The Middle Man (2021): Comedy/Drama

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stearns is the man behind the equally quirky, awkward, and unconventional The Art of Self-defence (2019): Yet another film that focuses on martial arts, without taking them seriously, to the point that actually questions their existence.

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

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

Toga (2023): Comedy/Drama

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

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

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

So, if you have watched Upstate Story (2018):, watch Toga to see where the hero’s journey ends. If you haven’t… watch both!

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

Cocaine Bear (2023): Comedy/Thriller

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

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

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

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

Babylon (2022): Comedy/Drama/History

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Menu (2022): Comedy/Horror/Thriller

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

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

Writers Seth Reiss and Will Tracy and director Mark Mylod’ The Menu, like so many films of Searchlight Pictures, is the fresh breath that Hollywood needs. I’ve used that expression before with production companies such as HBO and A24. It’s like slowly and gradually Hollywood reinvents itself, producing films like this one, Pearl (2022): and Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (2015): while still making, of course, superficial and somewhat insulting films of the likes of Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2022):

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

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

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

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

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

The Banshees of Inisherin (2022): Comedy/Drama

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

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

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

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

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

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

White Noise (2022): Comedy/Drama/Horror

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

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

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

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

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Thoroughbreds (2017): Comedy/Crime/Drama

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With It’s Kind of a Funny Story, I conclude the list of some of my favourite comedies/dramas/romances that Hollywood has managed to hit the nail on the head. While I am not a huge fan of romances, I cannot not appreciate the efforts of the directors, writers, editors, cinematographers, actors, and all cast and crew that have contributed to making these films as amazing as they are. The rest of the list includes Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (2015):, The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012):, Ruby Sparks (2012):, and The Rules of Attraction (2002): and 500 Days of Summer (2009):

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

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

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

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

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

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

500 Days of Summer belongs to the category of films I have been revisiting these days and truly believe they deserve your attention. Other films that do too are Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (2015):, The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012):, Ruby Sparks (2012):, and The Rules of Attraction (2002): More to follow!

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

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

Comet (2014): Comedy/Drama/Romance

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

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

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

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

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

As I’ve said before, the exploration of the human mind through voiceovers, monologues, dialogues, and generally the provocative inner conflict belongs to a series of films I’m currently revisiting and reviewing and I believe that has gone largely under the radar. Comet is definitely part of that series that adds to Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (2015):, The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012):, Ruby Sparks (2012):, and The Rules of Attraction (2002): More to follow!

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

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

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

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

Here are a few interesting details about the film.

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

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

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

The exploration of the human mind through voiceovers, monologues, dialogues, and generally the provocative inner conflict belongs to a series of films I’m currently revisiting and reviewing and I believe that has gone largely under the radar. If that one sounds like your cup of tea, you should definitely visit or revisit: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (2015):, The Perks of Being a Wallflowerย (2012):ย, and Ruby Sparks (2012): More to follow!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Ruby Sparks (2012): Comedy/Drama/Fantasy

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

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

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

Again, you can make whatever you want of it, there are no right or wrong answers. If there is something certain that is the fact that it is beautifully made and worth your while. Ruby Sparks is part of a series of films that I believe belongs to Hollywood’s most appealing side – and I review them back to back. Similar films I have reviewed and couldn’t recommend more are: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (2015) and The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012): ย

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

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

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

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

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

Silent Night (2021): Comedy/Drama

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

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

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

The concept of the film is not original, but there is no such thing nowadays, anyway. It’s a Disaster (2012), Seeking a Friend for the End of the World (2012) and This is the End (2013) are great films that have explored the world’s last hours and the human reaction to it. While there are numerous more films out there dealing with it, a few of my favourite apocalyptic ones are On the Beach (2000) – one of my first-ever reviews, so I am not posting it, Knowing (2009):, These Final Hours (2013):, and Don’t Look Up (2021):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Violent Night (2022): Action/Comedy/Crime

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8-Bit Christmas (2021): Comedy/Family

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

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

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

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

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Sint (2010): Comedy/Horror

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

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

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

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Amsterdam (2022): Comedy/Drama/History

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

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

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

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

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Everything, Everywhere, All At Once (2022): Action/Adventure/Comedy

A woman who struggles with everyday life engages with every aspect of her multiverse self to save every universe.

Funny, exciting, surrealistic, and absolutely brilliant! The opening sequence at the laundromat sets the film’s pace and rhythm. It introduces the heroes and heroines, establishes their characters, and makes it clear where everyone stands in the world. The dialogues are sharp, the editing is “snappy”, and the inciting incident (Alpha Waymond) moves the story forward to the second act.

From then on, The Matrix (1999) meets The One (2001). The Multiverse and the infinite versions of everyone’s self clashing create a concoction of euphoric and exciting emotions that, combined with the action and the underlying drama, offers a unique cinematic experience. I am certain that full analyses will be written in the near and distant future about this film, but, for now, I’ll just leave you with these few comments in an attempt to urge you to watch it. If I were still a film student or ignorant of how the ropes work, I couldn’t for the life of me figure out how writers/directors Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (aka the Daniels) pitched that script to production companies. Honestly, how does anyone ask for funding, pitching sequences where a butt-naked security guy jumps out of nowhere and lands on an oval tax award, aiming to connect to a different universe and engage with a more equipped to the occasion self? How about a female couple with hotdog fingers, licking each other’s mustard… Yes, hotdog fingers. Licking each other’s mustard – no euphemisms, here!

Being a bit more pragmatic/cynical nowadays though, and by reading the end credits, I can only assume that executive producers Joe and Anthony Russo made the green light turn a lot easier just by showing up. The Russos believed in the Daniels’ script and helped bring it to life. And, personally, I applaud them. Actually, I applaud all cast and crew for giving themselves 100%. And by doing so, Everything Everywhere All At Once became A24’s greatest financial and critical success. Michelle Yeoh matures like the finest wine and for over three decades has offered nothing but excitement, cry, and laughter, and, here, all of the above. Alongside her, Ke Huy Quan, best known for his stellar performances as Short Round in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) and Data in Goonies (1985), Stephanie Hsu, James Hong, and, the one and only, Jamie Lee Curtis who will have you in stitches.

Everything Everywhere All At Once is your must-see for this year and so is Men (2022):, another A24 cinematic achievement. I may constantly sound like I’m sponsored by A24, but rest assured I am not. I praise them because they have the guts to produce scripts that other production companies wouldn’t even read ten pages. They are phenomenal in what they do and they immensely add to the worldwide cinema’s evolution.

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P.S. I certainly didn’t speak highly of the Russo’s last film The Gray Man (2022): but, here, even as producers, they utterly redeem themselves.

P.P.S. Language, generational differences, and political/existential beliefs are the film’s underlying themes. Look out for clues while watching.

A Man Called Ove (2015): Comedy/Drama/Romance

After his wife dies, a bad-tempered old man loses the will to live, especially when his new neighbours arrive.

Loneliness, old age, cynicism… and not necessarily in that order. Right off the bat, from the opening sequence, Ove (Rolf Lassgรฅrd) steals the show as the non-bending tree that will take on the whole world. A man who once was fortunate enough to find happiness… but sadly and abruptly that happiness left him.

The initial emotional flashback provides the right amount of information about who Ove was before he became the dishevelled version of his current self. The sweet and sour present, the dark humour of the twisted fate that doesn’t allow him to leave life on his own terms will make you smile while, strangely, making your heart skip a beat. As the flashbacks unfold, his younger self’s social awkwardness, the determination to overcome it, and the introduction of the wonderful Sonja add plenty of colour to the life of a man who paints it all black. From then on, fate’s mysteries and intricacies will lead you to something that you will have to see for yourselves.

Based on the novel by Fredrik Backman, writer/director Hannes Holm creates an incredibly nostalgic comedy/drama for all ages and sexes, and 27 wins, and 18 nominations – 2 Oscars amongst them – are not enough to praise this Swedish quality of a film. Rolf Lassgรฅrd, Bahar Pars, Ida Engvoll, and Filip Berg’s performances are priceless – including Orlando and Magic, the two cats involved. For the life of me, in the end, I “saw” the black hole of despair Ove was in, but before I got sucked in, I got pulled out by… Sonja. You’ll see…

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The Art of Self-Defense (2019): Action/Comedy/Crime

A socially awkward and self-doubting young man decides to join an eccentric dojo after being attacked on the street.

Awkward, sarcastic, dark, misleadingly funny, but disturbingly dramatic under the surface. The Art of Self-Defense is a case study from numerous aspects, and choosing that particular martial art as a means to “prove” it, brings a questionable and head-scratching outcome. Here it goes…

As per IMDb, writer/director Riley Stearns also trains and teaches Brazilian jiu-jitsu. The picture on the dojo’s wall is of Grandmaster Morihei Ueshiba Osensei, the founder of aikido. In the same dojo, Sensei (Alessandro Nivola) while respecting Osensei and preaching his ways, he teaches Karate. Taking for granted that Stearns knows they are three different martial arts and that he doesn’t undermine his audience’s intelligence, I come to the conclusion that the mix-up is deliberately placed there, and more particularly, in Casey’s head.

Other than the martial arts, there are quite a few things that don’t add up. Without any spoilers, that particular punch at the office in regard to the extremely mild consequences, the answering machine’s message, the night class, the characters comprising it, the normally accepted old-fashioned patriarchy and misogyny, the dog(s) and how that relates to the film’s denouement, the Sensei himself… These, and a lot more, don’t connect properly in the end, leading me to believe that Stearns follows a “Lynchian” way of storytelling.

I can’t say a lot more, and I don’t want to, really. Stearns has created a dark psychological comedy/drama that you’ll either love it or loathe it. Expect surrealistic reactions and events that, when thought of in a real-case scenario, they would create emotional contradictions. Jesse Eisenberg, Alessandro Nivola, and Imogen Potts impress with the way they choose to conceal, implode and explode their emotions, delivering the unpredictable performances the obscure narrative demands. I hope you appreciate it.

Stay safe!

P.S. Eisenberg and Potts collaborated again the same year in yet another allegorical/psychological film that deserves your attention. Vivarium (2019):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay safe!

People Like Us (2012): Comedy/Drama

After his dad dies, a man is obliged to give a large amount of money to a sister he never knew he had.

Based on a real drama, it evokes the right emotions despite its Hollywood style. Sales… Right off the bat, you get the pressure of selling and then selling some more in a fast-paced montage that increases the tension. And, in the end, for what? When Sam (Chris Pine) and Richards (Jon Favreau) meet, you get instantly the answer. Sales…

Anyway, when the pace slows down, the drama kicks in and starts speaking volumes of who Sam is, and what kind of a relationship him and his family have, revealing the complications with the people considered to be the closest to him. But the pace picks up again with Frankie’s introduction (Elizabeth Banks), offering an upbeat rhythm that relaxes the drama, adds the right comedic elements with her charm, and gets you comfortable in your couch wanting to see where this is heading and how it is going to end up. The hero’s journey begins with the question, how is he going to tell her?

There are plenty of montage sequences that can be characterised as too “American”, making it somewhat a “popcorn” flick, but, personally, I wasn’t distracted by it. The film’s narrative has two major qualities: As audience you know as much as Sam knows and that is enough to elevate the suspense because we already know that one thing that Frankie doesn’t. Additionally, the delay of resolution only perpetuates the inevitable and adds to the already intensified suspense, giving you enough time to contemplate the depth of the situation everyone is in.

When I first watched it, I found it difficult to believe that the people who wrote it and directed it, Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman respectively, are the same people behind blockbuster franchises, such as Transformers and Star Trek. I didn’t think they could pull off a drama like this, but I was pleasantly surprised I might say.

Based on true events, People Like Us finds a place in out hearts, and, despite its flaws, Chris Pine, Elizabeth Banks, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Olivia Wilde compensate plenty enough and what they are going through, in the end, becomes the relatable sweet and sour story that was promised in the first act. Have a go at it, you won’t regret it. It’ll put a smile on your face as much as it’ll bring you tears.

Lastly, Elizabeth Banks has no reason to get political because she is losing her charm and charisma as an actress. She is very talented and appreciated despite the couple of hits and misses that she has faced. She is a diverse actress and I believe she can take on a variety of roles, actually, on whatever studios land on her plate.

Stay safe!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay safe!

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

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

Better Watch Out (2017): Comedy/Horror/Thriller

When the parents decide to have a Christmas night out, they hire a babysitter for their teenage boy, but what seems to be a home invasion will make their night a living hell.

The Christmas horror for the whole (15 and over) family. Expect something like Home Alone (1990) meets The Babysitter (2017). The premise, at first, is simple. The parents want to have a Christmas night out, they hire the neighbourhood’s beautiful girl to babysit their teenage boy, they leave, and not long after, a home invasion shakes them to their core. From what I see, IMDb doesn’t disclose much, if anything, so, I’ll make it deliberately generic, and keep it as well spoilers-free.

Very well structured both in terms of script and execution. In less than ten minutes, every character has been introduced as well as the house with all its rooms. The inciting incident is very well disguised and when it reveals itself, it shocks! From then on, there is a roller coaster of incidents that take place one after the other in a synchronised manner, not very well timed to keep it real, not too messy to confuse. Overall, in less than an hour and a half, Better Watch Out brutally entertains, horrifies, and leaves you in the end with wanting some more. Olivia DeJonge, Levi Miller, and Ed Oxenbould have an amazing chemistry between them and shine in front of the camera. I wish I could say more, but I will stop here.

Behind the camera, writer Zach Kahn and writer/director Chris Peckover create the kind of mixed genre that I particularly like. Comedy/horror is not easy to make. To be able to scare someone but also make them laugh takes a lot of consideration and preparation as these are polar opposite feelings. And to blend them into a film, especially involving kids, imposes a risk to the filmmakers when pitching such a project to the producers and distributors. Why? The target audience is not clear to them which means that it will potentially be unclear to the audience too. And from what I read, it didn’t do particularly well. But don’t be alarmed by that. As I’ve said before a few times, especially this time of the year, this is the kind of fictional excitement we need from the comfort of our couch. The one outdoors is definitely the one that we neither want nor need.

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

Stay safe!

P.S. Olivia DeJonge and Ed Oxenbould play brother and sister in M. Night Shyamalan’s The Visit (2015).

Krampus (2015): Comedy/Drama/Fantasy

While the whole extended family has gathered, a boy condemns Christmas and unwillingly summons the demon of the festive period.

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989) goes dark in 20′! Funny opening sequence with everyone desecrating the Christmas spirit leads to the troubled family at hand and the visit of their extended family that immediately amplifies the troubles. The comedy element so far prevails and the kid’s wish becomes the necessary plot point that switches it to horror. Interestingly, IMDb does not classify Krampus as horror, but I’m sure if any of our families were involved in a remotely similar situation, it would be.

The moment the demon is introduced, Krampus turns really dark, eerie, and atmospheric, offering immediately the vibe of hopeless and desolating Christmas. Writer/director Michael Dougherty, the man behind Trick ‘r Treat (2007) manages once more to get into the spirit of the respective festive period and entertains us with balanced laughter, family gore and the incarnation of the brutal Austrian/German pagan demon and his minions. Evil teddy bear-type toys, angel ornaments, a Jack-in-a box (that swallows kids), a robot, and numerous gingerbread cookie monsters offer pleasurable cinematic deaths and keep you company for over an hour and a half.

Personally, my favourite sequence is Omi’s animated flashback. This is the kind of storytelling Tim Burton would be proud of. It is heartbreaking and annihilates human nature. Its message that the adults pass on the torch of darkness to the kids, and they carry it on only to do the same with theirs, cuts my breath.

What the narrative’s evilness achieves, is both likeable and dislikeable characters to become relatable to the audience. You cannot help but empathise even for the suffering of those who, at first, you wouldn’t mind if they got rid of from the beginning. No one, especially around Christmas, deserves to experience such family-level brutality. And this is where the “success” of films like Krampus are based on: Christmas spirit massacre with a paradoxical message of hope. Pay close attention to the ending as there are two ways to interpret it. Which one do you choose?

So… Does Christmas romance depress you? Do Christmas comedies bore you? Does Christmas drama leave you indifferent? Well, try Christmas horror/comedy. Try Krampus! The answer to what if Santa went rogue (we’ve seen with Superman already).

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

Stay safe!

P.S. While watching the opening slo-mo sequence with everyone busting in and fighting over Christmas stuff like it’s the end of the world, I couldn’t help but imagine people in 2020 and toilet paper. You know what I mean…

Office Christmas Party (2016): Comedy

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay safe!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay safe!

Tone-Deaf (2019): Comedy/Horror/Thriller

A woman down on her luck decides to rent a house in the countryside for the weekend only to find out that it belongs to a psychopath.

Entertaining, scary, and surrealistically crazy! I bet you’ve heard about these two types of films: character-driven and story-driven. Well, this is one helluva crazy character-driven comedy/horror by Richard Bates Jr. who did his absolute best to gather and develop characters you would only think of if you were on dope. Honestly, it’s one of them films that you don’t know how or why to suggest it to anyone, yet you do.

Like quite a few other horrors lately, Tone-Deaf (or Killer Instinct?) focuses on the Grand Canyon-size gap between the Millennials, and the old-fashioned, not politically-correct people, makes fun of both by breaking the 4th wall, and soliloquies that are meant to make you think, but also entertain you. Do they achieve that though? Yes and no. They set the foundation of contemplation but don’t delve into it and, consequently, they end up unnoticeable.

I enjoyed it for the most part, especially some anecdotal parts, such as the sequence in the Tinder guy’s place (no spoilers), but I was disappointed with the ending. I found the second act’s last dialogues childish, rushed, and out of character. Surely, that could have been improved but most definitely wasn’t. Anyway, it’s a film that will take your mind off things, Robert Patrick’s and Amanda Crew’s performances are quite enjoyable, and they make quite the team as the villain and anti-heroine respectively.

Stay Safe!

Snatchers (2019): Comedy/Horror/Sci-fi

A teenage girl has sex for the first time and wakes up the next day pregnant with an alien that wants to multiply and conquer the world.

Funny and entertaining, that’s it! Starting off with living, breathing high school clichรฉs, I couldn’t see how this was going to be promising. Boy, am I glad to be wrong. Snatchers might not be horror per se but, as aforementioned, it is funny and highly entertaining! Mary Nepi, Gabrielle Elyse, J.J. Nolan, Austin Fryberger, Rich Fulcher, and Ashley Argota are nailing their parts and under the meticulous guidance of the directors Stephen Cedars and Benji Kleiman, who are in full control of every shot they’ve taken, and through ‘snappy’ editing, they control the narrative’s pace and rhythm throughout all acts. I know it’s not a film that has been or will be talked about, but films like Snatchers highly indicate that editing defines principal photography. In other words, postproduction starts in preproduction however convoluted that may sound.

There is so much to say about certain filmmaking details, just like the one mentioned above, but, honestly, I find no reason to implicate film theories when you can just enjoy it without my verbosity. It makes one wonder the reasons behind certain malicious reviews when, even just watching the trailer, you know what you sign up for. The script’s nonsensical trajectory makes actually sense as it adds to the non-believability which is actually intentional and slyly parodies similar actual horror films that most of us have grown up with.

To sum it up, Snatchers is great fun, especially for millennials but not only. Don’t take it seriously as, again, intentionally, it doesn’t take seriously itself. Something that I actually prefer to self-righteous and self-important films that aim to pseudo-philosophise, be wannabe didactic, or end up being pedantic. Based on the 2015, 6-minute homonymous short film by the same directors and main actors, Snatchers earns its stripes in the comedy/horror pantheon and I very much look forward to watching Kleiman’s and Cedars’ next project. Remember, the comedy-horror balance is not written on stone and it takes a whole village to be achieved.

Stay safe!

Other People (2016): Comedy/Drama

An underachieving gay writer returns home after many years to support his terminally I’ll mom… and face the rest of the family.

The type of American cinema that knows what to cut out, when, and how to balance feelings. Succeeding in making a comedy/drama is as hard as making a comedy/horror. And Other People will make you laugh as much as it will make you cry. Jesse Plemons and Molly Shannon make an excellent on-screen duet and writer/director Chris Kelly gives them the opportunity to shine and evoke all the intended emotions.

Tragicomedy describes all three acts with little things such as the milkshake order, which in its simplicity I found genuinely hilarious, or mum farting. The dialogues are authentic and the performances are immense. There is so much I could say to connect film theories on cinematic realism to the independent American cinema but I see no reason to do so. Therefore, I’ll keep this one shorter than usual and hope that you get the chance to watch it and laugh and cry and, respectively, recommend it to as many people as possible to share your experience. Because, as we tend to think, real-life events such as the ones unfolding in the film are situations experienced only by… other people.

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!

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!

Ready or Not (2019): Comedy / Horror / Mystery

As part of an initiation, a bride, on her wedding night, needs to play a sinister family tradition game.

The line between horror and comedy hangs in the balance. How much of each is needed to scare people but also make them laugh? But then, what kind of humour does one use against the gore? And what if it is psychological? These questions, and more, have no definite answers. Script, directing, editing, and acting, all need to work like a Swiss watch to evoke both feelings. I know that this applies for every genre but the emotions here are antithetical and, I guess, that makes, as I said, the balance is delicate.

Everyone plays their part brilliantly. Other than Samara Weaving who deserves every win for playing Grace, Nicky Guadagni, as the deranged aunt Helene is bloody hilarious. The script is tight, maintaining that “delicacy”, and the duo Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett do an incredible job behind the camera. Other than the upcoming Scream (2022) they are also responsible for the “10/31/98” V/H/S (2012) segment and Southbound (2015) which I will watch again and review it straight away.

Very interestingly, Weaving is playing the reversal of her role in The Babysitter (2017). Now, that I’ve seen her in both sides of the fence, as prayer and prey respectively, I can say with certainty that, other than impressive woman, she is an impressive actress as well and she’s been in two of my favourite horror/comedies that I’ve seen in recent years. She’ll be an even more sought-after actress as the years pass by.

Bloody gore, naive fatalities, fancy costumes, hilarious profanity, surrealistic family complexities, and limitless buffoonery will keep you entertained for an hour and a half, offering an escape from what you see on the news every day.

Stay safe!

Come to Daddy (2019): Comedy / Horror / Mystery

A letter from his estranged father requesting a visit will make a young man go to his remote cabin in an attempt to reconnect with him.

I always find it intriguing how does one pitch films like this. Right off the bat, Come to Daddy gets you acquainted with two profound quotes:

“The sins of the father are to be laid upon the children” – William Shakespeare

“There is no one else like my daddy” – Beyoncรฉ

Go figure… Then, you get to experience Norval (Elijah Wood) with an atrocious haircut, sporting a pedo-tash, paying a visit to his… eccentric, and profoundly disturbed dad, Gordon (Stephen Mchattie). I’ll tell you this, both of them are awkward, their dialogues are awkward, their father/son relationship is awkward, the sheriff is awkward, the coroner is awkward, everyone is awkward, and the whole film is awkward… until the twist. Then it gets even more awkward.

Throughout the film, I didn’t know whether be ready to get scared or laugh or… And while thinking about it, Dandy shows up pooing, getting off the crapper, and picking up a brutal fight with goofy Norval, unrolling the toilet paper stuck in his bumhole while at it – admittedly, the most enjoyable scene. Eventually, I didn’t get scared but I did laugh out loud with the occasional, inventive, and anything but inspirational, surrealistic tragicomedy.

Inspired by Ant Timpson’s dad’s passing, the story is a mixed bag that, in the end, you’ll just either turn it off and go to bed, say “that was fun!”, or facepalm sighing and wondering why you did that to yourselves. Personally, I like unpredictability, absurdity, and mixed genres. I just prefer it when there is something in the end to take away.

The reason I decided to watch it was the leading duo. Mchattie and Wood are very versatile actors and I have enjoyed them in most films they’ve been in. Wood, having been in numerous Hollywood films in the past, has left most of it behind him and has started focusing on roles like Norman. Wilfred (2011-2014) and I Don’t Feel at Home in this World Anymore (2017) are two previous examples of the kind of people he portrays with great success.

Anyway, Come to Daddy is highly recommended if you are really confused with your life, feeling lost, or having daddy issues.

Stay safe!

Click (2006): Comedy / Drama / Fantasy

An ambitious architect who thinks that everything is an obstacle to his success finds a remote that, allegedly, can solve all of his problems.

Honestly, I never thought this would be one of my favourite comedy/dramas – especially with Adam Sandler in it. But the story resonated with me for more than one reason. Let me get the pleasantries out of the way though.

Adam Sandler is funny, he is made for roles like these. The exaggerated tragicomedy surrounding a remote that controls your life could be a bunch of different films in the hands of different writers. Steve Koren and Mark O’Keefe wrote a condensed comedy (for the first part) about a guy who just wants to succeed in life as he had enough looking at the greener grass next to him. He finds this remote and, as probably most of us, uses it exactly as a child would. With Sandler always being a man-child, it is guaranteed that the remote’s uses will be definitely inappropriate. Changing colour of himself or the shape of others, muting them, dubbing them in different languages, and so much more, deems Click, admittedly, a funny comedy. Until it turns into drama…

The dire long-term effects of the remote’s use are seen halfway into the film and the realisation of what has happened, is happening, and will be happening from that point on is also the unfortunate time of one’s life where they realise that… Time. Does. Not. Go. Back. No matter how hard we wish it did, it does not. Click is paying close attention to that fact and sugarcoats it with humour but still manages to make your eyes wet. I’ve written some mediocre reviews on other Sandler films, but in this instance he is good. The balance between comedy and drama is maintained very well by director Frank Coraci in the second part of the second act and hits you a bit harder than you expected as you never saw it coming when you initially put the film on.

Regarding the rest of the cast, Kate Beckinsale brightens up every shot she’s in, David Hasselhoff is hilarious, Julie Kavner is amazing, and Henry Winkler deserves a special reference. The sequence where he looks at Sandler and says: “I love you son” and then turns around to leave, is a tearjerker. If you think otherwise, you are not human. Winkler significantly contributes to the dramatisation of the film and his performance is out of this world.

Oh, you also get the film’s full force for another reason. Michael Newman (Sandler) reminds you of you. Reminds you of these times you said: “Can’t wait to be done with this…”, “Can’t wait for this project to end…”, “Can’t wait to finish…”. Newman is all of us who don’t appreciate the present, the today, the “now”. Newman represents all of us who don’t appreciate the beautiful person next to us, the fact that we and our people are in good health, and how much “love” can enrich us with everything money or fame can’t. Careful what you wish for…

Stay safe!

P.S. As per IMDb, R.L. Stine, in 1995, in his “Tales To Give You Goosebumps” wrote something similar and almost sued Sandler for plagiarism but it was all considered in the end… a coincidence. After all, they could both be based on the old French tale, “The Magic Thread”.

Fatman (2020): Action / Comedy / Fantasy

When a rich boy is let down by Santa, he hires an eccentric hitman to kill him.

Well, isn’t that a Christmas film… A pistolero Santa who has a dodgy contract with the government of the United States of America ends up in a gunfight with an assassin.

How can I put it… it’s like a Christmas western shot in the North and Santa is the wanted man on the bullet hole poster. While the hitman tries to track down Santa, here’s what you get: the military outsourcing elves to produce more weaponry and the logistics behind Santa’s operation on Christmas Eve. You know what you get when the hitman actually tracks down the Republican, training-like-Rocky-Balmoa Santa? That’s something you need no commentary on. Writers/directors Eshom and Ian Nelms know exactly the kind of film they want to make and the final cut’s tone and pace give justice to their cause. Mel Gibson, Walton Goggins, and Marianne Jean-Baptiste understand their vision and offer nothing but pure entertainment.

Feeling stuck in your own house on Christmas day? Fatman is your unconventional Christmas movie that will keep you company for an hour and a half. Can you take it seriously? No. Is it meant to be taken seriously? No. So, sit back, relax, and digest the turkey.

Stay safe!

Elf (2003): Adventure / Comedy / Family

Raised by elves, one day, a man realises he belongs to the humans’ world and goes to New York on a quest to find his real father.

Elf is the huge box office Christmas success that offered a lot of smiles. First leading role for Will Ferrell, who does what Will Ferrel does best in a comedy. He is really funny to be fair, it’s just Elf is not really my cup of tea. I know that Christmas films are meant to be implausible, cliched, and “tacky” but a man acting… the way he does, finding a girl like this, single, who falls in love with him, and with a dad like this who just manages to love him back… I know, it’s a Christmas comedy/fantasy but maybe not for my age or, simply, not for me.

Jon Favreau’s tributes to It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) are very obvious and understood – see, that’s an amazing Christmas film (the best of all time) – but I prefer other films of him from before and after the MCU or the Star Wars spinoff. Until Elf, he was a great indie yet, unknown director. At least, the film opened a lot of doors for him, making one of the biggest grossing directors of all time. Admittedly, Zooey Deschanel, James Caan and Mary Steenburgen are very much enjoyable so, it’s just maybe not particularly liking it.

By all means, please do enjoy it. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times. We all need a good laugh these days. It’s been pretty miserable and depressing out there so, Elf, will do nothing but cheer you up with its silliness.

Stay safe!

Dead Poets Society (1989): Comedy / Drama

A group of students of the most prestigious boarding school in the country forms a secret poetry society after meeting their eccentric but inspiring teacher, Mr. Keating.

What makes Dead Poets Society such a memorable film? Peter Weir’s directing? Tom Schulman’s writing? Robin Williams and his teaching of “Carpe Diem”? Robert Sean Leonard, Ethan Hawke, and the rest of the gang?

Dead Poets Society will always be a classic due to the aforementioned reasons individually, collectively, but for so much more. If you ask ten people what the film is about you’ll probably receive eleven different answers. Is it about poetry and its meaning? About questioning authority? Consequences? About parents who have kids only to tell them what to do and how to do it so they can feel “big”? Is it about love? How about seizing the day as the first step to pursuing your life’s dream?

The “O Captain! My Captain!” scene is the film’s narrative epiphany. Every step and every risk those kids take is meant to lead to that moment. But the way you will have perceived the film until then, what the film will mean to you until then, it will evoke different emotions inside you. It might be seen as a “white-rich-boys-problems” movie nowadays, but, for a couple of hours, pretend it’s you in that age and wonder what your dream was back then, how hard did you try to achieve it, and, ultimately, where are you now?

It is not a Christmas film but this time of the year I always flashback to inspiring films that made me fall in love with cinema as a kid. A film like this needs not my review. Just a reminder that it still exists and it still inspires.

Stay safe!

P.S. “O Captain! My Captain!” was sorely remembered again by the media in 2014 amidst the unfortunate death of the acting giant Robin Williams.

P.P.S. Robert Sean Leonard who was the leading actor (next to Christian Bale) of another favourite film of mine while growing up, Swing Kids (1993), never became the A-list actor he deserved to be like Bale and Hawke did. Shame really…

The Night Before (2015): Comedy / Fantasy

Three lifelong friends who are about to spend their last Christmas together, get tickets to a party that will put their lives into perspective.

Vulgar language, anecdotal situations, surreal characters… anything you can expect from a Rogen/Goldberg production. Co-writer/director Jonathan Levine teams up again Seth Rogen and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, after 50/50 (2011) and with the amazing Anthony Mackie joining the crew… the fun has started already. On a second thought, more or less, everyone has worked with someone else more than once in the past. And, of course, James Franco pops up! Oh, did I mention Michael Shannon, Lizzy Caplan, and Mindy Kaling? This is quite the gang.

This is a trippy journey that, in its vast majority, it is very much to the bone. References to Die Hard (1988), Home Alone (1990) and Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”, make it a great buddy, Christmas film, especially, in times like these. Ultimately, it’s very predictable but you wouldn’t expect anything else from a Christmas movie, even an R-rated one. In all honesty, the church sequence is hilarious and the confession moment at Caplan’s front door is quite funny. Then, the amount of improvisation by almost everyone is also admirable.

Love it or loathe it, that is the kind of comedy you sign up for. Should you decide to watch it, just go along. We all deserve a laugh these days.

Stay safe!

Superhero Movie (2008): Action / Comedy / Sci-Fi

A low self-esteemed and constantly bullied teenager gets bitten by a radioactive dragonfly and develops superpowers.

There are two reasons why I watched it… again. Leslie Nielsen, and the Aunt Lucille farting sequence! Other than that, what can I say? It is an hour and fifteen minutes of that kind of humour that was washed up even twelves years ago. I think it is the first time that I tried to analyse what makes it funny – if written and executed properly. That kind of humour has several components. It requires:

  • Some pre-existing knowledge on the films been parodied,
  • Exaggerated and utterly disjointed scenes,
  • The heroes’ reactions to the superfluous, anecdotal stimuli causing the disjointed scenes, but their immediate forgetfulness straight after until something else happens.

I was not planning to make a review, and if I’m being honest, I haven’t really. I just wanted to put in my two cents about the particular comedy sub-genre. I wish there was something else to say, really. Even though it’s silly, to say the least, a couple of sequences will make you laugh – such as the Aunt Lucille farting sequence! And, hey, we do need some laugh. Especially, these days.

Stay safe!

Borat: Subsequent Moviefilm (2020): Adventure / Comedy

Borat is released from prison in Kazakhstan under the condition that he will go to the US to offer his 15 y/o daughter as a bribe to Vice President Mike Pence during the pandemic and the 2020 Presidential election.

I don’t know what to say, really. It’s been a while since I dropped a film in less than thirty minutes into it. Simply put, I found it appalling, indifferent, pointless, horrendous, boring, ridiculous, and above all, absolute waste of money… and my less than thirty minutes.

It is funny as much as it is provocative. Which is not at all! Sasha Baron Cohen just managed to piss, again, some more Americans off. The first Borat (2006), not a fan at either, was at least… somewhat… funny and provocative… but… I’ll be damned, it had that uncensored naked men “brawl” who left everyone thinking how on earth are they shooting this, and, more importantly, why the f@ck am I watching it? This… subsequent film has nothing to it. Borat speaks in Hebrew, Tutar (Maria Bakalova) speaks in Bulgarian, the Kazakh premier speaks in Romanian, and the vast majority cannot tell, once more, the difference. If you managed to watch it all, by all means, prove me a liar. I thought it was… well, check the second paragraph. Cohen is a great actor and he has proved it time and time again, and The Trial of the Chicago 7 (2020) is the latest proof – review is on the way. Plus, I so much admired him going against Facebook.

If you really want to watch a proper funny mockumentary, This is Spinal Tap (1984) is the one! What an original comedy!!! Trust me on this one…

Stay safe!

P.S. Cheerio Trump!

Hubie Halloween (2020): Comedy / Fantasy / Mystery

A man who has always been mocked and bullied in his hometown takes it upon himself to save this year’s Halloween.

I hadn’t watched an Adam Sandler film in a while but I watched Uncut Gems (2019) last year, I was happily surprised, and I said “why not”? Well… now I’m saying “why”?! Hubie Halloween‘s audience is very, very, very, very restricted. The film’s level of humour barely scratches the bottom from start to finish but that’s not what bothered me the most. Hell, it wasn’t even Sandler’s voice.

The film’s theme is walking on thin ice. 99.7% of an American town, with a dark history of hunting down people with pitchforks and torches, in 2020, is making fun of and is brutally bullying someone having a mental illness – whatever that is. It gets worse though… That town’s once most beautiful woman – Julie Bowen, who still is that town’s most beautiful woman – happens to be that very same town’s nicest girl and part of that 0.3% that actually likes him; with the 0.2% being her nerdy son and the girl he wants to get who also happens to be as merciful and that town’s most good looking high school girl. The rest of the characters are just caricatures. Seriously messed up characters in regard to their role in society, sank at the dark pit of Hollywood’s clichรฉ.

Sandler and Bowen worked together in Happy Gilmore (1996) and admittedly they are A-list actors. Ben Stiller, June Squibb, Michael Chiklis, Maya Rudolph, Shaquille O’Neal Rob, Schneider, Ray Liotta, Kevin James, Steve Buscemi, for better or for worse, become part of it. Almost everyone from Grown Ups 1 and 2 but also other films too. Sandler is a great collaborator and top-shelf comedian. Sometimes though, he just seems to be signing for everything under the sun, and Netflix seems to constantly condone such mentality. The movie is dedicated to the late Cameron Boyce who was meant to be part of it. It’s shuttering he’s not with us…

For films that can easily get misconstrued or go under the radar, I always advise to spend a couple of hours forgetting about the real world’s real problems and enjoy these films regardless of their flaws. This is not the case here. Go for all-time horror classics instead. The film’s message seems dumb, but deep down is actually mean-spirited, and I’ll dare to say harmful.

Stay safe!

The Wolf of Snow Hollow (2020): Comedy / Horror / Thriller

Brutally savaged bodies pile up in a small mountain town during full moon and an alcoholic sheriff must solve the crimes, keep the town in order, and his estranged daughter safe.

Comedy/horrorโ€ฆ How does one put the two opposites successfully together? I don’t know if there is a universal answer but, in this instance, it’s how actor/writer/director Jim Cummings puts them together. The comedic acting contrasts the dark and haunting photography and the soundtrack either adapts to the tone or interestingly causes antithesis. My round of applause though goes to the editing team not for the impressive flash forwards during the killings but for balancing Cummings’ vision on how to find humour in dramatic but also horrific situations.

I’ll deliberately keep this one shorter than usual. Turn the lights off and give it a go. Films such as The Wolf of Snow Hollow can be the escape we need against the depressing and abhorrent reality we currently live in even though we have to return to it eventually.

Last but definitely not least, rest in peace Robert Forster. You will always be remembered.

12 Hour Shift (2020): Comedy / Horror / Thriller

In a local hospital, a drug-addict nurse and her small organ trafficking business “partners” find themselves in dire straights when a transaction goes awry.

Should ever anything happen to you and you end up in the hospital, that is the nurse you need… NOT! And that applies to the rest of the staff, police, family, patients, villains, and every other caricature that decides to appear on screen and lower the IQ to the extreme. But don’t cast any stones yet…

Writer/director Brea Grant spent every penny she had in her pocket, and it wasn’t that many, very wisely. She knew exactly the kind of film she wanted to make and she did. 12 Hour Shift is (almost) as funny as it intended to be, maintaining the horror level to the point that it doesn’t overshadow the main genre – comedy. The editing is the first indicator of this, effectively controlling the pace and rhythm, and keeping the story’s development very tight. Angela Bettis, David Arquette (also the main producer), Chloe Farnworth (who you wouldn’t believe she’s British), Nikea Gamby-Turner, but also the rest of the cast, are meant to be funny and they most certainly are. Amazing chemistry between the actors that will make you, at times, laugh out loud.

Now… I will say that producer/cinematographer/composer Matt Glass knew what he was doing while composing the film’s score. I can see how the soundtrack could potentially come across as annoying, accompanying every sequence of the film but it is there to serve a purpose. And that is none other than to exaggerate on something that it is far-fetched already. The story’s level of implausibility is sky-high, the plotholes are lurking in every corner, and the acting is over the top… DELIBERATELY!

I really do recommend you to watch it. We live in abhorrent times where death is first news. 12 Hour Shift is a horror that will make you laugh, and certainly, for just less than an hour and a half, will make you forget about what’s happening out there. Grant’s intentions are noble and I for one admire her for making such a film.

Stay safe!