Toga (2023): Comedy/Drama

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

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

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

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

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

Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey (2023)

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’ll Take Your Dead (2018): Horror

A man who lives with his young daughter and specialises in disposing of bodies has to face a gang over unfinished business.

Interesting concept, but flawed execution. I’ll keep it very short as I don’t want to badmouth a film and a filmmaker with noble intentions. It’s not a bad horror, but nothing really stands out in Chad Archibald’s film, and that’s what makes it mediocre. What I personally found significantly flawed was William’s character. A man with the reputation of the Boogeyman says or does nothing to support that reputation. Therefore, I never got why he earned it, to begin with. The ending is interesting and somewhat dramatic, so that’s one reason to watch it. But the main reason to watch it, and that’s why I decided to do this review, is for Ava Preston’s (Gloria) performance. That girl has the potential to become an incredible actress. Keep an eye out for her. She has impressive acting skills.

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Shut In (2022): Thriller

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Unwelcome (2023): Horror

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

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

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

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

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

Cocaine Bear (2023): Comedy/Thriller

A mother with two kids, a couple of street thugs, and local police find themselves chasing one another over drugs, and all of them are been chased by a huge black bear that has gone berserk after consuming most of it.

Fun and surrealistic escapism. Writer Jimmy Warden and director Elizabeth Banks give the middle finger to anything that has to do with realism, defy reason, and, thankfully, hold no punches. Yes, the drugs fell off the sky. Yes, the chutist jumped to his death. Yes, the bear sniffed some of it… but died – and it was a “she”. All the rest, though, is unadulterated, brilliant, bloody, brutal, and funny fiction brought to you for your sheer entertainment. Kudos to Keri Russell, Alden Ehrenreich, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Isiah Whitlock Jr., Margo Martindale, and the late and adorable Ray Liotta for their performances and for believing in Banks’ vision. Cocaine Bear is solid proof that when Banks leaves politics aside, she can do miracles. She’s a great actress and an equally great filmmaker. Extra credits go to the VFX team that looked like they had tons of fun while creating the bear and its crazy and bloody shenanigans.

Lastly, the film is dedicated to Ray Liotta, who unfortunately left us early, but fortunately, with brilliant and undying performances for all of us to remember. And as the bad news came in today, the same applies to the late Lance Reddick who will always be remembered for all the films and series he’s been in, RIP.

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P.S. The film was shot entirely in Ireland!

Monos (2019): Adventure/Drama/Thriller

A group of teenage guerillas who belong to a shadowy organisation, hold a female doctor hostage, not knowing that heavy military forces are coming to her rescue.

Allegorical, brutal, and nerve-racking! In my previous review, Plane (2022): https://kaygazpro.com/2023/03/02/plane-2022-action-adventure-thriller/, I made a specific reference to the lack of realism in both the traditional military operation and guerilla warfare – despite the film’s other qualities. If you want to see what it could potentially look like, watch Monos! Writer Alexis Dos Santos and writer/director Alejandro Landes heavily invest in the realism of a group of youths and their isolation (hence the title that means “alone”, in Greek), making you wonder if you are actually watching a docudrama. Mica Levi’s soundtrack enhances smoothly the already powerful visuals and the editing team’s cuts flow the story naturally, connecting time and space in a way that it feels like you are actually there, observing like an omniscient narrator. Having said that, pay attention to the montage in the end and the way it constructs the group’s advancement. Except for Mosises Aria, the rest of the kids are not actors and this adds to the aforementioned realism, but I found it shocking that Julianne Nicholson (Doctora), who’s also an associate producer, performed her own stunts. All of them! Acting masterclass!

While it’s loosely based on William Golding’s “Lord of the Flies” (1963), it isn’t. “Lord of the Flies”, and Monos are addressed to different audiences. I’ll do a separate review of the former and explain certain differences, in the near future. For now, watch this masterpiece and experience a totally different perspective of life as seen through the eyes of people who have experienced the world in a way we wish we never have to.

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P.S. If past the end credits, you are still wondering about Rambo’s gender, you are meant to.

Plane (2022): Action/Adventure/Thriller

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

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

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

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

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Blood (2022): Horror/Thriller

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

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

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

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

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

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Resurrection (2022): Crime/Drama/Horror

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

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

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

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

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

Baby Ruby (2022): Drama/Thriller

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

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

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

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

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Babylon (2022): Comedy/Drama/History

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sick (2022): Horror/Thriller

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

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

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

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

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

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Petite Maman (2021): Drama/Fantasy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Eternal Daughter (2022): Drama/Mystery

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

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

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

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Piggy (2022): Drama/Horror/Thriller

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hatching (2022): Drama/Fantasy/Horror

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

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

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

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

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

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Prey for the Devil (2022): Horror/Thriller

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Calibre (2018): Drama/Thriller

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

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

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

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

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

Nanny (2022): Drama/Horror/Thriller

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

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

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

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

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VFW (2019): Action/Crime/Horror

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

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

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

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

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

The Menu (2022): Comedy/Horror/Thriller

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Village of the Damned (1995): Horror/Sci-fi/Thriller

When a whole village mysteriously passes out, many women wake up pregnant with kids that will grow up to be pure evil.

Classic, no matter how you look at it. The intriguing inciting incident, the mysterious human blackout that ultimately causes the pregnancies, is one of the most appealing cinematic concepts ever conceived – pun not intended. What were the whispers? How did they locally cause the massive-scale collapse? Was it natural or supernatural? All these questions, as well as the government’s interest in the event, move the story forward to the actual deliveries and the ostensible happiness that follows. But the signs of sinistry show too early and cut the happiness short. How do those kids do what they do? How is this going to end? Is it going to end?

There is not a lot to say about filmmaking techniques. Some of them may be now outdated while others are standard, but it doesn’t matter, really. John Carpenter approaches the themes of life, death, and the supernatural in a way he only knows how. And that’s enough for you to know. Needless to say that watching it again now, after all those years, it got me saddened right from the start. With the recent loss of the wonderful Kirstie Alley and the tragic years that haunted Christopher Reed after that film, I choose to remember them now at the prime they once were. Linda Kozlowski and Mark Hamill are also exceptional.

Despite its differences and similarities from Wolf Rilla’s homonymous original film and John Wyndham’s novel, this version, despite its flaws, can still be called a “classic” horror for the fans of the genre.

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P.S. I know I’m being childish now, but I’m gonna say it anyway… Towards the end, I imagined Charles Xavier mentally battling them! I know, right?!

The Banshees of Inisherin (2022): Comedy/Drama

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

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

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

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

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

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

Troll (2022): Action/Adventure/Drama

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

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

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

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

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

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White Noise (2022): Comedy/Drama/Horror

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

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

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

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

Please, don’t forget to share, and subscribe. If you enjoy my work and dedication to films, please feel free to support me on https://www.patreon.com/kaygazpro. Any contribution is much appreciated and valued.

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Pearl (2022): Horror

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

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

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

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

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

Please, don’t forget to share, and subscribe. If you enjoy my work and dedication to films, please feel free to support me on https://www.patreon.com/kaygazpro. Any contribution is much appreciated and valued.

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

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

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

Thoroughbreds (2017): Comedy/Crime/Drama

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

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

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

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

Please, don’t forget to share, and subscribe. If you enjoy my work and dedication to films, please feel free to support me on https://www.patreon.com/kaygazpro. Any contribution is much appreciated and valued.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Please, don’t forget to share, and subscribe. If you enjoy my work and dedication to films, please feel free to support me on https://www.patreon.com/kaygazpro. Any contribution is much appreciated and valued.

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500 Days of Summer (2009): Comedy/Drama/Romance

The joys and tribulations of a couple that sees love, relationship, and life in antithetical ways.

Funny, sad, awkward, introverted, and very non-chronological. Well, as the narrator explains, it may be partially a boy-meets-girl story, but I would argue that also partially, it is the old fear-of-opening-up story. The narrator also talks about “walls,” but narrators are liars (see Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, link below). Filmmaking is a manipulative art, so don’t blame them, narration is meant to be misleading. What you want to happen and what needs to happen might not match what will actually happen. Sounds convoluted? Well, we are! Individually, let alone collectively. There are no fingers to be pointed at though. We are who we are due to numerous personal, professional, academic, or even cosmic reasons. Do we want to change that? Do we need to change that? Then, how much of it and which part(s)? If yes, who for? Are they willing to do the same? It always has been and always will be convoluted.

Very well-edited, acted, and directed, focusing on the dark side of love, but also its silver lining. Writers Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, and Director Marc Webb open up with a film that speaks their truth about human feelings and the things we say to one another, or, actually, don’t. The amazing Zooey Deschanel and Joseph Gordon-Levitt share that vision and fully express the significant differences between expectations vs. reality, “forcing” you to root for one or the other. The way the story is told though I don’t think anyone could root for Summer. I believe that what she does, in the end, is brutally cruel. But, as we ultimately get to find out, whether they actually meet one last time or not (you’ll get to decide), the truth is… even… more… cruel…

500 Days of Summer belongs to the category of films I have been revisiting these days and truly believe they deserve your attention. Other films that do too are Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (2015): https://kaygazpro.com/2022/12/27/me-and-earl-and-the-dying-girl-2015-comedy-drama-romance/, The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012): https://kaygazpro.com/2020/12/16/the-perks-of-being-a-wallflower-2012-drama-romance/, Ruby Sparks (2012): https://kaygazpro.com/2022/12/27/ruby-sparks-2012-comedy-drama-fantasy/, and The Rules of Attraction (2002): https://kaygazpro.com/2022/12/28/the-rules-of-attraction-2002-comedy-drama-romance/. More to follow!

Please, don’t forget to share, and subscribe. If you enjoy my work and dedication to films, please feel free to support me on https://www.patreon.com/kaygazpro. Any contribution is much appreciated and valued.

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P.S. Jenny, the girl mentioned in the beginning, was actually one of the screenwriter’s ex. Summer is based on her. So, the disclaimer is… personal.

P.P.S. I still can’t believe sometimes how fast Chloรซ Grace Moretz grew up and the long way she has come. Incredible actress!

Comet (2014): Comedy/Drama/Romance

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

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

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

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

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

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

Please, don’t forget to share, and subscribe. If you enjoy my work and dedication to films, please feel free to support me on https://www.patreon.com/kaygazpro. Any contribution is much appreciated and valued.

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The Rules of Attraction (2002): Comedy/Drama/Romance

The year draws to a close and Camden College is inundated with parties attended by misfits, conformists, and everything in between.

Every writer’s torturing question is, how do I start the story? Writer/director Roger Avary, based on Brett Easton Ellis’ novel, starts from the end, the final party, to introduce the key players of his story. Meticulously made non-linear montages by the amazing Sharon Rutter reveal what will happen to Sean, Paul, Lauren, Lara, Victor, and Kelly only to rewind days before whatever happened and introduce them properly again by showing who they were before that last party.

Every sequence of the film is important to the narrative’s development and extremely well-constructed. There is something cinematically new and refreshing throughout every sequence. The back-and-forth ending, the visit to the drug dealer’s house, the junkie with the trombone, the edge of the world party, the Lauren/Sean encounter, the Sean/Paul encounter, the Sean/Dick and their moms encounter, the dressed to get screwed party, the suicide, Victor in Europe, and, finally, the very ending, are but a few of the sequences that will make you laugh as much as they will intrigue you. It might not mean much now reading their names, but watching them is a cinematic experience you will not forget.

Here are a few interesting details about the film.

  • Brett Easton Ellis is also the author of ‘American Psycho’ and Sean Bateman is the younger brother of psychopath Patrick Bateman – when you see Sean’s look, you’ll get how psychopathy runs in the family.
  • The late George Michael gave Avary his song “Faith” for free when he found out they couldn’t afford it.
  • “The End of the World” sequence was filmed on 11 September 2001. ๐Ÿ™
  • In the Sean/Dick sequence, the singing and dancing were completely improvised.

Shocking that so many people still haven’t even heard of it! Avary characterised his film as “the assassination of teen comedies.” To their shame, numerous people walked out of the test screening shouting “fag film”. They missed what the narrative is about, why the characters are who they are, and didn’t stay till the very end to see what they came to be. There are amazing small details in the film that make it unique. There is a sign on Victor’s door for everyone to see, reading: “Victor, tests came back positive. Be careful.”, and still everyone wants to sleep with him, and he still hasn’t put it down. Notice how purposefully disjoined the film is in parts and ask yourself why. Pay attention to the snowflake that lands on Sean’s eye-corner and think of what it may mean. The Rules of Attraction neither provides any answers nor does it become too big for its own boots. It merely emphasises change and transformation by distinguishing reality from dream the only way life teaches us; the hard way. According to Avary, he believes that the critics responded negatively to his film because they saw it as “bad fiction”. He begs to differ he believes that “[…] It isn’t. It’s a reality that nobody talks about.”

Regardless of who really made it as an actor/actress/producer after that, James Van Der Beek, Shannyn Sossamon, Jessica Biel, Kip Pardue, Kate Bosworth, Ian Somerhalder, and Jay Baruchel give their 100% to the roles they were given and I take my hat off them! Clifton Collins Jr., Eric Stoltz, and, of course, the one and only Faye Dunaway were and are incredible to this very day.

The exploration of the human mind through voiceovers, monologues, dialogues, and generally the provocative inner conflict belongs to a series of films I’m currently revisiting and reviewing and I believe that has gone largely under the radar. If that one sounds like your cup of tea, you should definitely visit or revisit: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (2015): https://kaygazpro.com/2022/12/27/me-and-earl-and-the-dying-girl-2015-comedy-drama-romance/, The Perks of Being a Wallflowerย (2012):ย https://kaygazpro.com/2020/12/16/the-perks-of-being-a-wallflower-2012-drama-romance/, and Ruby Sparks (2012): https://kaygazpro.com/2022/12/27/ruby-sparks-2012-comedy-drama-fantasy/ More to follow!

Please, don’t forget to share, and subscribe. If you enjoy my work and dedication to films, please feel free to support me on https://www.patreon.com/kaygazpro. Any contribution is much appreciated and valued.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Please, don’t forget to share, and subscribe. If you enjoy my work and dedication to films, please feel free to support me on https://www.patreon.com/kaygazpro. Any contribution is much appreciated and valued.

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Ruby Sparks (2012): Comedy/Drama/Fantasy

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

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

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

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

Please, don’t forget to share, and subscribe. If you enjoy my work and dedication to films, please feel free to support me on https://www.patreon.com/kaygazpro. Any contribution is much appreciated and valued.

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While You Were Sleeping (1995): Comedy/Drama/Romance

After saving a man from a horrible accident, a hopeless romantic woman falls in love with his brother.

Funny and romantic, and that’s all you need to know. You’ll probably know by now that I’m not into romantic films, but even I make exceptions from time to time for films that do not insult human intelligence and offer nothing but smiles and entertainment during this festive time. While You Were Sleeping is one of them and one that watched as a kid back then. In a time when the Internet was not even a known word, films were one of the ways I got to discover the world and foreign cultures. The American way, cinematically at least, was, is, and always will be appealing to the human eye and soul – especially in this genre. This merely means though that American cinema, in and outside Hollywood, cannot be brutal, gritty, and realistic. That is another story for another time though. I feel like digressing…

Sandra Bullock, after Speed (1994), became a romance queen and one of America’s sweethearts with a lot of roles like this (and later on a lot more than that). Daniel G. Sullivan and Fredric Lebrow wrote a tight script and director Jon Turteltaub made a comedy/romance with plenty of delay of resolution that will keep you till the very end waiting for the tables to turn. The film paces beautifully and leads to the outcome that brings that tear of joy to your eyes. It’s a beautiful film about the most beautiful feeling n the world; love. We couldn’t live without it even if we knew that one day someone would take it away from us. Failure to experience it hurts infinitely more than the pain it causes. And like with most Christmas films, its message is to constantly seek it, for it can be found in the most unlikely places. And in the most unlikely people, who, like us, are looking for it to become whole.

Please, don’t forget to share, and subscribe. If you enjoy my work and dedication to films, please feel free to support me on https://www.patreon.com/kaygazpro. Any contribution is much appreciated and valued.

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P.S. As for Bill Pullman, to this very day, like Bullock, he hasn’t stopped surprising us with the projection of his internal bittersweet darkness. Amazing actors through and through!

Silent Night (2021): Comedy/Drama

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Violent Night (2022): Action/Comedy/Crime

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

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

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

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

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Wind Chill (2007): Adventure/Drama/Horror

One day before Christmas eve, two college students share a ride to their hometown, but they break down on a haunted and deserted forest road.

Haunting, mysterious, and well-written, directed, and acted! Before she became the Hollywood star she is today, Emily Blunt starred in this underrated Christmas horror, produced by Steven Soderbergh and George Clooney (who worked together in the Oceans Eleven franchise). Wind Chill is not entertainment for the whole family. It’s dark, it’s eerie, and it’s spooky. Mystery “breathes” throughout all three acts and suspense intensifies through every minute that passes. Joe Gangemi and Steven Katz write, and Gregory Jacobs directs an intense thriller/horror that will constantly make you wonder where the story is heading. Who is Guy for real? Who are these men walking into the woods? What happened to this place? Where is this place, anyway? The hint to understanding how the supernatural works, in this instance, is understanding Guy’s reference to Nietzsche’s theory of eternal recurrence. Get that and you’ll get, why the damned souls act the way they do.

I won’t spoil it for you one bit, though. You need to watch it! The reactions to what is happening are realistic, and Blunt showed even back then what an amazing actress she was and how even more amazing she was going to be. Whatever unbelievability the narrative carries with it, the tight script and the believable performances by both Blunt and Ashton Holmes make up for it.

Wind Chill is on par with Dead End (2003): https://kaygazpro.com/2021/12/25/dead-end-2003-adventure-horror-mystery/. Similar premise, different story, equal goosebumps! Find the right company, even if that is just your own, turn the lights off, and let it get under your skin.

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P.S. Question for you: Why was Girl able to hear everyone from the toilet’s gas station but no one could hear her?

Ghosts of Girlfriends Past (2009): Comedy/Fantasy/Romance

A huge “player” finds his match the day before his brother gets married when he gets a visit from three ghosts.

A water-downed version of the original source, but still watchable and enjoyable. Huge reason behind it is, of course, Matthew McConaughey. The guy nails it as the irredeemable player that causes physical and mental destruction all around him. He’s handsome as hell, eloquent, and… he is the right man for the job! As aforementioned though, it still is a massively water-downed version of Charles Dickens ‘A Christmas Carol’ (1843). McConaughey might be on top of his game, Jennifer Garner is an exceptional actress who can be dramatic as much as she can be funny, and Emma Stone and Michael Douglas do also a spot-on job… it’s just that director Mark Waters’ version is not on par with other iterations of Dickens’ original work, such as Scrooged (1988): https://kaygazpro.com/2018/12/28/scrooged-1988-comedy-drama-fantasy/ and A Christmas Carol (2019): https://kaygazpro.com/2020/12/25/a-christmas-carol-2019-drama-fantasy/ with the first being funny and emotional and the second dark and depressing. It’s not his fault though because I guess it never meant to make it to that level or reach the same audience they did.

I avoid having a holistic approach to these films nor do I analyse them thoroughly as I find them quite formulaic. I have no high expectations of them other than examining whether they can entertain you and keep you company for as long as they last. Ghosts of Girlfriends Past ticks both boxes, and, while not particularly profound, it still has the impact of making someone reflect on their past decisions and their consequences presented in the present day – especially when it comes to romance!

Well, I hope you enjoy it or enjoy it again if you have watched it in the past with the company of your own choice. As the film explicitly implies, no one should be alone in this world. There is someone out there for everyone, all we have to do is find them. Unless they find us first…

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P.S. This was the time when McConaughey played all those roles that brought out his external beauty. Not long after, he took a turn to roles that brought out his amazing thespian skills and eccentric beautiful darkness.

The Apology (2022): Thriller

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Sixth Sense (1999): Drama/Mystery/Thriller

A troubled child psychologist takes on a kid that is able to make contact with the dead.

Still haunting, still dark, and still gripping. This is more of a reminder than it is a review. By now, everyone knows what happened, how it happened, and when it happened. The reason I am resurfacing it though is to quickly remind you why it still cinematically matters, and, maybe, encourage you to watch it again this festive period.

I’ll leave out the couple of obvious plot holes that could have been paranormally interpreted in more than one way and avoid the use of reason in explaining how we get from one act to the next. But… I’ll focus on a couple of significant details that you either missed back then or possibly forgot over the years, such as the colour red. The award, the made-up house, the clothes, the staircase, the balloon, and, of course, the mysterious doorknob that does not open the door are only but a few examples of the colour’s usage that pushes the narrative forward but also betrays the film’s twist. This pattern is waiting for you to unravel it and grasp its importance in relation to Cole and his bliss or curse, depending on how one perceives that sixth sense of his.

The other mystery that makes the whole difference in the world in understanding the way the story unfolds is distinguishing who tells the story. In other words, whose story is it? What Cole knows that everyone else doesn’t is now known. What Dr. Crowe doesn’t know, but Cole does is also now known (back then none of it was). The answer lies in the camera angles. What the camera shows and the way it shows it gives away the person or entity’s point of view. These angles also establish where the audience stands at any given moment, something that wouldn’t have been possible if the editing wasn’t such. Ultimately, after the film’s twist is revealed, understanding whose story it is will put into perspective who helps whom, and will provide answers to most of the complex questions.

Bruce Willis captures the essence of his role, Toni Collette gets her first (and last) Oscar nomination, and Olivia Williams supports the story to her full extent (she’s an equally brilliant actress). But the ultimate surprise couldn’t be anyone else other than Haley Joel Osment (also, first and last Oscar nomination), the wonder kid that was later seen in films, such as Pay It Forward (2000) and A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001). And if you are wondering how a kid goes from a film like The Sixth Sense to A.I., know that in both films, producers Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshall (husband and wife) are behind both productions. Even though that’s a story for another time, keep this in mind: Kennedy started as a production assistant in the Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), helped develop films such as Gremlins (1984) and The Goonies (1985), and made the Star Wars universe what it is now. George Lucas might be the mastermind behind it, yes, but, without her wouldn’t have expanded to the lengths that it has now. Again, just to keep in mind how behind ostensibly irrelevant films the same people call the shot. Food for thought…

With The Sixth Sense, at the turn of the century, M. Night Shyamalan established himself as the new dominant ‘player’ of the thriller/horror genre, despite the numerous ups and downs that followed. I believe I speak for all of us when I say that we all look forward to the Knock at the Cabin (2023).

Filmmaking is an intriguing and intricate process and The Sixth Sense is an intriguing and intricate film that took years to decode the techniques behind its effect on the film industry. I hope you enjoy it once more.

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8-Bit Christmas (2021): Comedy/Family

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

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

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

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

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Sint (2010): Comedy/Horror

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

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

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

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Hachi: A Dog’s Tale (2009): Biography/Drama/Family

A college professor finds a puppy on his way back home and an unparallel bond is created.

Funny, emotional, and absolutely heart-breaking! Companionship… what would we be without it? Hachi is a wonderful true story about love. All kinds of love! The love towards our family, our friends, our work, our pets. Well, in this instance, the pet is family, and its love cannot be discounted to anything else. Based on the true Japanese story of Hachiko and his master Dr. Eisaburo Ueno, screenwriter Stephen P. Lindsey and director Lasse Hallstrรถm develop an emotional drama for the whole family that will make you smile as much as will bring tears to your eyes.

Richard Gere, Joan Allen, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Sarah Roemer, Jason Alexander, and Erick Avari set up the drama’s foundation, but as the title implies, Hachi (Chico, Layla, and Forrest) is the lead, and so, Hallstrรถm, the director of previous tearjerkers and bittersweets, such as What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (1993), Chocolat (2000), and Dear John (2010) makes you experience the narrative’s unfolding through his eyes. From a filmmaking point of view, while the film lasts only an hour and a half, it takes no shortcuts. Kristina Boden’s editing paces all three acts beautifully allowing the audience to experience all the intended emotions and feelings; happiness, sadness, melancholy, anticipation, and hope.

Sometimes, I ramble about this and that, but it won’t be the case here as the film remains true to its goal. Ultimately, when you let it all sink in, Hachi is more than a film about mere friendship. It is about loyalty, camaraderie, and unconditional love. I hope you enjoy it this festive period, where, like any other period, humans and animals need one another.

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Carter (2022): Action/Thriller

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

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

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

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