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” – Beyoncé

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 cliché.

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/horror… 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!

Stuber (2019): Action / Comedy / Crime

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Determined to avenge the death of his partner, a huge cop with limited vision recruits an Uber driver to take him to the city’s most dangerous parts.

Watch the trailer! What you see is exactly what you sign up for. If you like it, you’ll like the movie. If not… Bob’s your uncle. In a nutshell, Stuber and the genres accompanying it, describe accurately what kind of a film it is: action/comedy/crime. There is a crime and then there is a lot of comedic action that follows it. Dave Bautista and Kumail Nanjiani make a funny duet in a project that looks like… erm… a… version of Taxi (1998)? It isn’t, but you get the idea. Mira Sorvino, Natalie Morales, Betty Gilpin, Iko Uwais, and Karen Gillan complete the cast and charm the film even more with their presence.

There is no reason to be negative and bitter about films such as Stuber. It is an R-rated funny-buddy-action flick with the only noble intention to entertain you and nothing more. After watching the evening news, Stuber is definitely the right choice before bed.

Stay safe!

Happy Death Day 2U (2019): Comedy / Horror / Mystery

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Once she thought that she had fulfilled her purpose and closed the loop, Tree finds herself waking up once more on her birthday… but nothing is the same. 

Here’s an analogy for you. The first one was kinda scary and kinda funny. Now, this one is not scary and very funny. So, what do you think? Does that make it a better sequel? There is also an upgrade: The mixture of Groundhog Day (1993) and Back to the Future (1985). The good news is that there is no bad news. What you think you sign up for, it is exactly that. There is some suspense, the science is laughable but no one is trying to convince you otherwise, the editing adds to the film’s quality and creates the desired emotions, and everyone is playing their part as they should be. Speaking of, there is one surprise; a happy one…

Jessica Rothe! The film’s source of hilarity is also the cause of the heart-warming drama that will cut your breath short even for those tiny given moments. Director Christopher Landon does an excellent job directing the mother/daughter sequences so, congratulations are also in order for the actress Missy Yager.

Very enjoyable! It will definitely make you forget our miserable reality even for that hour and a half. 

Stay safe!

Charlie’s Angels (2019): Action / Adventure / Comedy

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When a young whistleblower becomes a target, the new generation of Charlie’s Angels team steps in to save her and solve a corporate conspiracy.

If I’ve said it once I’ve said it a thousand times… I don’t judge films, I judge their intentions. There might have been bad/horrible films which meant well but due to budgetary reasons or other unforeseen circumstances they faced issues. Not this one though! Charlie’s Angels is, unfortunately, undermining human intelligence. Despite Elizabeth Bank’s efforts to convince us that whoever doesn’t watch her film is sexist, the film itself couldn’t be more sexist. She tried to mitigate the successes of previous female-led films by saying that even them they were meant to be profusely for the male audience. Finally, even after her film flopped at the box office, and the critics ‘buried’ it (so no one finds it ever again), she was still proud of it.

I have nothing much to say about the film: Writer/producer/director/actress Banks and the rest of the producers prove that they have no knowledge of what real fighting or Krav Maga is. The same applies to spy games, corporate espionage, and the appreciation of the human (male) life – see how both men’s death is treated (excluding the T-1000 lookalike assassin). The action couldn’t be more laughable and the messages it is trying to come across are horrendous. To cut the long story short, this Charlie’s Angels rightfully earned its flop just like Ocean’s 8 (2018) did the year before. What were they thinking? That by portraying white men as villainous and stupid the film will instantly perform well? It is an embarrassment. And that’s me done about the waste of my almost two hours.

There is something else that the creators of this film have no grasp of: How it is to be stuck into a 9-5 job that you hate or do 24-hour shifts round the clock. One of the things they would have learned – which would be beneficial to the film as well – is that wherever there is no diversity, there is a problem. Have you ever been to a working environment with just women? The amount of bitching is unfathomable! Have you ever been to a working environment with only men? Plainly boring and dull! This world needs diversity and we all need each other equally to move forward. Furthermore, we all need to stop being proud of what we haven’t earned.

Elizabeth Banks is extremely talented both in front of and behind the camera and I will keep being a fan regardless. Watch her Pitch Perfect 2 (2015) and watch her in People Like Us (2012) to get an idea. It is a shame that she tried to please the masses and pretentious social media groups. Because even they didn’t care about her effort.

 

P.S. To the mindless side of Hollywood: Stop treating us like we are dumb. We know life better than you do!

Do The Right Thing (1989): Comedy / Drama

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The day’s unprecedented heat brings out everyone’s worst side in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn’s diverse neighbourhood. 

31 y/o and Do The Right Thing couldn’t be more relevant! The absolute comedy/drama on hysteria and bigotry could as well be a case study on human behaviour. Inspired by a true event (Howard Beach), it manages through ‘love and hate’ and laughs and tears to serve as a reminder that it is up to us to either move forward or stagnate into primitive notions about who we are, where we belong, and what our rights but also obligations in this world are. It is also a wake-up call as the gravitas of our utterances and actions really matter, affect and profoundly shape the society we live in. Finally, it is Spike Lee’s testament to the fact that the problem doesn’t lie in someone else’s skin colour but in front of the mirror.

Danny Aiello, Ossie Davis, Ruby Lee, Richard Edson, Giancarlo Esposito, Spike Lee, Bill Nunn, John Turturro, Joie Lee, Samuel L. Jackson, Rosie Perez, Martin Lawrence (film debut) and so many more deliver one of the most vivid and memorable performances of their lives. The actors’ numerous improvisations throughout the film make it one of a kind and everyone in front and behind the camera deserves a round of applause. An extra standing ovation deserves Kim Basinger for acknowledging the film in the 1990 Oscar ceremony, and Thomas Philip Pollock, the Universal President at the time, who genuinely understood and truly believed in Lee’s vision and distributed it without interfering with the creative process.

13 years before Edward Norton’s [25th Hour (2002)] infamous monologue against every race under the sun, there was Do The Right Thing. See how it all started and wonder what the right thing to do is…

Knives Out (2019): Comedy / Crime / Drama

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A patriarch’s ostensible suicide will pique the interest of an eccentric detective who will make everyone in the family reveal their darkest secrets.

Two major pleasures we’ve had in Thanksgiving 2019: An evening full of American football and Knives Out. Focusing on the latter, writer/director Rian Johnson offered a refreshing take on the ‘whodunit’ crime/mystery genre. He topped it up with comedic characters and hilarious shenanigans and the result was highly entertaining. Brilliantly written, directed, edited, and acted. I can’t say with certainty which actor stands out because… everyone does! And that’s what happens when almost everyone has worked with someone else in a different film and there is no bad blood at all. Well-paced, with everything falling into place as it should have. Despite the far fetched (to my liking) revelation, it definitely is one of the best films of 2019. I take my hat off to all cast and crew in front and behind the cameras. I’m not saying anything else!

Gather your family, your friends, your pets, your other half, all of them or none of the above, get something to eat and drink, and place your bets. See who’s gonna get it. Regardless of what I or anyone else thinks, it definitely worths your time and might rejuvenate your passion for the genre and might, just might, take you back to similar masterpieces of the past such as: Gosford Park (2001), The Usual Suspects (1995), Murder by Death (1976), Sleuth (1972), And Then There Were None (1945), The Hound of the Baskervilles (1939) up to The Last Warning (1928).

Jojo Rabbit (2019): Comedy / Drama / War

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A young boy who struggles in Hitler’s Youth finds out that his well-respected by the Nazi party mother is hiding a Jewish girl in their house.

Unwillingly, I was informed that an archipelago of 10/10’s swarm across IMDb about JoJo Rabbit. So, I thought to myself, ‘interesting…’ Having been familiar with the plot, I thought that it would be The Pianist (2002) meets Top Secret! (1984) – weird, I know! Well, it wasn’t. So, I am partially to blame for this as I prepared myself for something that was simply not. The first hour or so made me smile on a couple of occasions but I struggled to find it funny. Then, due to the particular type of satire, I struggled to find it dramatic. 30 wins and 142 nominations, including Oscar win for Best Adapted Screenplay, and I couldn’t make my mind until about an hour into the film whether I like it or not.

But then the last half an hour the film found a balance that, me personally, I think it lacked before. And Roman Griffin Davis, Thomasin McKenzie, and Sam Rockwell made this last half an hour a proper gem. This last half an hour got my undivided attention. If you’ve watched it or if you intend to watch it, let me know what you think. Rebel Wilson, Alfie Allen, and Stephen Merchand are brilliant additions to the cast. Scarlet Johansson’s two Oscar nominations this year must have a put a yet greater smile on her (lovely) face. In the Marriage Story (2019) she definitely deserved that nomination. Here, once again, I struggle to see why. Shame that Sam Rockwell wasn’t heard much, he makes all the difference in the world.

Regardless of what I think of the film, Taika Waititi is a true artist so, I really hope you enjoy it.

 

Zombieland: Double Tap (2019): Action / Comedy / Horror

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Ten years have passed since the zombocalypse and Columbus, Tallahassee, Wichita, and Little Rock must now face dumb, smart, stealthy, and rough zombies, deal with domestic issues and ally with lookalikes, hippies, and a bimbo.

Double Tap, is the sequel I was reasonably afraid it will have nothing more to offer when it comes out. Having seen numerous sequels over the years flopping due to franchise fatigue or been outshadowed by their predecessors, can you blame me? Well, ten years later, Double Tap did come out, proved me wrong, and it was more than I was hoping for. Director Ruben Fleischer, intentionally influenced/inspired by George A. Romero and Edgar Wright, manages to find new creative ways to either put a smile on our face or make us laugh out loud. The script is solidly inundated with comedic additions and alliances, and horrifically funny villains, offering the well-known by now group of four an arsenal of punchlines, perfectly fit for every occasion. Out of the A-list star cast, which does a brilliant job in front of the lens, Woody Harrelson and Zoey Deutch unequivocally stand out for being surrealistically funny.

I’ll seize this opportunity to say this as I’ve been holding it for some time now… Abigail Breslin seems like she doesn’t want to act anymore. Is it the burden carrying from her mesmerising performances in Little Miss Sunshine (2006) and My Sister’s Keeper (2009)? Is it the ‘curse’ of the child actor/actress? Is it personal or professional obstacles that we are not aware of? I still believe that given the right role she can ‘shine’ again and I really look forward to that day.

Definitely worth the just over hour and a half in front of the telly as it will make you forget your problems and send you to bed. And next day is always a new day… with a new film!

Marriage Story (2019): Comedy / Drama / Romance

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A married couple with a little kid decides to break up and both parties reveal their best and worst hidden sides of themselves.

Even though ‘it takes a village to make a film’ and every department plays a significant role in a film’s success or failure, five major ones (not in a particular order) need to become a solid one to guarantee Marriage Story‘s success: Directing, cinematography, editing, writing, and acting. Writer/Director Noah Baumbach, cast actors Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson during the script development and all three of them put the ‘FADE OUT’ in the end. As all three of them had been or were going through divorces, the film is largely based on their real-life experiences, and it is that kind of realism that is translated to the big screen and the film’s final cut. Everyone poured their souls in it and, as per IMDb, this is what happened: Top Rated Movies #171, nominated for 6 Golden Globes, and another 81 wins & 177 nominations.

The way editing controls the film’s pace and rhythm is remarkable. Without saying it’s right or wrong, the cuts during the dialogue – cutting from the person talking/crying/exploding to the other person’s reaction – make an interesting case as, me personally, I would expect maybe less reaction. I bet the drafts were endless though and, since the final cut works, I just take it as it comes. The mise-en-scène is flawless and Baumbach with director of photography Robbie Ryan have captured and framed only the essential to the story elements. Last and most certainly not least, Johansson and Driver purely unleash their thespian talents and, arguably, deliver the most hair-raising performances of their lives. Forgetting the high budget tentpoles they are currently in – Avengers and Star Wars respectively – they become part of a love story wrapped in self-absorption and insecurities. Interesting background production details can be found here: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt7653254/trivia?ref_=tt_trv_trv

The labyrinthine nature of a human being knows no limits. When two human beings come together, the stakes and unpredictability are doubled and when a family is created a small society is born under the same roof. Hundreds of millions of these societies form bigger societies that constitute the world as we know it. And its intricacies and complexities can only be matched with the Universe’s mysteries.

Men in Black International (2019): Action / Adventure / Comedy

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Men in Black, the secret government organisation with the cream of the crop agents and the advanced technology from all over the known Universe is now having a mole who threatens to destroy the Earth.

The reasons are obvious as to why it didn’t perform well. Barry Sonnenfeld, director of Men in Black I (1997), Men in Black II (2002), and Men in Black III (2012) gave MIB an appealing character to men, women, and children of all ages. F. Gary Gray and the studios decided it’s a wise choice to ‘devote’ Men in Black: International to millennials and, as a result, it was turned into something unfulfilling for everyone else – even them evidently. To be more specific:

  • Online childish slang (?) such as ‘you had one job’ and ‘that happened…’ were only put there just to have these lines heard by their favourite actors/actresses.
  • Both men and women, we acknowledge that Chris Hemsworth is attractive. Fair enough, but to make him look like he just finished a fragrance photoshoot or an underwear ad throughout the whole film kills the vibe, throws the fans of MIB off, and ultimately depreciates the franchise’s value.
  • I know it’s an action/comedy/adventure but the main hero comes to realise something he never expected about himself (no spoilers). Do we feel like he is really affected by it? No. That kills the drama. And as a whole, I didn’t really feel anything about anyone as it was all…
  • Fun! Comedy works in mysterious ways and what makes people tick varies. BUT… having a punchline for everything that happens for almost two hours creates one emotion for every situation.

Men in Black: International became a lose-lose situation for studios and audiences alike. Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones (even Josh Brolin) became MIB by earning their stripes. F. Gary Gray is an amazing director. Friday (1995) and Straight Outta Compton (2015) are brilliant examples of his work but Matt Holloway’s and Art Marcum’s script didn’t do any favours to anyone. If you also want to admire Chris Hemsworth as a presence but also a thespian, watch Rush (2013), In the Heart of Sea (2015), Bad Time at the El Royale (2018), and of course, the Thor/Avengers franchise.

I’m not even gonna go into production details and I feel sorry for not having something good to say (except that Tessa Thompson is always mesmerising).

Mr. Destiny (1990): Comedy / Fantasy / Romance

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Leading a repetitive life, Larry Burrows, on his 35th birthday, wishes his life was different, more exciting… and this is exactly what he gets!

How many times have I watched this film is beyond me… And I think I’m gonna grow old and grey and I’m still gonna be watching it. Yes, it’s very similar to the classic masterpiece It’s a Wonderful Life (1946), but since I was a kid when it first came out, I grew up with it, and I couldn’t help but stop thinking about… what if my life was different? As I kept growing up, till this very day, till this very moment, writing this review right now after just having watched it (again), I am wondering why does this film age so well? What is it that makes it so diachronic that I can’t stop having enough of it.

I guess I wouldn’t watch it any other period other than Christmas/New Year time. It is the time when, if not all of us, most of us contemplate a bit more about our new year resolutions. It is that time where we look back and ask ourselves, what could I have done differently? What do I lack? What do I have in abundance? Why would I want my life to be different anyway? It might be all these would haves, should haves, could haves that loop in our minds with warp f@£$%^& speed causing this effect. I think I’m digressing…

Anyway, Larry Burrows is John Belushi. And not like a film poster kind of way. I mean that I can’t imagine anyone else portraying him and I kinda don’t want either. Michael Caine is visual poetry. Linda Hamilton is to fall in love with and proves, once more, to be so diverse actress that I take my hat off to her and bow. Rene Russo always had been and always be lighting up the screen when appearing on it. As for Courteney Cox, she is… a killer! Last but lost least, it is an absolute shame that we don’t see the amazing Jon Lovitz in many films anymore – series mostly.

Mr. Destiny had a big impact on my life, and it has inspired my screenwriting in ways that I can’t begin to describe. I hope you enjoy it as much as I have over the decades.

You can find it here:

UK: https://amzn.to/2SCYjve / https://amzn.to/2SIVp8e

US: https://amzn.to/2F2mhYP

The Hudsucker Proxy (1994): Comedy / Drama / Fantasy

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An ambitious young man is put by the board of directors as president in a… convoluted company involved in a stock scam.

‘It takes a village to make a film’… and The Hudsucker Proxy is the living proof – and the best side of Hollywood. Joel and Ethan Coen write (alongside Sam Raimi), direct, and produce one of their best and underrated films to date, focusing on a man’s ambition, the crowd’s paranoia, the Media’s superfluous vanity, and the corporate greed! In addition, Carter Burwell’s music, Dennis Gassner’s production design, and Roger Deakins’ cinematography pay a true homage to the films of the ’30s and ’40s. Thom Noble’s meticulous and precise editing paces the film from beginning to end. Great montage sequences delivering passion, laughter, drama, and rhythmic film magic.

A naive Tim Robbins, an extremely articulate Jennifer Jason Leigh, a sexist Bruce Campbell, and the legend Paul Newman develop amazing on-screen chemistry and one cannot help but fall for them. The film’s brilliance is such where the devil’s in the details. For example, Robert Gallagher’s character ‘Vic Tenetta’ shows up for just a few seconds and the screen lightens up.

And now for the shocking facts: Not even one Oskar, Golden Globe or Bafta Nomination. 3 wins and 3 nominations all and all. And that’s not just it! It cost approximately $40M and made $2,816,518. I think, sometimes, it’s surprising what makes people tick and what doesn’t. But I know that, always, when it comes to the film industry, all bets are off!

You can find it here: https://amzn.to/2Mra0BC

Bad Santa 2 (2016): Comedy / Crime / Drama

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Having never left the rock bottom, Willie follows again his angry sidekick and puts the Santa suit once more only, this time, to rob a Chicago charity.

Still hilarious, still politically incorrect, still Thornton and Cox! Once more, the starting monologue followed by the alley vomiting, mirror the same reality Willie still lives on, highly indicating that he learned nothing for his past mistakes and that his life never took off. Thankfully for us, this is the case and consequently, he accepts Marcus’ next job… alongside his mother. The dysfunction in the family shows straight away, and we, as the audience, get to enjoy the results.

Even though not as funny as its predecessor, Bad Santa 2 is a must-watch during the Christmas period and the perfect antidote against… soppy, yawnsome, dead-boring romance/comedies which you’d rather watch paint dry. Thornton and Cox are still the Willie and Marcus we love and Cathie Bates is a great addition to the cast! Extra round of applause deserves Brett Kelly for getting Thurman Merman’s physique to match his old self. Oh, and Christina Hendricks is as seductive as always…

You can find it here: https://amzn.to/2Qlgina

Bad Santa (2003): Comedy / Crime / Drama

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A miserable thief and his angry sidekick keep posing as Santa and elf to con people but their Christmas Eve job goes terribly wrong.

Watch the unrated version! Right off the bat, Billie Bob’s monologue! This is when you know exactly what you sign up for; ‘an eating, drinking, shi*ing, f*ing Santa Claus’! Billie Bob Thornton, Tony Cox, and the always missed Bernie Mac make you laugh hard for an hour and a half. Plenty of foul language – with the word ‘f*ck’ and its permutations (over 170 times) ruling at the top, ‘sh*t’ (74), ‘ass’ (31), ‘bitch’ (10), and 1 use of ‘bastard’ plenty of political incorrectness, and plenty of actual booze… for Thornton… acting himself. The Cohen brothers and director Terry Zwigoff have done a brilliant job refining Glenn Ficarra’s and John Requa’s script. Excellent mix of Christmas and classical music!

Despite its hilarious profanity and misery, Bad Santa sets off as a dark, dark comedy, ending up being an emotional journey of a lonely, broken man who finds a reason to live.

You can find it here: https://amzn.to/2ZwBKd5

6 Underground (2019): Action / Adventure / Comedy

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Six highly, uncommonly skilled – each in their own way – men and women have formed an anonymous team for the sole purpose of… making the world a better place.

Michael Bay does what Michael Bay does best. What do you expect from 6 Underground? Slo-mo? You got it. Slow-mo with car chases? But with also faster than you can blink cuts? You got it. Shots with choppers? You got it. From within choppers? Over the choppers? Against the sundown? With whirring blades (slo-mo of course)? Shots with men and women throwing punchlines at the brink of death, swapping to superficial drama, killers looking like they came out of underwear or fragrance ad? You. Got. It. All!

At a budget of $150 million, Netflix urges Bay to just destroy everything – preferably with explosions. Everything nice you see in the film will get destroyed. Simple as. Story-wise, the high levels of implausibility, improbability, and impossibility run through the film’s veins from the opening to the closing credits, making the Fast & Furious (2001- ) franchise look like a based-on-a-true-story. Meaning: The operations and the decisions taken throughout the operations are purely laughable, the chances of survival having suffered certain wounds are zero (much less keep running and jumping around, shooting, and kicking ass), the access to whatever they need, whenever they need it, the warp speed of getting from one country to the next… I can go on forever here! But… I have a favourite one: The brother’s speech causing the fastest revolution ever started in a film!!! The revolution started before even the speech ended. And, cinematically, guess how? Accompanied by pop, hybrid music, or whatever the hell it’s called nowadays, with lyrics calling to arms. I think I’m gonna stop here, you got the gist.

Here’s my two cents. Don’t take 6 Underground seriously for a minute. Know what you sign up for, sit down, relax, surround yourself with great company and horrible food, and enjoy the Bay style of filmmaking that makes all your problems disappear for two hours. This way, you’ll get to enjoy:

  • High octane, multiangular action sequences,
  • The destruction of everything looking fancy,
  • Entertainingly gruesome deaths,
  • Buildings and surroundings that are meant to be in one country but are shot in another,
  • Ryan Reynolds blatantly advertising his Gin,
  • Ryan Reynolds as an endless punchline machine,
  • Funnily foul language,
  • The “magnet sequence”,
  • “Rebellious” heroes and heroines who just came out of a Christian Dior and Calvin Klein photoshoot,
  • Transformers sound effects,
  • And an awesome soundtrack!

Good Boys (2019): Adventure / Comedy

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Drugs, alcohol, obsessive teenage girls, bullying, and a sex doll are in the way of three schoolboys that are ready to party.

Yes, the guys who brought you Superbad (2007), Neighbors (2014) and Sausage Party (2016) brought you this. But what is this? This is a film that some people were telling me that I’ll be laughing through my tears and some others that it will insult my intelligence. That there would be nothing in between. So, I watched it. And there is nothing in between…

I probably counted around five to six funny moments and I’m not sure about a couple of them. It got too American for my standards on more than one occasion, but that is not the film’s major issue. The major issue is the forced, scripted humour and the forced five dozen times the kids “have to” say the word “f*ck” and its derivatives. I’m a big fan of R-rated films in all genres as there is a lot more freedom of expression both visually but also verbally but Good Boys is just too scripted and its message is clear: Provoke by having the kids swear as much as possible while getting into inappropriate situations.

It doesn’t matter really. The film cost around $20M and made over $110M so, who cares what me, you, or anyone else is saying. Hopefully, the team will do a come back with something equally provocative but naturally funny, and there won’t be any either-or; just narratively funny.

P.S. OK, the kids are brilliant!

You can find it here: https://amzn.to/36fI4Zn

Ostinato (2019): Short / Horror

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A chef finds himself getting killed over and over by anyone he knows.

Completed through the 48 Hour Film Project in Shanghai, and winner of GOLD BEST MICROSHORT, SILVER BEST HORROR SHORT, SILVER BEST DARK COMEDY at the OCTOBER 2019 edition of Independent Shorts Awards (ISA), Ostinato marks the narrative debut for Luke Luoh. As I point out in most of my reviews, the intentions of the film are what I am always aiming at and Ostinato, even though it knows exactly where it stands, it doesn’t disclose its intentions from the start. Sets off as a comedy/horror, ostensibly, with the sole purpose of entertaining you but towards the end of Act II, it gets your mind to start thinking in reverse.

From a narrative point of view, Luoh follows the paradigmatic narration – each segment introduces a new story, location, character, etc. So, it can be viewed as short films within the short film, with every story having a beginning, a middle, and an end. The way editing contributes to this narration enhancement is by making the sum bigger than its parts. Something that you will eventually get at the film’s second plot point – the bridge between Act II and III. Be it as it may, this cerebral film wouldn’t be the same if all actors and especially the Makeup and the Special Effects Makeup artists wouldn’t have done the AWESOME job they did. Last but not least, pay attention to Kaunas’ photography and his interesting choice of “red”.

Leaving no one out, all cast and crew deserve a round of applause for the film’s final cut. If you are not adept at music terminology or just happen not to know what the title means, watch the film first and only then ask yourselves, how many times can one die? Well, in this case, as many times as one can…

The Farewell (2019): Comedy / Drama

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Using a wedding as an excuse, a Chinese family gathers after many years to bid farewell to their grandmother who doesn’t know she is dying.

“Based on an actual lie”… Lulu Wang’s real-life same case scenario inspires her to write and direct a bittersweet film about death, the way it brings people together, and the human awkwardness surrounding it. Powerful is also the subplot showcasing the moral differences between East and West even when language is not a barrier. The film consists of amazing, everyday, relatable characters, beautiful music (Wang’s behind the piano) that doesn’t dictate how one should feel, meticulous editing that balances the aspects of comedy and drama, and Lulu’s daring lens that unfolds a funny, yet heartbreaking story.

I proudly take my hat off to all cast and crew as well as the financers that I can only imagine the risks they took behind such investment. A great addition to the modern cinema that will make you laugh and cry while reconsidering whatwhen, and how you would like to say to the people you love the most.

P.S. SPOILER ALERT: After watching it, I urge you to find out what happened in the end in Wang’s real-life story https://www.imdb.com/title/tt8637428/trivia?item=tr4647494

Shiying… this is for you! Thank you wholeheartedly for your wonderful recommendation!!!

You can find it here: https://amzn.to/2ZviGw1