Minamata (2020): Drama

Life magazine sends photographer Eugene Smith to Japan to document the atrocious effect of mercury poisoning on the people of Minamata.

A must-see! Johnny Depp’s performance is the real deal, but this is not why you need to watch this. Let me get it out of the way because many may focus on that, but that shouldn’t be the focus point. Depp’s performance is intriguing as much it is compelling and I will add that Hiroyuki Sanada’s presence is purely explosive! Now…

The opening shot takes your breath away and keeps the hard and cruel promise it makes. Writer/Producer/Director Andrew Levitas fought tooth and nail to get Minamata released after premiering at the 2020 Berlin International Film Festival. Depp’s court case forced pushing the released date back, but the long wait was definitely worth it.

The first half an hour is about the inevitable; Eugene Smith to accept the job and live up to the name he once had. Once that is out of the picture, the struggle of Minamata’s people immediately becomes the relatable focus point, starting with the poisoned boy taking the camera off Smith’s hands. Every person affected and depicted after him becomes the audience’s struggle to breath properly as cinematographer’s Benoit Delhomme’s lens captures their unspeakable drama with respect and understanding. Every shot becomes, indeed, a thousand words of unbearable burden.

There is so much I could say about the film’s pace and rhythm, and every actor’s / actress’ devotion to the project, but I’ll deliberately generalise and claim that films like Minamata is the reason cinema exists. Cinema is entertainment but it is also, like any other form of art, the means to express the way artists perceive the world. ‘Science fiction’ holds truths about mankind with direct or subliminal messages hidden in the narrative. ‘Horror’, in its own respect, and among others, reveals sides of ourselves that we could never admit about our nature. Minamata exists to disclose both sides of mankind that disgust us, but also make us want to cry with what we can accomplish but we have yet the chance (or will) to do so.

I know these on-screen kids didn’t suffer from a disease caused by mercury, but my breath was cut short and felt like bursting into tears, nonetheless. Allowing myself to believe it though, is the kind of immense influence cinema has. Cinematic magic is the one I always allowed myself as a kid to believe in and it is the one that has made me get through life itself.

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!