Pig (2021): Drama/Thriller

A truffle hunter who lives alone in the woods returns after many years to the city that once gave him a reputation after his pig gets kidnapped.

Pig is the kind of film that when you know nothing about it you get a surprising cinematic experience. Well, you get that with most Nicolas Cage films anyway, but the narrative looks like Pig was written for Cage, and that’s it. Therefore: unexpected narrative + Cage = double the surprise!

I’m just going to give you a one-line summary and keep it short in avoidance of spoiling the crucial parts. The once best and hard as nails chef in Portland, who also had an extraordinary reputation in underground restaurant fights (???) and once disappeared into the woods resurfaces himself, raising hell when his pig gets kidnapped. I mean… WTF?! How does one green-light such a concept? How does one even conceive it to begin with? It sounds to me like writer/director Michael Sarnoski, a David Lynch fan, liked John Wick (2014), smoked a couple, and then put it together. Remember, everything is happening because someone stole his pig. How does Lynch come into play? The two Cage monologues. The first one sounds completely irrelevant – or is it? As if Rob listened to a different story and recited something from a different movie. Check Amir’s reaction that reflects the audience’s. Which brings us to the second one… the second one is all about Chef Derek’s (David Knell) close-up reaction as the story evolves. His reaction is priceless. To me, that is Lynch through and through and Sarnoski brilliantly encapsulates it.

There is so much I could say about this film, but I won’t. I’ve already said enough and it will just ruin the experience. The principal photography lasted 20 days and all cast and crew should work like a Swiss watch as the budget was tiny. And after they actually did, about an hour was taken out in the cutting room for Neon thought it was too long.

Definitely worth the watch! Will you find meaning, eventually? Only if you put your phones down, turn the lights off, and understand why Rob’s journey takes place. A journey explicated though his stories and attitude towards people and circumstances. But also… what the pig means to him and why. I hope you enjoy it!

Stay safe!

Arctic (2018): Adventure/Drama

Long after his plane crash-landed in the Arctic, a man must decide whether to stay at the crash site or set out for the unknown to seek help.

The European way of unfolding a narrative with a touch of Scandinavian darkness and a taste of Icelandic identity. Writer/director Joe Penna and writer/editor Ryan Morrison have beautifully paced the drama that leads to the fork that saves your life or points you at certain death. And regardless what road you take, you can’t know which is which. Until it’s probably too late… Penna and Morrison have been collaborating since the beginning of their career to this very day. If you haven’t watched their sci-fi Stowaway (2021), you definitely need to: https://kaygazpro.com/2021/04/28/stowaway-2021-drama-sci-fi-thriller/. Special mention deserves the cinematographer Tómas Örn Tómasson – native Icelander – who knows exactly what he needs to shoot and how. All three collaborate perfectly behind the camera and give you a great value for your money.

And while all crew works tirelessly behind the camera, the person in front of the camera that cuts your breath is non other than the highly expressive and diverse, Mads Mikkelsen. All the struggle, the frustration, the agony, and the horror is written on his forehead while he’s trying to keep it together and save both their lives. Seeing is believing so, go for it and see for yourselves.

Arctic, Penna’s feature film debut, rightfully, received a 10-minute standing ovation at its premiere, at the Cannes film festival. Interestingly, only a few months ago I watched George Clooney’s The Midnight Sky (2020) https://kaygazpro.com/2021/01/04/the-midnight-sky-2020-drama-fantasy-sci-fi/ and I couldn’t help but compare the differences and similarities. As much as it’s tempting present them or some of them now, I’ll resist. They are, essentially, different films and for different reasons I liked them both. If you watch or have watched them both though, ask yourselves this: What drives you? What is it that keeps you going through life’s hardship? When all hope seems lost, how do you find the strength to “squeeze hard”? Don’t undermine Clooney either as both him and Penna present the world through their lens. As we experience life through our eyes.

Stay safe!

Fear Street – Part Three: 1666 (2021): Horror/Mystery

Through the eyes of Sarah Fier, Deena experiences the horrors she had to endure and discovers how the curse of Shadyside really began.

The entertaining horror finale in the trilogy of entertaining horrors! Beware of what you read before watching it though! My beloved Ioanna urged me to watch it so here it goes. Have the same expectations as Part One and Part Two and you will not regret watching it – that is if you liked the other two. Let me start with the most important element. The similarities to 1978 – certain narrative juxtapositions – are meant to be striking to remind us that there are people out there who would still go after you with modern torches and pitchforks just because you are different than the majority. People who would ignore, even stomp on values such as diversity, inclusion, and freedom of choice. Therefore, the intention is there, that’s not what you need to be preoccupied with.

Now, the execution is what caused, from I’ve heard, all the unnecessary negativity. People who didn’t like the other two shouldn’t have watched it, to begin with. People who did like the other two, shouldn’t be moaning. Part Three refers to the same diverse yet enormously narrowed-down-Netflix audience that I’ve spoken before, so I fail to see what the same audience didn’t like. Was it the accents? The accents are not to be taken more seriously than the plot itself. The lesbian drama? Some people (or cultures) still take infidelity and homosexuality as seriously as back then. So, it’s trying. It really is. But I believe that the film’s message is as confused as its audience – consequently, is it the film to blame? And since I’m not really that trilogy’s audience, I just enjoy the confusion, turn it off, and go to bed.

Alas, the execution is that particular crowd-pleasing (?) result that, ultimately, is not Scream (1996), Friday the 13th (1980), or The Witch (2015). But don’t be overly alarmed, because it’s Fear Street! And it has its own character and it is the product of its era. Imagine you open a night club. Are you gonna play whatever song everyone is asking from you to play or are you gonna stick to the kind of music that characterises and defines your night club – and whoever the hell likes it? As a filmmaker, having to put up, unfortunately, with ignorant producers, that’s the dilemma. As audience, try to respect the hard work thousands of people have put into any project. And Leigh Janiak, and all cast and crew, have put a lot of work.

Stay safe!

P.S. Did anyone comment on the fact that maybe there is a connection to “Fear” Street and Sarah “Fier”? Food for thought…

Fear Street: Part Two – 1978 (2021): Drama/Horror/Mystery

The only survivors of the 1994 incidents, in an attempt to find a way to stop the evil, meet one of the survivors of the 1978 incident who remembers the horror.

Great modern, pop horror/comedy flick that entertains! Part Two resembles a lot more the 70s than Part 1 does the 90s. I guess cinema (technologically) evolves and it can’t really reenact the past. The vintage look seems to be just… gone. But then the atmosphere cannot fully be accurate either. Most likely, because very few from the cast and crew were alive or old enough to remember how people were talking or acting. There are film archives and means to find out but, as of yet, it seems that this accuracy will always be missing. I guess yet another reason will always the consideration of the audience. If it was ‘too 70s’ who would watch it?! Netflix seems to have established a particular audience already. It may be socially diverse but otherwise it looks quite narrowed down. Just in case you feel like casting stones, I have already surfaced and will keep surfacing exceptions that are shock to the system – especially its documentaries.

Focusing more on the film, as I kind of mentioned above, Part Two is entertainingly brutal! McCabe Sly makes a decent possessed/psycho ‘axe-man’ and Saddie Sink and Emily Rudd great on-screen sisters that face their personal demons way before the ‘axe-man’ starts taking heads off and everyone starts running amok. Overall, the sub-plot smoothly permeates the plot and both of them patiently escalate and lead to climax. The references to Stephen King (and ‘Shining’, for whoever got it), Friday the 13th series, and a couple of more that I cannot reveal, indicate the hard work that the crew has put into it to give us a good-feel, ‘throwback-style’ horror. Indicative, composers Marco Beltrami and Brandon Roberts have done an excellent job with the soundtrack, paying a great tribute to the one and only Jerry Goldsmith.

There are a few flaws that I could pick on as there are numerous strengths that I could point out (such as the sisters/climax scene). But I’m not gonna do it. Leigh Janiak seems to have a lot of passion for what she does and she does it well. Watch it, enjoy it, and… onto Part Three!

Stay safe!

P.S. It was great seeing Gillian Jacobs and Ryan Simpkins again in the same movie. Especially, after their stellar performances in the brilliant and underrated Gardens of the Night (2008): https://kaygazpro.com/2020/09/17/gardens-of-the-night-2008-drama/

The Tomorrow War (2021): Action / Adventure / Drama

On ordinary day, a group of soldiers arrives from the future to warn and train people and send them to the year 2051 to fight.

Visually stunning naivety for the whole family! Past the inciting incident, one can spot a realistic approach right off the bat. An approach that will soon be replaced by a high dose of Americanism. I’m not saying this is a good or a bad thing, but I’m saying that it focuses on a particular type of audience. Why I focus on that more than other times? Because it’s meant to be addressing international audience. It’s about saving the world and not a particular country.

During recruitment and basic training, I didn’t really feel it. Stanley Kubrick set the example in 1987 and it seems that Hollywood is still struggling to evoke or balance emotions. As the first encounter with the aliens, coincidentally, John McTiernan set another example the very same year. Scrolling credits aside, the film is about two hours and ten minutes and it still feels rushed. Something a tad more comparable to Full Metal Jacket and Predator respectively, would be War of the Worlds (2005). Steven Spielberg first dealt with aliens in the masterpiece Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) and, in 2005, he blew our socks off with realistically dramatic reactions to events deriving from science fiction to our deepest fears.

I’m gonna stop rumbling now though cause I sound bitter and spiteful and that was not my intention. So, I’m gonna end with a huge positive note. Director Chris McKay has brought to life Zach Dean’s script and the result is, generally, fulfilling. The film’s strongest moment is the closure of father/future-daughter relationship which is well shot and written and most definitely pays off. While at it, Yvonne Strahovski gets my round of applause here as she shines. It’s like she’s so proud of taking that role and she acts like it. She’s amazing. The Tomorrow War is a decent sci-fi summer flick with a number of standard Hollywood flaws but a great way to spend just over two hours with your favourite company – that includes your own. We may have not been attacked by aliens or saved the world yet, but we surely need a good-feel action to excite us a bit. Give it a shot. It’s worth the shot.

Stay safe!

P.S. You need to check these trivia about J.K. Simmons and his physique:

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt9777666/trivia?item=tr5821635

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt9777666/trivia?item=tr5821752

The Unholy (2021): Drama/Horror/Mystery

A disgraced journalist accidentally stumbles upon a girl that performs miracles that are of unholy nature.

Too fast, too soon, too much! Screen Gems used to know about how to build up horrors, but, as it’s Sony’s property, ends up producing standard, mainstream Hollywood, spoon-fed popcorn flicks. It’s like they summed up a bunch of clichés and put them together, making absolutely sure they didn’t miss any. What really makes you wanna keep watching is Jeffrey Dean Morgan. And if you have kept watching, it gets a tad better. Actually, you’ll get to find out what the Vatican considers a miracle and how they disprove it. Is that enough to keep watching tough?

My issue with the aforementioned standard Hollywood films is that they treat them as byproducts. Cheap meat coming out of the grinder for masses the studios consider unintellectual. Taking that into consideration, the studios seem to be taking no chances to explore different types of narrative. In The Unholy, the writing, after the inciting incident, gets solid, it’s just there is nothing to watch; nothing visually stunning stands out. Plus, all the information you want, the moment you want it is there. That decimates the suspense and leaves you with cheap jump-scares and nothing more. There are nano-to-low-budget films that break the rules or even invent new ones. It’s a shame to have millions to spend, be a mid-tier player, and take no risks. Why is this happening? As said earlier, they think that their audience is dumb. And that’s not nice. Horror fans are eccentric as they are insightful. Horror fans are resilient and are always up for the challenge. Studios should respect that and should challenge us with everything they have.

Oh, did I mention that CGI ruin horrors? I’m telling you again, the story is solid but the way plot unfolds ruins it and the CGI follow as a wrecking ball and smash it down. My comments are quite bitter not because of writer/director Evan Spiliotopoulos who does a decent job, but because of producer Sam Raimi who used to dominate the genre and now he has given in to Hollywood standards and, as I’m a huge fan of his, I expect so much more because I know he can do so much more. And I hope we get to see that sooner rather than later.

Oh well… At least, devout Catholics will get (even more) confused about faith and Church. That’s something.

Stay safe!

Fear Street Part One – 1994: Horror/Mystery

A group of teenagers finds themselves against an ancient evil that has plagued their town since the witch-hunt.

More entertaining than it is scary, the inciting incident is, hands down, a tribute to the late Wes Craven and Scream (1996). Kudos to director Leigh Janiak for that and the good old (somewhat) 90s feeling. Then… we come to the rest of acts 1, 2, and 3. On a serious note, the film’s initial mystery is pivotal. What is it, the curse of the witches or the conundrum of postmodern American society? Keep that question in mind… but not for the film. More likely, for a painful conversation every time your turn on the news and see young American men, women, and non-binary people having lost their lives to another young person who just happened to get a gun in their hands. But it’s neither the time nor the place for it.

On a less serious note, the answer to the question is rather simple. It’s the witch, and that’s it. Fear Street Part 1 is a concoction of elements, allegedly from the 90s, which it isn’t. It’s supposed to be scary – at times – but it isn’t. Respectively, it’s meant to be funny – at times – and even though it kinda is, it isn’t really. Think of it as… 90s for millennials? It sounds a bit unhinged; a combination of two worlds that cannot really be combined. In addition, as much as I crave for diversity, I am against the forced one. The diversity that doesn’t benefit minorities, but sells more tickets – or increases viewings. Craven, Carpenter, Romero, Raimi, etc… would never see this film as anything that remotely resembles that era. Why? Because they weren’t making movies worrying about what the social media, couch warriors and keyboard fighters might think of it afterwards. They didn’t try to please the masses. Did you like what they did? Awesome! Didn’t you like it? Awesome, again! Until the next one…

Having said that… Fear Street Part 1 is just an enjoyable Netflix-level, comedy/horror flick that will makes you forget (some of) your problems with decent acting, editing, and directing. Admittedly, I haven’t read the books but the script is a tad lazy. Gimmicks, jump scares, questionable last-minute saves, and clichés, unfortunately, reduce the suspense as well as the thrill. Maybe I am not the filmmakers’ target audience and maybe you’ll find it fascinating. If that’s the case, or whatever the case may be, I hope you enjoy it; it seems that cast and crew have gone the extra mile for it. Know what you sign up for, and you’ll be all right.

Stay safe!

A Quiet Place Part II (2021): Drama/Horror/Sci-fi

Right after losing her husband, Evelyn needs to take her kids to a safe place and find a way to use their new “weapon” of defense.

Intense, horrifying, and breathtaking first act (Day 1) that captivates before catching up with the present. From then on, and after the first “hunt”, the pace slows down but the thrill remains.

The parallel stories unfold equally well and their suspense escalates effectively, maintaining the initial thrill. And for that the credits go to the film’s editor, Michael P. Shawver. The good editor controls at all times the film’s pace and rhythm and reveals what only needs to be revealed and not what you or I would like to be revealed. The good editor also knows the footage they have, weaves the story’s plot, and defines the final cut – alongside actor/director John Krasinski, in this instance. The problem with so many match-cuts and identical parallel action is that it makes the plot more sci-fi than the alien beings themselves. That level of synchronisation, potentially for more mature audience, ruins the whatever believability a genre like that can have. Regardless, Krasinski’s greatest achievement here is directing the actors. He proves to be an actors’ director and that shows in the dramatic sequences – that’s what I think anyway. Without drama there is nothing to be thrilled about or anyone to empathise for. Speaking of, the incredible performances from Emily Blunt, Cillian Murphy, Millicent Simmons, Noah Jupe and Djimon Hounsou make you feel for each and every one of them for everything that’s happening to them. Furthermore, pay attention to the excellent use of sound… or the lack thereof!

There will always be the question regarding whether certain decisions were stupid or not, but then, if not every, almost every classic horror deals with ambiguous or moronic decisions for narrative purposes. A Quiet Place Part II respects its audience’s intelligence and offers a post-apocalyptic sci-fi/horror worthy of its predecessor that, in just over an hour and a half, excites and makes you forget pandemics, lockdowns, increased number of cases, vaccinations, and ridiculous politics.

Stay safe!

Another Round (2020): Comedy / Drama

Four high school teachers go out one night and decide, as part of an experiment, to consume daily certain amounts of alcohol and observe how that affects their lives.

Rightful Oscar and BAFTA winner for the ‘Best International Feature Film’ and ‘Best Film Not in the English Language’ category, respectively! Actually, all 41 wins and 55 nominations are firmly deserved! Extremely well written, shot, edited, directed, and acted! Another Round is Denmark’s instant classic! The first act patiently lays the foundation for the character establishment and justifies the reason and bizarre philosophy behind the unprecedented experiment. Each and every one of them has a story to tell and a way to contribute towards it. The second act sets the cogs in motion and bears the fruits of their experimentation, shocking the audience with its pseudo-scientific data and the pseudo-realistic cause-and-effect results. Writing, editing, framing, directing, and acting work together perfectly, creating a dark, yet realistic effect that alcohol has on us but also the people around us. We get to experience through Martin, Tommy, Nicolaj, and Peter how life’s difficulties can cloud our judgement and mislead us to places that no human should ever visit, but, ironically, learn from them and come back stronger. Or not…

The third act is the narrative’s kind of unexpected culmination but most definitely the totally unexpected hero’s arc. There is nothing I can say without spoiling it so, it is up to you to watch it, connect the dots, and, above all, unleash your feelings. Just know that it’s all Mads Mikkelsen doing it.

Martin was meant to have a son and a daughter, with the daughter being the director Thomas Vinterberg’s daughter. Tragically, four days into filming, at the age of 19 she died in a car crash – the film was dedicated to her and was shot in her old classroom with her classmates. I can’t even begin to imagine how he completed it. Part of the film’s idea was hers as alcoholism has been having a severe effect on Denmark’s youth for years now. As Vinterberg put it, the film is: ‘a survey and exploration not only of alcohol usage but of the uncontrollable.’ Another Round is a must-watch and is no wonder why it became critically and financially successful. A lot of heart and soul has been put into it and is available for you to explore.

Stay safe!

Crisis (2021): Drama/Thriller

The stories of an undercover cop, a grieving mother, and a professor facing a dangerous dilemma interweave as they find themselves fighting, in their own way, the war against drugs.

Very well-structured and paced thriller from the very beginning. The inciting incident occurs in the opening sequence and from then on, every player is introduced in minutes, making clear of who they are and what they do. The tragedy that hits Claire, every parent’s worst nightmare, is expressed vividly and tearfully by Evangeline Lilly. Respectively, Armie Hammer, Gary Oldman, Michelle Rodriguez, Greg Kinnear and Luke Evans become the characters they represent and shine on screen. Indira Varma, and Mia Kirshner, even though having small roles, add to the film’s great cast.

Crisis unfolds like a bomb waiting to explode. A pharmaceutical corporate thriller, an undercover mission, and a mother hell-bent on finding what happened to her dead son, gradually, through meticulously paced editing, start blending into one story that pins you to your seats. All three stories are equally dramatic and thrilling so when they come together you get the full force the script intended to offer. Nicholas Jarecki, the man behind Arbitrage (2012) pens that script, acts in it, and directs it and manages to attract a plethora of the aforementioned A-list actors.

I’m afraid, I’ll have to address the elephant in the room. Due to Hammer’s bad reputation and accusations the film did not perform well but let me be clear… thousands of people have worked on this film and they deserve recognition. Don’t let one name prevent you from a very decent cinematic experience. Crisis tackles very successfully, if not the most, one of the most severe plagues to have ever hit this planet. And it’s a realistic depiction of the war I mentioned above. A war that, unfortunately, seems to have no end. I hope you enjoy it.

Stay safe!

Censor (2021): Horror

A film censor starts investigating a video nasty that awfully resembles the case of her little sister’s disappearance.

Hauntingly realistic psychological horror that crawls under your skin. And so does the dramatic subplot that drives the story to its unexpected turn. What is it that we see? What it is that we want to see? How do we perceive what we see? Why do we perceive it the way we do? What is actually real? Keep these questions in mind… but not just throughout the film.

For those who are unfamiliar with the logline’s term, “video nasty” is a colloquial British term regarding, mostly, low budget films that include, among others, explicit gore and pornography. Even though they did have quite an impact in the UK, the impact was not as severe as the film makes it to be. Having said that, Censor will have an impact on you. For a film that deals explicitly with gore, it becomes the definition of psychological horror. Adapting her short film Nasty (2015), in less than an hour and a half, writer/director Prano Bailey-Bond fully develops Enid’s obscurity, deliberately misleads you using restrictive narrative – Enid’s perception – and presents to you the darkest side of cinema that becomes cult for the hardcore fans and appalling taboo for the masses. I’m not going to divulge anything about the narrative, watch it and pay attention to the minor details that explain what happens in the end. It makes it somewhat obvious but not overly obvious and, to a certain extent, open to interpretation.

From a filmmaking point of view: the Dutch angles, the transitions between locations, but also dark reality and nightmare, and the match-cuts that signify/betray that dark, distorted reality… reveal the behind the curtains (unconscious?) side of our lives that we fail (or choose to) not to look. Ultimately, the film tackles the way we perceive films and the role they play in our society. Is it film imitating life or the other way around? Are films to blame for the release of our darkest side? What about for what we do to one another? I guess the answer can be also found in the role of art in our lives. Other than Bailey-Bond, my round of applause goes to all cast and crew who believed in her project, and especially to Niamh Algar who nails her part, Annika Summerson’s cinematography, and Mark Towns’ editing who has been behind equally amazing horrors, such as: The Ritual (2017) https://kaygazpro.com/2018/10/26/the-ritual-2017-horror-mystery-thriller/ and St. Maud (2020) https://kaygazpro.com/2021/03/01/saint-maud-2020-drama-horror-mystery/

Stay safe!

The Courier (2020): Thriller

An ordinary businessman is approached by MI6 and the CIA to help them prevent the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Shockingly brilliant! The first act’s light mood raises suspicions as to how can a horrific historic event, such as that Crisis, be approached in such a manner. The suspicions fade away in warp speed though as Benedict Cumberbatch is thoroughly enjoyable and no one can moan about his performance. Rachel Brosnahan, on the other hand, plays her part equally amazingly and together they create the illusion that thrill, British phlegmatic humour, and action will entertain you for the rest of the film… Wrong!

The light mood is replaced by a genuine Cold War thriller that, if you weren’t around at the time, it will make you feel its threat to humanity and how close our world was to be devastated (again) by a third World War. Both character and story development move the story forward, intensify the suspense, and keep you on the edge of your seats by brilliantly pacing and unfolding actual events that shocked everyone when they saw the light of day.

As Greville Wynne’s story is not well-known though, and for most people remains to be seen what will become of him, Cumberbatch makes sure not to betray that, and succeeds in doing so. His performance becomes a shock to the system, following the turn the narrative takes towards the worst. Merab Ninidze’s presence is also captivating, putting the viewer in Oleg Penkovsky’s shoes and imminent danger he’s in.

What I also found shocking upon reading about it is the fact that, on IMDb, The Courier has 1 nomination… 1 nomination! That’s it! I have been reading, writing, and researching on this industry for so many years, and I still find myself scratch my head regarding who’s getting rewarded and under what criteria. Weinstein is gone (good riddance) but it seems that the gatekeepers and/or festivals still have ambiguous criteria of selecting their nominees and winners. Don’t let that put you off though. The film opened all over the world on Greville’s birthday and Tom O’Connor’s script gives justice to the relationship between the two men. Ultimately, Dominic Cooke’s The Courier is a masterpiece and it is definitely worth your time. An absolute must-watch spy thriller!

Stay safe!

In the Earth (2021): Horror/Sci-fi/Thriller

While a pandemic has swept across the world, a scientist and a park ranger venture out into the woods to find a fellow scientist who may have had a significant breakthrough.

Brutal, psychedelic, relatable, but overly intricate horror that defies Hollywood’s conventions. From the very beginning to the first plot point one gets the feeling that the editing choices – the jump cuts – are eager to move the story forward. Move it towards where, is a good question. In the meantime, Martin’s secrets and, somehow, obvious dishonesty seem to be preparing the ground for something that will play a role when the twist reveals itself.

Scenes like the “stitching” and the “ritual” turn the sci-fi from torture horror into something more… folklore! As the psychological drama keeps blending with the gore, the suspense intensifies and one can only wonder how can this possibly have a happy ending. Before you find out what kind of ending the film is gonna have, the experimental chase sequence reveals more information and, in an intricate way, the combination of utterances and actions up to that point start making sense. Due to the film’s nature, it is difficult to go into it further without spoiling for you, so this is where I am going to stop.

Ever since Kill List (2011), writer/editor/director Ben Wheatley has been one of my favourite filmmakers of his generation. Kill List was his first and massively successful effort to switch from a realistically gritty thriller to a cult horror that defies reason. In the Earth is not far off, but its experimental, hallucinatory and psychedelic nature, at times, gives a whole new different vibe. The film’s photography (Nick Gillespie) and 80s music score (Clint Mansell) become assets to a convoluted, and head-scratching narrative that ultimately confuses, but I’ll dare say that it does not disappoint. I’ve heard a truck load of awfully negative comments and I believe that this is the result of false expectations. Small things that influenced me a tad negatively are sequences that involve the aforementioned secrecy and dishonesty that didn’t really lead anywhere therefore, it was just misleading for no apparent reason. Other than that, Joel Fry, Ellora Torchia, Hayley Squires, and Reece Sharesmith have a great chemistry between them and deliver amazingly convincing performances.

What you’ll make of it, depends on your understanding of the narrative. Pay close attention to what is said in all three acts. Our current pandemic is obviously the film’s source of inspiration, but its development is a Ben Wheatley original film with twists and rich visuals.

Stay safe!

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 Night Of: A Case Study of Realism in HBO’s Cinematic World

What is ‘real’? According to the Cambridge dictionary: ‘existing in fact and not imaginary’i. Therefore, one could argue that what you watch in cinema or on TV is not real, but realistic: ‘seeming to exist or be happening in fact’ii. This article’s aim is not linguistics and most definitely not an in-depth, intricate and eye-bleeding Lacanian psychoanalytic approach on how to perceive what you watch and why. These are never-ending academic debates that don’t mean much outside the Academia, replace the art with science, and, to a certain extent, convolute the moviegoers’ cinematic experience. Yet, I will very briefly – I promise – combine the absolute basics with my experience of watching the HBO/BBC joint project, The Night Of (2016). Minor spoilers are included, but I will deliberately leave certain details and the ending out. My goal is, mostly, to emphasise on the first episode and what it achieves to do and how it does it. If you have watched it, it may offer you a different perspective, and, if you haven’t, to prepare you for a yet another existential HBO achievement. Get comfy…

Logline: After spending a debaucherous night with a woman he had never met, a young man wakes up finding her stabbed to death, and charged with murder.

‘The Beach’ is, arguably, one of the most slow-burn and intense first episodes in a series or miniseries. It is also one of the biggest investments in both character and story development and I would consider it a masterclass in the narrative/editing relationship. What we get to know about Nasir, how people perceive him, the way he wants to be perceived by his peers and, especially, women are all parts of him that need to carefully develop before the inciting incident takes place. And after the alleged establishment of who he is, it happens! The girl he instantly falls for and cares about is stabbed to death, Nasir loses it, everything he can do wrong, he does it, and, ultimately, he gets caught accidentally for something else that he also did wrong. All this wrongdoing creates so many questions in the audience’s mind that, inevitably, places them into Nasir’s shoes and that is the realism I was referring to earlier. ‘What happened?’. ‘What would I have done?’. ‘How is he going to prove he is not guilty?’ All these questions are created while, at the same time, Detective Dennis Box and his future lawyer John Stone are also introduced.

For anyone who is not familiar with, I’d like to introduce a couple of terms from Warren Buckland:

Restricted and Omniscient Narration: In restricted narration, the audience and the character share the same information whereas in omniscient narration the audience has access to more information than the character(s) separately. Regardless, the director is the one that, at any given point, decides how much the spectators need (not want) to knowiii.

Everything you know so far, or you think you know, comes through Nasir’s eyes. As much as you would like to know a lot more about what is going on, you don’t. What you do get to know very well though is what is happening in Nasir’s head and the editor is solely responsible for that. Before I go into it, always keep in mind this: Every sequence you watch on the screen comprises of carefully selected and trimmed shots, picked from numerous reels of that very sequence that has been filmed in numerous ways, numerous times. Even though the following is merely an example, it encapsulates the meaning that editing creates and how that particular meaning builds up the suspense while moving the story patiently, and cautiously forward.

While being caught for something minor and waiting at the police station, Nasir realises that this is his last chance to sneak out (yet another wrong decision). Not a single word is said, yet, through the extremely effective editing, the audience can ‘read’ his thoughts. And that becomes a paradigm of how ‘show, don’t tell’ works.

Nothing needs to be said because everything has been shown. The pace and rhythm that define the suspense build-up, ultimately pays off and, by the end of it, creates the perfect cliffhanger, preparing the ground for the suspense’s prolongation. Before he ultimately gets caught with incriminating evidence, as you can see from the last shot, the Detective who plays a significant role later on shows up at the police station, and after a series casual events and incidents, only then the audience realises that now it is too late for Nasir to do anything. Buckland would say that: any sequence that does not directly contribute to the conflict’s resolution is a ‘Delay of Resolution’iv.

If it wasn’t for these delays, any film or series would have been significantly shorter and the audience would get, potentially, the desired results the moment they wanted them. Fortunately, not getting what we want when we want it is part of this cinematic experience that mirrors life itself – excludes people who always got what they wanted.

The Night Of is not just the brilliant first episode though. Everything that happened, happened to lay the foundation for the next episodes to build on. The legalities, the charges, the transport, the detention… Through the eyes of a young man who has never experienced anything like it, but never even had such a horrible nightmare, you, the audience, get to live this nightmare with him as you go through every step of the process. And it is excruciating. And to make it even more horrible, as if that was possible, you become omniscient and you get to experience his parents’ agonising pain too. The Paradigmatic Narrationv: each segment introduces a new story, location or character(s)… introduces new faces as it unfolds and gets scarier by the minute. The series seems to be changing direction and becomes more and more of a case study on ‘what will happen to you if you end up in jail’. At the same time though, two questions flare up: If he hasn’t done it, who has? And, how will his innocence be proved? What has been achieved so far is the plot to stay in focus and the sublots to amalgamate with the sole purpose of supporting it and, consequently, advancing the story. And one of the many paths the story leads to is what was invested in the first episode; the hero’s metamorphosis. A metamorphosis that will, gradually, raise unexpected questions that will pile on the already unanswered ones and will make, especially, one rise to the top: Is he actually innocent?

As mentioned in the beginning, my goal is to bring this miniseries to your attention as it, instantly, got mine with its diverse techniques but also its realism. And to be perfectly clear with what I mean by saying ‘realism’, and not get caught into respectable theoretical arguments, I have summarised it the best possible way I could:

Susan Hayward, analysing realism and realism in cinema, states:

The term realism comes from a literary and art movement of the nineteenth century which went against the grand tradition of classical idealism and sought to portray ‘life as it really was’. […] Film as cinema makes absence presence, it puts reality up on to the screen. It purports to give a ‘truthful’ view of the ‘real world’ through the presentation it provides of the characters and their environment. […] There are, arguably, two types of realism with regard to film. First, seamless realism, whose ideological function is to disguise the illusion of realism. Second, aesthetically motivated realism, which attempts to use the camera in a non-manipulative fashion and considers the purpose of realism in its ability to convey a reading of reality, or several readings evenvi.

Andre Bazin claims that the arguments surrounding realism derive from a ‘misunderstanding’, a bewilderment between these two types: the aesthetic (aesthetically motivated) and the psychological (seamless). He refers to the former as true realism: ‘the need that is to give significant expression to the world both concretely and its essence’, and the latter as: ‘pseudorealism of a deception aimed at fooling the eye (or for that matter the mind); a pseudorealism content in other words with illusory appearances’vii.

Film theory has no immediate applications to the average viewer who wants to enjoy a film or a series. Personally, regardless how much I have studied or worked in film, I try to ‘live’ the moment when I watch something. And The Night Of felt like a ‘based-on-a-true-story’ to me. Towards the end, see what happens with the suspects. Think about their motives. Think about how they act and if you like them or not. Even though, does it matter? Have you made up your mind already? Are you more confused? Such narrative is meant to deceive you and editing is the best tool to do so. Every ‘whodunit’ is meant to be misleading, and the right combination of narratives needs to get you engaged while, purposefully, misguide you but not insult you by feeding you with lies. I find intriguing the difference between withholding the truth, and lying.

A couple of personal notes… The Night Of is presented like a dramatised documentary on how the American wheels of justice work. The people’s apathy, the system’s autopilot, the lawyers’ rivals… all that become the charade behind the scales that leans between a doomed life eternally ruined and an ambitions life where hope is still alive. What I found very interesting from the very beginning is the police officers’ attitude towards crime but also criminals. At first, it strikes as indifference which is somewhat annoying, but give it some time, the truth is much worse; it is habit. There is nothing they have not seen. They take crimes and criminals as a matter of course. Detective Box is called as a witness in court and the lawyer tries to corner him:

Chandra

I am not saying that you consciously thought about it.

I am wondering if, maybe, it was subconscious. If you

were having doubts about his guilt from the beginning.

Detective Box

Subconscious?

Chandra

Mm-hmm.

Detective Box

Well, if one could describe what goes on in their

subconscious mind, then it wouldn’t be subconscious,

would it? So, there is no way for us to know. Unless, you

got Freud out there waiting to be called.

HBO productions, among others, have always paid attention to the character development, and dialogue has been a big part of it: Every series they have produced has numerous lines that one can only wonder how they come up with that stuff, in so many different levels. The Sopranos (1999), The Wire (2002), The Leftovers (2014), True Detective (2014) Westworld (2016), Big Little Lies (2017), Sharp Objects (2018), Chernobyl (2019), The Outsider (2020)… all these are prime examples of how to make a series; of how to start, develop, and finish it in a way that will not only meet the audience’s expectations, but will by far exceed them1.

Even though is not part of the article, before I conclude, I would like honorary mention that none of the realism or narrative techniques that I mentioned earlier would be effective if the acting was not solid. Riz Ahmed, John Torturro, Bill Camp, Payman Maadi, Poorna Jagannathan, Amara Karan, Jeannie Berlin, Paul Sparks, and Michael Kenneth Williams give astonishing performances, engaging you, and leaving you with no choice but to empathise with them, love them, loathe them, and/or truly feel for their suffering. It is a shame that the late James Gandolfini passed a month after putting the producer’s hat on and never saw how brilliant his project ended up being.

Maybe, one day, I will write about why Hollywood keeps casting British actors portraying Americans when very rarely the opposite ever happens and what are the criteria behind casting specific actors for specific roles. Again, not really part of this article, but what got me thinking (further) was casting Glen Fleshler, and Adam LeFevre as Judges; juxtapose their current position to previous roles of theirs. But this is yet another story for another time – just saying.

To conclude, I am not here to dictate to you how to interpret films and series, but I would like to give away signs that will help you interpret them yourselves, and see for yourselves that a captivating narrative encompasses numerous techniques to irreversibly appeal to you, stimulate your senses, and make you question what you know or you think you know. As the story develops, chances are that you will pick on details here and there (i.e., the prison environment, Chandra’s choices and unknown future) and you even, maybe, build an argument on why this was not your cup of tea. Be it as it may, this is the way The Night Of articulates the story, evoking certain feelings that you might find confusing. Upon watching it though, honestly, swear that, beyond the shadow of a doubt, you have figured out how the cogs of life work.

Thank you kindly for reading.

Stay safe!

References

1Just in case you picked on True Detective, season 2, please, read my counterarguments here: http://theworldofapu.com/true-detective-2014-2019/

i(Anon) (2021). ‘Real’. [Online]. Available: <https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/real>

ii(Anon) (2021). ‘Realistic’. [Online]. Available: <https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/realistic>

iiiBuckland, W. (2006). Directed by Steven Spielberg: Poetics of the Contemporary Hollywood Blockbuster. New York: Continuum, pp. 44-51

ivBuckland, W.,pp. 44-51

vBuckland, W.,pp. 44-51

vi Hayward, S. (2006) Cinema Studies: The Key Concepts. Third Edition. Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group. p. 334

vii Bazin, A (2005) What is Cinema? Vol. 1. University of California Press Berkeley, Los Angeles, London. p. 12

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!