The Father (2020): Drama

An old man who refuses his daughter’s help feels like losing the earth under his feet when his home and his people around him keep constantly changing.

A soul-destroying cinematic realism when your life comes crashing down. Based on the homonymous play by writer/director Florian Zeller, and co-writer Christopher Hampton, the cinematic adaptation does indeed resemble a play and the interchangeable locations 1 and 2 confuse as much as the restricted narrative dictates. The Father‘s suspense is not caused by the nature of Anthony’s condition; it is caused by the way it affects him and the people around him. What’s more, as it is an extremely sensitive subject, it is also caused by how it will be approached by Zeller and how it will be delivered by Sir Anthony Hopkins. Ultimately, as the narrative unfolds, the nail-biting suspense is caused by the heart-wrenching drama that raises the question, what will become of him?

The Father‘s full force hits you on two levels: One, on the level of having a beloved person suffering from it. In this case, you are the one experiencing their transition from one of the most dynamic person in the world and, maybe, your true inspiration in life to someone you wish they never become; someone who doesn’t recognise you anymore and… you don’t recognise either. Two, on the level of suffering it yourself. In this case, whoever you may have been in life, are not anymore. Disheveled, helpless, or “losing all your leaves” may be ways to describe it, but no one has or ever will be prepared for when it, unfortunately, happens.

Either way, no one should ever wish it to their worst foe but, fortunately, word has it that, around the date of this review, certain scientists may have had a significant breakthrough. I truly believe that all of us, no natter where we are in the world, however we look like, whatever we believe in politically or religiously, regardless of our sexual orientation… are keeping our fingers crossed and our hopes high. Remember, no disease has ever discriminated.

Excellent music by Ludovico Einaudi! Feel free to listen to the film’s soundtrack over and over again. Extra credits go to Cinematographer Ben Smithard, Production Designer Peter Francis and editor Yorgos Lamprinos. “Anthony”, is named after Hopkins himself who was the first and only choice for Florian Zeller. If it wasn’t for him, he would have adapted it for the French audience and even though I’m positive the experience would have been equally shuttering, it would definitely be different. Olivia Colman, Olivia Williams, Rufus Sewell, and Mark Gatiss have a great chemistry with each other and deliver powerful performances. They are absolutely amazing. Sir Anthony Hopkins’ performance is the one though that in the end will break you, take your breath away, and, maybe, make you reevaluate your life’s journey from the moment it started to where you are now, to where (you think) it’s heading.

Stay safe!

Time out of Mind (2014): Drama

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

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

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

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

Stay safe!

Fast & Furious 9 (2021): Action/Adventure/Crime

Dom and his “family”reunite once more as his unknown to everyone else younger brother has teamed up with a terrorist group to initiate a weapon of mass destruction.

Muscles, guns, explosions, supercars, and spies… all in the mix for a global audience of specific age. F9 did what most of its predecessors also did in previous years. It exceeded every unrealistic expectation! From The Fast and the Furious (2001) to Fast and Furious 8 (2017), whoever has followed the saga, has seen the gang first forming with the intent to steal and sell VCR’s and DVD players, and ending up driving against submarines. Each installment has been seen getting more and more crazy and the level of believability has been dropping exponentially. Now, it’s facing a free fall. A free fall of 2 hour and 25 minutes; the longest Fast & Furious in the franchise.

Where do I begin… Dom’s initial refusal to participate has been a cliché for a couple of decades now. One would expect that in the third decade of the 21st century writers would have moved on. Apparently not. Then, as the previous films did, this one also introduces a new weapon and/or technology. Like an uneducated Sesame Street, here, get to know about not even laughable rocket science and not even ridiculous electromagnetism. I’m not even gonna touch on the “hacking” parts. As for this type of slapstick comedy, some might find it funny so I’m not gonna go into it.

To cut the long story short, lets talk fast, without fury, about the driving. The driving and the chemistry between Vin Diesel, the late Paul Walker (RIP), Michelle Rodriguez, and Jordana Brewster is what made most of us fall in love with the first three or four films. Both of them are lost now. The sky-high level of implausibility, and therefore unfathomable CGI scenes, destroyed both. The filmmakers are now milking the cow, are competing with The Expendables (2010), and like most of these films, what massively irritates me is that they are undermining people’s intelligence. No film should ever undermine its audience’s intelligence. And that’s what F9 does. What was the amazing Charlene Theron thinking? A villain that didn’t even sweat. As if the non-existing, so far, Dom’s brother (John Cena) is not a gimmick enough, the rest of the antagonists are just shambles. Helen Mirren and Kurt Russel are there for the easy money, I get it. The rest… I don’t!

To summarise, maybe, and that’s just a speculation, if you are around 12 y/o you might find it exciting. But I hope you don’t so, maybe, Hollywood producers reevaluate, and learn how to respect their audience. By all means, if you are into VFX and the MTV style of filmmaking give it go. It will make you forget the unpleasant times we are currently experiencing, anyway. But know what you sign up for. Justin Lin is a respectful director/producer but goes for the money. I believe, after the franchise is gone, that we’ll see something amazing from him. Something that will beautifully surprise both in terms of character and story development. Finally, I’ve said it before and I’ll keep saying it: Michael Rooker is a great actor and should be getting more screening time in everything he’s in.

Stay safe!

Wrath of Man (2021): Action/Crime/Thriller

A mysterious man gets a job at an armoured vehicle company that transports money just to find the people responsible for a crime that cost him dearly.

Crowd-pleasing and entertaining, Wrath of Man makes a decent remake of the French thriller Cash Track (2004). Fourth collaboration between the actor Jason Statham and director/producer Guy Richie that proves to be time and time again a recipe for success – at least financial. What you need to keep in mind before or while watching it is that the film is not to be taken very seriously by any stretch of the imagination. It probably represents the exact opposite of the cinematic realism that film theorists argue about (for decades). Let’s start with with basics: No one heals and reaches peak condition that fast from multiple gun shots – if they survive. Also, no one achieves so many headshots that easily. Furthermore, no one would come up with that plan as it is likely to fail in more ways than I can count. So, deliberately ignoring the film’s unrealistic scenario, let’s focus on the positives.

Statham is still kicking a$$ which makes him the right man in front of the camera. Richie still finds intriguing, non-linear ways to develop the plot from the story which makes him the right man behind the camera. Holt McCallany, Josh Hartnett, Scott Eastwood, Andy Garcia, and Niamh Algar make great a addition to the cast (comment to follow on that). Finally, what everyone was hoping to be decent is actually more than decent: the action. Wrath of Man is a series of action-packed sequences that satisfy the neurons and neuroglia of the animalistic part of our brain.

I will never mind Statham not changing his accent. I live in Derby and he’s from Derbyshire so, I wouldn’t want him to speak any other way. I actually love it! Generally though, and that’s probably because I am not a kid anymore, I do mind the hero/ine not to have a decent antagonist or people surrounding him. Which is the case here. The film’s great cast (not just the ones mentioned above) is massively overshadowed by his presence, making him look he’s leagues above everyone else. His crew, the enemy’s, and the security company’s have nothing on him, something that exponentially reduces the suspense. Eastwood’s character had a lot of potential to be a great psycho and, consequently, great villain. That is not the case though. Having said that, the guys guarding the safe are tough as nails but their role is limited. Something else that would potentially make us empathise with ‘H’ a bit more is the underdeveloped drama he had to endure. Unfortunately, it took the back seat. As a last and trivial note, it’s interesting to listen to British humour, in American accents.

To sum it up, it’s very enjoyable, don’t get caught up in the details (like I do), and spend a couple of hours watching a funny and thrilling heist with a lot of shooting and punchlines.

Stay safe!

Army of the Dead (2021): Action/Crime/Horror

A group of mercenaries is hired to pull off a heist in a quarantined, walled off, and inundated with zombies Las Vegas.

A friend of mine called me the other day, saying: “Man, have you seen the Army of the Dead? Damn, it’s been years since the last time I watched something so wank”. He then added: “I mean, it’s like gathering every Hollywood cliché under the sun, putting it in, carefully trying not to miss any.”

Well, as a Zack Snyder fan I was going to watch it anyway, but I was not in a rush. Why? For the same reason I am not in a rush to watch any film interested in profiting from the pandemic. So, it’s not personal. The good news is that the beginning is like Watchmen (2009) meets Sucker Punch (2011) a bit. The bad news is that it’s neither. Actually, everything else is bad. Starting with the characters…

Everyone is a breathing, walking, talking cliché. Sex, sexual orientation, and race – most of the burning issues of today – have been exploited by typically low Hollywood standards for commercial purposes, an event that raises questions regarding who its audience really is. Don’t bang your heads against the wall though, the answer is: masses! The typically unspecified Hollywood audience that likes unrealistic people that are nowhere to be found in our world. A surrealistic misrepresentation of every human being out there. And that’s just the characters.

The narrative… Chaos! The absolute mess! Nothing is convincing and nothing makes sense. Everything you’ve seen and experienced before, you relive it with little to no surprise. Slapstick humour with some drama in between, topped up with some (quite decent I might say) action-packed sequences. In the end, which emotion stands out? None! It’s neither funny nor dramatic nor thrilling. It’s nothing! Two an a half hours of plot holes that include, but are not limited to (no spoilers): soldiers who escort a weapon of mass destruction and have no training whatsoever, a girl with no training whatsoever who delivers headshots like pancakes, the zombie head that could have been immediately retrieved and end our suffering, zombies moving faster than helicopters, people knowing that a nuclear is about to hit them and indifferently chat… the list is endless! Oh, and no matter what happens, do not, I repeat, do not fall for the “time” theory (no spoilers). It was way out of character and out of space. Pure buffoonery to cause you an extra headache! Do. Not. Fall. For it.

This is the worst Zack Snyder film yet! I do like Snyder’s style but Army of the Dead is atrocious and its atrocity has nothing to do with technical aspects such as the “dead pixels” or the too “out-of-focus” issues caused by Red cameras combined with Canon lenses from the 60s. The average viewer does not care about that. Instead, they care about not being insulted by the narrative. No one wants their intelligence undermined and this is exactly what the Army of the Dead does. It considers its audience as dumb as the Shamblers – not sure about the Alphas.

Final notes: Ella Purnell is a really good actresses but her character is unwatchable. Same applies for Dave Baustista who, unfortunately, is the only one that actually offers some drama. The only person I only rooted for though was Chambers (Samantha Win) who literally kicked a$$! Two more highlights were the “tiger kill” and the non-CGI zombies. But if you want to watch a great outbreak film then refer to Snyder’s directorial debut Dawn of the Dead (2004).

Food for thought: Twenty years ago, still at Uni, I discovered the term “Third Cinema”. This term defined for me the differences between the “First” and the “Second”. Focusing on the First… “Solanas and Getino’s manifesto considers First Cinema to be the Hollywood production model that idealizes bourgeois values to a passive audience through escapist spectacle and individual characters.” Please, keep in mind that the Hollywood they are referring to is considered to be leagues above today’s. For more on film history, feel free to read David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson’s: Film History: An Introduction (2003).

Stay safe!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay safe!

Nobody (2021): Action/Crime/Drama

An ostensibly ordinary family man is proved to have certain skills when he becomes the target of the Russian mafia and the vicious lobby behind it.

Every time someone was telling me “it’s like John Wick“, I was replying “You know it’s written by the same guy, yeah?”. If you ask me, A History of Violence (2005) is a lot more similar to Nobody‘s plot, so it’s kind of one-meets-the-other kind of thing.

As for the film itself, admittedly, it’s very entertaining. Bob Odenkirk has a certain style of acting that transcends frustration and anger like very few nowadays can. One could argue that he actually acts/expresses certain aspects of his character. Regardless, he is the man for this job and Nobody proves that Hollywood can turn you from a lawyer who can’t slap a mosquito (Saul Goodman) to an ex-black-ops “badass” (Hutch Mansell) in no time. Fair enough! Nobody shows that his acting range is surprisingly wider than we all thought and the fact that he had been training for two years prior to the film’s principal photography to nail the part, speaks volumes about his dedication. Speaking of acting, I can’t leave the legendary Christopher Lloyd out who nails every part that has been given to him in his 46-year (and counting) career. Furthermore, Connie Nielsen adds to the cast with her talent and beauty, and brightens up every shot she’s in.

Ilya Naishuller, well known for Hardcore Henry (2015), shows once more that he knows how to approach hardcore action scenes, and, more importantly, Derek Kolstad’s meticulously written action scenes. Ari Aster’s Director of Photography, Pawel Pogorzelski, and experienced Hollywood editors Evan Schiff and William Yeh complete the main crew and give an extremely satisfying result that will make you want a sequel or, at least, a prequel of the film.

The plot holes are humongous but do yourselves a favour and leave them out. The action-packed sequences and phlegmatic humour definitely compensate. I hope you enjoy it and forget, even for an hour and a half, the dark times we are still going through!

Stay safe!

Oxygen (2021): Drama/Fantasy/Sci-Fi

A woman wakes in an advanced pod, not knowing exactly what it is, and how or why she got there, but she only has ninety minutes to find a way out.

Claustrophobic and captivating! From the very beginning the questions “what’s happening?” and “how on Earth is she gonna make it?” are raised. As the narrative unfolds, the next question is “what would I do if I were her?”. Before even putting it on, Buried (2010) came to my mind which is probably the most claustrophobic film I have ever watched. Therefore, unintentional comparisons were unavoidable.

Oxygen lets you “catch your breath” a lot more than once which I’m not sure if it should have. What’s more, I object a tad with its constant non-diegetic sound, and let me tell you why. I would assume, without wanting to know for a fact, that if I were trapped in there I wouldn’t be listening to any music. Just my increased heartbeat and my heavy breathing – the dietetic sound. But that’s just me.

Writer Christie LeBlanc and director Alexandre Aja restrict the narrative till half-way through. What you know is strictly what Liz does. When the subplot becomes clear(er), the twist is revealed, everything starts making sense, claustrophobia is lost, but relatable to all of us drama replaces it. In short, there is a culminating moment that defines the outcome and justifies everything that you have found out that far. And that is as far as I go. I hope you enjoy it!

Aja has given us brutal – and I mean brutal – horrors such as Haute Tension (2003), and The Hills Have Eyes (2006), some funny or less believable horrors such as Piranha 3D (2010) and Crawl (2019), but also more psychological or paranormal ones such as Mirrors (2008) and The 9th Life of Luis Drax (2016) – and Horns (2013). Oxygen successfully adds to his list of horror/thriller diversity.

Despite their similarities and differences, I will make only one comparison between Buried and Oxygen: The identical dolly-out shot. I am sure Aja has watched Rodrigo Cortés’ film and I found it very interesting, even peculiar, that the exact same shot was used. Anyway, if you haven’t watched Buried, and you somewhat liked Oxygen, then it’s a must-watch!

Last but most certainly not least, Mélanie Laurent nails her part and without her superb performance, everything else would have failed. She’s absolutely amazing and gets my round of applause!

Stay safe!

Dark Waters (2019): Biography/Drama/History

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

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

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

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

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

Stay safe!

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

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

Nomadland (2021): Drama

Losing everything in the Great Recession, a middle-aged woman decides to lead a nomadic way of life and meet people and explore places she has never had.

There are two selling points here: Francis McDormand and Chloé Zhao. McDormand is one of the best actresses alive and no matter what I or anyone else says cannot praise enough any of her performances. Nomadland is no exception as her performance is a masterclass. The second selling point is Zhao’s documentary-style filmmaking that expanded in seven states, making it look like a chronicle of a nomad who tries to turn a situation around. It is a great modern example of cinema verité that, if anything, will travel you around the states and show you a way of life that you may have not encountered before. As much as I know poverty very well, this lifestyle/tradition is known to me only through films that have not properly explored it. So, I can’t comment on what I heard regarding its inauthentic depiction. Honestly, it would be wrong if I did.

As for the script though, what I was trying to establish throughout the film was if her choices were actually hers and, if yes, to what extent. Did she partially want this way of life? Was this what she fully wanted? Was it escapism – from herself and the people around her? I believe the answer determines the purpose of this hero’s journey. As a huge fan of David Strathairn, I think he deserved some more screening time.

Extra credits go to Zhao’s frequent director of photography, Joshua James Richards whose work is just captivating. Pay also attention to the little, yet very important elements of the film. The use of diegetic (natural) and non-diegetic (music) sounds, Ludovico Einaudi’s piano, the minimalistic editing and montage in its simplest form, the non-actors’ acting, and a side of America and certain American people that none of us really get to see in either studio or indie level. Oscars for: Best Motion Picture of the Year, Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role, and Best Achievement in Directing were very much deserved. Actually, all 227 wins & 135 nominations were very much deserved. I hope you enjoy it.

Stay safe!

Mother (2009): Crime / Drama / Mystery

After her son is jailed for a girl’s brutal murder, a mother does everything in her power to prove his innocence.

The mixed feelings begin from the opening shot and extend all the way through the first act. The music, the acting, the character development, the mother/son relationship, and all utterances and actions make one question why IMDb describes it as crime, drama, mystery. Twenty minutes into it, it starts looking that way but still… Yoon Do-joon’s mental disability and the way his surrounding environment and authorities perceive him, makes unclear of what it really is.

The role of his mother though, somehow, despite the human behaviour oddities, in the second act intensifies the drama and turns it into a whodunit with the stamp of Bong Joon Ho. After Memories of Murder (2003) and The Host (2006) and before Snowpiercer (2013), Okja (2017), and Parasite (2019) Bong Joon Ho feels confident directing Mother, most certainly knowing that unpredictable feelings will be evoked. Definitely not for everyone, but it’s the kind of cinema that allows westerners, through art, to discover a variety of cultural idiosyncrasies so different to their own.

Far too many years ago, someone told me that if you end up in hell, your mother will be the only one to find a way to sneak out of heaven, descent, and trade places with you so it is her that withstands eternal suffering, instead of you. Mother ends up being the soul-crushing drama that emphasises on the mother’s sacrifice, loneliness, and unbearable task of carrying a personal cross all the way to the top of Golgotha.

Stay safe!

Chaos Walking (2021): Action / Adventure / Fantasy

Many years into the future, on an unknown planet, a male-only settlement is after two youngsters who are in search of truth.

Interesting premise! Like any decent sci-fi, behind the top dollar spent and the fancy visual effects there is a metaphor. Chaos Walking‘s is the actual settlers’ terraforma atrocities. Arguably though, that takes the back seat when the film decides to focus on the projection of the human inability to control their thoughts; men’s anyway.

As the story unfolds more truths come to the surface and more metaphors can be picked up that are also, eventually, overshadowed by men’s uncontrollable projected thoughts. Regardless, pay attention to the mayor’s and the priest’s role. You won’t be surprised about their character development if you’ve read a thing or two about colonisation.

After the script’s many rewritings, extensive $15M re-shoots took place, during which Tom Holland broke his nose, passed out trying to hold his breath underwater, and had his wisdom teeth pulled out. No wonder why the film’s release date was pushed back a year… And after all that, humongous plot holes are still there like a stains that failed to come off after many washings. The most striking one: The shuttle that no one saw falling from the sky. A shuttle that no one heard or felt crashing next to the farm either. The best part? By the time Todd saw it, some pieces were still on fire but Viola had already dag 2 graves and was out and about stealing food. I mean… never mind!

It’s a shame that experienced directors like Doug Liman and studios like Lionsgate Entertainment still struggle that much when money and resources are not an issue. That’s why audience thinking outside the box diminish Hollywood productions. Shame really…

Stay safe!

Stowaway (2021): Drama / Sci-Fi / Thriller

A series of dilemmas and decisions divide a crew on its way to Mars when they discover a passenger who shouldn’t have been there.

Very well-written and shot first act, paying extra attention to the orbital mechanics’ math but also the heroes’ reactions during the launch. The discovery of the stowaway passenger intensifies the thrill and the agony regarding who this person is and why he’s there begins… Well, not immediately!

The second act starts off a bit slow, not interested in providing crucial information straight away. Don’t be put off by that though, pace yourselves. Everything slowly and steadily is falling into place. When the dilemma is presented, questions such as: What would I do… How would I do it… What if I were him… How the hell did it come to that… and maybe more, will get you engaged.

Writer/producer Ryan Morrison and co-writer/producer/director Joe Penna wrote and directed respectively a very claustrophobic drama / thriller / sci-fi full of moral decisions and dilemmas and XYZ Films, as always, made sure to invest in the film’s technological realism for a heartbreaking, yet – kinda – believable outcome. Speaking of believability, Anna Kendrick, Daniel Dae Kim, Shamier Anderson, and Toni Collette give very decent performances and have good chemistry with each other.

The denouement is, arguably, over-dramatised but it still serves the narrative’s purpose. I believe that the lukewarm reviews derive from the desire for more action something that the film somewhat lacks. Don’t be discouraged though, its other qualities compensate and, while in lockdown, having nothing much more creative to do, Stowaway becomes the escapism we potentially need/want.

Stay safe!

Ballad for a Pierced Heart (2020): Comedy / Crime / Drama

After stealing her husband’s money, a woman and her lover flee to a small town, but greed, passion, and a series of wrong choices turn everything upside down.

Even though I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: Yannis Economides is the best Greek / Greek Cypriot actor’s director alive. No one comes even near in the second place. He allows them to improvise to the highest degree, as he allows maximum profanity. This adds to his films’ realism and makes them unique additions to the modern Greek cinema, a cinema that, unfortunately, suffers from wooden acting and writing – even though I must say that, fortunately, this is constantly improving. No matter what, Economides leads the way.

The Ballad for the Pierced Heart, like every other film of his, is structured the way the narrative dictates to be. The three-act structure provides the formula that will lead you from A to B but the dialogue always prevails and, regardless where the A or B stand, it is everything that is said and done in between that matters.

The Ballad was quite unlucky as the moment it came out the pandemic was announced and cinemas shut down. Very highly recommended! It combines neo-noir elements with a Greek reality that is nowhere to be found in the Industry. When the end credits start scrolling and the enthusiasm starts fading, one realises that… OK… certain dialogue and circumstances were a bit surrealistic. How much that matters? Not a tad!

Other than Economides, all his crew deserves a round of applause as it does the brilliant cast: Vicky Papadopoulou, Vassilis Bisbikis, Stathis Stamoulakatos, Yannis Tsortekis, and the rest of the professional and non-professional actors who shine in front of the lens. Well done, everyone!

Shay safe!

Until the Edge of the World (2019): Drama

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

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

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

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

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

Stay safe!

The Hater (2020): Drama / Thriller

An overambitious young man uses social media, but also friends and family to achieve his immoral goals.

Two qualities stand out straight away: Tomasz’s manipulation skills and Aleksandra Gowin’s non-linear editing skills. Both of them unfold brilliantly along with the narrative.

Writer Mateusz Pacewicz collaborates once more with director Jan Komasa after the amazing Corpus Christi (2019) – review to follow – and, once more, shock society to its core. There are plenty of scary scenarios and people here… Tomasz Giemza is a person who shouldn’t be walking on the streets. Why? Men like him bring out the worst in people, and remorselessly manipulate them, individually and collectively. In both cases, since all of us have weaknesses, no one can blame us for that. Who is to be blamed though is the people behind the social media who provide support to that manipulation and enhance it by reaching out to larger masses. The social media are merely tools, platforms of communication, but the way the “puppeteers” operate them can shape, control, manipulate, and even tear apart societies. Sacha Baron Cohen very eloquently described one of them as: “the greatest propaganda machine in historythat would even allow Hitler to run his propaganda.

Besides the social media though, I believe The Hater‘s best achievement is Tomasz’s character development. A psychopath with the phenomenal ability to learn from his mistakes and constantly up his game, ending up manipulating the manipulators. Absolutely amazing! You’ll catch yourself loving the way he does it while hating him at the same time.

Last but not least, Agata Kulesza always deserves a separate mention no matter what she’s in. She shines in Pawel Pawlikowsi’s films as much as she shines in this one. She is an Oscar-worthy actress and I hope she wins it one day. Whether she does or not, she’ll always be a first-class thespian.

Excellent example of modern European cinema with profound filmmaking techniques, intriguing performances, plenty of visuals and food for thought. Definitely, a must-watch!

Stay safe!

The Little Things (2021): Crime / Drama / Thriller

A series of murders get the attention of a County Deputy Sheriff, a man with a dark past in the police force, and in collaboration with a young detective, they will try to find whoever is behind these crimes.

It is shocking how people even thought about considering comparing it to Seven (1995). The film’s biggest issue is not the cliché opening sequence that makes zero sense. It is not that Denzel Washington and Rami Malek don’t believe in what they signed up for – even though Jared Leto somehow does. It is not even the fact that all three of them are Oscar winners in a film like this. The biggest issue with the film is that the producers put all the effort to get A-list actors but then they decided to green light a boring, formulaic, predictable, flawed Hollywood three-act structure with yawning character and story development that makes you say: “it’s OK for the quarantine”. A film that you stop thinking about the moment the end credits start scrolling down. And once you thought the script is the worst thing that happened to The Little Things, the editing makes it a mission to dumb it down even more by explaining everything to you like it’s the first time you are watching a thriller. What’s more, it fundamentally ruins the film’s pace and rhythm with its discontinuity errors.

I know I sound bitter, but that was not my intention before I started watching it. But focusing (always) on the film’s intentions, I don’t like it when the audience’s intelligence is undermined. Watching the final cut before exporting it, the filmmakers should have seen that, for an over two-hour film, everything is rushed, and said and done before in a better, and a much better way. It is saddening me that, John Lee Hancock, the man behind great films such as The Blind Side (2009) and Saving Mr. Banks (2013) was sitting on the director’s chair.

After pointing out the film’s biggest issue(s), it would be only fair to mention the biggest achievement: Jared Leto’s decent performance, even though ruined by bad directing and even worse editing, it managed to get a Golden Globe nomination and a nomination from the Screen Actors Guild Awards. The only two nominations the film got. How about that…

To cut the long story short, go ahead, watch it, it is a yet another night in with restrictions left, right, and centre. Just don’t have any expectations as you’ll be severely disappointed.

Stay safe!

P.S. I mean… the editing is bad!

Come True (2020): Horror / Sci-Fi

One of the most intriguing and atmospheric opening sequences I’ve seen in a while. The first act’s slow pace, music, and cinematography betray a feel-good 80s horror that promises not to disappoint. And it doesn’t (to a certain extent)!

Writer/director Anthony Scott Burns has done his homework on sleep, dreams, and nightmares and carefully and patiently unfolds a narrative that, if you haven’t read anything about the plot, will most definitely surprise you. Positively or not you are about to figure out for yourselves.

The dream sequences are the most vividly and terrifyingly surrealistic images since Silent Hill (2006) and The Cell (2000) – the only Jennifer Lopez film I have got to enjoy. Jungian psychology, Escher’s portrayal of illusion, and Clive Barker’s horrifying vision of the human psyche’s darkness, all blend into one, bringing to life nightmares that make us question the way our mind, consciously or not, interprets reason and the way we understand and explain our fears.

David Cronenberg has been a tremendous influence on the Canadian cinema and Burns, having specialised in horror, adds his own personality and vision to intrigue you, get and maintain your undivided attention. In the end, I must say that I did get confused and found myself remorselessly scratching my head, and even though I love proper WTF endings, Come True runs out of steam before you start rolling your eyes in disbelief. Shame because for the 2/3’s of the movie, I had nothing negative to say. I guess the denouement is the toughest part of the script.

Stay safe!

P.S. Certainly, I am not the only one feeling like Riff came out of Hogwarts…

Lifeforce (1985): Action / Horror / Mystery

An alien vampire race is found in space and brought to a lab in London but, upon escaping, chaos and doom threaten to destroy our planet.

Ask anyone why they remember Lifeforce… And as much as I understand why, this is the reason why the film bombed! An alien sexbomb wreaking apocalyptic havoc in London sounds peculiar to say the least. The film didn’t even make half of its production cost back because a naked Mathilda May and her astonishing beauty stole the show and left everyone uninterested in its shallow science. BUT…

Lifeforce has become a classic and watching it 25 years later, I must say that it is case study of how to deconstruct a B-movie. I don’t think I’ve ever read more production details on a film such as this. What’s more, the vast majority of these details revolve around May’s backstage nudity or how the film’s failure showed during the early stages of principal photography.

Despite how my review sounds so far, especially in times like these, Lifeforce is the form of escapism that will truly entertain you (I mean, read the logline). Based on Colin Wilson’s novel, “The Space Vampires” and directed by Tobe Hooper, the film offers a lack of seriousness and superficiality that harms no one and, if anything, reminds us the cinematic, low-budget, sci-fi era that, once upon a time, was as believable as today’s advanced CGI. The practical effects, the make-up, the effort given not to be rated pornographic, the budget restrains, to name but a few, constitute it a very hard film to make. No words can describe the satisfaction you will get though while watching it. So, forget reality for a couple of hours…

Stay safe!

Breeder (2020): Horror / Thriller

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A doctor that conducts illegal experiments on women in an underground lab, kidnaps her partner’s wife making her one of them.

Photography and editing are the first two things that stand out. Very well shot and paced and very scientifically provocative. And then the torture comes…

I starting researching and analysing torture after the one film that truly affected me like no other, Martyrs (2008): https://kgpfilmreviews.com/2020/11/24/martyrs-2008-horror/

Reason behind torture, or the lack thereof, offers a perspective on what you are watching. It provides explanation or gives none as to why people are suffering the way they do. In Martyrs, you only get to find out in the end and it’s just unthinkable. In Hellraiser (1987), Pinhead, and the rest of the crew, are sadistic, hellish creatures and live off the victims’ excruciating pain. In The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), Leatherface and his family are a bunch of psychopathic killers. The problem presented here is that two innovative yet despicable scientists are behind everything that’s happening, and a couple of mindless humanoids that the film has the audacity to call “animals” commit further atrocities.

Personally, the reason here leaves me indifferent. What made me feel uncomfortable was its statement, or the way I perceived it anyway: She was looking for pain and that’s what she got. Maybe, I got it wrong but, ultimately, the film’s message is utterly confusing. Women are oppressed mostly by men but some women too? Men are disgusting beings? Shit happens? Together we are stronger than ever against the system that wants us subdued? Women are stronger together against… who?

Anyway, maybe Breeder has no message to deliver and I just missed on the “entertainment”. Maybe, you get a different vibe.

Stay safe!

Never Rarely Sometimes Always (2020): Drama

A teenage girl, followed by her cousin, leaves her hometown to go to New York to terminate her unexpected pregnancy.

Never underestimate the power of independent cinema. Rarely disappoints. Sometimes it defies the traditional, conventional narrative. Always, though, offers a more realistic perspective.

The difference with the American studio level films shows, in this case, shows even before the narrative unfolds. Take a close look at the actors; they are everyday people, and not like underwear models. It’s (not) funny how studios nowadays indulge diversity and inclusion but don’t cast actors who wouldn’t be a fit for a fragrance poster. But this review is not about the industry’s hypocricy, so…

Eliza Hittman writes and directs a modern painful Odyssey about a girl that suffers in silence, has no room in her life for the baby she is carrying, and decides to make a journey to take the most difficult decision of her life, yet. Admittedly, I haven’t watched her other films, but I most definitely will after this one. Hittman mounts the camera on her shoulder and like an omniscient narrator closely follows Autumn and Skylar exploring The Big Apple for the first time. The close-ups and the extreme close-ups leave you no choice but to feel Autumn’s pain, to embark on that coach, share the experience of discovery, but, mainly, go through the shivering experience of what comes next.

The “never, rarely, sometimes, always” moment is the brutal realisation that facing the pain is a exponentially harder than imagining facing the pain. The editor Scott Cummings is onboard with this idea as he’s very careful where to cut when this conversation takes place. He cuts selectively and only for a few seconds to the counselor but mostly stays with Autumn’s close-up “forcing” you to look when she breaks. Why? Because it’s not pretty. And it’s even uglier when these questions are asked because only then the boys’ initial, hideous comments and gestures make sense. Think about it from the narrative’s point of view, it takes an hour to indirectly indicate why those comments were made and how they are related to the pregnancy. What is also astonishing is the “show, don’t tell” subplot of the bond between Autumn and Skylar which needs no soppy dialogue whatsoever to project the love one has for the other, without overshadowing the film’s delicate and sorrowful subject.

In a very disciplined manner, Hittman manages to not get caught in the ethics behind abortion and to focus on how it burdens an already suffering girl. It might seem like an easy task but rest assured that it is not. In fact, it is one of the main issues pretentious films are facing when they tackle too many issues, in the process address some, and finally delve into none. Never Rarely Sometimes Always brilliantly achieves that focus, and I can’t praise it enough. Speaking of praising, Sidney Flanigan deserves an Oscar for her realistic performance and I take my hat off to Talia Ryder who doesn’t let her natural beauty overshadow her acting and, surprisingly, gives “friendship” the meaning it always should have had.

I am doing this review now as my next one will be Promising Young Woman (2021) and, despite its success, unfortunately, I have opposite feelings compared to this one.

Stay safe!

Promising Young Woman (2020): Crime / Drama / Thriller

A young woman seeks out revenge against anyone who got involved in a tragic event that happened several years ago.

I’m in two minds here. I believe that’s because I was hyped up for weeks prior to watching it, even though I hadn’t even watched the trailer.

I’ll start with the good news: Carrey Mulligan is amazing, Bo Burnham is funny, and Clancy Brown is heartbreaking. And, for me, this is where the good news stops.

First and foremost, the film lacks structure. It’s pace and rhythm is all over the place. Secondly, it resembles a thriller with music video montages in between. Is that wrong? Not on its own. It becomes wrong, and, if not wrong, confusing for such a delicate issue that, ultimately, ends up taking the back seat. This wrongness/confusion causes indecisiveness and no film should be undecided about situations that have scarred women’s, but also families’ lives. Occasionally, it felt like a dark comedy accompanied by millennial, pop music that was not befitting so, I kept asking myself, how am I supposed to feel? And then, about who? About Nina or about Cassie? Does Cassie’s behaviour justify what happened to Nina? Was it that, that made her sociopath or did that event trigger it? How was she punishing the ones who were crossing her path? How was the level of punishment against the ones who were accessories to what happened to Nina decided? There are so many questions regarding the character’s arc and the hero’s journey, but I’ll raise one last one: How is one meant to feel about Cassie and her actions in the end?

The film is rated ‘suitable only for 15 years and older’, but I can’t shake off the feeling that is for 15 y/o ones alone. That excludes the two and a half minute shocking scene in the cabin (no spoilers). Writer / director Emerald Fennell, Carrey Mulligan, and Margot Robbie are wearing the producer’s hat as well and their effort is rewarded with 4 Golden Globes nominations, another 62 wins and 132 more nominations. I congratulate them and the rest of the cast and crew for their achievement even though it ended up not being my cup of tea.

Nothing that affects someone that much should be that stylised. Even though I found Revenge (2017) was quite ‘stylish’ until the inciting incident, in the second act, its brutality defined the film and established for the viewer that ‘shock’ was what it was aiming for. But cinema, like life itself, is not just black or white. There are numerous shades of grey and, one of my favourite genre mix, horror/comedy, falls under that category. Keeping that in mind, I’m constantly asking myself this: How much comedy does one mix with horror? Or, is it the other way around?

Stay safe!

P.S. Never Rarely Sometimes Always (2020): https://kgpfilmreviews.com/2021/03/06/never-rarely-sometimes-always-2020-drama/ is a counterexample of a (somewhat) relevant film that does not try to please everyone, has an established tone, and impeccably distinguishes the plot from the subplot. I can’t praise it enough.

Wrong Turn (2021): Horror / Thriller

A group of friends gets lost in the Appalachian mountains, but gets found by an off-grid community that hunts them down.

Ahhhh… The clash between the world we are very slowly leaving behind and the brave new one we are entering in warp speed. Bridging those two worlds will be one of the most difficult tasks societies globally will have to deal with. Anyway…

Wrong Turn‘s producers decided, in a six-member “gang”, to represent as many minorities as possible. And as much as I endorse diversity and inclusion, when it’s for ticket sales or any other form of profit, I don’t. It’s called exploitation. Moving on from the casting choices concerns… one realises, right off the bat, when the alleged action and thrill kicks in, that the educated youth comes up with the dumbest questions, ideas, and ideologies ever existed while people of unknown origin and skills are after them in the middle of the unknown… nowhere. Ultimately, what most of them say and do is nothing but contradictory, something that renders them undecided in life or hypocrites at best.

And if you are somewhat confused with the messages about the old and the new world and their people… boy… wait until the film’s revelation! I’m not going to spoil it for you. See for yourselves the mess the script is leaving behind. Honestly, wait until the very end; the script’s direction is more lost than every city boy and girl has ever been on these mountains throughout the whole franchise. And since you’ve made it to the very end, watch at least the last scene, it’s awesome.

To my surprise, that script is by Alan B. McElroy, the writer behind the original Wrong Turn (2003), and it may be a reboot but has nothing to do or has nothing on the original one. Emmanouelle Chriqui and Eliza Dushku are irreplaceable.

Stay safe!

Saint Maud (2020): Drama / Horror / Mystery

A young religious nurse moves to a remote town to treat a housebound terminal patient, making her mission to save her soul.

Feature debut for writer/director Sophie Glass who, so far, directs only what she writes. Using a flashback in the opening sequence is not uncommon but Glass’ shots are, admittedly, impressive. The first half-hour is spent on Maud’s character development and her relationship with Amanda. The confrontation with Carol and Joy’s comment indicate how much we don’t know about Maud but should have suspected in the first place.

The moment she cannot pretend anymore… the moment she unleashes her true self… Glass’ lens pays tributes to Hitchcock and DePalma, while adding her own personal touch. She infiltrates Maud’s mind, dissects her martyrdom / schizophrenia, and restricts the narrative to only to her interpretation of signs. Consequently, this raises the question: How should I interpret those signs? Religion and mental health had been interchangeable terms for centuries, something that Glass manages to sink her teeth in, but mostly provoke, in less than an hour and a half.

Saint Maud is a phenomenal psychological horror that aims to shock you to your core and, Morfydd Clark, fully understanding Glass’ vision, goes the extra mile with a breathtaking performance. Jennifer Ehle plays also her part beautifully, resembling a younger Meryl Streep. Extra credits go to A24 that invested in the film, Ben Fordesman for the haunting cinematography, Mark Towns for perfectly controlling the pace and rhythm, Adam Janota Bzowski for his hair-raising soundtrack, and every member of the cast and crew who strived for perfection.

Saint Maud becomes a proud addition to the British horror genre where you don’t know what’s gonna happen until it happens. Turn off the lights, throw the phones away, and get ready to be blown away.

Stay safe!

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

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

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

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

Stay safe!

Pulse (2006): Horror / Sci-Fi / Thriller

Mysterious entities, start taking over a group of friends through an obscure wireless signal that starts spreading rapidly all over the city.

I’ll be quick… Dark and promising opening sequence that once it gets you hooked it unhooks you with its formulaic narrative. The audience it addresses becomes clear straight away and is none other than… American pre-millennials. Just before the social media, androids and iPhones become our lives, this the generation that started carrying everywhere their cell phones with the ostentatious design.

In case you are wondering why I am doing a review now, it is because I’ve had that DVD on my shelf for the last 15 years and I never got to watch it. Now, I know why. Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s original script and Wes Craven’s adaptation were, allegedly, significantly altered by Ray Wright, something that made Craven walk out before production even started and renounced the film. Besides Wright, director Jim Sonzero did not do a good job either. Unfortunately, he treated his audience like they were mentally incapacitated and that alone is a reason to look down on the film. I’ll give you one example to get an idea. Kristen Bell is wearing make-up from beginning till end. No matter what happens, the make-up is intact. Shocking that there were two more (horrendous) instalments after that.

I’m not going to waste your time. To sum it up, the story could have been promising, the script is dull, the filmmaking techniques were outdated way before the film was made, and it is not Kristen Bell’s and Ian Somerhalder’s fault for being in it. They are really good actors. Watch it at your own risk.

Stay safe!

Red Dot (2021): Drama / Horror/ Thriller

In an attempt to heat up their relationship, a couple travels to the north of Sweden only to become a target and fight for their survival.

I have to thank my good friend Shiying for suggesting this one to me, and I’m so glad she did. The film’s strong suit is hands down, the narrative. The script is solid and its two protagonists, Nadja and David totally relatable. Its horror works in two levels: survival against the forces of nature and survival against the forces of unnatural (?) human evil. As the story unfolds, the difference, not that is really needed, is broken down for you so you can reconstruct it yourselves in the end. But, please, let me for argument’s sake humour you. When we distant ourselves from nature, it is not nature to blame if it does what it has been doing way before we stepped foot on this planet that we ended up looking down on as if we owned it. Then, there is the other threat; us. The detached from nature beings who developed, amongst other things, ideology, philosophy, and politics and used them against one another, as well as… nature.

Leaving my ecological concerns out of the equation, Red Dot steps on these characteristics of ours and very manipulatively deceives you. The twist is well designed and the editing, of course, selectively discloses what it requires for you to fall into the trap. The second part of the second act could be easily analysed in terms of how the restricted narrative led to the moment of truth, but that would ruin it for you so I’m not gonna do it. Watch it and decide for yourselves whether you saw it coming and how ‘smart’ or not you thought it was. My major objection, and that’s the only thing I’ll tell you, is that the third act’s harshness would be far more breathtaking if the verbosity levels were dropped, even to zero. But that’s just me.

Have a go at it! It’s well worth it. From beginning to end, Nanna Blondell and Anastasios Soulis lead the way with their incredible performances. What also stands out is Oscar-worthy cinematography. Before everything goes tits up, see how it starts at the petrol station. My initial thought was: ‘As if they don’t have enough on their plate, them two… it’s just what they needed’. And that’s what makes Nadja and David totally relatable, as I said in the beginning. You are going somewhere with your boyfriend/girlfriend and they show up. How would you react? What would you have done differently? How would you cope with the consequences? It is how every good thriller/horror starts…

Stay safe!

P.S. Shiying, that’s for you! Thank you, luv!

The House That Jack Built (2018): Crime / Drama / Horror

The life of a serial killer through the major incidents that made him and the examination of his psychosynthesis.

Welcome to the world of a psychopathic murderer! Look at it through his eyes. See how it makes sense to him. Feel how he perceives it, in the scariest possible way, as you and I do. Welcome to the world that Lars von Trier and Matt Dillon built!

Watch back to back Trier’s The House That Jack Built and David Fincher’s Zodiac (2007). The former views the world through the nihilistic eyes of a killer who tries to make sense of our world’s identity, and the latter views it through our ‘existential’ eyes, which try to make sense of the killer’s identity. Regardless of the antithetical points of view and budget, both films’ theme is regarding a serial killer yet, they share no similarities. Not really, anyway. The striking differences in writing, acting, editing, and cinematography – all overseen by the director – are held responsible for creating films worlds apart and confuse film theorists (even more) in regard to ‘What is Cinema?’. Fincher’s meticulous mise-en-scène and precise cuts become an example to avoid for Trier who, in a mockumentary-style of filmmaking shakes his camera as much as he possibly can and cuts wherever it seems not right, ignoring continuity and paying tribute to Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless (1960). Is there ‘right’ or ‘wrong’? No, there is not! The narrative always dictates how the story will unfold and in which way. And Trier’s filmmaking choices of saying the story the way he wants to create one of the most realistic serial killer films you have ever watched. Pay extra attention to the humorous side of the murders. Yes, there is a humorous side to it. Don’t judge it though, remember whose point of view this film is from. Even I smiled at Dillon’s reaction to the body’s melted face that had been dragged on the streets for miles. The film’s scariest parts though are not the murders themselves, but the justification of Jack’s actions and the sick and perverted way they somehow make sense.

My issue is not with the way the story unfolds, but with where it is heading. After an hour and a half of balanced nihilistic philosophy, deranged psychology, and monstrosities, Trier turns the film into a pseudo-sophisticated paradigm that, in my humble opinion, does not any more explain Jack’s actions, takes over the narrative, and expresses how Trier views art, politics, history, war, and anything that comes into his mind. Why do I think of that? Because I’m sure that Jack didn’t commit these murders creating a montage of Trier’s previous films in his head. I know he made a statement about, potentially, not directing another feature, but, in the name of art, he managed to lose the narrative’s focus and turned it into a confusing mess.

In Cannes, some people left the theatre and others gave it a six-minute standing ovation. Some condemned it on social media for its violence and point of view, and others praised it. See for yourselves how parts of ‘The Divine Comedy’ and ‘Faust’ work within the narrative and how the allegories and the history lessons work for you. Love it or loathe it, be it Trier’s last film or not, The House That Jack Built is a must-watch, and whatever I say, nothing will give justice to Matt Dillon’s remarkable performance. If none of the aforementioned sounds appealing or appalling enough, watch it just for Dillon!

Stay safe!

Synchronic (2019): Drama / Horror / Sci-Fi

A new drug on the streets, causing obscure and mystical effects, will make two paramedics from New Orleans reevaluate life.

The trippy, otherworldly, and oneiric opening sequence pins you down and gets your undivided attention. Steve (Anthony Mackie) and Dennis (Jamie Dornan) become immediately relatable from the get-go while you are trying to establish how is everything connected. As the incidents increase, the plot’s mystery and intricacy are accompanied by an equally dramatic subplot and both of them unfold together on Jimmy LaValle’s amazing soundtrack that expresses the characters’ psychosynthesis.

In my humble opinion though the film reaches its peak with the heartbreaking sequence of Steve’s dog, Hawking – honestly, I couldn’t breathe properly. Steve realises how the drug works and, from then on, it becomes too explanatory too fast for my taste, disillusioning too early an experience that stops raising questions anymore. Having said that, please, don’t let it discourage you. Watch it as it is a great low budget, indie sci-fi, and both Mackie and Dornan do a great job in front of the camera.

Behind the camera, writers/directors/producers/cinematographers/editors Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead prove once more their unquestionable talent. From Resolution (2012) to Spring (2014), to The Endless (2017), to Synchronic, they constantly prove that filmmakers don’t need millions of dollars to bring to life something innovative; something that follows certain rules, breaks others, and, ultimately, still manages to be groundbreaking, didactic, and entertaining. Twenty years ago, Christopher Nolan started on small budgets and then the world became his oyster. As Steven Spielberg did thirty years before him. It seems that the filmmaking partners Benson and Moorhead, gradually, are given more and more funding. If they stick to their unique point of view – and don’t get sucked by Hollywood – they will keep performing cinematic miracles.

Stay safe!

Possessor (2020): Horror / Sci-Fi / Thriller

A secret agent, who works for a shadowy organisation that has the technology to control people, is sent on a mission to assassinate a high-profile target, but with unexpected consequences.

As a huge fan of the Canadian film school, I will tell you that Possessor does not disappoint. Films like that need to be highly praised, if anything, for their boldness. Writer/director Brandon Cronenberg is not to be compared with his father (David) as he has his his own distinct voice to narrate a story worth telling. The influences from eXistenZ (1999) and Videodrome (1983) might be visible but even these works are not parthenogeneric, and every generation “steals” from the generation before it, anyway. This has always been the case in art and science and that is the root of evolution (maybe of devolution too). My only “like his father” reference is the theme of “sex”. Brandon has taken over the torch of sexual exploration and mental darkness as projected through the lens, and I believe in future films of his we’ll see a lot more. The hallucination scenes are only the beginning…

Possessor‘s practical visual effects most definitely stand out, giving meaning to to the original purpose of visual effects before they became the means to overshadow a mediocre or bad narrative. Cronenberg’s high-concept, hi-tech, cinematic schizophrenia dictates what effects are needed and to what end, allegorically cautions the audience of the brain’s unknown vastness, and offers the thrill of its exploration by presenting the shock of the characters’ experiences through their own decisions.

Andrea Riseborough has proved time and time again that there is nothing she can’t do in front of the lens and mesmerises with her performance. Christopher Abbott, is a rising star and he’s terrific in everything he’s been in. Watch Sweet Virginia (2017), The Sinner (2017), and It Comes at Night (2017), if you don’t want to take my word for it – and that’s just within a year. As for Jennifer Jason Leigh, no introductions are needed as she’s been constantly offering her versatility to the cinema for over forty years now.

To conclude, Possessor is a must-watch that adds value to the Canadian film school and excites with its uniqueness and unpredictability. Regardless of the film schools though, it distinguishes itself from the traditional Hollywood narrative and blends the horror/sci-fi/thriller genres in a way you have not seen before. Pay attention to the opening sequence’s details. Gabrielle Graham, as a theatrical thespian, captivates with her performance and Cronenberg guides her character, Holly, to commit the poetic crime in a way that only Shakespeare would describe. From then on, it’s all uncharted territory.

Stay safe!