River of Salvation (2020): Crime/Drama

A single, pedicure therapist who lives with her younger brother is trying to make ends meet while dealing with personal tribulations.

Dreams, sacrifices, and the unbearable hardships of life… Gripping opening act that distinctively introduces the characters, sets up the scenery, and presents the ordeals they have to face. Director Qisheng Gao amazes with the number of protracted shots that provide the opportunity for the actors to unfold their thespian skills and for the audience to absorb, on one hand, the tiny, yet significant details of the mise-en-scène (all the visual information within the frame), and, on the other hand, what one of the greatest film theorists, André Bazin, kept emphasizing on; the drama’s realism. Furthermore, Gao’s slow-paced editing does not rush the story, controls the film’s pace and rhythm, and reveals the key information the audience needs to know, when they need to know it. Inevitably, that increases their anticipation in regard to what and when they want to know.

As for the narrative itself, it hits the nail the harshest possible way as it addresses the ancient battle inside us of who we are, who we want to be, and who society wants us to be, in times where the bills can hardly be paid and the food on the table can barely suffice. While Gao deserves every praise under the sun, actress Yanxi Li crawls under the skin of the role, becomes Rong, and masterfully conveys the silent pain a woman in her position endures to keep her head above water while trying to save whoever around her is in need of salvation.

And all that while a dark secret lies underneath the surface…

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Solidarity for Ukraine 🇺🇦 🙏

Stay safe!

Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2022): Crime/Horror/Thriller

A group of youngsters decides to revive a ghost town in Texas without possibly imagining that it is Leatherface’s home.

If you’ve watched the latest Wrong Turn (2021): https://kaygazpro.com/2021/03/04/wrong-turn-2021-horror-thriller/ there is no need to explain to you why shoving political agendas down one’s throat can ruin a film. Texas Chainsaw Massacre scared me a bit at first, but managed to saved it quick. And then it ruined it again… Leatherface’s brutality shows no remorse nor mercy before he even wears the face. As a matter of fact, he is the film’s best ingredient.

David Blue Garcia Massacre‘s narrative is built on millennial characters, behaviours, and mentalities that I cannot so much relate to. I find it difficult to understand why would one react to such a horror the way most of them do. But, that is just me. Maybe, you’ll be able to. There is an emotional clash here between totally indifferent (to me) notions, such as “sjw” and “cancel society” and an utterly lethal Leatherface who unleashes his full cinematic potential. Even the bus scenes, admittedly a bloody and visceral sequence, could have been constructed with no music and a lot slower editing to let every savagely violent murder be better visually absorbed.

Tobe Hooper (interestingly, wearing the producer’s hat) and Marcus Nispel created a real suffering to more realistic people that didn’t directly involve politics. Leatherface on its own is a political and, consequently, societal outcome of all the wrongs humanity ever had to offer. Leatherface is a real-life human monster so, being preoccupied with including a forcefully diverse cast – which is insulting rather than politically correct – and building the narrative around that is bound to butcher the film – pun intended. The film originally failed the test screenings with flying colours and the production went from studio to studio. In the end, Netflix got it saying “yeah, whatever. Bring it”.

It seems that today’s hate, racism, bigotry, misanthrope, or however else you want to call it is consuming us individually, but also collectively. Whoever wants to spread hate in society is not welcome in it. History teaches us that change takes time. Go off-grid and leave us and cinema alone. Producers are wasting their money and we are wasting our time. Everyone loses in the end.

Again and again, Leatherface is the one worth watching while the narrative will, potentially, leave you indifferent. Watch it and make up your own minds. And always remember: The passion for violence, physical or psychological, should never transgress fiction!

Stay safe!

P.S. The plotholes and gimmicks are endless.

P.P.S. Imagine wanting to change the world, start knocking on doors to deliver your message, and the first person who answers is Leatherface…

Kimi (2022): Crime/Drama/Thriller

An agoraphobic voice stream interpreter detects a heinous crime and gradually realises that she is next.

Mild suspense and good acting get you through it. Behold… the legacy of Alfred Hitchcock and Rear Window (1954), adapted for the young adults of today, and the exhausting times of our pandemic. Writer David Koepp and director Steven Soderbergh create a world similar to ours with COVID, masks, lockdown references, texting as a means of communication, and, of course, Siri and Alexa that have entered our lives, and, if I’m allowed, infiltrated our homes. In Kimi, this might be the subplot, but it is what still scares me the most – so glad I don’t have either.

Back to the plot, the crime itself is an audio recording, visualised by Angela in her mind. Is it how she pictured it? Is it something else? Maybe worse? The suspense builds up through relatively slow editing that allows the viewer to take in the frames’ information (mise en scène) and “enter” Angela’s world. Soderbergh’s close-ups, tracking shots, low angles, and Dutch shots, effectively manipulate the space Angela is in with a voyeuristic and omnipotent lens that provides information on both the prey and the predator, but carefully and discloses it. Too carefully I will add and that information could have easily manipulated the plot as well, creating a twist – but, no. On the other hand, Zoë Kravitz is the real deal. She’s incredibly convincing as the agoraphobic tech-girl who loses her marbles upon realising what the stakes are. She carries the film on her shoulders.

In the end, for me, the believability was lost for reasons you’ll probably discover should you decide to watch it. I found it quite disjointed. But, don’t let that discourage you. It’s enjoyable even though you won’t be thinking much about it past the end credits. Minor details that I found interesting include, but are not limited to: 1. The way Angela visualises the murder in her mind. Watch it and think about the way you compose images in your head. What shape are they in? Are they continuous? How clear are they? 2. In a drugged state, in the mini van, the way that through her eyes, the audience and Angela alike, perceive both her and her surroundings, while listening to the thugs chatting. These are details a meticulous director pays attention to and proves once more that Soderbergh takes control of both his on-screen but also off-screen narrative – everything happening inside and outside the frame.

Stay safe!

Dark Crimes (2016): Crime/Drama/Thriller

A businessman’s murder case will trigger an investigation on a writer who wrote about it, down to the detail.

Great story, with even greater flaws. The daring opening sequence will neither disgust you nor leave you flabbergasted. Arguably, certain close-ups would have achieved one or the other, but that would have probably led to an R-rated final cut so, director Alexandros Avranas uses them instead on the characters. How important is that sequence to the narrative’s development, then? Would it still be effective without it?

Based on David Grann’s article “True Crimes – A Postmodern Murder Mystery” (The New Yorker, February 11, 2008), Jeremy Brock’s script cuts right to the chase and doesn’t invest in the characters’ involved. The problem with this is that, as audience, we relate to no one. Literally, no one. Unfortunately, that leads to not caring about about anyone, or anything. Eventually, that leads to the suspense’s murder, and the film’s downfall.

While non of the action is shot closely, the faces’ close-ups in conjuction with the positioning of the camera right in front of the actors during dialogue – like talking to it – and their placement right in the middle of the frame, feels like awkwardly breaking the fourth wall for an unknown to everyone reason.

While the story is strong, brutal and real, these directorial decisions not only distract but also confuse. Another issue I spotted was the short sentences and the very scripted arguments, i.e., only after one would finish a sentence the other person would start talking. That is, probably, due to the effort the native English speaking actors put to speak in a Polish accent and the Polish/non-native English speaking actors to speak in English – with the exception of Martin Csokas (Kozlov) who is of Hungarian descent, speaks the language, and is quite convincing.*

I’ve watched Avranas’ previous work and I would recommend you to watch Miss Violence (2013), and the controversial (for some) Love Me Not (2017). As for the cast, Jim Carrey, Marton Csokas, Charlotte Gainsbourgh, and Agata Kulesza, as bright as they may be in front of the camera, they don’t get the chance to shine. Jim Carrey was great in The Number 23 (2007), regardless of its critical and box office performance, but the the accents issue and Avranas’ choices made one wonder how he used to be the highest paid comedian out there.

Stay safe!

*He is New Zealander and can pull also off British and American accents.

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): https://kaygazpro.com/2020/03/31/vivarium-2019-horror-mystery-sci-fi/

Every Secret Thing (2014): Crime/Drama/Mystery

A little girl’s disappearance makes a detective focus her investigation on two young women who just came out of prison for killing a baby seven years prior to that.

Thrilling, yet something missing. I believe a story is as good as one tells it. The inciting incident, the death of an infant at the hands of two young girls is powerful and the foundation of a nightmare that terrifies the parents the same way the boogeyman terrifies the kids. The second missing girl, right after the girls’ release from prison, now eighteen years old, makes your heart skip a bit, turning it into a dark “whodunit” that makes the audience constantly wonder which of the two may have done it – if it’s one of them.

Everyone immediately involved with the case carries a cross that leaves an awful stigma in their soul that cannot be removed. The girls, Alice Manning (Danielle Macdonald) and Ronnie Fuller (Dakota Fanning) for doing back then what they did. Mrs. Manning (Diane Lane) for even walking around town when everyone knows what her daughter had done. Detective Nancy Porter (Elizabeth Banks) who found the first baby, got mentally traumatised, and now relives the horror once more, not knowing if she’ll get redemption or deeper scars.

The plot gives the chance to everyone to unfold their point of view that sticks to “facts” that are merely their personal interpretation of a twisted reality looping in their head – with the exception of Detective Porter. She is the one who has to read between the lines of the rest call “truth” and find out what has happened to the little girl before it’s too late.

Based on Laura Lippman’s novel, Every Secret Thing is a gripping “race against time” drama/thriller from writer Nicole Holofcener, director Amy Berg, and producer Frances McDormand that, even though it’s not without faults, it manages to get your attention and sustain it till the very end. Having said that, Berg decided not to invest too much in the drama surrounding this horrifying situation and that works against the suspense’s build-up. I believe that taking the time to shift the focus, every now and then, to the characters’ personal moments it would give the audience an inner view of why everyone acts the way they do. In addition, that would work well with the flashbacks.

Regardless, it deserves a watch as all actresses are very charismatic and each and every one of them contribute to the aforementioned thrill.

Stay safe!

Dead Man Walking (1995): Crime/Drama

When a nun receives a letter of support from a convicted murderer on Death Row, she needs to find a way to comfort him as well as the victims’ families.

Heavy real drama, supported by incredible acting. Dead Man Walking starts off with the beginning of a tough relationship between Sister Helen Sejean and the convicted murderer on Death Row Matthew Poncelet. Coming from totally different backgrounds and currently being on opposite sides of the fence, this short-term relationship is meant to be tough; like no other relationship before it. And as if the plot is not morbidly unbearable, the subplot, how Sister Sejean deals with the heavy hits she receives, supports the plot and further burdens on her and the audience’s soul.

There are some extremely short straws handed in this story: The two kids who got brutally murdered, their parents who suffer their unspeakable loss, Matthew’s family who suffers the consequences of his unspeakable action, Matthew himself who suffers for reasons you’ll get to know in the end, and, last but not least, Sister Sejean who stands right in the middle of it. It is through her, that we get to experience everyone’s pain, and, ironically, the only person (except for the audience) who gets to experience hers is the person responsible for the inhumane acts and who is about to die. Sister Sejean burdens everyone’s suffering in her soul, in an attempt to help everyone involved find peace in their hearts.

Based on Sister Helen Sejean’s homonymous book “Dead Man Walking”, writer/director Tim Robbins brings to life the shattering and soul-crashing real drama/horror that cost the life of two young people and ruined the lives of so many around them. Watching it in the cinema back then, on a VHS a few years later, or on Blu-ray now, I must admit that it has been equally hard. Dead Man Walking is a heavy drama, paying respect to the audience’s intelligence without trying to proselytise, judge, or point you in any particular political or religious direction. Tim Robbins and Sean Penn were nominated for the Oscar, and Susan Sarandon got it.

Not that I have run out of newer films to watch, but every now and then I enjoy going back to films that made me love cinema as a kid and get a first cinematic view of the world that I got to know – more like, still get to know. I might not be well known for my religious beliefs, but no matter what the reason is, anyone helping or trying to help a fellow human being is a person I want to help achieve it.

Stay safe!

The Protege (2021): Action/Crime/Thriller

When her mentor gets murdered, an assassin seeks revenge for the people behind the hit.

Entertaining, yet nothing innovative. I don’t really like to badmouth films, but here we are. Especially, the ones that decent effort has been put into them. I’ll start with some positive feedback: Maggie Q. Maggie Q has proved to be a diverse actress, seen in dramas, action/adventures, even horrors. Her acting skills extend beyond her fighting or modeling skills and when the role demands it she rises to the occasion.

Unfortunately, The Protege is not one of these occasions. Director Martin Campbell, after two James Bond films and numerous other successful (or not) action/thrillers does not meet, in my humble opinion, today’s standards. The story itself is a cliché, with nothing substantial to offer to the genre, and the characters feel under-developed. Personally, I didn’t relate with anyone and everything felt like a déjà vu from Luc Besson’s early films to today.

I’ve said it before numerous times about action films and I’ll say it again: From the moment films like John Wick (2014) and Atomic Blonde (2017) were released, the bar has been raised too high. Long shots is, partially, what cinematic realism stands for. And even though it is an extremely lengthy debate, the argument here is well-established: The action needs to be coherent, it has to be clear, and it has to have duration in order to be believable and be perceived as ‘real’. The director needs to work with the fight coordinator, the actors, and the stunts in preproduction so, during principal photography, everyone knows where they need to stand, where they need to land, and develop the hand-to-hand combat. The editing does not cut it anymore – pun intended. The editing needs to establish the continuity, not in every technique or counter-technique, but when the narrative demands it. Therefore, the info on the poster “From the studio that brought you John Wick…” sounds somewhat ironic. The film features Samuel L. Jackson and Michael Keaton but, as with the rest of the performances, don’t expect much.

Unfortunately again, the narrative here is something almost everyone has seen before, lowering the excitement levels to underground levels. Shame, really.

Stay safe!

Copshop (2021): Action/Crime/Thriller

A ‘fixer’ gets deliberately arrested to escape a hired killer, but when the killer does the same and both end up in opposite cells, all hell breaks loose.

Cheery, yet dark action flick with a great on-screen duo. When you see Gerald Butler and Frank Grillo (also producers here) in an action/crime/thriller, it’s meant to be promising. And it is. The first act’s light mood, even though it’s not really a smokescreen, per se, it is misleading. The mood gets darker as Viddick and Murretto unfold the story behind the reason they have both ended up in that sub-floor detention block. Successfully humorous acting precedes Lamb’s pending massacre (you’ll find out who he is) and tricks into thinking that it’s all gonna be funny one-liners. Well, I say no more…

Other than Grillo and Butler, I must emphasise on the amazing performances given by Alexis Louder, Chad L. Coleman, and Toby Huss. Their contribution makes all the difference in the world. Having said that, Copshop is one of those films that no one will talk about in the foreseeable or unforeseeable future, but… it will most definitely gets you through the night. The pace and rhythm are just about right, there is a Desperado (1995) feel, a Dirty Harry (1971) feel, and a Dollars Trilogy feel that create a modern spaghetti standoff. Writer/producer/director Joe Carnahan is an expert on fast-paced action/thrillers – Smokin’ Aces (2006), Boss Level (2020), Wheelman (2017) – and with either or all three hats on his head, manages to perfectly balance the humour, the action, and the thrill for about an hour and forty minutes.

I definitely recommend Copshop as 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.

Stay safe!

P.S. Carnahan is currently directing the remake of The Raid (2011), and I for one look forward to watching the final cut. And by acquiring the rights for the American film, partially, The Raid 2 (2014) was funded. Awesome stuff!

Kate (2021): Action/Adventure/Crime

A female assassin races against time to find out and kill the person who poisoned her and whoever else stands in her way.

Great fun (not) for the whole family! Bad news first: Not an original script! It’s been done before in numerous variations so, it’s not gonna shock you with the lack of authenticity. Now, for the good news…

Mary Elizabeth Winstead kicks a$$! She’s a very talented actress, an extremely gorgeous woman, and Kate proves that there is no role she cannot take on. Her performance is remarkable and I couldn’t help but notice the astonishing similarity of hers with Ripley – arguably, the greatest bada$$! Combined, later on, with the red eye and the half damaged face… (you’ll see!) Speaking of great performances, Miku Patricia Martineau deserves an extra round of applause for her incredibly brave performance! Woody Harrelson and Jun Kunimura just add quality to the film by appearing in it and no matter what I say will not make them look greater than they already are.

The fight scenes, however choreographed, are a match for the John Wick franchise and Winstead does her absolute best to add (pseudo)realism to what usually doesn’t really look convincing. My hat off to the choreographers and the stunts that make her look even greater and make something so ugly (that kind of fighting, not professional) look so beautiful.

Umair Aleem and Cedric Nicolas-Troyan manage to write and direct, respectively, a great action flick that, surprisingly, evokes the desired feelings. Now, that is authentic! To watch a film like Kate and before, during, and after the action scenes feeling, at times, your heart skip a beat and your breath short. I’ve said it numerous times, no genre can stand on its own without drama. Even comedy. Especially, comedy actually. See King of Comedy (1982) if you have any doubts. Nicolas-Troyan and Winstead will make you feel for Kate, both as a character but also a film. Highly recommended!

Stay safe!

Malignant (2021): Crime/Horror/Mystery

A woman starts having horrible nightmares that turn out to be visions of actual violent crimes that she is unwillingly involved.

Amazing opening shot followed by an hour and fifty minutes of Hollywood dumbness. I hate writing this way about films, especially horrors. I’ve said it numerous times. Horror fans might be somewhat eccentric and geeks, but we are not dumb! James Wan especially and New Line Cinema should know and respect that. Even though the story is decent, its development is dumb, the character development is beyond understanding and that should stop! Let me rephrase, it should have stopped a long time ago. “Jump scares” is a tool for narrative, not a narrative pattern to build a whole film on. Same applies for the cardboard cut out characters that no one can empathise with.

Why is it that you hear the word ‘dumb’ and its permutations again and again? Because a solid narrative does not rely on constant music to evoke the desired emotions and feelings. That applies for every genre, in this instance though, for both the drama and the horror unfolding in the story. Take Winnie for example: a Hollywood typical. Ingrid Bisu, often cast by Wan, is a wonderful woman (and actress) and she pretends to be a geek who the person who has a crush on won’t even consider looking her that way. Also, she seems like a cat person who can;t find love. PLEASE! Honestly, name one girl who looks like that, is a geek, and cannot find someone (she co-wrote it, by the way).

James Wan is a solid director, I especially love his tracking shots and his use of close-ups. It’s not enough though. Malignant’s script is full of plot holes and that shows so much more on the big screen. And no filmmaking technique or decent acting can make that right. I wish I could be less harsh on the film, but, trust me, I’m already holding my punches.

Stay safe!

P.S. OK, the prison and police station sequences were gruesomely entertaining!

Tsotsi (2005): Crime/Drama

When a young gangster commits a crime he never expected, he finds himself experiencing emotions he never had before.

Mise-en-scene and editing that enhance the narrative, move the story forward and emphasise on the pain but also hope. Tsotsi which, from what I read, means “thug” in Johannesburg slang, was the rightful Oscar winner 2006 for the Best Foreign Language Film of the Year!

When I first watched it back then, I may have had no idea about who Gavin Hood was, or may have not known about films what I know now, or even could not understand what I understand now about South Africa’s torment… but still I was filled with tears in the end while watching it mouth agape. Tsotsi is the torn (anti)hero’s journey that will make you hate him, feel for him, and then be left with so many mixed feelings, rethinking of Boston’s “decency” – and “redemption” (my addition). Megan Hill’s editing plays a tremendous role in narratives such as this as it paces the audience’s emotions and defines the film’s rhythm. It is a masterclass! There are so many more technical details that I could urge you to pay attention to, but no need. Let the film speak to you.

I was fresh out of the special forces back then and, to a certain extent, beside myself, and Tsotsi helped me reevaluate certain aspects of life. That is the power of cinema and, like every other form of art, it is part of our lives, affecting it in ways we could never predict or plan. As much as liked Hood’s Official Secrets (2019) https://kaygazpro.com/2019/12/16/official-secrets-2019-biography-drama-romance/ Tsotsi still remains my all time favourite of his. Last but not least, Presley Chweneyagae’s realistic incarnation of Tsotsi will make you forget he is actually acting. Enjoy the thrill!

Stay safe!

My Son (2021): Crime/Drama/Mystery

After suspecting that his son has been kidnapped, a father does everything in his power to find him.

A parent’s worst fear depicted in a sorrowful, yet mysterious way. For starters, James McAvoy could not be a mediocre actor even if he tried his best. The guy is phenomenal! His acting is out of this world. Writer/director Christian Carion, who adapted his own homonymous film My Son (2017), applied the same technique he did back then: Everyone but McAvoy had received the script so his reactions to every stimulus of the story is genuine. On to that story, then…

The first act is about the missing boy, the parents’ tribulations, the mother’s new boyfriend, and their triangle. Somewhere there you get the odd questions from Inspector Roy that start complicating the issue further but the focus, rightfully, stays on the parents and the missing boy. Until then, the drama and the mystery are well-balanced and one can only feel for the both of them and hope for a happy ending. Imagine I hate happy endings and I most certainly wished for one.

The second act is taken over by mystery where McAvoy, like Liam Neeson without a plan, but hell-bent on finding his son, applies some basic investigating skills. The outcome of his actions is natural and believable as he has not previously displayed any similar skills whatsoever; just a dad willing to do anything to find his son. Eventually, it turns into a nail-biting thriller that in the end… confuses with the turn of events. There might not be a narrative twist, but there is an emotional one. Personally, I found myself wondering how the ending is befitting and even though I understood it to some degree, it evoked mixed feelings inside me. It seemed somewhat rushed and even though throughout act I and II bothered to explain what was going on – which you might find unnecessary – it abruptly ended giving away nothing. Again, I understand open endings, but I struggled, and still do, to find meaning in that one. But that is just me.

I hope you enjoy the thrill it has to offer and yet another stupendous performance from McAvoy. Quick note: I’ve praised Claire Foy in everything she has been in before, and her acting here is nothing but remarkable too. I just think that she deserved more screen time.

Stay safe!

The Woman in the Window (2021): Crime/Drama/Mystery

An agoraphobic woman witnesses a crime that, in order to take action, she will have to face her deepest fear.

Interesting premise, great acting, yet fails to deliver on many fronts. Amy Adams, Gary Oldman, Julianne Moore, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Wyatt Russell are great. That’s the elephant in the room. Tracy Letts’ script and Joe Wright’s directing create a significant issue though: they increase, by the minute, the distance between the audience and Anna – admittedly, not intentionally. The close-ups are plenty, and so are the Dutch angles, the tracking shots, and the low and high angles throughout. It would be very interesting to ask the editor, Valerio Bonelli, about his experience editing it. It feels like its pace is all over the place and its rhythm like a song you want to like but you are too confused to dance to it. Bonelli seems like the person who puts together scattered pieces of visuals that the filmmakers had no idea what to do with. That causes the twists to not being able to find their place in the plot and, consequently, they lose their gravitas. The fact that A.J. Finn’s book has been receiving raving reviews and the film nothing but scathing, makes Wright’s film a mediocre adaptation for the big screen. I haven’t read the book though therefore, I cannot really comment on that, just putting it out.

This is a character-driven story that shouldn’t have been Brian DePalma meets Alfred Hitchcock, but Body Double (1984) meets Rear Window (1954). It’s a real shame to have so many talented people involved in front and behind the cameras and get that head-scratching result. Too many techniques and influences that, ultimately, cancel each other out and leave the audience indifferent, at best. In the end, I didn’t know if it was the plot’s drama or the final cut’s that made me want to cry. I’ll go with the latter.

Stay safe!

Let Him Go (2020): Crime/Drama/Thriller

After losing their only son and their remarried daughter-in-law moves away against her will with their grandson, a retired sheriff and his wife set out to bring them back.

An amazing on-screen couple in a suspenseful, yet emotionally superficial story. My suspicions about the depth started with the inciting incident which was the death of their son. It would have really made me cry if writer/director Thomas Bezucha let Kevin Costner be the actor he really is and then cut to Diane Lane’s response. A father losing his only son is a scene that would break anyone in half. Let alone followed by the mother’s reaction. And Let Him Go… lets it go quite easily – no pun intended. I get the hard-macho-old-sheriff-ranch man who doesn’t show many feelings but even they develop strong bonds with their sons (but also daughters).

Having said that, what Bezucha does well is build up the suspense. The moment they start asking about Donnie Weboy it gets quite intense. It gets, actually, surprisingly intense. And then they make it to dinner with the Weboys where I could hear heartbeat. I say no more about that because you need to watch it for yourselves. But the emotions keep fluctuating throughout and neither build up nor reach climax. Shame really because the story has all the right ingredients that are lost in the plot’s development.

Diane Lane and Kevin Costner were a great couple as Clark Kent’s parents and are a great couple here as well. They play it really well from the beginning, to the motel’s room, to the revenge. Let Him Go is definitely worth-watching and even though it could dwell on the drama a lot more it most definitely transcends the difference between the way men and women think and how that affects them both. Plus, the final scene in the house pays off.

But forget what I or anyone else thinks about it and, as I said, have a go at it. It is Lane and Costner in the same film. In the meantime…

Stay safe!

The Vanishing (2018): Crime/Drama/Mystery

A wooden chest full of gold and greed initiate a chain of events that leads to the disappearance of three lighthouse keepers.

Intense, dark, suspenseful, unpredictable, and superb performances! Knowing that it’s based on the mystery of the Flannan Isles’ actual lighthouse keepers and their controversial logbooks, The Vanishing becomes the absolute thrilling treat. The film’s beauty is that even though you know what will happen in the end (the title and tagline imply it) it makes you want to know the speculation of what will become of them. The “when” and “how” alone intensify the suspense and overshadow what we think is obvious. Furthermore, the shockingly realistic performances make you want the resolution to be delayed so you can see more of Peter Mullan, Gerald Butler, and Connor Swindells on screen. Special mention deserves the editor Morten Højbjerg who knows when to cut and, more importantly, where not to. His editing focuses on the performances and let’s the shot “breathe” enough so you can get the full experience of the thespians. My only objection is the ending which, I believe I speak for all us when I say that, we were really looking forward to it. I found it anticlimactic when so much could have been done with it. Even though the script is the most obvious candidate to take the fall here, director Kristoffer Nyholm should have been the one to expand further and give the open ending the film deserves. Unfortunately, this is not the case but that’s what I think anyway. Maybe, you’ll feel otherwise.

Maybe, we’ll never find out what became of them 120+ years ago, but upon watching it we can tell with certainty that films like this showcase Butler’s true talent without having to water down his amazing Scottish accent. Hollywood should have been utilising his skills a lot more in films such as this rather than in typical cash cows. Having said that, Greenland (2020): https://kaygazpro.com/2020/11/30/greenland-2020-action-drama-thriller/ was realistically terrifying and him and Morena Baccarin were excellent leads. The same applies to Mullan who’s versatility is undeniable – see Ozark (2017) – and he’s breathtaking in everything he’s in.

Definitely worth the shot for an intriguing night full of mystery and a show-don’t-tell lesson that everything comes with a price.

Stay safe!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay safe!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay safe!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay safe!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay safe!

Nobody (2021): Action/Crime/Drama

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

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

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

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

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

Stay safe!

Mother (2009): Crime / Drama / Mystery

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

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

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

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

Stay safe!

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!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay safe!

P.S. I mean… the editing is bad!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay safe!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay safe!

In the Fade (2017): Crime / Drama / Thriller

Having nothing else to lose, a woman seeks revenge after the bomb attack that killed her husband and son.

With the camera mounted on the shoulder, Fatih Akin fully explores the act of “The Family” and hugely invests in Katja’s bereavement in a shocking political, documentary-style crime/drama that will cut your breath short. Diane Kruger’s powerhouse performance will bring tears to your eyes and most definitely adds to the narrative’s realism.

“The Trial” is immense. The disgusting defense lawyer, the remorseless couple, and the prosecutor’s speech, and Katja’s reactions throughout it, compose an excellent court thriller that will, even temporarily, question your beliefs regarding taking justice in your own hands. If that doesn’t bring out “The Punisher” in you, I don’t know what will.

“The Sea” needs to be divided into two segments: “The investigation” is the thrilling part as no one knows what she really has in mind and also no one knows what will happen if she gets caught. That keeps the suspense building up. The second part, “the revenge”, is quite shallow. It feels like Akin is not sure of how he wants to proceed or what he wants to say. Meaning, he doesn’t know what kind of ending he wants the film to have, making it a “semi-revenge” film, in the end. “The Sea”, as a total, makes an enormous contrast to “The Trial” where utterances matter the most. That means that actions should matter here the most, and unfortunately, this is not the case.

To sum it up, In the Fade is a must-watch and, no matter where you are in the world, you can translate the film’s hate to what is happening in your neck of the woods. I hope it gives you some perspective. Among others, Golden Globe Winner (2018) Best Motion Picture: Foreign Language, and Cannes Film Festival Winner: Best Actress- Diane Kruger.

Now… a little a background information. Makris, the Greek guy who appears in court, is a supporter of the, once upon a time, political party called “Golden Dawn”. For those who don’t know, that Neo-Nazi party and its supporters had always been the disgrace of Greece but also humanity’s. The party has been taken down and its members have been sent to jail, where the rest of us hope that they rot there forever. As for the actor who plays Makris, Yannis Economides, he is one of the most prolific Greek / Greek-Cypriot directors of his time, and one that I personally highly admire. Johannes Krisch, the defense lawyer, is nothing like his character in real life so, for portraying himself in such manner so effectively, he also deserves a round of applause.

Stay safe!

Kajillionaire (2020): Crime / Drama

Petty crime runs in the family so, when an attractive outsider joins them, everything goes.

Can something be funny and depressing at the same time? I was about to say other than Kajillionaire which is funny and depressing at the same time but it is not really funny. Or, is it? I am not entirely convinced how or if it was meant to be funny but I didn’t get it. In a way, and don’t quote me on that, it felt like it was borderline mocking mental illness. And whatever that was, the whole family had it!

Once that was established, it just dragged. I think in an attempt to switch genre? Or, maybe, in an attempt for the audience to experience Old Dolio having a change of heart? Whatever the reason might be, Kajillionaire fails to find meaning but, ultimately, piles up all the eccentricity it can get. For a crime/drama – as per IMDb anyway – the plot is less believable than Independence Day (1996). Other than the family’s mental state, there is no chance on Earth a girl like Melanie leaves the plane with such people and go along with their plans. Yes, she seemed like having a dead-end job, no friends or girlfriend, but, personally, I don’t know anyone who would leave that plane with them. But then, nothing really makes sense in the film so, I think that trying to rationalise surrealistic characters and situations is the wrong approach. Which begs the question, what is the right one?

Writer/Director Miranda July is a magnificent indie filmmaker but I cannot (also) understand how she approached so many producers, among others Brad Pitt, and A-List actors such as Richard Jenkins, Debra Winger, Evan Rachael Wood, and Gina Rodriguez and got them onboard. What was the selling point? For the actors, I guess, is to try something different that not too many people will watch and be as awkward as they want. For the producers? They know they will lose whatever penny they put in and they still do it. And the recognition is next to nothing.

Maybe it’s just me not getting it and you find it far better than I think it is. I didn’t know how to feel throughout the whole film even though all I wanted was for Old Dolio and Melanie to find the love they deserved. And that is, at least, the film’s payoff.

Stay safe!

Honest Thief (2020): Action / Crime / Drama

Having met love, a bank robber decides to quit, turn himself in, and cut a deal but nothing goes according to plan.

My issues with the film started with the first act as everything happens too fast, too conveniently. The character development is not even minimal. It jumps straight into it not having shown us how good he is in what he does or anything really about him. Then, he just happens to move into a new town and, right off the bat, he finds a single, attractive woman around his age who, cut to a year later, she decides to move in with him. And then he wants to surrender. I found it like no rapport is build whatsoever. It feels as if no investment in character or story development has been made.

Past the interesting first plot point though and moving into the second act, I must say that things get a lot more… engaging. The action is solid, the explanations given are adequate even convincing, the acting is just about right, and the chemistry between Liam Neeson and Kate Walsh appealing. The story is still not very factual but well shot and well edited, and entertaining nonetheless. With them, Jai Courtney, Jeffrey Donovan, Anthony Ramos, and Robert Patrick complete the film’s interesting cast. Of course, the one that steals the show is none other than… Tazzie!

Finally, most of what you think would happen, does actually happen, leaving nothing much to talk about past the end credits. Regardless, give it a go. For the type of action it is, and in times like these, Honest Thief will keep you entertained and make you forget for a couple of hours how many new cases were announced today.

Stay safe!

Under the Silver Lake (2018): Crime / Drama / Mystery

An unemployed, soon-to-be-evicted, for some reason bad-smelling, disheveled young man is looking for a disappeared woman who only met once, only to start getting obsessed with a Los Angeles conspiracy.

David Robert Mitchell… probably most known for It Follows (2014), comes back, still paying tribute to John Carpenter, but also Alfred Hitchcock and Brian De Palma with a neo-noir mystery/crime about a lifestyle, only known to the City of Angels. If Body Double (1984) and They Live (1988) are films you haven’t watched yet, you must do so either before or after this. Under the Silver Lake is one of them films that can be interpreted in multiple ways. “Attacking” pop culture, being pedantic to the millennials, “accusing” the old guard for manipulating the youth, diminishing star system’s mentality, criticizing Hollywood’s lifestyle, touching on mental illness… all these, and more, are possible interpretations that one can give to Mitchell’s work.

Pay attention to the recurring themes, the coincidences, the resemblances with past popular films – especially Hitchcock’s, the REM song Sam dances to, the way the girl drowns (no spoilers)… Mitchell is an asset to the independent American cinema who implements techniques from studio level films to indies that are doomed to make any money whatsoever but add quality to the American cinema and give actors the opportunity to unfold their talents by fully expressing themselves and be seen to the audience in way that, more often than not, Hollywood deprives from them. Of course, critics were divided and, of course, Hollywood’s system rejected it. Leaning on Hitchcock’s tombstone and having drinks on Grace Kelly’s grave is an allusion to an, arguably, inequitable system that really respects no one and nothing.

I’ve never been to L.A. so, I’m not sure if that lifestyle is somewhat representative of how certain people live by. But not having a job, spending money you don’t have, not caring if you’re gonna be evicted, pay for hookers with the above mentioned money you don’t have, and all that in an astronomically expensive city where, somehow, everything and everyone is related to the movie industry, where they can go to parties that happen every night – uninvited, seems like a world within a world that only the people living there, and somehow can afford it (or not), understand it. Did I mention, disregarding at the same time killers been after you? But then, I guess, that very same lifestyle might also be the root of this superfluous paranoia…

Stay safe!

Mara (2018): Crime / Horror / Thriller

A female psychologist who assists the police in a series of murders comes across an ancient myth of a demon who causes sleep paralysis.

Hollywood… more often than not, it can be seen as a meat grinder. You put the meat into the funnel, and thin stands of that meat come out. There is no chance you put the meat in and something else comes out. Mara is that expected outcome. You know what is going happen, when is going to happen and there are no twists. The, whatever, attempt to surprise the viewer is simply doomed. Because both character and story development are based on clichés, and so is editing and sound – hence, the unfortunate jump scares. Don’t blame these departments though. It’s always the narrative that dictates the techniques.

I know there are reviewers who love annihilating films like Mara. I don’t. So, in a respectful manner, I will share with you my humble opinion, in one sentence: Mara is disjointed from possible every aspect. Olga Kurylenko has come a long way and her acting skills are remarkable so really look forward to seeing her in something like… what Andre Basin considered as cinema. Craig Conway delivers a powerful performance but he does’t have much to work with, really. Extra credits go to James Edward Barker and his impressive original score that finds no place in any of the epidermic attempts to scare or sensitize.

Stay safe!

Charismata (2017): Crime / Horror / Mystery

A young female detective starts suffering from a dream-reality confusion while investigating a series of ritualistic murders.

Right, I’ll be quick. I couldn’t take it seriously from the opening sequence. It’s meant to be ‘horror’ but the British humour overshadowed every chance there was to scare me – and I’m talking slim to none. Writers/directors Andy Collier and Toor Mian are obviously David Fincher fans, but the budget, story and character development, photography, editing, acting, but also the profound understanding of a serial killer’s psychosynthesis are hardly evident in the film.

But hey… Charismata is a British low budget indie horror that took time, money, and effort to get made and had no intention to fool you or undermine your intelligence. Should you decide to watch it, it’ll take your mind off things for just over an hour and a half, and actually, entertain you a little. Plus, it does have a couple of impressive shots.

Stay safe!

Ava (2020): Action / Crime / Drama

A female assassin with a troubled past, after having accomplished numerous missions, becomes a target herself and has to fight for her life.

Ava a film that I will spend little to no time and I’ll be brutally honest. Geena Davis is the only actress who is exempt from what comes next. She’s the flower protruding from the swamp.

Ava is badly shot, miserably edited, poorly acted, and horribly produced. What saddens me is the fact that A-list actors agreed to do this after reading a fundamentally flawed and clichéd script. Was it money? Boredom? Everyone was simultaneously high? Regardless, the result remains the same: a messed up, destined to sink and stay at the bottom, wannabe, Vidal Sassoon, assassin film.

How could they?!

Stay safe!

One Night in Bangkok (2020): Action / Crime / Drama

A man arrives at the airport of Bangkok, gets a gun, hires a young female taxi driver, and people with no obvious connection between them start dropping one by one.

One Night in Bangkok is more or less what you expect it to be. Producer/writer/director Wych Kaosayananda builds up the narrative slow enough for the audience to get to know Kai and Fha to justify the film’s denouement. The editing’s rhythm and pace put the film together harmonically, but quite early into the film one can realise that Kaosayananda doesn’t want to get rid of anything he has shot. And that becomes quite problematic. There is too much dialogue that could have been avoided, firstly, to tight the script up and reduce the film’s duration, and secondly, to edit out everything that the audience would have understood anyway without the heroes and villains saying it. The latter is a greater issue simply because, personally, I felt as if I don’t get enough credits as a viewer. I truly believe that about twenty minutes could have been cut out, leaving much to the audience’s imagination and also focusing on the action.

The action is another issue though that could have been done better too. By now, we have seen action films in the last couple of decades that are equivalent to a cinematic miracle. Prachya Pinkaew and Gareth Evans have offered us Thai and Indonesian productions that have left us gobsmacked. Ever since, action sequences have evolved and raised the bar sky-high. Going back to mediocre action scenes, especially starring Mark Dacascos, an avid martial artist, coming from a family of martial artists… lowers the expectations and generates mediocre reviews. Shame really.

The thing is that Dacascos is a good actor and I really hope that, even now that he is nearing 60 he can still impress us with something better written, directed, and produced. Lastly, Vanida Golten, who appears for the first time in a film, does a magnificent job. Lets hope that we see her in more projects.

Stay safe!

The Devil all the Time (2020): Crime / Drama / Thriller

Dark, interweaving stories about faith, chance, innocence, and corruption that spring from the most corrupted part of the human soul.

West Virginia… WWII is over, the soldiers are back, and the Willards, not from West Virginia, have trouble adapting. As if the war hadn’t done enough damage, the understanding of Lord’s mysterious ways led people to be… set in their own ways. A result that brings irony and nemesis, a rhetorical device and a goddess respectively, from ancient Greece, that civilisations have been stumbling upon, in numerous shapes and forms, for millennia.

Almost an hour into the film, the new generation takes over the torch and builds on that wretched foundation, paving the path for and giving birth to menace and hypocrisy, two human “qualities” that the ancient Greeks “saw”chewing up man’s soul like locus. And there is only one offspring that can come out of such a sorrowful family tree… Tragedy!

Writer/director Antonio Campos, co-writer Paulo Campos, and editor and wife of the former Sofía Subercaseaux put their heart and soul into the film. The Devil all the Time has two strong suits. One, is the narrative. The exchange between the omniscient narrator who speaks people’s minds and connects interweaving stories, and the interchangeable restricted narration between the heroes and villains, and the audience.

The second one is the phenomenal casting: Tom Holland, Bill Skarsgård, Riley Keough, Jason Clarke, Sebastian Stan, Haley Bennet, Eliza Scanlen, Mia Wasikowska, Harry Melling, and Robert Pattinson. And guess what, most of them are not even Americans. Excellent chemistry between the actors and amazing work with the dialect coaching. Most of the cast and crew have worked together in other films before, with the most notable collaboration being Holland, Stan, and Jake Gyllenhaal, who’s wearing the producer’s hat – MCU. Donald Ray Pollock, the author of the homonymous novel, gets a special reference for voicing his first ever narration in the film.

I guess, in life, what goes around comes around. And The Devil all the Time is no short of literature on screen, believing, and strongly indicating it in the denouement, that we are trapped in an indissoluble delusion that we can run away from ourselves.

Stay safe!

A Good Woman is Hard to Find (2019): Crime / Drama / Thriller

Having recently lost her husband, a young mother is trying to protect her children from poverty and her little town’s underworld.

Goddamn poverty! Goddamn misery! Goddamn drugs! Regardless which triggers which and in what order, the defining opening shot somehow is immediately understood by the shots that follow it. Or is it?

Writer/director of Road Games (2015), Abner Pastoll, directs a gritty Irish thriller with a realistic plague, a surrealist villain, and a down to Earth heroine that has to put up with both while protecting her children. And what a heroine’s journey that is…

Pastoll creates a dark for the audience yet healthy for the actors environment to showcase their chemistry and shine in front of the camera. Sarah Bolger, Edward Hogg, and Andrew Simpson lead the way but the rest of the cast follows and supports them as they should to create this thrilling crime/drama. Much respect for the whole crew that managed to bring this low budget, indie film to life.

Now… I cannot not comment on the dildo… probably the weirdest use(s) I’ve seen outside comedy. One is, unintentionally funny. Or dramatically funny – is there such a thing? Stealing your kids’ batteries from their toys to put them in your vibrator because you are a recently widowed young mum with urges isn’t funny… just funnily portrayed. Come on, I mean, I am sure they knew the mixed reactions the scene would stimulate. On the other hand, stabbing someone’s eye with the same vibrator you satisfy yourself to save yourself from rape is nothing but ironic (but relieving nonetheless).

Despite your feelings towards it, at least, you’ll witness a security system that uses VHS, and you’ll learn what a metaphor is…

Stay safe!

13th (2016): Documentary / Crime

The astronomical rise of the prison population in the US throughout the decades, through victimization of ethnic minorities and partnerships between correctional facilities and private corporations.

A brave new world! Well, not so new really. Well, not so brave either I guess. Writer, producer, and director Ava DuVernay hits the nail on the head with a revealing documentary on the, once inexplicable, rise of the prison population and its deep connections to the racial inequality, the capitalist system, and their common denominator which is none other than the continuously manipulative governments.

I am pretty convinced that DuVernay’s footage was dozens of hours long and she could probably have had about three documentaries like 13th. While evaluating her footage, she decided to narrow it down and tell the story the way she did. The documentary’s strong suit is the information it provides on the connection between the era of slavery to the media and cinema and The Birth of a Nation (1915) to the present era, and how is all connected to the rise of the correctional facilities industry. I for one, and not being American, I didn’t have the foggiest so that was, while unpleasant and disheartening, an eye-opening experience. The research was also solid and the archive footage was strong and extremely effective, it literally put a lot into perspective.

And even though I learned loads about the disgusting, filthy companies that profit from human suffering, I didn’t get around why the poor who can’t get out of prison have been incarcerated to begin with. I got an idea, don’t get me wrong, but instead on spending some time to expand on it, it expanded on movements and actions that were not related to the rise of the prison population.

The editing in documentaries such as 13th plays a catalytic role in narrative formation. Documentary is research. The filmmaker does not really know where it will lead or how it will really lead them where it will. It is a journey. O.J.: Made in America (2016) is a perfect example of that. 7 hours and 47 minutes, after editing, that focuses on the chronicle of O.J. Simpson, the anchor of the documentary, and only expands to the events that surround his case.

Regardless, 13th is a must-watch as is DuVernay’s previous work Selma (2014), and the biographical When They See Us (2019) – reviews to follow.

Panagiotis, this one’s for you mate. Thank you for the recommendation.

Stay safe!

Midnight FM (2010): Action / Crime / Thriller

During a radio producer’s last show, a serial killer invades her home threatening to kill her family.

The overwhelming suspense! Three thrilling acts that will keep you glued to your seats until the very end. There is not one dull moment throughout the film. Korean suspenseful narrative that, as usual, it does not hold back and does not disappoint. This is a story-driven thriller where all utterances and actions are held accountable for is going to happen next.

Excellent directing that the fast-paced editing unfolds the fabula and syuzhet exactly when the information is needed to be disclosed. Soo Ae and Ji-Tae Yoo shine on camera, creating a stimulating chemistry. Extra round of applause goes to the little girls for their equally brilliant performances.

Midnight FM is a must-watch and no matter what I say will not make it more appealing. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Stay safe!

The Town (2010): Crime / Drama / Thriller

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A band of thieves terrorise the banks of Boston but when personal feelings and the FBI get in the way, everyone’s loyalty is at stake.

10 years old and not outdated a bit. Thrilling action and suspenseful drama to keep you pinned to your seats for two hours. Since the beginning of his career, Ben Affleck has been proving time and time again his undeniable talent both in front and behind the camera. Think of The Town as Heat (1995) meets Good Will Hunting (1997). An exceptional mid-90s action film, fifteen years later. Next to Affleck, Jeremy Renner will make you wonder, “is he actually such an asshole?” He is meant to be one and he nails it as he nails the accent. One of his best performances to date. Jon Hamm, Rebecca Hall, and Blake Lively couldn’t have been a better choice, and Titus Welliver, Chris Cooper, and the late Pete Postlethwaite are as hateable as they were meant to be. A-list form head to toe!

I know that you probably have watched it. If you have, watch it again. It is most definitely worth it. If somehow you’ve missed it, make it your next 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!

The Gangster, the Cop, the Devil (2019): Action / Crime / Drama

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A hard as nails cop joins forces with a crime boss to take down a serial killer.

Based on a true story, The Gangster, the Cop, the Devil will get your undivided attention right off the bat from the opening scene. The South Korean film school proves time and time again that no matter what the genre, the outcome will be fulfilling and worth every minute you spend on it. Mu-Yeol Kim and Ma Dong-seok as cop and gangster respectively, develop excellent chemistry in their unlike partnership, offering a high-octane action / thriller trying to capture an unknown serial killer.

Captivating photography, engaging editing, and brilliant character and story development. Ma Dong-seok, after his amazing performance in Train to Busan (2016) comes back, punching above his league and comes out a winner stealing the show. Also, check Mu-Yeol Kim in Forgotten (2017) https://atomic-temporary-153424946.wpcomstaging.com/2020/05/25/forgotten-2017-mystery-thriller/. Both films HIGHLY recommended.

Now sit back, relax, and enjoy the bloody ride.

Stay safe!

Capone (2020): Biography / Crime / Drama

Capone

Having spent 10 years in prison, Capone gets to spend the last year of his life at his mansion, suffering from dementia and visions of a violent past.

A few people asked me to watch it and tell them what I think. Well, here it is…

There are four (4) different points that need to be looked at rather than overlooked: The most obvious is Tom Hardy who, no matter who he portrays, he portrays them with effortless artistry. So, don’t pick up the stones yet. My next point is the A-list cast who supports him equally well and poses no threat to the film whatsoever. Then, it’s the makeup. Now, here I can see that you are looking at the stones again. If I had started watching the film ten minutes into it, I would think it’s a zombie or vampire Capone. The problem escalates and climaxes with the fourth point which is the writing that is all over the place. It seems like it parodies Capone’s end, and I can understand how this can be somehow offensive even if it’s regarding a criminal like him.

Writer/editor/director Josh Trank thought it would be a good idea to combine approaches taken by David Lynch and Stanley Kubrick and portray the well-known Italian-American as if he’s walking between two worlds. In such light, a major issue becomes the main genre that officially characterises the film and, consequently, the viewers’ expectations. As someone who doesn’t know much about Capone’s last year, I didn’t see it as biographical as I didn’t see any crime either (that one shooting doesn’t count).

Trank was somehow lucky – even though that might be an inaccurate term. Should the film had a theatrical release, chances are that it would have suffered a similar or worse fate than his last film five years ago. My humble opinion is that he is a great independent director who faces a lot of issues when it comes to collaborating with major studios. Chronicle (2012) is a solid proof of that.

Stay safe!

Uncut Gems (2019): Crime / Drama / Thriller

Uncut Gems

A New York City jeweler is constantly trying to find ways to pay off his debts while dealing with a number of personal issues.

Greed makes people take the worst decisions and then they wonder why their lives seem like a bottomless flush down the toilet. This is the story of Howard Ratner (Adam Sandler) who represents the kind of people who believe that two wrongs make a right. The journey of a man who refuses to settle to what he has and constantly going for what he could have had, losing always more and more until… well, you’ll have to watch it!

Sandler’s comeback to the big screen is remarkable – since 2015 all of his films have gone straight to Netflix. I believe that if the Academy could take him seriously, he would have been nominated but, don’t worry Adam, we don’t take the Academy seriously anymore ourselves. Sandler has survived in the film industry for just over three decades and he’s not going anywhere yet. Actor and rapper LaKeith Stanfield stands by his side but also opposes him, still revealing his diversity as an actor and I for one, look forward to seeing him in as many mainstream and/or alternative projects as possible. Last but not least, Julia Fox is as impressive as they come. Brilliant appearance on screen no matter how you look at it.

And now the Safdie Brothers… After a number of shorts, and the impressive Lenny Cooke (2013) and Heaven Knows What (2014), they brought to us Good Time (2017) which followed their style and made a suspenseful story but… these… repeated… Pattinson close-ups couldn’t be more distracting. Robert Pattinson is a great actor but it was just too much. So glad we didn’t get many Sandler close-ups. That said, you might find the music a bit distracting but once you familiarise yourselves with their Safdie style of filmmaking, it will make more sense. Congrats to everyone in front and behind the camera. 2 hours+ just flew by.

Stay safe!

Extraction (2020): Action / Crime / Thriller

Extraction

A self-destructive, black market mercenary signs up for a deadly mission where allies and enemies are difficult to tell apart.

I’m gonna start with the bad news: The script, unequivocally, has more holes than Swiss cheese. Something that, unavoidably, leads to clichés. Without wanting to decimate both the story and the plot, know what you sign up for! Two hours of standard Hollywood, action narrative, seriously lacking plausibility, and character depth.

Now for the good news: As a representative example of cinema of attractions, Extraction‘s mid-fighting sequence, where everyone is after Tyler and the kid, the seemingly almost-12-minute, protracted shot is brilliantly made. This type of filmmaking is challenging as hundreds or thousands of people put their magic touch to look as impressive. A lot of people are getting injured in front of the camera, and a lot of people are working endlessly day and night behind it. What’s more, Chris Hemsworth nails his part as the tough as nails guy who suffers internally more than he suffers when he gets run over and shot. Sam Hargrave’s directorial debut who has come a long way from a stunt double (Chris Evans’ as Captain America), to stunt choreographer to here. And been produced by the Russo Brothers, I can assume that MCU is indeed… a family. I admire people like Hargrave. He reminds me of other successful stunts turned directors and producers such as Chad Stahelski and David Leitch, and Zoë Bell. It is a hopeful sign that talent and hard work pay off.

So, who is this film for? For everyone who wants to forget our deeply damaged reality, consisting of shameless hypocrites and cowards who found themselves in power – or represent it. Turn off reality for a bit and see how popcorn entertainment can serve its purpose. My heart goes out to the people suffering. But remember:

“[…] Through every dark night, there’s a bright day after that. So no matter how hard it get, stick your chest out, keep ya head up…. and handle it.” ― Tupac Shakur

Stay safe!

The Outsider (2020): Crime / Drama / Mystery

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When solid, undisputed evidence points at a man committing a despicable crime, family, friends, and law enforcement try to determine how he could have done it… when he wasn’t there.

One of the best Stephen King adaptations with the HBO guarantee! Ben Mendelsohn and Jason Bateman work brilliantly both in front and behind the camera and with them, Bill Camp, Jeremy Bobb, Mary Winningham, Paddy Considine, Yul Vazquez, Julianne Nicholson, Marc Menchaca, and Cynthia Erivo fight against an… asymmetric threat! A threat that only HBO would build up so much and so meticulously that you have no other option but to actually believe in it eventually as much as the series’ biggest “Doubting Thomas”.

The acting is gripping and the episodes’ cliffhangers, phenomenal. The screen will suck you in while trying to establish what would you do, how could you explain it, and the ways in which you would have acted. The formation of the aforementioned unlikely alliance will take you to a journey where you’ll be constantly craving for more as the deeper they dig, the darker and eerier the rabbit hole turns.

Even though it can’t get scarier than watching the news, turn the lights off, forget our soul-sucking reality, and enjoy the horror that is meant to entertain you rather than harm you.

Stay safe!

I See You (2019): Crime / Drama / Horror

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Strange phenomena occur in a detective’s house while he’s trying to bring his family together and investigate the case of a disappeared kid.

How on Earth did this one go unnoticed??? I See You defies the Hollywood conventions and comes out of nowhere to shock you with its originality. Director Adam Randal and writer Devon Graye do a tremendous job behind the camera and Helen Hunt, Jon Tenney, Judah Lewis, Owen Teague, and last but not least Liebe Barer work perfectly with and against each other and keep you on the edge of your seat. Films like this, still prove that to this day, no one can predict the success of a film. Distribution, marketing, timing, and innumerable production miscalculations that you and I will never find out, all blend in, sometimes all at once, and work in favour or against a film that either make it or break it.

Regardless of the outcome, I See you is highly recommended and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. I’m not gonna say much… Actually, I’m not gonna say anything at all and let you guys feel the thrill. The timelines, the acting, the music, the lack of it, the vantage points, the twists and turns… are all you need to escape our reality and the abhorrent times we currently live in.

Point Blank (2019): Action / Crime / Thriller

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A male nurse and a crook have to team up against corrupted cops and gangsters to protect their families.

Entertaining Netflix action flick with two amazing actors, buddies from Gangster Squad (2013) and the MCU. Anthony Mackie and Frank Grillo unite once more as hero and antihero respectively and spend 24 unforgettable (screening) hours together to get theirs and their families’ lives back. Netflix knows the recipe very well and does it once more. The addition of humourous elements adds to the joy and the fast-paced thrill makes your hour and twenty minutes fly by. Joe Lynch deserves the spotlight and I hope one day he really gets it as that’s the third film I’ve seen from him and I must say that his films are highly enjoyable. Worth mentioning are also: Everly (2014) and Mayhem (2017) – Good opportunity to re-watch them and review. Very well acted by both Mackie and Grillo who make an incredible duo.

Don’t fall for the negativity. Especially, in unfortunate and difficult times that all of us are facing at the moment, films like Blank Point make us forget how gloomy and nasty it is out there. Sit back, relax, and enjoy. And always stay safe!

This is England ’83 / ’86 / ’88 / ’90

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“The World of Apu” is a bimonthly, diverse, and multilingual online film magazine which explores film cultures from around the world.

Below you can find my analysis on Shane Meadows’ film and miniseries This is England. A drama based on his childhood experiences, consisting of everyday heroes who share the story of a lifetime.

This is England ’83 / ’86 / ’88 / ’90

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).

21 Bridges (2019): Action / Crime / Drama

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A drug robbery goes horribly bad, police officers get killed, and a hard as nails cop shuts down Manhattan in order to get them.

It feels like anything positive I have to say about the film is going to be generic and everything that is wrong will be thoroughly detailed. So, I’ll try to balance it out. The corruption in the police is old news. One man fighting against the system, too. The fact that racism is left out is hopeful. And shutting down Manhattan to achieve a bust is… innovative. 21 Bridges is definitely entertaining and will make you forget your problems for an hour and forty minutes. But implausibility becomes a major issue.

It’s giving me the sense that a third of the film is missing. A third of the film has been left in the editing room. In an hour and forty minutes, we don’t get enough character development. ‘Trigger’ doesn’t earn his name and yet it shows towards the end that he has skills. Ray (brilliantly played by the always brilliant Taylor Kitsch), the guy that is not to be messed with no matter what does not get the time (or opportunity) to go against ‘Trigger’ and give us, the audience, a spectacle. So, their brief encounter is anticlimactic. Then, the four hours script-time (the timeframe in which the cop killers need to get caught) must be squeezed into less than an hour screen-time with action that happens way too fast and disillusions the magic. To cut the long story short, the parallel action is at warp speed, jumping from one clue to the next, leading to resolution, leaving us with no absorption of any information. With the Russo Brothers putting on the producers’ hat, I would expect more detail, especially with character development.

To finish up on a good note, the robbery in the opening act is meticulously shot, with the editing offering clean cuts and, coincidentally, clean action. Also, Chadwick Boseman is the right man for the role and if you want to see him properly unfolding his action skills, watch Message from the King (2016).