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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and

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

River of Salvation (2020): Crime/Drama

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

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

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

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

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Hard Love (2021): Documentary

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

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

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

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

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

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X (2022): Horror

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

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

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

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

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

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

P.P.S. Shot in New Zealand.

P.P.S. There is an prequel coming up…

The Cellar (2022): Horror

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

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

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

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

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Midnight Mass (2021): Drama/Fantasy/Horror

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

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

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

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

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

Black Crab (2022): Action/Adventure/Drama

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

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

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

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

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

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The Cursed (2021): Fantasy/Horror/Mystery

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

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

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

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

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The Innocents (2021): Drama/Horror/Mystery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 2022 Konstantinos Papathanasiou. All rights reserved.

After Yang (2021): Drama/Sci-fi

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

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

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

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

Now that you know, it’s up to you.

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

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

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

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

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

© 2022 Konstantinos Papathanasiou. All rights reserved.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Desperate Hour (2022): Thriller

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay safe!

P.S. The plotholes and gimmicks are endless.

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

Kimi (2022): Crime/Drama/Thriller

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

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

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

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

Stay safe!

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

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

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

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

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

Stay safe!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay safe!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay safe!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay safe!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay safe!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay safe!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay safe!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay safe!

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

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

A Million Little Pieces (2018): Drama

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay safe!

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

Encounter (2021): Sci-fi/Thriller

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay safe!

Office Christmas Party (2016): Comedy

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay safe!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay safe!

The Protege (2021): Action/Crime/Thriller

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

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

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

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

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

Stay safe!

Dark River (2017): Drama/Mystery/Thriller

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

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

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

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

Stay safe!

Antlers (2021): Drama/Horror/Mystery

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

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

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

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

Stay safe!

Copshop (2021): Action/Crime/Thriller

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

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

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

I definitely recommend Copshop as this is the kind of fictional excitement we need from the comfort of our couch. The one outdoors is definitely the one that we neither want nor need.

Stay safe!

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

Minamata (2020): Drama

Life magazine sends photographer Eugene Smith to Japan to document the atrocious effect of mercury poisoning on the people of Minamata.

A must-see! Johnny Depp’s performance is the real deal, but this is not why you need to watch this. Let me get it out of the way because many may focus on that, but that shouldn’t be the focus point. Depp’s performance is intriguing as much it is compelling and I will add that Hiroyuki Sanada’s presence is purely explosive! Now…

The opening shot takes your breath away and keeps the hard and cruel promise it makes. Writer/Producer/Director Andrew Levitas fought tooth and nail to get Minamata released after premiering at the 2020 Berlin International Film Festival. Depp’s court case forced pushing the released date back, but the long wait was definitely worth it.

The first half an hour is about the inevitable; Eugene Smith to accept the job and live up to the name he once had. Once that is out of the picture, the struggle of Minamata’s people immediately becomes the relatable focus point, starting with the poisoned boy taking the camera off Smith’s hands. Every person affected and depicted after him becomes the audience’s struggle to breath properly as cinematographer’s Benoit Delhomme’s lens captures their unspeakable drama with respect and understanding. Every shot becomes, indeed, a thousand words of unbearable burden.

There is so much I could say about the film’s pace and rhythm, and every actor’s / actress’ devotion to the project, but I’ll deliberately generalise and claim that films like Minamata is the reason cinema exists. Cinema is entertainment but it is also, like any other form of art, the means to express the way artists perceive the world. ‘Science fiction’ holds truths about mankind with direct or subliminal messages hidden in the narrative. ‘Horror’, in its own respect, and among others, reveals sides of ourselves that we could never admit about our nature. Minamata exists to disclose both sides of mankind that disgust us, but also make us want to cry with what we can accomplish but we have yet the chance (or will) to do so.

I know these on-screen kids didn’t suffer from a disease caused by mercury, but my breath was cut short and felt like bursting into tears, nonetheless. Allowing myself to believe it though, is the kind of immense influence cinema has. Cinematic magic is the one I always allowed myself as a kid to believe in and it is the one that has made me get through life itself.

Stay safe!

V/H/S 94 (2021): Horror/Mystery/Thriller

The broadcast of a mysterious, cultish, pre-recorded VHS tape will force a SWAT team to raid a labyrinthic building that is connected to horrific events happening in numerous places.

The VHS tradition goes on with the mystery, the horror and the perversion maintained at the same levels. The structure is fascinating; a story of a horrific raid becomes the anchor for a number of interweaving stories. A monstrous deity worshiped by vagrants in the sewers of America, an undead coming out of his coffin throughout a perfect storm, a modern Indonesian Dr. Frankenstein who creates anthropoids, and a paramilitary group of white supremacists that have captured a vampire… are all connected to a raid that raises hell, defies reason, and twists the human psyche.

Each and every story has its own merits, its own quirks and foibles, and its own horrific charm. Bear in mind that all the VHS franchise is the poster child of low budget horror that solely aims to scare, always to entertain, and never to deceive. Simon Barrett, Steven Kostanski, Chloe Okuno, Ryan Prows, Jennifer Reeder, and Timo Tjahjanto put their heart and soul into it and do their best to make you forget the real-life horrors and suck you into the sphere of paranormal, paranoia, and obscure darkness.

If I were to pick something that didn’t seem befitting that is the ending. Personally, I felt a bit let down as I didn’t fully get how it came down to that, and, honestly, I was expecting something more ‘twisty’. That’s just me though. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did, can’t wait for the next one to be released.

Stay safe!

Willy’s Wonderland (2021): Action/Comedy/Horror

An eccentric, silent man of unknown origin is lured into cleaning up an abandoned funhouse, inhabited by deadly animatronics.

Great fun for some members of the family – the adults, if you didn’t get it. I mean, check the logline. Is spaghetti horror a thing? Well, writer G.O. Parsons and director Kevin Lewis most definitely treat it that way and they want to make sure that, under no circumstances, you take Willy’s Wonderland seriously. The inciting incident takes place right off the bat and The Janitor’s introduction – the one and only Nicolas Cage – promises one helluva ride. Minutes into the film, once everyone else has been introduced and you realise you don’t really care about who lives and who dies, you sit back, relax, and eagerly wait for actor and co-producer Cage to do what he does best; wreak havoc! Of course, accompanied by his amazing grimaces.

Inspired by Pale Rider (1985) and Killer Klowns from Outer Space (1988), Lewis decides to go berserk on the funhouse, turning it into a slaughterhouse of psychopathic animatronics vs a psychopathic janitor, and a group of millennials caught in the middle. Overall, I didn’t find any particular gruesome murder capable enough to stand out. Also, the comedy genre massively overshadows the horror, making one wonder how the script was green-lit to begin with. The obvious and only answer is none other than… Nicolas Cage. His co-star, Emily Tosta, has a strong presence in the film, and lightens up the shots every time she’s in. Look forward to seeing her in more projects.

Anyway, the contrast between soundtrack and visuals is the most enjoyable part of the film – and Cage, yes – and it only lasts an hour and twenty five minutes. Enough time to forget your life’s problems and go to bed.

Stay safe!

Awake (2021): Action/Adventure/Drama

When inexplicably the power goes down globally and no one can sleep, a mother is tasked to lead her daughter, the only person who can sleep, to a hub in search of a potential cure.

Suspenseful story, anticlimactic execution. I’ll cut to the chase. Gina Rodriguez does a great job as a struggling mother who does what needs to be done. Undeniable! She’s a brilliant actress and deserves a lot of praise. Actually, Rodriguez and story writer Gregory Poirier deserve all the praise in the film.

Unfortunately, the story’s development to a script and Mark Raso’s directing prove to be quite problematic. All the obstacles the mom and the kids have to face, in reality, would have been next to impossible. But in Raso’s Awake, solutions are easily found to the point of gimmick. And horror fans don’t like easy ways out.

Problems though start way before that as the global catastrophe just happens and its symptoms just spread with nothing building up in the process, keeping the suspense (just) at the lowest possible level. Once again, Rodriguez’s performance saves parts of the film, but, despite her efforts, its anticlimactic narrative damages, an otherwise, good story. Mainly, I blame Netflix! They have all the money in the world and they could have overseen the script and its plot holes before they green-lit it.

If I go on, I’ll probably start talking about the clichéd American reactions and emotional responses to certain stimuli as well as how the numbers don’t add up with the mom’s age and the kids’ and the subplot. So, I’ll stop here and hope that Raso’s next film will avoid all of the aforementioned and Rodriguez will star in an existential drama that will fully unfold her thespian skills.

Stay safe!

P.S. For a proper parent’s struggle throughout a global catastrophe (and obviously main influence of Awake), see The War of the Worlds (2005).

Titane (2021): Drama/Horror/Sci-fi

In a time where a series of unresolved crimes is on the rise, a go-go dancer with a metal plate fitted into her head runs away, only to be found by a tortured fire chief who accepts her as his son.

France’s official submission for the ‘Best International Feature Film’ category of the 94th Academy Awards in 2022 aims to shock with raw violence and perversion and not to please with aesthetics. The one filmmaker who could truly shock blending sci-fi, body horror, sexuality, and profoundly perplexed personalities is David Cronenberg and he never made it to the Oscars. Consequently, that kind of violence and perversion doesn’t seem new to me and as much as I enjoyed the film, I can’t see how all these nominations and wins occurred. As for the Oscars, it’s been years that I don’t understand how the nominations and the awards are given even though I’ve done thorough research on it. You see, theory and practice don’t always match and I’ve given up with Hollywood’s moronic policies, moral and social indecisiveness, and corruption.

Anyway, back to Titane, Julia Docurnau’s provocative lens starts right off the bat with no warning whatsoever. And, no, I’m not referring to the dance or the homosexuality;  I couldn’t care less. It’s not even the sex with the car. It is Alexia’s inclination for murder. Docurnau’s lens focuses on Alexia’s effortlessness to take multiple human lives and showcases it as easy as the murders themselves. And as much as I don’t see where most of the nominations came or are coming from, the fact that Agathe Rouselle only got that one nomination is shocking! Roles like these make or brake actors/actresses, but most definitely attract attention. Regardless, I truly believe she deserves a lot of ‘trophies’.

From then on, the narrative’s perversion takes a different form in that of a man who accepts her as his son and their sick relationship. I wish I could tell you more, but you’ll get no spoilers from me. See for yourselves and make up your own minds. I will conclude by expressing my admiration of Docurnau’s natural ability to capture the unnatural. Should you’ve watched her previous work, Raw (2016), you wouldn’t be surprised. Should you haven’t, you should. By the way, I couldn’t detect the ‘sci-fi’ genre, and judging by the characters, I would with certainty replace it ‘fantasy’.

I admire her as a filmmaker and that is not due to her close-ups or the DePalma split shots, or even her films that much. But because she’s an amazing storyteller. She knows what kind of story she wants to tell and she knows how to tell it with no hesitation. Love it or loathe it, Palme d’Or worthy or not, just accept it for what it is.

Stay safe!

Old (2021): Drama/Horror/Mystery

A luxurious resort sends a cohort of families to a secluded beach where, inexplicably, they rapidly get older.

Mixed feelings over a simple premise. Starting with the narrative, During Act I, nothing’s happening, and the lack of the inciting incident negatively impacts the film’s pace and rhythm. By definition, that creates a tremendous contrast with the second act where everything’s happening. Act II is… death! People are dropping like flies and all you know is that that beach is making everyone… old. But there is more to it as certain wounds heal, others get worse, and so on. So, stick around to the very end to see what Act III has in store for you.

From a directing point of view, M. Night Shyamalan is in full control of his camera and its movement. He takes charge of what to disclose, or not to and why, and most importantly, how to deal with either case. Very interesting crane shots, tracking shots, and Hitchcock’s zooms in moments where age abnormality incidents are about to occur. The second act is where he patiently builds up the suspense and horror in order to lead to the climactic night.

Shyamalan, based on Pierre Oscar Lévy’s graphic novel ‘Sandcastle’ and heavily influenced by Luis Buñuel’s satire The Exterminating Angel (1962) wrote the script before the pandemic hit but shot the film right in the middle of it. Making sure that all precautions are taken, himself, the crew, and the cast were stunned by the similarities of what they were shooting and the effects the pandemic had in the world (especially, last year). After all, Old deals with isolation (lock-down), the roots of death (virus), the fear of infection, and the way out of this tragedy. Surprisingly immaculate timing, indeed. Speaking of the cast: Gael García Bernal,Vicky Krieps, Rufus Sewell, Abbey Lee, Ken Leung, Amuka-Bird, Aaron Pierre and the rest of the cast do a great job portraying their characters, adding with their performances to Shyamalan’s vision. Embeth Davidtz gets a separate mention as I’m biased (I admit it) and find her amazing in everything she’s been in.

Other than the aforementioned influences, Shyamalan said, originally, he wanted to get involved with this project due to his parents getting old and personal phobias of his. Be it as it may, I bought and read Lévy’s ‘Sandcastle’ as, admittedly, I was not aware of – and I was really interested in observing the differences. The adaptation is remarkable and I take my hat off to both Lévy for grasping this concept and Shyamalan for bringing it to life. There is something I noticed though that I believe in Old became a fainted subplot when, I believe, it should have been, arguably, the main plot: Life is too short! I know it sounds cliché, but it is! And the pandemic made (most of) us rethink and rearrange our priorities in life. And not only is it too short, but whatever problems we think we may have now, these problems will be amplified as the years pass by. And all we are going to be left with is remorse for all the things we never tried, reminiscence, and one last chance for redemption. Maybe, think about that while watching it.

Of course, this is Hollywood and this is Shyamalan so the result has to be somewhat fancy and there has to be a twist. Personally, I didn’t find the twist so impactful as it raised some questions that led me to plot holes. Overall, I found it intriguing though and I highly recommend it despite its flaws. I hope you enjoy it and makes you think about life after the end credits start scrolling down.

Stay safe!

Dune (2021): Action/Adventure/Drama

The House of Atreides moves to planet Arrakis to protect the most precious resource of existence, but yet another interstellar feud amongst the Houses is just about to begin.

Yet another feud, yet another cinematic achievement from Denis Villeneuve! A phantasmagorical Part 1 that will impress even the hardest ones to please! Dune has it all; the solid script and acting, the state-of-the-art visuals and sounds, Hans Zimmer’s epic soundtrack, the extraordinary photography, the controlled pace and rhythm… everything!

Villeneuve did not become slave to the original source – Frank Herbert’s already amazing novel – but respected it, visualised it in a way no one has done before, and materialised it like no one has done before. While watching it, I couldn’t help but wonder: did I ever imagine in the early 90s, while playing the game, that I will watch Dune, a film of that magnitude, on the big screen? Yet, here I am having watched it… ready already for Part Two.

One may notice the numerous liberties taken adapting the film, but we need to remember that film is a visual medium and that an adaptation is a product of its era (think from societal needs and restrictions to VFX). And Villeneuve’s liberties work like a Swiss watch. See for example the fighting styles: As per IMDb, Fight Coordinator Roger Yuan gave the House of Harkonnen ancient Mongolian fighting skills and the House of Atreides Filipino fighting skills, a visual result that matches the nature of the two Houses. The same applies for the costume design that doesn’t resemble the book’s descriptions, and yet every costume encapsulates the status of each House.

The all-star cast comprises of: Timothée Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac, Jason Momoa, Josh Brolin, Javier Bardem, Sharon Duncan-Brewster, Zendaya, Stellan Skarsgård, Chang Chen, Dave Bautista, Charlotte Rampling, and more. An excellent cast that shines in front of the camera. My only issue with Hollywood, and not the film in particular, is that everyone has to be attractive. Everyone could as well be a model on an underwear or a fragrance poster. But whatever… I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve brought that one up.

Every department, every cinematic technique applied, everything you see and hear… can be thoroughly analysed individually, but also collectively. And either for research or purely informative purposes, researchers and columnists, respectively, will write extensively about Dune. For now, what you need to do, is turn off the lights, turn down your phones, turn up your sound system, and enjoy a unique cinematic experience.

Stay safe!

Lamb (2021): Drama/Mystery/Horror

On a remote farm in Iceland, a childless couple starts treating an abnormal newborn sheep as their baby.

Rightfully, the highest-grossing Icelandic film, to date, and most definitely, not for everyone! Starting off as an impressive horror, with the sheep’s synchronised and guided movements stealing the show, the sequence cuts off abruptly raising a lot of question marks (even though so does the rest of the film). From then on, the mystery takes over when the appearance of the bipedal baby girl-sheep becomes a naturally accepted family member. This is the biggest part of the film so keep that in mind. Let me rephrase: over a good, solid hour occupies a normality that is anything but normal. In this act, the narrative’s simplicity and the slow editing render Lamb not for everyone. Yet, this is the part where you need to be patient because this normally presented abnormality serves a purpose that will not be directly revealed to you at all. So, as I said, be patient and enjoy, arguably, the best cinematography of the year – Eli Arenson.

Here are a few production details that you might find interesting. As per IMDb, Noomi Rapace had to brush up the Icelandic language since, as a child, she spent some years there. What’s more, prior to principal photography, she spent some time on an Icelandic farm, actually learning how to help sheep give birth. Finally, Lamb is the ‘Official submission of Iceland for the “Best International Feature Film” category of the 94th Academy Awards in 2022’.

Excellent feature debut from director Valdimar Jóhannsson who makes it really hard for me to provide my interpretation on Lamb without spoiling it for you. I’ll just say that issues, such as overcoming sorrow, pursuing happiness, and beating loneliness/solitude in the vastness of an unforgiving nature are Herculean labours individually, much less collectively. Some times, we say: ‘If I were in his/her shoes, I would…’ but the undeniable truth is that we never really know what we would have done if we had to face someone else’s suffering. So maybe, just maybe, sit in silence for a while and try to understand how other people cope and why they cope the way they do because if, God forbid, something similar were to happen to us, the tables will turn. And then people would judge the only way it seems natural for us to cope…

Stay safe!

Kate (2021): Action/Adventure/Crime

A female assassin races against time to find out and kill the person who poisoned her and whoever else stands in her way.

Great fun (not) for the whole family! Bad news first: Not an original script! It’s been done before in numerous variations so, it’s not gonna shock you with the lack of authenticity. Now, for the good news…

Mary Elizabeth Winstead kicks a$$! She’s a very talented actress, an extremely gorgeous woman, and Kate proves that there is no role she cannot take on. Her performance is remarkable and I couldn’t help but notice the astonishing similarity of hers with Ripley – arguably, the greatest bada$$! Combined, later on, with the red eye and the half damaged face… (you’ll see!) Speaking of great performances, Miku Patricia Martineau deserves an extra round of applause for her incredibly brave performance! Woody Harrelson and Jun Kunimura just add quality to the film by appearing in it and no matter what I say will not make them look greater than they already are.

The fight scenes, however choreographed, are a match for the John Wick franchise and Winstead does her absolute best to add (pseudo)realism to what usually doesn’t really look convincing. My hat off to the choreographers and the stunts that make her look even greater and make something so ugly (that kind of fighting, not professional) look so beautiful.

Umair Aleem and Cedric Nicolas-Troyan manage to write and direct, respectively, a great action flick that, surprisingly, evokes the desired feelings. Now, that is authentic! To watch a film like Kate and before, during, and after the action scenes feeling, at times, your heart skip a beat and your breath short. I’ve said it numerous times, no genre can stand on its own without drama. Even comedy. Especially, comedy actually. See King of Comedy (1982) if you have any doubts. Nicolas-Troyan and Winstead will make you feel for Kate, both as a character but also a film. Highly recommended!

Stay safe!

Halloween Kills (2021): Horror/Thriller

Michael Myers escapes from the trap he was led into and kills whoever stands in his way in the town of Haddonfield.

David Gordon Green and Danny McBride keep the legend alive and perpetuate the thrill of Michael Myers. Great almost 20′ investment to introduce new characters and resurface some of the old ones. That’s also great way to bridge the past and the present and move on into what is about to happen. The first massacre was a bit too “Hollywood” for me; too fast, too bloody… something like an out-of-context standoff that the filmmakers felt like throwing in. Before I even manage to process it properly though, the home invasion sequence was more vicious than expected. Horribly vicious.

After that, there is just a roller coaster of death! Haddonfield’s suppressed fear turns into exasperation, everyone mans up and womans up respectively, and everyone gets their sequence of blood and gore. None of them couldn’t be bloodier, some are funnier than other, some are suspenseful and other not at all, but, ultimately and most importantly, Laurie Strode is back! Jamie Lee Curtis, 43 years later, is still on the ball, still believing in her character and John Carpenter’s original vision and comes back swinging with everything she’s got. Carpenter himself, puts the producer’s hat on and immensely contributes the horror’s perpetuation. The excerpts from his original films make all the difference in the world. Onto two very important points, now…

One of the forgettable and non-canon Halloween timelines from the franchise, explains that Myers is not mortal on Halloween day and that he’s been taken over by a demon, and that’s why he is, ostensibly, unstoppable. Bear in mind that that’s the only explanation ever given, until now, about Myers’ mortality. Green and McBride though offer a different and vague explanation on Halloween Kills. See for yourselves and interpret it however you feel like it, it is open to interpretation anyway. I found it more philosophical than I found it literal, but can’t wait to hear about what other people think of Laurie’s theory.

Then, I feel there is something else that needs to be addressed. An underrated issue that has gone largely unnoticed. The importance of Michael’s mask. The reason why his face has not been yet disclosed and why it is so important to him to constantly have it on. As you may be aware, I host a podcast on horror and my next interview with the incredible psychologist Michelle Satchwell will reveal undisclosed to many information about the role of masks in the horror genre, their effectiveness, and where everything derives from. Stay tuned for more…

There are so many production details to talk about but, hey, it’s Halloween week so all you need to do is enjoy it yourselves out there in the real world, but if you decide to stay in and turn the lights off, enjoy a good night in, with Myers finding new ways to crawl under your skin. Horror should only be enjoyable in books, the small or the big screen. If you are out and about…

Stay safe!

The Night House (2020): Horror/Mystery/Thriller

After her husband dies, a woman starts dreaming of people and places that reveal secrets that should have been left buried with him.

I’ll start with the very obvious. Rebecca Hall is amazing at anything she’s in. She’s a phenomenal actress that deserves every praise. Here, she’s wearing the executive producer’s hat as well so more ‘congratulations’ are in order. On to the story now…

The best part of the film is that it slowly and gradually builds up the suspense. It spreads the “crumbs” so delicately that informs, to a certain extent misleads, while at the same, it time keeps you on your toes. See for example the moment where Beth falls asleep at Claire’s lap. The scene is haunting. And that’s just the top of the iceberg. Wait until the end and see where these “crumbs” lead. Writers Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski prepare a great finale for their already well-developed story and director David Bruckner envisions it in an, honestly, unique and original way. Bruckner seems to always find ways to project human phobias in ways that shock and mesmerise at the same time. But don’t take my word for it. Watch previous films of his, such as: VHS (2012), Southbound (2015), and The Ritual (2017) and see for yourselves. He’s a brilliant director with so much to offer to the horror genre. Can’t wait for his next project.

Definitely, go for it! It’s a refreshing change for the genre, using mainly practical effects and deviates from the standard Hollywood clichés that have damaged the horror films, thankfully, not irreparably. An extra round of applause to the actors Sarah Goldberg and Vondie Curtis-Hall for their amazing support. You will not know what to look for, this is why you will not see it coming… I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. Happy Halloween!

Stay safe!

Malignant (2021): Crime/Horror/Mystery

A woman starts having horrible nightmares that turn out to be visions of actual violent crimes that she is unwillingly involved.

Amazing opening shot followed by an hour and fifty minutes of Hollywood dumbness. I hate writing this way about films, especially horrors. I’ve said it numerous times. Horror fans might be somewhat eccentric and geeks, but we are not dumb! James Wan especially and New Line Cinema should know and respect that. Even though the story is decent, its development is dumb, the character development is beyond understanding and that should stop! Let me rephrase, it should have stopped a long time ago. “Jump scares” is a tool for narrative, not a narrative pattern to build a whole film on. Same applies for the cardboard cut out characters that no one can empathise with.

Why is it that you hear the word ‘dumb’ and its permutations again and again? Because a solid narrative does not rely on constant music to evoke the desired emotions and feelings. That applies for every genre, in this instance though, for both the drama and the horror unfolding in the story. Take Winnie for example: a Hollywood typical. Ingrid Bisu, often cast by Wan, is a wonderful woman (and actress) and she pretends to be a geek who the person who has a crush on won’t even consider looking her that way. Also, she seems like a cat person who can;t find love. PLEASE! Honestly, name one girl who looks like that, is a geek, and cannot find someone (she co-wrote it, by the way).

James Wan is a solid director, I especially love his tracking shots and his use of close-ups. It’s not enough though. Malignant’s script is full of plot holes and that shows so much more on the big screen. And no filmmaking technique or decent acting can make that right. I wish I could be less harsh on the film, but, trust me, I’m already holding my punches.

Stay safe!

P.S. OK, the prison and police station sequences were gruesomely entertaining!

My Son (2021): Crime/Drama/Mystery

After suspecting that his son has been kidnapped, a father does everything in his power to find him.

A parent’s worst fear depicted in a sorrowful, yet mysterious way. For starters, James McAvoy could not be a mediocre actor even if he tried his best. The guy is phenomenal! His acting is out of this world. Writer/director Christian Carion, who adapted his own homonymous film My Son (2017), applied the same technique he did back then: Everyone but McAvoy had received the script so his reactions to every stimulus of the story is genuine. On to that story, then…

The first act is about the missing boy, the parents’ tribulations, the mother’s new boyfriend, and their triangle. Somewhere there you get the odd questions from Inspector Roy that start complicating the issue further but the focus, rightfully, stays on the parents and the missing boy. Until then, the drama and the mystery are well-balanced and one can only feel for the both of them and hope for a happy ending. Imagine I hate happy endings and I most certainly wished for one.

The second act is taken over by mystery where McAvoy, like Liam Neeson without a plan, but hell-bent on finding his son, applies some basic investigating skills. The outcome of his actions is natural and believable as he has not previously displayed any similar skills whatsoever; just a dad willing to do anything to find his son. Eventually, it turns into a nail-biting thriller that in the end… confuses with the turn of events. There might not be a narrative twist, but there is an emotional one. Personally, I found myself wondering how the ending is befitting and even though I understood it to some degree, it evoked mixed feelings inside me. It seemed somewhat rushed and even though throughout act I and II bothered to explain what was going on – which you might find unnecessary – it abruptly ended giving away nothing. Again, I understand open endings, but I struggled, and still do, to find meaning in that one. But that is just me.

I hope you enjoy the thrill it has to offer and yet another stupendous performance from McAvoy. Quick note: I’ve praised Claire Foy in everything she has been in before, and her acting here is nothing but remarkable too. I just think that she deserved more screen time.

Stay safe!

Reminiscence (2021): Mystery/Romance/Sci-fi

A private investigator with access to people’s memories unfolds a conspiracy that also involves the disappearance of his beloved woman.

Interesting yet intricate plot that tells more than it shows. What has happened, but not to the full extent, becomes pretty straightforward from the very beginning. Until the inciting incident, a sci-fi, neo-noir unfolds that emphasises on nostalgia. Once it becomes clear what the story is about, the plot and the subplot become respectively unclear. I struggled to figure out which is which. One is a decent love story and the other is a decent crime one. But which one is the plot? And what are they together if both of them are the plot? Or the subplot? See the confusion?

There is a jigsaw waiting to be put in order and Hugh Jackman, Thandiwe Newton, Rebecca Ferguson and (the massively underrated) Cliff Curtis do a great job putting it together, but the film’s imbalance, and the editing’s rhythm and pace do not help. Director Lisa Joy, the woman behind Westworld (2016-2022) gets Newton and Angela Sarafyan on board and even though she did a very decent job putting it together the result was not probably exactly what she hoped for. That said, the extremely poor box office does not reflect on that result – Budget: $54,000,000 (estimated) / International Box Office: $11,900,000. You will not regret watching it so go for it.

Here’s another one for you. At times, it felt like this was a film about Hugh Jackman, who, in his fifties, he still looks the same awesome, well-trained, good-looking man he was ten and twenty years ago. Not saying this is positive or negative but it becomes yet another factor that takes the focus away from the story and, consequently, distracts. Again, I hope you forget your problems for about two hours and enjoy it.

Stay safe!

P.S. Fun fact: Lisa Joy is the wife of Jonathan Nolan, brother of Christopher Nolan who has directed Hugh Jackman in Prestige (2006)

P.P.S. Fun fact 2: Hugh Jackman and Rebecca Ferguson worked together before in The Greatest Showman (2017)

Unhinged (2020): Action/Thriller

A road-rage incident makes an unstable man go berserk on a young mother and everyone she cares about.

Intense and brutal action/thriller with a bat-sh*t crazy Crowe! The film doesn’t lack anything. Great performances, relatable characters, chase sequences, realistic violence, and great editing pace and rhythm. Yet, it didn’t do that well at the box office, but I guess being one of the first theatrical release entries after the US lockdown is the main reason. Director Derrick Borte envisages this American horrific reality, Russell Crowe and Caren Pistorius go full throttle against each other on screen, and the result is definitely worth your time. It is not a film you’ll be constantly talking about after the end credits start scrolling down, but it’s a great addition to the series of thrillers/horrors where someone… unhinged, with unknown at first motives, goes after the hero/ine while committing atrocities. I can’t hide that my favourite one is Steven Spielberg’s original Duel (1971).

To cut the long story short, I very much enjoyed it, and I highly recommend it to suspense lovers like myself. Rachel’s decisions are somewhat annoying from time to time, but it’s not her fault as the Hollywood-type script dictates such decisions. Unfortunately, we live in a world where road rage has spread like pestilence and it’s everywhere. Hideous crimes happen daily on the streets just because someone happened to hit the break abruptly. It’s shocking, horrible, uncivilised, and inhumane. Watching Unhinged and saying “reality is worse” is not encouraging. We all need to chill the f@€% out.

Stay safe!

P.S. For those who think that Crow has completely let himself go, please know that he had been consulting a dietitian to achieve that result throughout the film.

Joe Bell (2021): Biography/Drama

A father from Oregon makes it a mission to walk to New York and preach along the way against bullying after his teenage son gets tortured for being gay.

Mixed feelings throughout all three acts. Right off the bat, from the first flashbacks, the first impression is that a working-class dad who surprisingly supports his son for being gay does not support him enough to have him parade it in his front yard. Therefore, my question was: his problem was showing it off? Then, I thought to myself that it is biographical so if this is how it was, this is how it was. Then, I got a different problem. As the story develops, I thought that it doesn’t let you think for yourself at all; it spoon-feeds you the message all the way through. It forces you to side with Jadin by telling you – not showing you – who the “bad” guy is and who the “good” guy is in a black or white manner. Then, there is another “then”: Jadin accusing Joe for not being supportive enough, and Joe accusing Jadin for not handling it (in present era) creates a vague gray area in the film’s otherwise “black or white” scheme for the supportive people but questions their level of support. Here’s my two cents in general…

People, and more specifically bullies, need to feel what it is like to be bullied without being bullied, hated or criticised for thinking and acting the way they do. They need to understand that to other people they are as different as the people they pick on. I did some research and this is what the real Joe Bell tried to do. He was non-violently preaching against it because his son faced the consequences and he wanted, to his best abilities, to make the world a better place. A friendly for all of us place so no one has to suffer what his son did, and, consequently, any other boy, girl, man, woman, or non-binary person out there.

Somehow though, Mark Wahlberg as Joe Bell, the late Larry McMurty (RIP) and Diana Ossana’s script, and Reinaldo Marcus Green’s directing does not reflect that. Joe Bell does not know where to focus on and massively holds back on the emotions it means to evoke. Take for example when his mother, Lola (Connie Britton), finds out. This should have been the moment where the toughest one breaks. And one wonders, how can this be with so many A-list names wearing the producer’s hat: Mark Wahlberg, Cary Joji Fukunaga, Jake Gyllenhaal, Paris Kassidokostas-Latsis, and 17 more…

To cut the long story short, Joe Bell makes it more about Joe Bell rather than his incredibly noble and courageous mission. Ironically, he says it himself to the sheriff while opening up. And he keeps doing it. Shame really as if it wasn’t for this film I, and potentially hundreds of thousands of others, wouldn’t have known about this mission. But the real shame is that his mission’s message doesn’t really permeate. It does not sink in and therefore there is nothing much to take away from it. And the Bell family’s story is absolutely f@£$!^% tragic!

I really do hope each of us finds an honourable way to make this world feel like… home. For everyone!

Stay safe!

All these names in production

Don’t Breathe 2 (2021): Horror / Thriller

A gang of highly skilled killers invades the blind man’s house to kidnap his daughter, not knowing what he is capable of.

Worthy sequel shot in a standard Hollywood manner. Acting first: Stephen Lang is an incredible actor. That’s it.

Moving on to the plot, it gets trickier. The first act sets a thrilling foundation that promises a horrific brutality that, potentially, matches the first. The first plot point’s protracted tracking shot increases the tension while making obvious what is about happen next. And what is actually happening is quite brutal. As brutal as promised though? Yes! So what are the differences with Don’t Breathe (2016)?

Don’t Breathe 2 is a lot more far-fetched but reasonable enough for a sequel. Not a problem, it’s expected. Then… In the first one, what we have is poor, untalented boys and girls – harmless thieves who have no idea what they are up against – enter the blind man’s house whose intentions are revealed to be shockingly sinister and unfathomably perverse. In Don’t Breathe 2, the competition is way tougher and, against all odds, he is (somehow) the victim – even though the twist and consequently the intentions come a tad early. But the confrontation (act 2) is not restricted to just a house and develops the story and leads it even further than expected, to, actually, extremely unexpected paths. As I can’t say much about the plot’s development, I’ll focus on the one thing that got me asking: What the hell was going on in writer/director Rodo Sayagues’ head while balancing the characters’ morality? What everyone has done, is doing, and what is about to do is just beyond me. And I leave you with that. From a filmmaking point of view, there is nothing much to say. Other than the aforementioned protracted shot, nothing much stands out. From a narrative point of view, the film walks a tight rope risking to lose the audience by tipping the scales as to who to root for – the morality issue.

Watch it and see for yourselves what I mean. It does not necessarily mean that it’s “good” or “bad”, that’s hardly ever the case anyway. Overall, I found it enjoyable and do recommend it. It’s the kind of morbid entertainment that doesn’t come even remotely close the horrific reality we are currently facing.

Stay safe!