Last Sentinel (2023): Drama/Sci-fi/Thriller

In the near future, when the oceans have drowned most of the land, four people do everything they can to protect a weapon that can wipe out what is left.

Low budget, high quality! Writer Malachi Smyth and director Tanel Toom build up suspense from the opening scene to the end credits. The characters are defined, and so is the problem; us! The human race. We’ve managed to drown the planet, and even then, we fight for what’s left of it. Cpl. Cassidy couldn’t have said it better, half an hour into the film. Kate Bosworth, Lucien Laviscount, Martin McCann, and Thomas Kretschmann form a great team whose members both clash as well as stand united against their own worst fears.

The more the narrative develops, the more hope is lost. The more hope is lost, the more unpredictable the escalation and climax get. Last Sentinel is a thrilling one-location, low-budget sci-fi with a couple of serious environmental and humanistic messages for you to contemplate. There is something else, though… the enemy! Who is the enemy? More importantly, what is an enemy? Enjoy watching!

Rest in peace Tina Turner and Ray Stevenson… Safe journey!

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P.S. Hope was the last thing left in Pandora’s box…

Skinamarink (2022): Horror

Two children look for their father in the middle of the night only to experience eerie paranormal phenomena.

Very hard to recommend, and even harder to digest. While watching any film, if it’s not distracting for you, ask yourselves this: what role does the camera serve? What does it show? How does it show it? Consequently, how does it move? Why does it move the way it does? Writer/director Kyle Edward Ball brings to life this nostalgic “analogue horror” (yes, it’s a sub-genre) that resembles a nano-budget, experimental, eerily dreamy, and painfully slow-paced Poltergeist (1982) that can quickly make you lose interest. Really quick! Having said that, I can easily see Skinamarink being taught at Uni, especially due to the parallelisms with the cartoons on TV, and topics such as perception, childhood, and memory.

Should you not turn it off after a few minutes and stay till the very end, try and understand why no one and nothing is shown in full – except for the innumerable shots of dark walls. Also, try and understand why you see what you see when the kids talk to one another or the entity when they are in a totally different part of the house. Lastly, I’ll give you a hint of a potential angle to approach it – a spoiler-free version. See yourselves as a voyeur of a once vibrant and now empty house with a deafening silence where the sun will never shine upon or through it…

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P.S. Well-played by Shudder to produce such a film!

SPOILERS

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Be it a demonic entity having enslaved the kids in a hellish dimension – where time passes differently, Kevin being in a comma somewhere – after hitting his head, you as an audience experiencing Kevin’s trauma living in a broken home, or any other perspective or theory that you may have about the way we remember things as children or anything else… one thing remains certain: You will never know! Only Kyle Edward Ball will know! Hence, there are no right or wrong answers or interpretations. And in that respect, Ball has achieved his goal.

Hunter Hunter (2020): Drama/Horror/Mystery

A family of fur trappers is threatened by a wolf, but the real threat is nothing they have ever encountered before.

Suspenseful, compelling, and nothing like you expect! Absolutely brilliant! One of the most realistic thrillers you’ve seen in ages. Separate stories come together naturally, blending financial and societal issues that you and I face, with the thrills and horrors of the remote wilderness, and all that to a build-up that neither you nor I have and hopefully will never have to face. Devon Sawa (Joseph) and Summer H. Howell (RenΓ©e) have wonderful chemistry as father and daughter, but it is Camille Sullivan (Anne) who will blow you out of the water. Her character is meticulously written, and Sullivan has thoroughly developed it.

There is no need to go into technical details: directing, writing, acting, editing, and photography are 10/10. IFC Midnight, leader of independent film productions, delivers once more! The man behind it, Shawn Linden, builds up the suspense in a way that glues you to your seats but wait, oh boy, wait for the way he climaxes it. Wait to see what’s coming in the end as it is highly unlikely that you have ever seen anything like it…

A must-see for every horror fan out there!

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The Middle Man (2021): Comedy/Drama

The town hall of a severely depressed town hires a middleman to deliver news to its citizens, mostly bad.

An adaptation done very right! Adaptations have never been easy. Let alone when two opposite genres are combined. The Middle Man is one of them films that there is no need to scrutinise the way it was made, except for its character and story development. The characters’ passivity matches the story’s steady pace and that can be seen throughout all three acts where there is this tendency for the addresser to state something obvious and the addressee to cynically respond to the obviousness.

Following up on that, The Middle Man expresses thoughts that all of us have had at some point in our lives but never expressed them the way we wanted in fear of how they would have been perceived. There are awkward statements and reactions to those statements that other films would deem nonsensical or indifferent, but not this one. Writer/director Bent Hamer truly comprehends Lars Saabye Christensen’s novel, Sluk 2012, and uses this awkwardness and flatness of human emotion to develop both the characters and the story. It is not often that you watch a film like this. What, I personally, find intriguing in a narrative like this is the level of unpredictability. You can never know where it is going to lead you; where and how the hero’s journey is going to end. To the point that you will philosophise the purpose of the actual nature of the journey. A proper analysis would connect society, the economy (or lack thereof), and the human psyche. In other words, the collapse of the economy, its consequences to society, and, consequently, its effect on the human soul. Ask yourselves this: How can a “dead” town have “alive” citizens? But I’ll leave this up to you.

Excellent job from the cast: PΓ₯l Sverre Hagen, Tuva Novotny, Paul Gross, Trond Fausa, and Rossif Sutherland share Hamer’s vision and brilliantly offer you this flatness and awkwardness the narrative requires. Somehow, the narrative might affect you also due to the actual premise. While allegedly taking place in America, the film was shot mostly in Germany and Canada, and Hamer and Hagen are from Norway, and the rest of the cast is from Norway and Canada. The Middle Man is a collaboration amongst these countries, and its effect will last on you way past the end credits. Interestingly, something similar I encountered in the previous film I reviewed, Dual (2022): https://kaygazpro.com/2023/04/25/dual-2022-comedy-drama-sci-fi/

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P.S. Gary! This review is definitely for you, mate!

Dual (2022): Comedy/Drama/Sci-fi

After receiving a terminal diagnosis, a woman decides to clone herself, but when she realises she is not actually dying, she challenges her clone to fight to the death.

Solid script and solid execution! Great opening sequence that gives you a glimpse of a… sort of dystopia. Cutting to Sarah, the magnificent Karen Gillan, the comedic element surprises on a number of levels. At times, it is cut and dry, and other times, it balances between intentional and unintentional. What enhances it is the lack of emotional response, mostly by Sarah, but also by everyone else. Everyone takes this dystopic legality and morality as a matter of course, and while this is not unusual for futuristic scenarios, Dual (which if you haven’t noticed already sounds like “duel”), visually takes place in the present day.

There are a lot more pros than cons in Dual. Gillan is definitely the biggest pro. She’s a great actress, and I, for one, hope to see her in more and more projects over the years, other than the MCU. Aaron Paul is great no matter what he’s in. The writing and directing of Riley Stearns is another great pro for all the abovementioned reasons. While watching it, ask yourselves, where does it take place?* When does it take place? Why do so many people have so many different accents?

Stearns is the man behind the equally quirky, awkward, and unconventional The Art of Self-defence (2019): https://kaygazpro.com/2022/02/01/the-art-of-self-defense-2019-action-comedy-crime/. Yet another film that focuses on martial arts, without taking them seriously, to the point that actually questions their existence.

While there is darkness hovering throughout all three acts, the ending carries it more heavily. There is a conspiracy behind what happened in the forest, and while it is revealed afterwards, this unsettling feeling of false interconnectedness stenches way past the end credits. Enough said! Enjoy it!

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*At least, we know it was shot in Finland.

Moloch (2022): Horror/Mystery

A series of unexplained deaths and mysterious attacks are somehow connected to a sinister presence that is after a single mother and her little daughter.

Eerie, unpredictable, and disturbing! Starting off with one of the most atmospheric opening sequences you have ever seen, the bar is set immediately high. Thankfully, the bar stays high in all three acts. The story unfolds naturally for quite some time without explaining anything about the past, holding the supernatural back, and maintaining suspenseful sequences that make the audience wonder how all is connected. What also helps immensely is Sallie Harmsen’s (Betriek) presence, whose acting is charismatic, and her beauty astounding.

Moloch has a lot of thrills to offer. The opening sequence, the house invasion, the lift, the theatrical/feike’s myth, and the events that take place, in the end, are sequences that writer Daan Bakker and co-writer/director Nico Van Der Brink have cleverly written and meticulously constructed respectively. Brink brings to life a local folk horror full of twists that will satisfy every horror fan out there, offering hope for the future of the genre (please, refer to the numerous negative reviews prior to this one).

While Shudder specialises in horror films, they are responsible for horrors ranging from piss-poor quality to mediocre to really suspenseful ones. Moloch is inarguably their best horror to date, and, maybe, their collaboration with XYZ Films is one of the reasons. Really looking forward to their next project(s)!

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Scream VI (2023): Horror/Mystery/Thriller

After the Woodsboro massacre, Billy Loomis’ daughter and her friends move to New York, but a new Ghostface killer will be after them one more time.

Unfathomably unoriginal, unintelligent, and laughable. Scream VI, like Scream (2022) and Scream: The TV Series (2015-2019), is yet another waste of resources and talent and a prime example of milking the cow. There are filmmakers in Hollywood that don’t want to think outside the box or take chances and they keep perpetuating the same old over and over again, trying to make it look like ‘old wine, new bottle’. It is exactly the same, just more and more, and more boring. I honestly don’t know if they think that the audience is getting dumber or if their ideas are just dumb. Regardless, the final product is dumb.

I won’t even go into details as to why I think it’s dumb, because, unlike the creators behind it, I don’t want to insult some people’s hard work. I’ll just say this one thing: Whoever wants to write about killers using knives, do some research as to what happens when someone gets stabbed, especially with a knife of that size. The same applies when devising ‘whodunit’ strategies, or even breaking the rules. Learn the rules first, don’t invent your own based on cheap horrors, then break them, and, finally, don’t insult the audience’s intelligence. Wokeness, once again, proves that it has the Anti-Midas touch. It turns everything into $hit!

I have written quite a few negative reviews lately as a result of thinking that the films I was about to watch would be, at least, decent. But I have some really good ones brewing, so stay tuned.

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P.S. If you really want to know how talented directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett are, watch the amazing Ready or Not (2019): https://kaygazpro.com/2021/01/05/ready-or-not-2019-comedy-horror-mystery/

Children of the Corn (2020): Horror

The children of a small town start gradually taking over, wreaking havoc against the adults.

Shame… really! I don’t think anyone expected to beat the original (1984), but Shudder and co-writer/director Kurt Wimmer will make you sigh in disbelief and ask yourselves if Stephen King had anything to say about this. Wimmer tried to dumb it down and verbally explicate what was written as a mystery and left it open to interpretation in 1977. I wish I could really recommend it to anyone, but I can’t.

Anyway, a few years ago, in an attempt to answer why children had been used in horror films over the decades and find their role in them, I interviewed the amazing child psychologist Michelle Satchwell who provided me with answers I shared back then and I am urging you to visit or revisit now: https://kaygazpro.com/2020/09/09/kids-source-of-evil-vs-source-of-resolution/. If you are interested in high-quality horrors where children are used as the source of evil or the source of resolution, I would highly suggest The Innocents (2021): https://kaygazpro.com/2022/03/23/the-innocents-2021-drama-horror-mystery/

As aforementioned, real shame! Some films should be left alone as they are products of their era. And if the filmmakers are not willing to crack a lot of eggs and find ways to blow their current audience out of the water, they should let the sleeping dogs lie. Kudos to actors Elena Kampouris (Boleyn), Kate Moyer (Eden), Callan Mulvey (Robert), and Bruce Spence (Pastor) for their performances.

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P.S. It is sad because Kurt Wimmer is the writer/director of the amazing Equilibrium (2002).

Toga (2023): Comedy/Drama

Seven years after “Upstate Story”, Ellis looks back at his life, wondering where it’s going.

Writer/director Shaun Rose becomes Ellis Martin once more and teaches nihilism – you might look at his philosophy in a different light towards the end, though. Rose’s strongest suit is the honest monologues. He offers on screen what you and I have thought, one way or another, at some stage of our lives, but maybe never really expressed out loud. His cynicism gives birth to a faithful sequel, where Ellis still looks for some purpose in life without really putting any effort into finding it – again, stay till the very end. Narrating your own life, and explicating your mundane everyday routine, speaks volumes about who you are and what your mental state is. The balance between drama and comedy is delicate but Rose manages to find it throughout. And all these are the interesting bits, the highly relatable ones.

When he makes it to Toga, there are moments where it feels like a tour of the place he grew up and even though it kind of makes sense to provide most of that information there, a lot could have been sped up or cut out in post to avoid narrative deceleration. Having said that, the way the storyteller decides to tell the story is the way we’ll get to experience it. Some will like it some will not. Inevitably.

So, if you have watched Upstate Story (2018): https://kaygazpro.com/2021/08/17/upstate-story-2018-drama/, watch Toga to see where the hero’s journey ends. If you haven’t… watch both!

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P.S. You even get British rednecks! Brilliant!

Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey (2023)

Disney’s animated heroes take flesh and blood… from everyone who happens to cross them.

George Clooney once said: “It’s possible for me to make a bad movie out of a good script, but I can’t make a good movie from a bad script.” While well-shot, this is a badly written film. And that makes it a bad film.

The animated opening sequence promises a decent horror, but the live action that follows it drops the bar straight away. For starters, the characters are telling one another what they need to do before doing it, and then they describe the action while you are watching it. What’s more, the pace and rhythm are literally all over the place. I can only name a couple of films where the director was also the editor and the film was decent. Having said that, I actually admire Rhys Frake-Waterfield, who wrote it, directed it, edited it, flew the drones, put the producer’s hat on, and more or less became a one-man army. I can tell you from experience that it is a Herculean task. Regardless of the outcome!

In addition, while most of the acting is bad (and the character development is nowhere to be found), Maria Taylor (Maria) and Natasha Rose Mills (Jessica) stand out positively. So does Vince Knight’s cinematography. As for the rest, gather your mates, order pizza and drinks, and get ready for a good laugh.

There is no point in negatively criticising it more. The script is extremely poor, yet it managed to captivate a certain audience already. To the point that its sequel has already been announced. Will I watch that? Of course, I will! Until then, as said above, grab your besties and enjoy quality time! You’ll never see Disney’s animation the same way ever again…

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P.S. You even get British rednecks! Brilliant!

Shut In (2022): Thriller

A young mother of two children must find a way to protect them when her ex-boyfriend and his thug friend lock her inside a pantry.

OK, I’ll write in a way that I haven’t written before and, hopefully, I won’t have to write like that ever again.

So, the basics… The script is decent, the directing is all right, and the acting is really good. While the visuals and the audio are slightly problematic, it didn’t really concern me. What really concerned me was the intentions. Let me be clear: I have nothing against writer Melanie Toast, director D.J. Caruso, actress Rainey Qualley, the rest of the cast, or the crew. They worked the best they could with what they had. My issue is with The Daily Wire, and their right-wing propaganda where “They in fact intend to create an entertainment branch of their media company as an alternative to Hollywood which they consider to be too far left wing. And to create movies and shows with values that reflect traditionally minded Americans”.(1)

I will also copy and paste some information and statistics from my older review Run Hide Fight (2020): https://kaygazpro.com/2021/01/24/run-hide-fight-2020-action-thriller/. This was the first film (from acquired rights) for The Daily Wire, and I remind, an American conservative news website turned TV/Film production company which, according to NewsWhip, is β€œby far” the top right-wing publisher on Facebook: β€œThe Daily Wire is by far the top publisher among its peers in terms of engagements to its content, with more than 130 million Facebook engagements to its web content for the year”.(2)

Should you decide to watch Shut In, ask yourselves this: Is that their idea about who “traditionally minded” Americans are? Really?! The atrocious Run Hide Fight (2020) capitalises on the American plague, namely mass shootings, and considers John Mclayne the hero American kids should look up to in life. Their mentality is responsible for the thousands of mothers, fathers, brothers, and sisters that mourn the people they lost, and they have the audacity to produce such films, to state what exactly?

After Shut In, I vow to not watch any other film of theirs. If I knew from the start this was one of their films, I wouldn’t watch it either – just found it on Amazon and put it on. My bad. But, in a way, I am glad I did because I got the chance to position myself. As much as I don’t like Hollywood’s petty politics, the abhorrent woke movement, the boring SJW (whatever that is), the intolerable sense of fashion, and the rest, I can argue about it, and you can counterargue back. We might all learn something from one another, even change our minds or meet halfway. The kids and adults who were tragically killed by the epidemic of gun crimes in the US, can not! So, I will choose independent and world cinema, admire or tolerate Hollywood (depending on each project separately), and avoid at any cost films and filmmakers that “use” violence for anything other than sheer entertainment.

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  1. https://www.imdb.com/title/tt10131024/trivia?item=tr6182532
  2. https://www.newswhip.com/2022/05/top-publishers-facebook-april-2022/

The Pale Blue Eye (2022): Crime/Horror/Mystery

A renowned detective with a dramatic past is hired to solve a mysterious murder and enlists a young cadet and aspiring poet called Edgar Allan Poe.

The haunting photography, the dark poetry, the ostensible suicide that proves to be a crime full of enigma and deeper motives, and the man-for-hire with special skills will bring at least three films to your mind: Sleepy Hollow (1999), From Hell (2001), and The Raven (2012) where Poe is again involved in solving a crime. And while The Pale Blue Eye had all the potential of making it to that level, it doesn’t.

Christian Bale (Augustus Landor) is as good as you’d expect him to be, and Harry Melling (Edgar Allan Poe) exceeds everyone’s expectations. Toby Jones (Dr. Daniel Marquis), Charlotte Gainsbourg (Patsy), Gillian Anderson (Mrs. Marquis), and Robert Duvall (Jean Pepe) are always great no matter what they are in. One of the film’s main issues is that it could have been shorter. It is the editor’s and the studio’s (Netflix) job to see that, but it all depends on how much influence the director has. And writer/director Scott Cooper always has. While I haven’t read Louis Bayard’s book, I felt like certain sequences could have been more condensed, starting by cutting out the superfluous verbosity. But another main issue is the plot’s convolution that, unavoidably, leads to several “hold-on-a-minute” moments. I believe I followed the story through, yet certain incidents and revelations couldn’t sit properly with me. But maybe it is me. The film is ultimately saved by its twist, and that alone is enough for me to urge you to watch it.

I hope you enjoy it as it is well-made, and inundated with remarkable performances.

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Unwelcome (2023): Horror

After a traumatic event, a young couple moves to the Irish countryside only to face horrors that they never expected to encounter.

A lot of confusing ups and downs… The helluva suspenseful opening sequence is, intentionally or not, misleading. But arriving at the Irish countryside, Hamish Doyne-Ditmas’ beautiful photography and Christian Henson’s eerie soundtrack lead it in the right direction – meaning, towards the thrilling and the horrific. What’s more, Hannah John-Kamen and Douglas Booth’s performances also lead it in the same direction. It is writer Mark Stay and writer/director Jon Wright who don’t know where they want to lead it.

The story has all the right ingredients to be a decent modern horror, but leaving aside all the things that don’t make sense (and there is a lot of that), during the film’s scariest moments, I couldn’t help but chuckle or laugh. Were those moments meant to have that effect? I kind of doubt it. Overall, I found that the suspenseful moments lead eventually to funny moments, and it is unclear how the filmmakers intended to make the audience feel. Having seen and admired Men (2022): https://kaygazpro.com/2022/06/29/men-2022-drama-horror-sci-fi/ I totally embrace and encourage the different and the unconventional but not to the expense of “whatever the audience gets, gets”. There has to be a meaning regardless of how symbolic, intricate, or mind-blowing it is. Furthermore, the contrasting character arc between Maya and Jamie smells like “wokeism”, and I, for one, am not a fan. The characters and their development should serve the narrative and not petty politics, supported by couch fighters.

Give it a shot if you have the time. I wouldn’t prioritise it, but I wouldn’t discard it either. Let me know what you think.

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P.S. It is interesting how Kristian Nairn accepted an incredibly similar role to the one he had in Game of Thrones (2011 – 2019).

Plane (2022): Action/Adventure/Thriller

A pilot is forced to land a plane full of passengers on a remote hostile island ruled by rebels and to use the help of a dangerous man to find a way out of it.

Predictable, but very much suspenseful and enjoyable! So, let’s keep it simple. You meet captain Brodie Torrance (Gerald Butler), the diverse passengers get on board, you meet them too, you see their quirks and foibles already, you then meet Louis Gaspare (Mike Colter) and you get ready for a… really bumpy ride.

Now, I don’t know anything about the technicalities of aviation or the circumstances under which crash landings can be possible, probable, feasible, or however you want to call it, but it’s shot and edited properly, in a manner that will get your attention – Butler immensely helps in that. From personal experience, I can tell you that the military operation is pure Hollywood. Nothing plays out that fast or that organised with so little information. Again though, it’s quite convincing the way it’s been portrayed – especially the stand-off sequence – and, as an audience, that’s all you need to know. In addition, the first attack on the captain, the protracted shot that follows the uncut action, is impressive. Ultimately, the sniper rocks, and Gaspare rules!

It’s a shame the director of Assault on Precinct 13 (2005), Jean-FranΓ§ois Richet, and Lionsgate don’t take chances. On one hand, they invest in the captain’s realistic responses (till the very end), but, on the other, they lose it at the hostage situation and the brutality of the rebels. I guess it’s fun for everyone in the family over the age of fifteen, but an R-rated version would be really intriguing. Enjoy it regardless, though! It’s the harmless entertainment we need nowadays.

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Blood (2022): Horror/Thriller

A nurse, and mother of two children, finds herself in a terrible position when her son gets bitten by their dog, infecting him in a way she has never encountered before.

Flawed, but pseudorealistic and suspenseful. Starts off as a standard American horror in an unreasonably huge, old, creaky house where anything can go awfully wrong. Well, something does go awfully wrong, but it doesn’t have to do with the house. Actually, until the inciting incident, the dog’s biting, all of it seems a bit too American, but brace yourselves as it gets scary. Dramatic and scary! Will Honley’s script is tight, but director Brad Anderson and Michelle Monaghan make these dramatic and scary scenes as solid as they come.

Watch out for the pace and build-up! See, from the moment Jess realises what is happening, how she reacts, and how it escalates. Questions such as: “How long can this go on?” and “How is this going to end?” will fill up your mind. Now, the nature of the script presents a tremendous obstacle for both the writer and the director: to make the audience empathise with a mother that would do anything for her child – moral, immoral, illegal, etc – and then make them deal with the fact that “anything” is actually more than they can handle. Which one of her actions will tip the scales and to which side?

What Honley has done differently is to offer you a dramatic and humanistic approach to a “disease” that you have seen before in other horror sub-genres, but he and Anderson only hint at it; they let you speculate while keeping you on the edge of your seat. What also needs to be addressed is the excellent casting: Other than Monaghan, Skeet Ulrich, Finlay Wojtak-Hissong, and Skylar Morgan Jones deliver the dark performances the narrative requires.

Blood has a beautiful rhythm and is inundated with eerie wide shots, meaningful close-ups, and disturbing Dutch angles. Stick till the very end that holds, literally, no punches! Again, flawed in parts, but a good cinematic experience overall.

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Resurrection (2022): Crime/Drama/Horror

A single mother and successful executive starts gradually losing her mind when a mysterious man from her past appears out of the blue.

Intense and captivating! I walked right into it, knowing nothing about it. Rebecca Hall’s acting and her character, Margaret, compete to get your attention. Is Margaret that compelling or is Hall so freaking good? And while you’re wondering that, the appearance of the mysterious man, the one and only Tim Roth, escalates the suspense to the extreme. Who is he? What has he done to her? What is he doing to her? What is he going to do to her?

But when you make it to Margaret’s disturbing monologue, take a break for a second – actually 8 minutes, stop asking questions, and pay attention. A great director knows when to cut or not. In dialogue, they know when to cut from the addresser to the addressee. They know their actors’/actresses’ abilities and trust them – and that extends to Grace Kaufman (Abbie). Writer/director Andrew Semans goes above and beyond and creates a psychological thriller that delves into trauma, manipulation, and their implications and throws you off your comfort zone. He lets Hall, Roth, and Kaufman unfold their talent and paces his film eerily and methodically.

It’s interesting, we may think we know someone and admire their confidence and want to be like them but little do we know. More interestingly, we may think we know ourselves, but, one day, we might realise that we have forgotten how our actual face looks, buried deep underneath the innumerable facades we’ve put on over the years…

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P.S. Speaking of disturbing 8-minute monologues, a similarly unsettling one is Mia Goth’s in Pearl (2022): https://kaygazpro.com/2023/01/06/pearl-2022-horror/ Remember… a good director knows!

Baby Ruby (2022): Drama/Thriller

When a young woman becomes a mother, her world starts falling apart and the line between what’s real and what isn’t keeps constantly blurring.

Intense, dark, and surrealistic! There is this slight paranoia in the first act. That something has happened, something is happening or something is about to happen – altogether. While pondering that, it starts feeling like something has happened to Jo (NoΓ©mie Merlant), or something is happening to her, or something will happen, and she is going to cause it – to herself or others. Writer/director Bess Wohl and editor Jin Lee deliberately confuse the audience with the way the story unfolds, the jump cuts, and the montage sequences, making them unsure if it’s Jo, the baby, everyone around them, or a concoction of everything and everyone. In the second act, that slight paranoia peaks, and only towards the end it starts steadily and gradually clearing up, revealing what is happening and what Jo thinks is happening. I’ll leave that for you to figure out, though.

Directorial debut for Bohl and the way she handles her brilliant actors, NoΓ©mie Merlant, Kit Harington, Jayne Atkinson, and Meredith Hagner, and her editing – when to cut, what kind of montage to use, etc – is remarkable. More importantly, though, she manages to start, develop, and finish a narrative that delves into a fear only women in that position can understand. For whoever is or whoever has to live with a person in that position is just a descent into madness. I, not being in that position, found it a tad excessive or surrealistic, but maybe that was the goal. Having worked for the NHS, though, and seen some post-natal mental illnesses, I can not say with certainty if it actually is. And just by wondering and asking relevant people about it after the post-credits have scrolled down and days after watching it, it shows how much it is worth watching.

All I can say is that it’ll be worth your while. Actually, it’ll keep you on the edge of your seat while making you experience every family’s happiest moment through the lens of a lurking darkness that can consume everyone. Especially women.

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Babylon (2022): Comedy/Drama/History

The transition from the silent to the sound era slowly brings the frenetic and debaucherous Hollywood lifestyle to an end, affecting everyone in the industry in ways they had never fathomed before.

A wild and extravagant cinematic wonder! Damien Chazelle is a freaking genius. He knows what to write, how to write it, what to shoot, and how to shoot it. His sense of rhythm, editing, depth of field, comedy/drama/music/musical, even horror, and his actors’ abilities turn everything he touches into gold. Every sequence carries its own priceless cinematic values that are given to you through sheer acting, photography, and editing. Babylon is a modern masterpiece and one of the most beautiful and difficult films seen in recent years. A love and hate letter to what has been and could never be repeated after it was done.

Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Jean Smart, Diego Calva, Jovan Adeppo, Lukas Haas, Olivia Hamilton, Li Jun Li, Eric Roberts, Samara Weaving, Tobey Maguire (also, producer), Olivia Wilde, Phoebe Tonkin, and the rest of the cast give their 100%, holding nothing back! Similar praise deserves the rest of the crew that seems to have worked to perfection like a Swiss watch to make this top-tier level film happen. No matter what I or anyone else says, will not add to its superb quality. Babylon is the absolute must-watch and must be in everyone’s collection! Like every other Chazelle film, it knows no boundaries when it comes to evoking all the intended emotions.

A couple of years ago, at a conference, I extensively elaborated on Chazelle and the editing behind his films (always with editor Tom Cross); the average length shot, when he cuts and when he lets the shots “breathe”, and how his editing creates meaning by showing not telling, and most certainly not giving away. Everything I have said about Whiplash (2014) and La La Land (2016) firmly applies here, too. How much did the Academy notice Babylon? There was a time that I would really care about who they nominated and awarded, but I grew up and grew out of it. The Academy is meant to reward the filmmakers and the filmmaking techniques, but lobbies get in the way, rewarding politics while constantly swapping with one another the facades of hypocrisy. Furthermore, the fact that Babylon didn’t manage to find an audience means nothing. Be it the too many subgenres, the marketing (or lack thereof), its duration, or the time it came out, it doesn’t matter. All it matters is that you watch it.

If Hollywood’s lifestyle back then was worse than it is today, it is up for debate. It is a phantasmagorical business that elevates talents as easily as it chews them up and spits them out.

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P.S. Most characters are based on actual actors/actresses and filmmakers of the time.

P.S. The similarities in the narrative between Babylon and La La Land are meant to be striking. Look into it if you are interested while keeping “nostalgia” in mind.

Sick (2022): Horror/Thriller

During the pandemic, two young women go to a lake house to quarantine only to realise that they are not alone.

Flawed but suspenseful. It’s been three years since the pandemic’s nightmare started, and films like Sick feel already something between outdated and voyeuristically familiar. Let me explain…

Not many of us or people we know have been assaulted by serial killers who asked if you wanna party or what your favourite film is right before they attempted to kill you. Having gone to the supermarket, though, to get toilet paper and finding nada has happened to all of us, even to the ones who caused the problem. So, once we have identified ourselves with that problematic situation (the guy at the supermarket), it feels weird to watch a film about it. It’s like watching people getting assaulted under similar conditions that we have experienced and that adds a weird pseudo-realism to it. Makes sense? Maybe, it’s me. Anyway, I move on…

Writers Kevin Williamson and Catelyn Crabb and director John Hyams pace really well this house-invasion horror that goes over the top about the aforementioned situation that we’ve all been through, one way or another. I mean, way over the top. Hyams did the amazing Alone (2020): https://kaygazpro.com/2020/09/27/alone-2020-thriller/ with the also amazing Marc Menchaca and while Sick is not Alone, it’s still impressive. The best parts of the film are the tracking shots and the clear-cut John Wick-like (2014) action. Hyams knows what to frame and what to leave outside the frame. These on-screen and off-screen choices build up immensely the suspense and glue you to your seats. Furthermore, Gideon Adlon (Parker) and Bethlehem Million (Miri) do a spot-on job as victims of this invasion.

Ultimately, just like Scream (1996) – also written by Williamson – Sick‘s motives are purposefully kind of satyric or comedic, expressing the paranoia of what we went through not so long ago (see the lack of toilet paper above) that will go down in history as one of the most head-scratching buffooneries of the humankind.

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Petite Maman (2021): Drama/Fantasy

A young girl helps her parents clean her mother’s childhood house when she meets another young girl in the forest that looks exactly like her.

Original script, unique execution! There is no reason to fully elaborate here, so I’ll keep it short and sweet. Writer/director CΓ©line Sciamma explores the world in a way that a child only could and, gently and with imagination aplenty, she distinguishes it from the adults’ world. The beauty of her filmmaking lies in its simplicity and honest intentions. Forget the cinema of impressions, the “in-your-face” close-ups, the rapid editing, and the trying-to-find-plot-holes mentality. Sciamma and the real-life twins JosΓ©phine and Gabrielle Sanz, in just an hour and ten minutes, will manage to get your undivided attention, by inviting you to a world that offers a second chance, understanding, and explication that defies analysis. Surely, the ending will have you thinking. The more the end credits scroll down, the more unreasonable but heartfelt answers will come to your mind.

Very simple but extremely well-thought premise that is brilliantly elaborated and executed. Remember, the restrictive narrative presents the world through an 8-year-old girl’s eyes who only aims to understand the world around her. After all, aren’t we all?

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The Chalk Line (2022): Horror/Mystery/Thriller

A couple that is trying to have kids stumbles upon a young girl with partial mutism and the mystery about who she is and where she came from begins.

Flawed, but gripping! Without wasting any time, it cuts right to it. At first, it seems quite disjointed as if writer Isabel PeΓ±a and writer/director Ignacio Tatay are rushing to be done with each sequence. But then, the fast-paced editing moves the fast story forward even faster as if you are watching it in fast forward. And as if that’s not enough, every single shot’s internal rhythm – mostly medium or close-up tracking shots – seems so fast because everyone is moving fast in it. I’m sure intensifying the narrative was the reason behind those decisions, but, honestly, my eyes started tripping.

OK, there is some really good news as well though. The story itself, based on actual events, is brilliant. PeΓ±a has developed an original, suspenseful, and scary plot (the girl’s appearance out of nowhere) over a realistic and dramatic subplot (the insufferable pain of not being able to have kids) that has been psychologically and physically ripping people apart since the dawn of time. Tatay should have paced it more patiently, leaving the shots to “breathe” more and the audience to “absorb” the happiness and sadness, to get carried away by the suspense, and to be able to tell the difference.

There is an impactful and intense climax that definitely deserves your time and attention. What’s more, the wonderful Elena Anaya (Paula) does an incredible job as a woman with a maternal instinct who would do anything to protect someone as if she was hers. Pablo Molinero (SimΓ³n) beams an underlying sorrowful darkness next to her as well.

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The Eternal Daughter (2022): Drama/Mystery

A writer spends a few days with her mother at a secluded Victorian hotel, but the past evokes emotions she never expected.

Atmospheric, eerie at times, truly Hitchcockian, but awfully slow. It is a very intriguing story, but a rather non-challenging execution. For starters, while it is a noble idea to have Tilda Swinton playing both daughter and mother, the fact that producer/writer/director Joanna Hogg couldn’t place them in the same shot (not till the very end, anyway) made the dialogue editing look like a ping pong match. Overall though, the film’s great shots compensate for the unimaginably slow pace and rhythm and while the purpose is justified, you might find it difficult to stay with it until the end. There is a steady pace throughout all three acts, something that provides a sense of realism, and while there is a denouement, yes, the path Hogg paves towards that denouement will seriously challenge your patience and ability to focus. Ultimately, it is a heavily depressing concept that does not aim to cheer you up. And this is what you sign up for; an hour and a half of Kafkaesque gloom. Personally, I very much enjoyed it by being sucked into the story and the dark drama it carries, but I find it difficult to recommend it.

This is yet another A24 film that I will praise, as well as their collaboration with BBC, and producer Martin Scorsese. There is an audience for such films, and they aim right at it. The key to just accepting it for what it is is to grasp the feeling of loneliness, the burden of guilt, and the impact of loss.

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Piggy (2022): Drama/Horror/Thriller

An obese girl who gets constantly bullied witnesses a crime that will complicate her life even further.

Challenging, thought-provoking, and unique! Bullies… Who likes bullies?! Would you like yourself if you were one? Would you even know if you were one? Then, who likes an outsider? How would you deal with it if you were one? Piggy succeeds where the vast majority of Hollywood horrors fail. It dares to challenge society and youth in a way that very few filmmakers have. Writer/director Carlota Pereda disregards how the masses might feel and gives it to you raw, just the way you don’t like it. Her horror/drama reflects the ugliness of modern times through a mirror that reveals an extremely unpleasant image of ourselves.

Piggy tackles bullying but also battles the actions towards it or lack thereof. On one hand, the act of bullying or doing nothing to prevent it from happening is abhorrent, and, on the other hand, taking drastic action raises significant questions as to what the limit is. Piggy shifts the moral compass time and time again, placing the audience in a very uncomfortable position. You will not stop thinking about how “bad” the “right” way feels and how “good” the “wrong” way does. Ultimately, what is moral and legal, and the disorientating line between them will be occupying your thoughts while the story painfully advances. What we would like to happen, how it should happen, and what it actually happens will really cloud your judgment. And all that to a wild, climactic, and controversial ending.

While all cast and crew deserve praise for this beautifully ugly film, Laura GalΓ‘n deserves the biggest round of applause for portraying such a character with such charisma. Congratulations to Magnolia Pictures/Magnet Releasing, and everyone else who co-funded this film.

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M3gan (2022): Horror/Sci-Fi/Thriller

A robotics engineer designs a life-like doll that turns out to be stylishly sadistic and murderous.

Noble intentions, but awfully formulaic execution. You can’t get more Hollywood than that so, I will just keep it simple. I’ll start with the positives: Allison Williams (Gemma) is always great. She’s an excellent actress and gives amazing performances no matter what she’s in. Then, M3gan as a concept is the new Chucky – Child’s Play (1988). Don’t expect it to become a “classic” though despite her cool killing mode. Finally, Violet McGraw (Cady) is not one of them annoying child actors. She’s actually really good.

Now, for the negatives: Firstly, the character arc is way too obvious from the very beginning. At first, Gemma can’t even take care of her plants, and then you know that M3gan will wreak havoc and she and her niece will come closer and have learned “valuable” lessons in life – can’t get more obvious than that. Secondly, the underlying drama, the parents’ loss, the inciting incident that sets the cogs in motion, has been severely epidermically approached. Actually, that was the part that put me off the most. Finally, using montages to advance the story forward is the easy way out. It was great seeing Rocky (1976) becoming a better boxer in five minutes back then, but now? Hmmm… Not so much.

Producers Jason Blum and James Wan, respectable veterans in the horror genre, have nothing much to offer other than bloody entertainment. Director Gerald Johnstone, the one behind the great Housebound (2014) seems like he just had to work with whatever he had to work. Aleka Cooper’s script was meant to be bloodier and gorier, but again, the producers noted how well the trailer did on freaking Tik Tok and decided to water it down and address it to teenagers. Fair enough, at least now you know who it is meant for. Both Blum and Wan have interesting projects lined up, so I look forward to them.

So, there are positives and there are negatives. Is it worth watching? Sure, why not? But mostly, due to M3gan’s bat-$hit crazy artificial psychopathy. If I were to pitch that script, the tagline would be something along the lines of “Annabelle (2014) gets an upgrade”.

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Hatching (2022): Drama/Fantasy/Horror

A young girl finds and keeps a dead bird’s egg, but when it hatches, a horror beyond her imagination starts growing.

You don’t know what you sign up for! Meet the family… mother: detestable, father: poor sod, brother: mama’s boy and spoiled brat, Tinja: victim of the “perfect family” and the true anti-heroine of the story (or is it, villain?). Once that’s established, the awkwardly looking and sounding gigantic bird spices things up. Admittedly, it doesn’t seem much, and its role, at first, is quite questionable and awkward, but the way the narrative escalates the awkwardness is replaced by an unexpected horror that leads the story in an unpredictable direction. How so?

Interestingly, the mother, you know, the one you instantly hated, you will abhor later on. Her boyfriend? You’ll empathise with him, even knowing what’s happening. The father and son are as bad, and Tinja becomes one of the most interesting child characters you’ve seen in recent years. The last time I got that impressed was watching The Innocents (2021): https://kaygazpro.com/2022/03/23/the-innocents-2021-drama-horror-mystery/.

Hint and tiny spoiler… I believe there is a moral behind it, and that has to do with the externalisation of inner human monstrosity, and its connection to the alter ego. The obviousness of the father/son relationship might be displayed on purpose by co-writer/director Hanna Bergholm only to throw you off and hide the subliminal similarities of the mother/daughter one. I’m sure you can find more online about it, but my recommendation is to watch it, contemplate it, and only then do a “compare and contrast” with what you thought of it. IFC Midnight rarely disappoints and always offers a fresh perspective to the genre.

Excellent performances by Siiri Solalinna (Tinja) and Sophia HeikkilΓ€ (mother)! Also, excellent photography and editing!

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Prey for the Devil (2022): Horror/Thriller

A demonic possession will challenge a nun’s faith, but also her promiscuous past.

Decent concept, but too formulaic. Right off the bat, both photography and acting promise a good scare. Then the statistics show up, and I pause for a minute to research if they are accurate. They aren’t. As Hollywood tends to do, it just bends truths and facts, to confuse the audience, so they don’t know what’s real and what isn’t. Great narrative technique, but not when presented as “facts”. Come on…

Regardless, the suspense and the thrill work quite well for the most part, it is the horror that doesn’t and the first exorcism cannot hide that. Certain Hollywood producers cannot escape the formulaic and the clichΓ©. They will use, for instance, jump scares – which is only a tool – over and over only because the scripts they are handling are grasping at straws. Remember, “flashy” editing, rhythmic, and metric montages can only do so much to advance the story. The same applies to visual effects. The story needs to flow convincingly on its own.

Robert Zappia’s script tries hard to become innovative, but it doesn’t do well. On the other hand, Daniel Stamm, the experienced director behind the gritty 13 Sins (2014), and The Last Exorcism (2014) seems to have his hands tight up. Lionsgate used to be ahead of its game, but not for years. They just love, as said above, the formulaic and the clichΓ©. Jacqueline Byers (Ann) is a great actress, but a victim of a narrative that is doomed to fail.

You know what I would like as an audience? Pseudo-realism! No soppy montages, no jump cuts, and no demons who do whatever the poor narrative demands them to do just to make it to the end credits. I would like a suspense build-up that leads to a balanced drama/horror narrative, addressed to people that I can relate to. And all that, accompanied by filmmaking techniques that will not constantly remind me that this is a film, especially a Hollywood one. Both 13 Sins and The Last Exorcism do that. How can I properly relate to these characters? Once again, everyone could have been an underwear model. It’s like, literally, all Calvin Klein models quit and decided to become members of the clergy.

Wait for the sequel of The Exorcist (2023) around Halloween time. Hopefully, that will blow our socks off.

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Nanny (2022): Drama/Horror/Thriller

Wanting to bring her son to America, a Senegalese woman becomes a nanny for a wealthy family while her mind plays horrific tricks on her.

Well-acted, but awfully problematic. It took me a few minutes to figure out what was not sitting well with Nanny. So, keep in mind that it is predominantly a drama and not a horror. Therefore, you may agree that the dramatic plot should be supported by a horrific subplot. Well, it does that much, so the question is, does it in an appealing manner? In a way that hooks you?

Aisha is an overly relatable character, especially for those who know about migration, and Anna Diop absolutely nails her part, adding to the drama that slowly and painfully unfolds. Hence, her story starts from sad only to end up… well, you’ll see. But the snippets of horror don’t add up as they find it difficult to place themselves in the story. The constant use of eerie music when they try to do so is their only way of infiltrating, and writer/director Nikyatu Jusu feels the need to have an “in-your-face” approach. That becomes a direct contradiction because what is happening to Aisha lurks under the surface and the filmmaking techniques that are meant to subliminally deliver her uneasiness couldn’t make it more obvious as if you otherwise wouldn’t get it. You would. And you will probably figure out from the very beginning what the drama is about. In psychological dramas, thrillers, and horrors the action is divided between on and off-screen, carefully chosen by the director what is happening where. Jusu places everything on-screen, projecting confusion rather than mystery, and the plot and subplot become indistinguishable.

Jusu’s strong suit is the use of Diop’s incredible acting skills, and, consequently, she solely becomes the reason to watch it. The film itself, unfortunately, till the very end, fails to decide what it wants to make you feel. Needless to say that the ending is a narratological mess that claims a “fatality” victory over the already visually wounded audience. Shame, really…

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The Menu (2022): Comedy/Horror/Thriller

Upon invitation, a group of elitists travels to an isolated island where the chef has prepared a menu beyond anyone’s imagination.

Spicy, sweet & sour, and easy to digest! Right-o… let’s start with the basics! If cooking is your fetish and you are familiar with posh recipes, you will engage quickly. If, on the other hand, you are as irrelevant as I am about fancy foods and restaurants and you quickly make pasta for three days just before you rush to work, then you’ll just find it funny, and meaningless, and you will only empathise with Margot (Anya Taylor-Joy) – and you won’t even know half of it. But brace yourselves, that is until course number… I am not telling you. This is where it gets interesting for both parties; the relevant and the irrelevant ones. The comedy and the mystery start blending in, and shocking revelations will glue you to your seats. The chef’s dark surrealistic psychopathy moves the story forward in an entirely unexpected direction. As further disclosures about the… menu will not be made, all you need to know is that surprises, pleasant or otherwise, do not stop till the very end.

Writers Seth Reiss and Will Tracy and director Mark Mylod’ The Menu, like so many films of Searchlight Pictures, is the fresh breath that Hollywood needs. I’ve used that expression before with production companies such as HBO and A24. It’s like slowly and gradually Hollywood reinvents itself, producing films like this one, Pearl (2022): https://kaygazpro.com/2023/01/06/pearl-2022-horror/ and Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (2015): https://kaygazpro.com/2022/12/27/me-and-earl-and-the-dying-girl-2015-comedy-drama-romance/ while still making, of course, superficial and somewhat insulting films of the likes of Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2022): https://kaygazpro.com/2022/02/23/texas-chainsaw-massacre-2022-crime-horror-thriller/

Anyway, the narrative is deep, intricate, and twisted. See, for example, the “Tantalus” name. Read about the myth and connect the dots appropriately. I’m sure there are connections between the chef’s menu and the haves and have-nots, but the food industry is not my specialty. Also, look out for the themes of idolisation and fanaticism and connect them to the innumerable people who watch shows like Gordon Ramsay’s. That will explain Tyler (Nicholas Hoult), but also the sous chefs’ behaviour and decisions.

Highly recommended to all fans who love the marriage between comedy and horror – and great acting.

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P.S. Will Ferrell is one of the producers.

P.P.S. John Leguizamo’s character is based on… Steven Seagal!

P.P.S. Why do you think producers keep hiring British actors to portray Americans? Interesting…

Why Indiana Jones 5 will be the most intriguing action/adventure of 2023

It seems that after every spectacular and exciting Indiana Jones, a somewhat dull or let-down follows. Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny (2023) will be the former. While the plot is fairly unknown, the prediction does not derive only from the film’s trailer which is nostalgic and thrilling, but also from certain undeniable parameters.

Having left the ‘monster’ films behind him, it is known that Steven Spielberg won’t be sitting in the director’s chair this time and George Lucas will not be getting involved at all with the script. Fear not though as James Mangold is! The director behind films such as Copland (1997), Girl, Interrupted (1999), the incredibly underrated Identity (2003), and one of the best superhero adaptations Logan (2017) takes over, taking with him his Ford v Ferrari (2019) writers, Jez and John-Henry Butterworth. Furthermore, the one and only John Williams will compose for the last time the film’s score.

Though we don’t know yet who’s the foe and who’s the ally, the immensely diverse Mads Mikkelsen, Antonio Banderas, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, John Rhys-Davies (yes, he’s back), Boyd Holbrook, Toby Jones, Thomas Kretschmann, and more, will join Indy in what could be his last adventure against the unknown – at least with Harrison Ford. It’s an incredible cast that, be it Nazis, divine judgment, aliens, or anything else will support him or plot against him throughout this journey.

Indiana Jones 5 expands the franchise once more 42 years after the Raider of the Lost Ark (1981), which would have been a round 40 if the pandemic hadn’t changed the world the way it did. So, what does that mean for the hero’s journey now? As briefly mentioned above, Indy has been against numerous known and unknown forces that always came in twos. After Nazis and the Ark of the Covenant, the Thuggee cult and the mystical stones, Nazis and the Holy Grail, and Soviets and Alien artifacts, it only remains to be seen who Indy is going to go against in 1960s America. What human and non-human forces will be combined to add to Professor Jones’ experiences? How will his nostalgic self react to the new extraordinary stimuli presented? What will this adventure mean for his character arc? What does the future hold for one of the longest-running franchises?

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny promises to give a fresh perspective to one of the most beloved heroes of all time. It promises laughter, nostalgia, and action for the whole family with a new cast and crew, but still under the watchful eye of Steven Spielberg and George Lucas who will act as producers and still with Harrison Ford as the titular hero. Spielberg and Lucas created a universe where the mystical and the realistic co-exist, bringing to life from biblical theories to extraterrestrial conspiracies. On June 30, buy your popcorn and soda, get comfy, and let the Dial of Destiny guide you to the unfamiliar and the unexpected…

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The Banshees of Inisherin (2022): Comedy/Drama

A man’s obsession to find out why his best friend suddenly stopped talking to him spirals gradually out of control.

Funny, sad, nostalgic, and kinda heart-wrenching. Perfectly balanced, the drama goes hand in hand with the (dark) comedy in a small gossiping Irish society during yet another nasty civil war. The themes of hopelessness and helplessness prevail, characterising the two main heroes, PΓ‘draic (Colin Farrell) and Colm (Brendan Gleeson), leaving still some room though for the ostensibly inescapable loneliness that tortures SiobhΓ‘n (Kerry Condon). The underdog of the entourage though, the one that gets life’s shortest straw, is no other than Dominic (Barry Keoghan). What, I believe, in this instance, writer/director’s Martin McDonagh brilliance is, is that all the characters above are experienced through the eyes of the villagers and each others’ (comedy), but also through their own eyes when they are alone and no one is watching (drama) and the striking difference and inevitable clash between the two can be experienced by the audience.

You may have heard of character-driven vs story-driven films; films that are driven by the actions of the characters vs films that are driven by events that set the cogs in motion, respectively. Upon explaining that difference to numerous people who watched it, I asked and everyone told me that The Banshees of Inisherin is a character-driven story because the heroes’ actions escalate the situation and move the story forward. While I agree with that, I will note that the story taking place, profusely, in April 1923, towards the end of that civil war, is not a coincidence. Therefore, I argue that it is a story-driven narrative and it is the war (and, maybe, the wars before it) that has mentally affected everyone the way it has. Not long after the film starts, PΓ‘draic walks along the shore and turns around abruptly when he hears the bombings coming from the mainland. McDonagh stays on him, looking in that direction until he says: “Good luck to ye. Whatever it is you’re fightin’ about…” In its simplicity, this couldn’t be more heartbreaking. He doesn’t know who to say good luck to and he doesn’t know why either. He only knows how he feels about seeing his fellow countrymen kill one another. Respectively, everyone copes with that atrocity in their own secret or more obvious way. And PΓ‘draic, the once optimistic and cheerful chap, gradually… well, you’ll see…

More often than not, I examine the way the filmmaking techniques interact with the film’s narrative, but then there are times that I just let it go. This will be one of them. I’ll tell you this, though: Expect a brilliant soundtrack, astonishing photography, tear-jerking acting, and a thought-provoking journey that will make you laugh as much as it will bring tears to your eyes.

As per McDonagh, “there was no other way for the story to end”. I’m sure there are people who agree as much as there are people who couldn’t agree less. The fact that he makes all of us contemplate it, agree, disagree, or even create our own endings in our heads shows how powerful his story is. An absolute must-watch!

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P.S. It already has and will keep rightfully claiming every award under the sun.

Troll (2022): Action/Adventure/Drama

A group of unorthodox people does everything in their power to stop an ancient creature from making it to Oslo.

Hollywood-style action/adventure that excites as much as it divides. The solid first act is the exciting part. Firstly, the child’s perspective plants the seed of faith, then the rapid editing builds up suspensefully the faith, and then the faith turns into a nightmare. Everyone’s disbelief, and the destruction the troll leaves in its path, but not its actual appearance, increase the suspense and maintain your attention until it actually appears and until the military operation against it begins. Somewhere there, the subplot surfaces, the troll becomes the reason the damaged father/daughter relationship gets a second chance, you get sucked into it, and then you remember that, oh yeah, there is a troll strolling somewhere.

The Norwegian military operation is blatantly stupid and doomed to fail as any Hollywood military operation is and everyone knows it beforehand. At least, it’s well-shot and edited so it will keep you glued. Unfortunately, but predictably, the same military bottomless buffoonery is infinitely amplified in the end, and one can only hope that the alternative will work. Every time I see these kinds of military operations, I get the feeling that there is an underlying message, something along the lines of ‘Hey! If that was not a mythical creature/alien/Jaeger/god/whatever, we would have kicked his a$$’ – a hint towards whatever country’s real-life potential enemies.

Anyway, without elaborating further, Roar Uthaug’s Troll is enjoyable. If you can overlook the Hollywood-style filming, and the rudimentary story and character development, the visuals are great, the audio is superb, the acting is conviencing, and the photography is effective. Above all, though, it is beautifully edited. Christoffer Heie and Jens Peder Hertzberg’s editing is what makes it so good despite the aforementioned flaws.

Enjoy it without over-thinking about it and you’ll be all right.

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White Noise (2022): Comedy/Drama/Horror

A family that constantly disagrees on every aspect of life has to escape a major catastrophe, something that will deepen their existential views even more.

Between Film studies that specialise in car crashes and Hitler studies that specialise in… well… Hitler, there is this family that doesn’t stop talking. Men, women, and children alike sound and act as if they came out of Shakespeare’s play or human testing for a new drug. No one speaks or behaves… naturally. Think of it as three unrelated or totally disjoined parts (at best) of the same theatrical that relies heavily on rhythmic montage sequences to match the film’s frenetic and unstoppable verbal diarrhea.

Without getting into too much detail, the comedic part is not comedic enough – maybe, sporadically humorous or caustic. You won’t find yourselves laughing over anything, really. The part that is meant to be dramatic is not really dramatic because of the head-scratching roots that cause the drama. Finally, the horror part comes late(r) to the party, but, even then, it doesn’t stay long, really. Everyone over-philosophising everything through never-ending verbosity leaves no room for processing all this information, and, consequently, developing the intended emotions. Other than that, it doesn’t really know what kind of film it wants to be and its focus is all over the place. Take, for example, the camp Daffodil exodus. Similar sequences of evacuation have been in the past a living nightmare for everyone experiencing catastrophic events, including the empathising audience. Now, compare that sequence to any of the escaping sequences of the War of the Worlds (2005). Any. Escaping. Sequence. The comparison’s outcome leads to parody, and so do these disconnected points of view on literally everything and nothing. Is this what writer/director Noah Baumbach aimed to do? A parody of the American family? A parody of American society? Is that what that pointless musical, in the end, is (not spoiling it, don’t worry)?

Think about it, what happens after the cloud is gone till the end of the film? Nothing. Nothing for absolutely no reason. While I haven’t read Don DeLillo’s novel, solely focusing on the film, leaving the survival mode of the second part behind, all you get in the third part is lyrical nothingness. Who was meant to be the target audience, in other words, who was meant to like it? Horror fans? Nope! People, who need a good laugh? Nope! Fans of existentialism (is there such an audience)? If I were to characterise it in one sentence, I would say that it is an exceptionally well-shot and well-acted bewilderment. Congrats to Adam Driver, Greta Gerwig, Don Cheadle, and the rest of the cast who act so great for whatever reason.

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Pearl (2022): Horror

Pearl unleashes her dark side when she realises that her dream to become a star is crushed by the reality that she’ll get stuck on a farm.

Pearl starts off with antithetical notions. The extremely colourful scenery, the soundtrack’s joyful orchestra, the dream to become a movie star one day, and everything a classic Hollywood comedy/drama/romance represented in the early 20th century, such as The Wizard of Oz (1939), is offered to you in a slasher horror of today, a prequel of a bloodbath that only takes place in that era. So, what do you think is going to happen?

I have already spoken about X: https://kaygazpro.com/2022/04/29/x-2022-horror/. The film seems to have been ridiculously edited on purpose (to resemble the 70s?) and still made, arguably, last year’s best horror film. While such editing was not spotted in Pearl, what couldn’t be missed was the prolonged build-up; the reason why Pearl became the psychopathic murderer she is in X. While it is considerably less eventful than X, Mia Goth (also producer) steals the show. She absolutely nails her part. Not only with her brilliant 8-minute monologue, but throughout all three acts. She’s absolutely magnificent and producer, writer, and director Ti West sees it and pictures her as the star her character always dreamt of being.

Now, bear in mind that the script of Pearl had already been written before the filming of X started, and both films are produced by A24. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times: The people in charge of A24 know what they are doing. They are ahead of the game and their vision is the new breath Hollywood needed. Think of them as the new HBO. They filmed two related horrors simultaneously, knowing beforehand that both they’ll be successful. Again… vision!

In a twisted and deranged manner, Pearl manipulates the early “Hollywoodland’s” dreamworld, visually sodomises it, and turns it into a nightmare! An absolute joy for every horror fan out there. And none of it would be possible if, other than Goth, David Corenswet, Tandi Wright, Matthew Sunderland, and Emma Jenkins-Purro didn’t give their 100% with their remarkable performances.

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P.S. As per IMDb, Tandi Wright learned how to speak German only for her role – she even fooled two German members of the crew.

P.P.S. To the specific online fan clubs: Before I found out about you, I thought of the same thing myself! You have my vote! To whoever studio mogul explores the idea of making a female version of Joker or a similarly twisted character, look no further! Mia Goth is here!

P.P.P.S. Look out! MaXXXine is coming out soon!

Silent Night (2021): Comedy/Drama

Childhood friends, now in relationships or with their families, gather on Christmas day to spend their last moments together.

Funny-ish and somewhat emotional. Diverse and incompatible couples, inundated with animosity towards one another, meeting up on Christmas day while the world is coming to an end is a concept that can be developed in only a few ways. Think of it this way: The end of the world is the plot and everyone’s secrets and lies are the subplot. The former is dramatic while the latter is funny. So, by definition, Silent Night is a drama (genre) with comedy elements (sub-genre), so the balance between the two is integral. What should the “right” analogy be? Even better, is there such a thing as a “right” analogy? As the answer is very subjective, you will ultimately get to decide.

Writer/director Camille Griffin starts it off as a comedy that relies a lot on foul language, especially, when that language comes out of the children’s mouths. Slowly and steadily, when you’ll start realising that everyone knows they are going to die shortly, you’ll start interpreting everything differently. What they know about the end of the world and their situation and what you do as an audience enhances the suspense, making you wonder if there is actually a way out of it. Griffin has paid a lot of attention to the details surrounding that ending. The lack of drinkable water and soda cans, the government’s presence (or lack thereof), the communication of information/misinformation about the pending doom… Everything seems to be adding up bit by bit. So, is there a way out of it? Watch till the end to find out. Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Annabelle Wallis, Lily-rose Depp, Sope Dirisu, Kirby Howell-Baptiste, Lucy Punch, and the kids deliver solid performances that add to the film’s believability.

The concept of the film is not original, but there is no such thing nowadays, anyway. It’s a Disaster (2012), Seeking a Friend for the End of the World (2012) and This is the End (2013) are great films that have explored the world’s last hours and the human reaction to it. While there are numerous more films out there dealing with it, a few of my favourite apocalyptic ones are On the Beach (2000) – one of my first-ever reviews, so I am not posting it, Knowing (2009): https://kaygazpro.com/2020/06/15/knowing-2009-action-drama-mystery/, These Final Hours (2013): https://kaygazpro.com/2022/01/28/these-final-hours-2013-drama-sci-fi-thriller/, and Don’t Look Up (2021): https://kaygazpro.com/2021/12/31/dont-look-up-2021-comedy-drama-sci-fi/.

With a sense of humour, Silent Night examines (superficially, I may add) the cause of the end of the world without particularly pointing any fingers. Maybe, the lack of understanding is the reason why it happens to begin with. It is not another country’s fault, it is not intricate biopolitics, and it is not the government. If we want a change, as Michael Jackson simply put it, we start with the man in the mirror. If not, one of the various cinematic case scenarios may come true one day.

This is most definitely not a gather-the-family-to-watch-a-Christmas movie, not conventionally anyway. I’m really glad I watched around this time of the year though as it got me thinking. Film, like any other art, is a vast and never-ending world that can repeat messages over and over again in innovative, intricate, and intriguing ways.

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Violent Night (2022): Action/Comedy/Crime

A group of mercenaries attacks a rich family’s mansion at the same time when Santa Claus is about to deliver the gifts.

Aghhh… A grumpy, drinking, pissing, swearing, stealing, fighting Santa! What’s not to like, yeah? Well, there is nothing much you won’t like. Think of it as a funny Die Hard (1988) and Die Hard 2 (1990) set up in a house instead of a tall building or an airport with a pinch of an even more moronic Home Alone (1990). Actually, there’s a lot you will like. The writers of Sonic the Hedgehog (2020) and the director of Dead Snow (2009), make Violent Night very formulaic, keep in mind, but it’s what the narrative demands, and, probably, what you want from it. If you want to see something different from director Tommy Wirkola, I’d urge you to watch Dead Snow and Dead Snow 2 (2014).

As with previous Christmas films, I won’t get into it that much. I’ll just say ‘nay’ or ‘yay’. So, the elephant in the room is David Harbour, who is as funny as he is badass. Maybe Violent Night lacks depth, but count on him to entertain you. Remember, Stranger Things (2016) wouldn’t be the same without him. Furthermore, the diverse John Leguizamo adds personality to all the roles he’s played and so does here. Alex Hassell, Alexis Louder, Edi Patterson, Cam Gigandet, and the young Leah Brady create great chemistry and, consequently, atmosphere. Last but not least, Beverly D’Angelo always had been lighting up the screen in all 132 films she has appeared in with both her skills and beauty.

Expect plenty of shooting, plenty of fighting, plenty of bloodshed, and plenty of foul language (but not plenty of substance), and you’ll be all right. Again, there is no reinventing the wheel here. Just PG 15 “Christmas magic” and unconventional ’tis the season spirit in an old-wine-new-bottle recipe. It’s a ‘yay’.

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The Apology (2022): Thriller

On Christmas Eve, twenty years after the day her daughter disappeared, a woman gets an unexpected visit from her ex-brother-in-law who holds crucial information about that day.

Nail-biting at times, but inconsistent overall. From a filmmaking point of view, interesting opening sequence. Like an omniscient narrator, the audience hovers over isolation and “uninvited” enters Darlene’s house, the amazing Anna Gunn, where the drama and thriller will unfold. Interestingly, IMDb characterises the film only as a thriller. Respectfully, I beg to differ. Anyway, the reunion with the ex-brother-in-law (Jack), admittedly, paces itself but proves to be essential to the plot point that will connect Act I and Act II, namely the revelation of that information. So, be patient and wait for it. Just wait…

The editing slows down, and the disclosure of information comes in waves. Writer/director Alison Locke focuses on Darlene, and manages to capture the shock that turns into anger, rage, wrath, and, finally, despair. So far, the film’s strong suit is the balance between Darlene’s reaction to that information (receiver) and Jack’s position (transmitter). Gunn ultimately nails her part as the mother who lost everything that day and had to live day in, and day out parents’ worst fear and Locke mounts the camera and follows that performance. Until the tables turn… and the characters start acting differently. Personally, this is the point where character development faces irreparable and head-scratching inconsistencies that damage the rest of the film. And this is where I’m going to stop in an attempt not to spoil anything crucial.

The Apology is like a book or wine; some will like it, and some won’t. I do recommend it, for sure, but that is mostly due to Gunn’s performance. Another recommendation I have with a similar premise, but a different story is The Lodge (2019): https://kaygazpro.com/2020/05/15/the-lodge-2019-drama-horror-thriller/. That is one helluva cinematic ride!

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P.S. It is always a pleasure to see Janeane Garofalo in a film, be it a primary or secondary role.

8-Bit Christmas (2021): Comedy/Family

In the late 1980s, a boy makes it a mission to get the most innovative video-game console, the Nintendo.

Funny, Christmassy, and a little didactic. While most of it takes place in the 80s, personally, I didn’t get the Goonies (1985) vibe. Maybe it’s the 21st-century camera angles, lack of chroma noise, mise-en-scene, editing, etc, or, simply, the character development that is kinda 80s, but for whoever lived through it actually isn’t. Even though it is considerably funny, in my humble opinion, it betrays the funny moments by emphasising them with the editor to cut right on them, leaving nothing naturally in the background or to the imagination. This way it gives the impression that it tries to be funny a little bit more than it does. BUT… that’s just me and in a film like this, it does not really matter, anyway. I guess I am overthinking it when the expectations of celebratory films should be raised to the levels of entertainment and not to the levels of innovation.

Written by Kevin Jakubowski and directed by Michael Dowse, 8-bit Christmas is a Christmas film for the whole family and it is about family values and friendship. More particularly, about family values and friendship over materialistic pleasures and selfish needs. What’s more, 80s or not, it is a well-narrated story, by a dad to his daughter, about how things once were. And that’s something diachronic, something that will never die out, something that will always have been and always will be passed down from generation to generation. Neil Patrick Harris, Steve Zahn, June Diane Raphael, and every single child actor will put a big smile on your face!

8-bit Christmas is an old-wine-new-bottle “journey vs. destination” with an excessive suspension of disbelief and a sentimental ending for the whole family. A great must-watch for this Christmas period to forget, even for just over an hour and a half, this season’s difficulties.

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Carter (2022): Action/Thriller

A man is tasked with a nearly impossible mission upon waking up with no memory.

Unrealistic and unwatchable! From start to finish the same unrealistic things repetitively happen in an unwatchable manner. Carter is constantly running around, fighting hordes of people (more unscratched than Steven Seagal) in an attempt to achieve something that is befitting for the era just gone, namely the pandemic. Writer/director Jung Byung-gil tried to reproduce his previous film’s success The Villainess (2017): https://kaygazpro.com/2020/07/21/the-villainess-2017-action-thriller/ (unfortunately, I didn’t praise that either), combining it with what writer/director Ilya Naishuller did with Hardcore Henry (2015) and Nobody (2021): https://kaygazpro.com/2021/05/25/nobody-2021-action-crime-drama/. Unfortunately, again, the outcome is neither.

Carter is a film that thousands of people have worked hard to bring to life so I won’t be too harsh on it. This type of action film is not reinventing the wheel: The Raid (2011): https://kaygazpro.com/2019/04/06/the-raid-redemption-2011-action-thriller/, The Raid 2 (2014): https://kaygazpro.com/2019/04/07/the-raid-2-2014-action-crime-thriller/, Headshot (2016): https://kaygazpro.com/2018/11/30/headshot-2016-action-drama-thriller/, The Night Comes For Us (2018): https://kaygazpro.com/2018/11/19/the-night-comes-for-us-2018-action-thriller/, to name but a few, are films with modest budgets and impressive results. The know-how is there. Byung-gil should have stuck with what works and add his own personality to it rather than trying to create something ‘new’ that is unbearable to watch. Arguably, his philosophy was: ‘I shoot it this way and all the mistakes can be fixed in post.’ While mistakes are indeed fixed in postproduction, that is not the role of editing whatsoever! The editing stitches the pieces together in a way that the narrative calls for and the way Carter has been shot, intended to create the illusion of one continuous shot, has irreparably damaged the hard work of those thousands of people in front and behind the camera. They say that the editing either makes or brakes a film. It has most certainly torn it apart, in this case.

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P.S. If you want to see how jump cuts and radical editing are truly effective (in a time when it was innovative), watch Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless (1960).

Amsterdam (2022): Comedy/Drama/History

In the 1930s, a group of outcasts start investigating a murder they were framed for, which leads them to one of the biggest conspiracies in American history.

A-list cast in a bizarre, mysterious, and awkwardly funny whodunit. While from directing, cinematography, editing, (invisible) VFX, and acting point of view Amsterdam is next to immaculate, the script itself is, as said above, bizarre. Based on the political conspiracy against President Roosevelt and the coup that intended to overthrow him, the film consists of surrealistic characters, awkward humour, and a comedic way of seeing the war and social issues. Producer/writer/director David O. Russell selects a particular part of history and makes it too Hollywood by mythologising its existence and arguing and counter-arguing the pre-WWII politics in a manner that makes one wonder how they should feel about what they see.

What O. Russell also always manages to do is gather the best actors alive and get them into his films: Christian Bale, John David Washington, Margot Robbie, Alessandro Nivola, Andrea Riseborough, Anya Taylor-Joy, Chris Rock, Matthias Schoenaerts, Michael Shannon, Mike Myers, Timothy Olyphant, Zoe Zaldana, Rami Malek, and Robert De Niro create excellent chemistry and do their absolute best in what seems to be a fairy-tale-like version of a historical event that could have changed the world as we know it today.

The film was a colossal box office failure! According to Deadline magazine, 20th Century Fox lost an estimated $97 million. Why? Amsterdam is unmarketable! I can’t see for the life of me what kind of audience it targets as I can’t see how they pitched it to the studio. But if I had to guess, O. Russell gathered the names and the studio just said ‘yes’. I think the film is just undecided in regard to what it wants to say. It addresses a serious, dark, and spine-chilling historical event in an awkwardly funny way that, despite the numerous marketable names, obviously didn’t work out.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Smile (2022): Horror/Mystery/Thriller

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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P.S. Thoroughly thought title!

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

The Twin (2022): Drama/Horror/Mystery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Stranger (2022): Crime/Drama/Thriller

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

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

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

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

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Barbarian (2022): Horror/Thriller

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

The epitome of suspense and the confusion after that…

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

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

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

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

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Halloween Ends (2022): Horror/Thriller

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hellraiser (2022): Horror/Mystery/Thriller

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

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

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

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

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

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

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