an hour and forty minutes.

I definitely recommend Copshop as 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.

Stay safe!

P.S. Carnahan is currently directing the remake of The Raid (2011), and I for one look forward to watching the final cut. And by acquiring the rights for the American film, partially, The Raid 2 (2014) was funded. Awesome stuff!