The Gray Man (2022): Action/Thriller

A CIA agent becomes the agency’s target and all hell breaks loose.

Great cast, great potential, and a tremendous waste of both. Not uncommon for a special agent’s job to be dubious. Especially, right off the bat. But knowing, right after, that Ryan Gosling and Chris Evans will go toe to toe, most certainly makes it immensely interesting. But is it? The airplane sequence’s development is really, I mean, really uncalled for. Six has already displayed certain skills that brand him a top-tier assassin, but the CGI and the humanly impossible do nothing but take away these abilities, stating that without it he cannot do what the narrative suggests he is trained to do.

Regardless, he gets a chance to redeem himself. What happens next? Loads and loads and loads of human hunting, shooting, and Michael Bay-level of destruction. The “Prague on Fire” sequence is a representative example of that, and, in all honesty, no further elaboration is needed. There is a lot of impressive yet unrealistic action, knock-off Die Hard-esque and half-cooked dialogues that, again, discount its full potential. The good news is Ana de Armas, Jessica Henwick, Billy Bob Thornton, Alfre Woodard, and the well-anticipated confrontation of Gosling and Evans.

Producers/directors Anthony and Joe Russo were given $200m dollars to make it, deeming it the most expensive Netflix original film, tying it with Red Notice (2021). While the Russos know how to shoot both action and dramatic sequences (and Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely how to write them) – Captain America: Civil War (2016), Avengers: Infinity War (2018), Avengers: Endgame (2019), etc., The Gray Man falls really short. While the multi-chopped style of editing seems to be the obvious reason, if during principal photography the choreography is not well prepared, or if the actors are not given the opportunity to fully express themselves without being cut, the editing can only do so much (damage or good). Unfortunately, that particular childish narrative represents the side of Hollywood that only cares about the cash cow and not the audience’s intelligence. Oh! And, once more, everyone could have also been a fragrance or an underwear model. #

Is it worth your time? Well, it’ll make you forget your problems for a couple of hours, make you smile a little, and send you to bed.

Please, don’t forget to share, and subscribe. If you enjoy my work and dedication to films, please feel free to support me on https://www.patreon.com/kaygazpro. Any contribution is much appreciated and valued.

Solidarity for Ukraine 🇺🇦 🙏

Stay safe!

After Yang (2021): Drama/Sci-fi

In the not-so distant-future, a family’s A.I. breaks down, and, when certain secrets are revealed, everyone starts reevaluating life’s values.

Going from kinda melancholic, to kinda funny, to clearly confusing, Kogonada’s After Yang determines from the very beginning what kind of a film it is. Based on the short story by Alexander Weinstein “Saying Goodbye to Yang”, After Yang walks a tightrope, loses its balance and falls, depending on your school of thought, either onto monotony or somnolence. If you are a fan of Yorgos Lanthimos’ emotionless films, Dogtooth (2009), The Lobster (2015), and The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017), you might find it interesting – and it actually is. It’s no surprise Colin Farrell is in it as he has been in two of Lanthimos’ films and, I’m glad he is for it shows that he is beyond Hollywood cliché roles that boost his personality and not his acting skills. Next to him, Jodie Turner-Smith (Kyra), Justin H. Min (Yang), and Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja (Mika) complete the main, and wonderfully diverse cast.

On the other hand, personally, I prefer films that evoke emotions as their expression fills me with emotions, and, consequently, I express myself. After Yang left me emotionally flat; I grasp the philosophical approach, but I believe it falls short cinematically. Having said that, pay attention to the editing when characters philosophise; the expression of their thoughts right before the expression of their sentences. What does that mean to you? How do you interpret it? What’s the reason behind it? Photography, admittedly, adds to the quality of the film as do certain visual effects, still though, I struggled to get emotionally attached to the narrative. In the end, I liked how the story concluded and how it got there as it left me speculating and/or imagining the real meaning of the plot. Some more questions for you: What does family mean to you? What do memories mean to you? What are we without them?

As mentioned above, there is philosophy aplenty involved. Its cinematic approach though might leave you unengaged with the narrative – but, it may not. This might be due to the kind of action, the kind of utterances, the flat performances, or, simply, the way the story unfolds. I would recommend it to a particular audience as some people I know would watch it and debate or accept my arguments and others would fall asleep the first half hour, blaming me then and asking for their time back.

Now that you know, it’s up to you.

Solidarity for Ukraine 🇺🇦 🙏

Stay safe!

Prisoners of the Ghostland (2021): Action/Fantasy/Sci-fi

A man with a dark past is sent to an allegedly cursed place to find and bring back a missing woman.

Experimental, surrealistic, and intricately poetic. Don’t expect to make much sense in the beginning… Or in the middle… Or in the end… I’ll keep it deliberately brief so you can decide for yourselves if this is your cup of tea or not.

It seems like Nicolas Cage and Sofia Butella’s story takes place in a dystopic, surrealistic, post-apocalyptic, Westernised Japan stuck (metaphorically) in (a futuristic) time. How did that happen? It doesn’t really matter. Through diverse filmmaking techniques, such as Tarantin-esque and Lynchean, Prisoners of the Ghostland is inundated with surrealistic performances and utterances, and oneiric (dreamy) and trippy sequences. Furthermore, the spirit of ancient Greek drama that guides it, from the chorus to the means of expression, adds to the hero’s journey on the way of redemption. What to expect, in a nutshell: A story that doesn’t make too much sense, in a film that doesn’t care to explain (not the way you would expect to, anyway). And neither feels guilty about it nor apologises for it.

For your information… the film faced certain setbacks. Director Sion Sono suffered a heart attack and the film was moved from Mexico to Japan, and that delayed the production for about 1 year. It took 17 years for the writer Reza Sixo Safai took to get the film made so, if it wasn’t for Sion’s health, it still would have been 16. This is the fourth collaboration between XYZ Films and Cage who, once more, goes on berserk mode. If you are interested, Mandy (2018): https://kaygazpro.com/2018/12/01/mandy-2018-action-horror-thriller/ and Color out of Space (2019): https://kaygazpro.com/2020/02/07/color-out-of-space-2019-horror-sci-fi/ are equally colourful and crazy. But even they make more sense than this one. Oh, if that’s your thing, don’t forget this one: Willy’s Wonderland (2021): https://kaygazpro.com/2021/11/24/willys-wonderland-2021-action-comedy-horror/

Cage’s surrealistic acting is unique and it’s his trademark. Love him or loathe him, he has managed to stand out and create a specific fan club that follows him. He even got acting schools to focus on his way of performing, calling him the David Lynch of acting (Lynch has praised him already). Needless to say that Butella is mesmerising as ever and, as in previous films, she doesn’t mind getting her hands dirty.

Now that you know, it’s up to you of you are going to give it a shot or not.

Solidarity for Ukraine 🇺🇦 🙏

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.

Old (2021): Drama/Horror/Mystery

A luxurious resort sends a cohort of families to a secluded beach where, inexplicably, they rapidly get older.

Mixed feelings over a simple premise. Starting with the narrative, During Act I, nothing’s happening, and the lack of the inciting incident negatively impacts the film’s pace and rhythm. By definition, that creates a tremendous contrast with the second act where everything’s happening. Act II is… death! People are dropping like flies and all you know is that that beach is making everyone… old. But there is more to it as certain wounds heal, others get worse, and so on. So, stick around to the very end to see what Act III has in store for you.

From a directing point of view, M. Night Shyamalan is in full control of his camera and its movement. He takes charge of what to disclose, or not to and why, and most importantly, how to deal with either case. Very interesting crane shots, tracking shots, and Hitchcock’s zooms in moments where age abnormality incidents are about to occur. The second act is where he patiently builds up the suspense and horror in order to lead to the climactic night.

Shyamalan, based on Pierre Oscar Lévy’s graphic novel ‘Sandcastle’ and heavily influenced by Luis Buñuel’s satire The Exterminating Angel (1962) wrote the script before the pandemic hit but shot the film right in the middle of it. Making sure that all precautions are taken, himself, the crew, and the cast were stunned by the similarities of what they were shooting and the effects the pandemic had in the world (especially, last year). After all, Old deals with isolation (lock-down), the roots of death (virus), the fear of infection, and the way out of this tragedy. Surprisingly immaculate timing, indeed. Speaking of the cast: Gael García Bernal,Vicky Krieps, Rufus Sewell, Abbey Lee, Ken Leung, Amuka-Bird, Aaron Pierre and the rest of the cast do a great job portraying their characters, adding with their performances to Shyamalan’s vision. Embeth Davidtz gets a separate mention as I’m biased (I admit it) and find her amazing in everything she’s been in.

Other than the aforementioned influences, Shyamalan said, originally, he wanted to get involved with this project due to his parents getting old and personal phobias of his. Be it as it may, I bought and read Lévy’s ‘Sandcastle’ as, admittedly, I was not aware of – and I was really interested in observing the differences. The adaptation is remarkable and I take my hat off to both Lévy for grasping this concept and Shyamalan for bringing it to life. There is something I noticed though that I believe in Old became a fainted subplot when, I believe, it should have been, arguably, the main plot: Life is too short! I know it sounds cliché, but it is! And the pandemic made (most of) us rethink and rearrange our priorities in life. And not only is it too short, but whatever problems we think we may have now, these problems will be amplified as the years pass by. And all we are going to be left with is remorse for all the things we never tried, reminiscence, and one last chance for redemption. Maybe, think about that while watching it.

Of course, this is Hollywood and this is Shyamalan so the result has to be somewhat fancy and there has to be a twist. Personally, I didn’t find the twist so impactful as it raised some questions that led me to plot holes. Overall, I found it intriguing though and I highly recommend it despite its flaws. I hope you enjoy it and makes you think about life after the end credits start scrolling down.

Stay safe!

Dune (2021): Action/Adventure/Drama

The House of Atreides moves to planet Arrakis to protect the most precious resource of existence, but yet another interstellar feud amongst the Houses is just about to begin.

Yet another feud, yet another cinematic achievement from Denis Villeneuve! A phantasmagorical Part 1 that will impress even the hardest ones to please! Dune has it all; the solid script and acting, the state-of-the-art visuals and sounds, Hans Zimmer’s epic soundtrack, the extraordinary photography, the controlled pace and rhythm… everything!

Villeneuve did not become slave to the original source – Frank Herbert’s already amazing novel – but respected it, visualised it in a way no one has done before, and materialised it like no one has done before. While watching it, I couldn’t help but wonder: did I ever imagine in the early 90s, while playing the game, that I will watch Dune, a film of that magnitude, on the big screen? Yet, here I am having watched it… ready already for Part Two.

One may notice the numerous liberties taken adapting the film, but we need to remember that film is a visual medium and that an adaptation is a product of its era (think from societal needs and restrictions to VFX). And Villeneuve’s liberties work like a Swiss watch. See for example the fighting styles: As per IMDb, Fight Coordinator Roger Yuan gave the House of Harkonnen ancient Mongolian fighting skills and the House of Atreides Filipino fighting skills, a visual result that matches the nature of the two Houses. The same applies for the costume design that doesn’t resemble the book’s descriptions, and yet every costume encapsulates the status of each House.

The all-star cast comprises of: Timothée Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac, Jason Momoa, Josh Brolin, Javier Bardem, Sharon Duncan-Brewster, Zendaya, Stellan Skarsgård, Chang Chen, Dave Bautista, Charlotte Rampling, and more. An excellent cast that shines in front of the camera. My only issue with Hollywood, and not the film in particular, is that everyone has to be attractive. Everyone could as well be a model on an underwear or a fragrance poster. But whatever… I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve brought that one up.

Every department, every cinematic technique applied, everything you see and hear… can be thoroughly analysed individually, but also collectively. And either for research or purely informative purposes, researchers and columnists, respectively, will write extensively about Dune. For now, what you need to do, is turn off the lights, turn down your phones, turn up your sound system, and enjoy a unique cinematic experience.

Stay safe!

Blood Red Sky (2021): Action/Horror/Thriller

Hijackers take over a plane, not possibly knowing that there’s a woman on board suffering from a monstrous illness.

Unique, gripping, and if you ignore logic at certain points, a great R-rated entertainment. The film starts with a meaningful flashback that serves the narrative perfectly and builds up the heroine’s backstory. The fast-edited shots right before though don’t do it too much justice as we are meant to get thrilled about something we know nothing about. Then it starts pacing and finding rhythm even with the flashback within the flashback. Well, you are about to watch the following: a vampire with a kid, before fully turning, unleashes the beast inside her in a hijacked plane full of civilians and trained assassins! As audience, you just hope the filmmakers don’t blow it out of proportion and stick to the strong plot that the dramatic yet horrifying subplot supports so well. Does it, then?

Before I go into it, the first one who deserves a praise is Peri Baumeister. Her role is extremely challenging and she absolutely nails it. Her performance is terrifying as it is dramatic which is exactly what her character should be. Writer/director Perer Thorwarth and co-writer Stefan Holtz are next on the list for coming up and bringing to life this project. It is something that we most certainly haven’t seen before. Due to its uniqueness, the film takes a completely unexpected turn where everything goes. And indeed everything does go. There are bits and bobs that maybe don’t add up, but, come on, don’t go too hard on it. It’s trying to fool no one and the dramatic level matches the horrifying. Try to think of it as Die Hard (1988) meets Blade II (2002) and you’ll definitely enjoy it.

I know I very much enjoyed the diversity and, especially, the role of Muslims as, for a change, it breaks the stereotypes and portrays them as they can be in real life; scientific and/or heroic like any other religious or non-religious human being.

Stay safe!

P.S. My thoughts and prayers right now go out to the people who suffer from real-life horrors and dramas, such as the unspeakable wildfires that swallow everything in their path and their aftermath!

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!

Chaos Walking (2021): Action / Adventure / Fantasy

Many years into the future, on an unknown planet, a male-only settlement is after two youngsters who are in search of truth.

Interesting premise! Like any decent sci-fi, behind the top dollar spent and the fancy visual effects there is a metaphor. Chaos Walking‘s is the actual settlers’ terraforma atrocities. Arguably though, that takes the back seat when the film decides to focus on the projection of the human inability to control their thoughts; men’s anyway.

As the story unfolds more truths come to the surface and more metaphors can be picked up that are also, eventually, overshadowed by men’s uncontrollable projected thoughts. Regardless, pay attention to the mayor’s and the priest’s role. You won’t be surprised about their character development if you’ve read a thing or two about colonisation.

After the script’s many rewritings, extensive $15M re-shoots took place, during which Tom Holland broke his nose, passed out trying to hold his breath underwater, and had his wisdom teeth pulled out. No wonder why the film’s release date was pushed back a year… And after all that, humongous plot holes are still there like a stains that failed to come off after many washings. The most striking one: The shuttle that no one saw falling from the sky. A shuttle that no one heard or felt crashing next to the farm either. The best part? By the time Todd saw it, some pieces were still on fire but Viola had already dag 2 graves and was out and about stealing food. I mean… never mind!

It’s a shame that experienced directors like Doug Liman and studios like Lionsgate Entertainment still struggle that much when money and resources are not an issue. That’s why audience thinking outside the box diminish Hollywood productions. Shame really…

Stay safe!

Score Composition for Dark and Eerie Sequences

Tonight, I’m interviewing Aris Lanaridis. Aris is a film & media composer, sound designer and music producer. Tonight, he is talking about how music affects and enhances the suspense in horror films and what principles dictate how and what kind of music is used.

About Aris

https://www.leedsbeckett.ac.uk/staff/aris-lanaridis

https://tagg.org/teaching/mmi/filmfunx.html

https://www.linkedin.com/in/arislanarides/

References

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zofia_Lissa

Tenet (2020): Action / Sci-Fi

A man is tasked to save the world with a mission that defies the laws of physics as we know them, given only the word, Tenet.

Like any other Nolan film, Tenet requires an analysis rather than a review. But I’ll simplify things as best I can. A type of film like this requires a humongous amount of time in preproduction. And they have spent that time wisely. That is why from both production and postproduction point of view, the film is immaculate and unlike anything you have ever seen. No matter what I say, it won’t make it better.

The problem lies right off the bat with the script though. The similar opening to The Dark Knight (2008) poses a significant issue. There is a preexisting knowledge on the Joker where you know who he is and what he is capable of. And if you don’t know the full extent, you find out in a brilliant manner in minutes. Then, the film cuts to people you have already met from Batman Begins (2005), and gradually, it escalates keeping everyone in the loop. In Tenet, no one is aware of anyone or anything, and without any ado, Nolan keeps bombarding you with more and more information where everyone seems to start getting it, but the viewer. Fear not, though. The science is fictional – pun intended – so please, don’t feel bad if you don’t get it. You won’t get it if you watch it a second time either. Nolan himself doesn’t really get it (hence, leaving our certain details) but the impressive filmmaking and the delusion that you might get it if you pay close attention compensates. The similarities in narrative can be compared to Interstellar (2014).

For a film that examines paradox, it is interesting how for something that no one knows anything about, no one thinks twice before they instantly and unhesitatingly say what they have to say. Same applies for planning and acting. At the end of one sequence they find out about something, at the beginning of the next one they have already the equipment, they have already traveled round the globe, and have already come up with a meticulous plan.

George Méliès was running the camera backwards over a hundred years ago so, even though from a filmmaking point of view, Tenet is not parthenogenesis, it surely is a unique concept, exteremely well planned, and amazingly executed. If it wasn’t for this goddamn pandemic, it would have easily joined the billion dollar club.

Stay safe!

P.S. The indie, and unfathomably much lower-budget version of Tenet is Primer (2004): https://atomic-temporary-153424946.wpcomstaging.com/2020/11/26/primer-2004-drama-sci-fi-thriller/

Silent Era: The Foundation of Cinematic Horror

Tonight, I’m interviewing Rob Byrne. Mr. Byrne is a film restorer of silent films and is the President of the Board of San Francisco Silent Film Festival (SFFS). Tonight, he is talking to me about the silent film era in regard to the horror genre. How were the films we today call ‘horror’ described as back then? How were they perceived? Were filmmakers aiming at psychological or gory horror? Find out how everything started.

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!

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!

The Importance of Dystopia in Sci-fi

“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 why constructing the perfect society is nothing like constructing a seemingly perfect society. In other words, why filmmakers see the future in a cataclysmic and calamitous light.

Stay safe!

The Old Guard (2020): Action / Fantasy

The Old Guard.jpg

A group of immortal mercenaries is been set up and hunted down, but together they’ll take down anyone who stands in their way.

Well-shot! Good job by Gina Prince-Bythewood as international films, especially of that magnitude, can never be easy. Too many locations, too much cast and crew, too many permissions to shoot, and too many visual effects. I believe it’s her most ambitious film to date so, well done! Charlize Theron and her multinational/multiracial team of mercenaries create great chemistry in front of the camera, offering plenty of action but also laughter when they take out and wield their weapon of choice.

Now, I would say that the film’s score is not a perfect match. Maybe I kept having the graphic novel in mind while watching, and, while reading the comic back in the day, that’s not the music I had in mind. I can understand that the film’s target audience is not me so, for younger people maybe it makes more sense. It is very well edited though (on that music), so the rhythm and pace compensate.

Before hitting “play” remember: This is a Skydance & Netflix production. The Old Guard follows the standard, New Hollywood narrative, aiming at an audience that has no interest in Italian neorealism. It is entertaining though and I enjoyed all the effort put from everyone in front and behind the camera. I hope you do as well.

Stay safe!

Influential, Dissuasive, and Thought-Provoking Monologues

monologue-cover.jpg

“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 some of the most influential, dissuasive, and thought-provoking monologues I hand-picked. I hope these chosen ones entertain you, educate you, and, potentially, find an application in the way you see and experience life.

Stay safe!

Influential, Dissuasive, and Thought-Provoking Monologues

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 Roads Not Taken (2020): Drama

The Roads Not Taken

How things are and how things could have been, happen at the same time in a man’s head, making his daughter carry the burden.

The power of independent cinema. The delivery of a beautiful yet heart-wrenching story told by relatable heroes, suffering like you and me. Ella Fanning tries desperately to follow Javier Bardem’s torture, costing her more than he will ever understand. With them, two brilliant actresses and women, Salma Hayek, and Laura Linney complete the ensemble, putting their final touch. Second collaboration between composer / editor / writer / director Sally Potter and Fanning after Ginger and Rosa (2012) with the former proving she is still evolving and the latter still promising a successful career.

When you get confused in the end, ask yourselves, whose story was it? And that will answer whose story it became. There is also a subtle message. You never know where, when, why, or by who you will find kindness so, be kind to everyone. Regardless of how they look or how they sound.

Stay safe!

Fantasy Island (2020): Adventure / Fantasy / Horror

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An island that has the power to grant your greatest wish, welcomes a group of people who have no idea what they signed up for.

I’ll start with the good news: I didn’t know what to expect so, you would never guess… I had no expectations! Now, for the opposite of good news: The amazing story behind Fantasy Island is inundated with nothing but American clinches, that ruin the aforementioned amazing story.

The American cliches include, but are not limited to: stereotypical characters, stereotypical punchlines, stereotypical resolutions and revelations, and stereotypical editing and redirecting. Hands down, the dramatic fantasy that stands out is Maggie Q’s (Gwen) who, by the way, is a brilliant actress and an astonishing woman. But the genres are too mixed and so are the viewer’s feelings towards everything that’s happening. It is not a disservice to the Fantasy Island (1977) series but it has nothing much to do with it either. If you want to watch a great blend of such genres, The Cabin in the Woods (2011) is what you need to watch!

A real shame as Fantasy Island stresses two important facts of life:

  • Careful what you wish for!
  • Your so-called liberties in life have a limit; where your fellow human beings’ begin…

Stay safe!

 

Underwater (2020): Action / Drama / Horror

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Following an inexplicable, devastating earthquake, the crew of an oceanic drilling company must find a way to the surface while their whole facility collapses and creatures they have never seen before are after them.

This is the first time I watch a film, feeling like starting with the second act. I mean, as if the first act has been completely edited out. I would really like to get the shooting script and see if the script faded in this way or this “innovation” took place in the cutting room. Anyway, that’s the first strike right off the bat. The film’s main problem starts before that… in Hollywood. The vast majority of Hollywood producers never truly understood H. P. Lovecraft’s vision. They never grasped what the Cthulhu Mythos is. I might be wrong here but, as kids, they never really turned the lights off and scared themselves sh*tless with his cosmic horror. As adults, they only saw his stories as the cash cow; a means to make money! And that’s why the results are such.

Lovecraft’s stories are meant to inspire fear. His creatures cannot be fought. They hunt you and they haunt you and there is nothing you can do about it other than run and pray. And even then, the denouement will most likely not favour you. My second-best Lovecraftian adaptation is Color out of Space (2019) – https://atomic-temporary-153424946.wpcomstaging.com/2020/02/07/color-out-of-space-2019-horror-sci-fi/ and even though there were unresolved issues, director Richard Stanley managed to conceptualise his vision. But my number one old-time favourite adaptation still remains John Carpenter’s In the Mouth of Madness (1994) – https://atomic-temporary-153424946.wpcomstaging.com/2019/01/04/in-the-mouth-of-madness-1994-drama-horror-mystery/. Only if you watch it (or if you have) you will know what I am talking about. Having said that, the visual and sound effects teams did an amazing job with the creature(s). I must admit that that was really impressive. As Jessica Henwick always is. This isn’t William Eubank’s fault. He is a brilliant director and I look forward to watching his next couple of upcoming projects – I loved The Signal (2014).

In the world of Lovecraft, there is no action. Only struggle to remain sane while desperately trying to find any way out of it.

Stay safe!

The Rhythm Section (2020): Action / Drama / Mystery

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After losing her family in a terrorist attack, a young woman goes to extreme lengths to find and confront the people behind it.

I was really looking forward to this one but when it was released all hell broke loose. I will assume that that was the case for thousands of people and, mainly, that that was the reason for “one of the worst box office openings in history” – Bad Boys for Life (2020) though was released a fortnight prior to it and triumphed.

So, as that cannot be the only reason, I’m trying to get the full picture here. The story itself is not original but there is no such thing anyway so, my guess is that there are two problems. One, lies with the low level of espionage and the information surrounding it. People are found just… easily. Secondly, Stephanie was taken in… easily. “B” thought she caused big trouble with her actions, he didn’t believe in her skills, yet, he started training her straight away. That didn’t really make much sense.

Having said that, the film is well shot. The photography is dark, the editing advances the story and drives it forward, Reed Morano’s directing is challenging, to the point where I would say exceptional, and Blake Lively proves to be the up and coming mercenary / assassin. The car chase is the film’s trademark and will get you on the edge of your seat. Also, the realistic fight sequences add extra believability to the heroine’s journey.

The film’s challenges are understandable but with James Bond‘s producers behind it, it shouldn’t be too much of a problem to get made. Again, my humble, unsolicited opinion is that the problem was the script. More time should have been spent on her acceptance, her training, and the difficulty to acquire the targets. Morano and Lively put a tremendous effort and that needs to be recognised.

Stay safe!

Bloodshot (2020): Action / Drama / Sci-Fi

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A soldier comes back from a mission, gets murdered, but is brought back to life with superpowers and now he seeks revenge.

I’m not going to slay it. The film suffered irreparable damage from the pandemic but was not going to perform well anyway. Director Dave Wilson is a VFX director and it showed straight away on his feature debut. The film’s narrative doesn’t flow and the editing, probably for production reasons, is trying to pick up the pieces and put them together. It didn’t even mimic or attempt to better the à la The Edge of Tomorrow (2014) repeat mode part to enhance and engage the audience with Bloodshot’s “nightmare”. Toby Kebbell’s and Guy Pearce’s charisma didn’t get the chance to shine at all as, once again, the narrative didn’t do anyone any favours.

Films like Bloodshot work as reminders that even if the original source is a best selling graphic novel (Valiant’s in this instance), this merely means that the respective film will be as successful. “Don’t judge a book by its film”, I read somewhere. It’s a shame, the film was doomed to take a big hit either way.

I would like to conclude by taking my hat off to the VFX department as they couldn’t have done it better and the result of their work is highly impressive.

Do The Right Thing (1989): Comedy / Drama

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

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

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

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

Gemini Man (2019): Action / Drama / Sci-Fi

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A highly trained hitman decides to retire but the organisation he works for sends… a younger version of him to execute him.

Watching the trailer, I couldn’t see how there is going to be a mind-blowing twist somewhere. There isn’t. More or less, what you see is what to be expected: Will Smith vs Will Smith. For a film that started been developed in the ’90s, with so many different names attached over the years, with the torch been passed on from studio to studio… the script is poorly developed. IMDb couldn’t care less with a logline that gives away the plot. Script-wise, there is nothing really fascinating at all. I think this is the first Ang Lee film I have ever watched that I was wondering why he signed up for this. Meaning, the film has two impressive sequences: the motorbike chase (Smith vs Smith) and the hand-to-hand combat (Smith vs Smith). All the credits should be shared amongst the visual effects department for coming through with some ground-breaking visuals, the sound effects department, and the frequent Ang Lee editor, Tim Squyres. His editing is immaculate and stitches Lee’s most difficult shots together with delicacy and finesse, creating incredible unity and continuity.

I’m really being nice here. One of the film’s six (6) nominations is from St. Louis Film Critics Association, US for… Worst Film of the Year! Anyway, to cut the long story short, and just in case you haven’t figure it out by now, this is Smith vs Smith film. I must admit, at some point, this eerie feeling took over me that it was Deadshot fighting The Fresh Prince

The Qatsi Trilogy

 

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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 the Qatsi trilogy. A cinematic statement about civilisation, technology, nature, and the relationship among the three. A trilogy left behind in the shadow cast by blockbusters, forgotten by time, buried in oblivion.

The Qatsi Trilogy

6 Underground (2019): Action / Adventure / Comedy

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

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

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

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

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

The Room (2019): Drama / Mystery / Sci-Fi

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A young couple moves into a house with many secrets and a room that… grants wishes.

I’ve been told that in Los Angeles, everyone has an idea about a great film. Do you know why almost no one makes it? Because no Industry Professional cares about any kind of idea. The Room is based on a brilliant idea: What would you do if all your wishes could come true… inside your house! Very thrilling idea. Especially, if you ask for a kid.

Its development though irreparably ruins it. Noël Carroll, in “Toward a Theory of Film Suspense” analyses suspense, its development, and its potential outcomes. Highly recommended read. Here, Matt is looking for the room’s key, he finds it. He wants to find that man, he finds him. The man calls at the house and the kid picks up the phone, he knows exactly what has happened and explains everything.

I don’t want to be more negative about this one. Feel free to watch it and make up your mind. The film’s intentions are noble, it just lacks of… almost everything! Very unfortunate.

Ostinato (2019): Short / Horror

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

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

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

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

Chernobyl (2019): Drama / History

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In April 1986, the Chernobyl nuclear power plant exploded, causing the most calamitous nuclear disaster in history.

How outstanding this five and a half-hour TV film/mini-series is, is outrageously beyond comprehension. Directing, acting, editing, writing, direction of photography, visual effects, music, art direction, stunt coordination, sound design, costume design, makeup department, and every other department get a lengthy standing ovation… HBO once more proves that the sky is anything but the limit. Released halfway through the last season of Game of Thrones (2011) – HBO again, Chernobyl, at first, went under the radar and once the former came to an end, it shone like no other mini-series shone ever before.

Chernobyl will grip you as much as it will terrify you. You won’t even care why the actors speak in their native accent. You won’t even notice. It’s a hauntingly, flawless HBO production that perfectly blends history, politics, science, and drama! Behold the atrocious side of human nature unfolding side by side with its oxymoronic, boundless grace.

If you don’t know the facts, it will lay them out for you. If you no longer remember what happened, it will all come back. If you were in any shape or form affected by the horror, now you will live it once again.

You can find it here: https://amzn.to/37jCOUi

Triple Threat (2019): Action / Thriller

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Mercenaries unite in order to protect the daughter of a billionaire who becomes the target of an elite assassins’ group.

Triple Threat is NOT, I repeat is NOT to be compared, contrasted, or associated in any way with Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior (2003), the Undisputed franchise (2006-2016), The Raid: Redemption (2011), The Raid 2 (2014), The Night Comes for Us (2018), or any other film of that level.

It’s a real shame to have names such as Tony Jaa, Iko Uwais, Tiger Hu Chen, Scott Adkins, Celina Jade, Michael Jai White, and Michael Bisping in one film and get that result. But the film’s duration warned me even before watching it. So, I was pretty sure this was going to be a disappointing one, I just didn’t know how badly disappointing.

In about an hour and a half, we have:

  • Undeveloped characters that no one really cares about.
  • Bad acting / No chemistry between the actors.
  • Obvious difficulty from the non-native English speaking actors to express themselves.
  • Mediocre action / inconsistent fighting skills.
  • And the biggest problem that begets all problems: Horrible writing! I mean… Horrible!!!

As it is not in my idiosyncrasy to write negative comments just for the fun of it or to attract an audience so, I’ll stop here. Prachya Pinkaew, Gareth Evans, and Timo Tjahjanto have raised the bar to a level that newer directors and even themselves will have to go the extra mile to keep delivering the jaw-dropping action/thriller films they have been delivering so far.

You can find it here: https://amzn.to/363KrOx

Papillon (2017): Adventure / Biography / Crime

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Convicted for a murder he didn’t commit, Henri Charriere is sent to the Devil’s Island where, along with a fellow inmate, they plan an escape of a lifetime.

Based on Charriere’s memoirs, directed by Michael Noer – “R” (2010) and “Northwest” (2013) – and written by Aaron Guzikowski, “Papillon” didn’t get the publicity it deserved. Was it because people (or critics) thought that Charlie Hunnam and Rami Malek couldn’t replace Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman respectively? Was it because the story wasn’t known to today’s era audience? Or is it maybe because classic films should be left alone and be remembered for what they achieved when they were made?

Directing, Acting, Script, Photography, Soundtrack, Costume Design, all work as one and fulfill their purpose. The editing is disruptive though which unfolds the story intermittently. There must be an “Editor’s Cut” or “Director’s Cut” version, surely. It seems as if scenes, even sequences, have been omitted from the final cut. Crucial to the story elements that would make the audience engage more with “Papillon’s” suffering.

Overall, it is a very decent, intense, and gritty remake and cast and crew deserve to be recognised for this effort.

You can find it here: https://amzn.to/2Q6aRcQ

Triple Frontier (2019): Action / Adventure / Crime

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Five ex-Special Forces soldiers band together one last time to rob the money of a cocaine cartel boss in South America where everything can go wrong.

While watching the opening sequence, I thought to myself “Netflix hit the nail again”!  The moment I started to get to know the characters, I thought to myself “I hope the cliches stop here”. As the story started unfolding, the pit of cliches got full way before half-way.

Really shame. The photography is infallible. Ben Affleck, Oscar Isaac, Charlie Hunnam, Garrett Hedlund, and Pedro Pascal are brilliant actors yet none of them gets the opportunity to fully develop their character. J.C. Chandor, an equally brilliant director who was behind the camera of great films such as “Margin Call” (2011), “All is Lost” (2013), and “A Most Violent Year” (2014), delivers a film this time that does not have one memorable shot. Same applies for editing where no sequence has anything unique or something to talk about.

All these are minor though. The main problem is the script. I don’t know how many times I’ve said it before but I know how any I’m gonna say it; countless!

“You can’t fix a bad script after you start shooting. The problems on the page only get bigger as they move to the big screen.” — Howard Hawks

Besides the action’s inconsistencies and the undeveloped characters, the biggest blow is the dialogue. It is extremely poorly written and the shocking part is that the aforementioned A-list actors were OK with it. It is beyond me so, I’m gonna leave it there.

Should you decide to watch it, I hope you enjoy it.

Mortal Engines (2018): Action / Adventure / Fantasy

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Hundreds of years from now, the world as we know it has been destroyed, the remaining cities have been mobilised, the major cities are hunting down the smaller ones, and two youngsters do everything in their power to change the status quo.

I’ve spoken before about budget and creativity as I have spoken before about the transferrable problems of a script to the big screen. I guess it was meant to be a saga but chances now are slim to none. Remember the “Golden Compass” (2007)? I’m not surprised. Mortal Engines‘ visuals are stunning. Hands down. The cast does a pretty decent job too; that is not a problem either. What was it then and it bombed?

Every time I watch a film, I’m always looking for that shot. The shot that will make me say “damn”! And then I’ll have to rewind and so can watch it again. What I’m also going for is a good line. Something that will make me say “I wish I have thought of that”! So, when independent films with 1/50 of Mortal Engines‘ budget have both, and “Mortal Engines” has none, it is only natural not to be impressed. To add insult to the injury, the same applies for the editing. Not only is there not even one good montage sequence, but the whole film feels rushed. It feels as if it got “chopped” fast to flush you non-stop down the FADE OUT.

Just “From the Producer of…” won’t cut it. Because as a household name, if you bring it up, you have to live up to your expectations and the reputation that precedes you. Shame really. Not for the money thrown away really, but mostly for the actors who want to catch a big fish, they let the small ones go, and they end up catching a boot.

You can find it here: https://amzn.to/2MA7IA2

Ashes in the Snow (2018): Drama / History / Romance

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In 1941, as Stalin’s army marches through Lithuania, a 16-year-old girl, her family, and thousands of men, women, and children who have been accused of treason, and are deported to Siberia.

A heartbreaking and soul-crushing story about a nation we know little and the same nation’s suffering that we know even less. A powerful drama based on Ruta Sepetys’ book “Between Shades of Gray” (Don’t you dare mix it up!), directed by Marius A. Markevicius, and with two actors leading strong: Bel Powley and Martin Wallström.

Shot on a moderate budget, it lacks the Hollywood flamboyance but the message is coming across straight through and expands to the rest of the Baltic people and whoever else faced the Russian atrocities. Shamelessness and misanthropy add to the film’s drama, history, and romance and clash the two forces that, in abhorrent times like this, are battling over the human soul: hope and despair.

A massive round of applause to Sorrento Productions, Tauras Films, Twilight Merengue Studios, and Vertical Entertainment which produced and distributed the film for the world to know. And then another one to the Lithuanian government for allowing it and supporting it.

People are often wondering how the descendants of the Nazis feel nowadays about their ancestors. How about the Russians’ ancestors? How about the current followers of the same regime that still exists and still oppresses, has surpassed the deaths caused by the fascist regimes, and competes with the deaths caused by theocratic ones?

You can find it here: https://amzn.to/37kuB2b

Okja (2017): Action / Adventure / Drama

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A little girl is trying to prevent a sketchy multinational company from kidnapping Okja, her genetically modified pet and best friend.

It would be great if “Okja” was “R” rated. To properly reveal what humans and animals alike mean to most multinational companies and organisations. Bong Joon Ho behind the camera, holds back to a certain extent but captures the essence nevertheless. Brad Pitt and Netflix in the production back him up, and Seo-hyun Ahn, Tilda Swinton, Jake Gyllenhaal and Paul Dano in front of the lens, support a vision that all of us need to stop turning the blind eye to. I salute cast and crew and pay my respects to them as they all give us a mild lesson on the paranoia behind a colossal company’s beautiful facade, its fancy logo, and its unfathomably brainless slogan.

The Animal Liberation Front exist, they are a real, leaderless organization, fight for animal rights all around the globe, and they are not as funny as they are portrayed in the film. Even so, “Okja” should be for everyone to watch and get an idea of how filthy and disgusting the mammoth food corporations are.

Booed at least three times at the Cannes Film Festival just for being Netflix, “Okja” itself does not deserve booing. This is the political side of cinema that I’m staying out as, whoever gets in the middle, gets caught in the crossfire of the Industry Giants’ war for money and power. Streaming vs Theatre and which productions deserve to go to which festival and why is not for us to decide and has nothing with us anyway.

You wanna see the real “R” rated version of “Okja”? Watch “Earthlings” (2005) and feel free to be ashamed. And cry your eyes out. I quit meat that very same day and wholeheartedly apologised for being human. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BrlBSuuy50Y

 

 

Close (2019): Action / Thriller

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With no one to turn to and no one to trust, a female bodyguard must protect a rich, young heiress in Casablanca when kidnappers go after her.

A female version of “Man on Fire” (2004) taking out most of the Hollywood aspects in regard to character and story development. With no cheesy lines or slow-mo for dramatic effect, “Close” is loosely based on Jacquie Davis, a world-class bodyguard who, in the last 30 years, has been “stabbed, shot at, and thrown through a window”  protecting from the Beckhams to the royal family.

The editing controls the pace, balances action and drama, moves the story forward, and reveals the information when it needs to be revealed. Also, amazing cinematography and Vicky Jewson’s directing gives the opportunity to Noomi Rapace and Sophie Nélisse to unfold their amazing acting skills. Needless to say that given the right training, project, and budget, Rapace can prove herself being top-notch action heroin as (among others) Charlize Theron and Uma Thurman have in “Atomic Blonde” (2017) and “Kill Bill” (2003) respectively.

Netflix productions can go either way. “Close” went the right way and we can only hope that they produce more heartfelt action/thriller films and humanised heroes and heroines like this one.

You can find it here: https://amzn.to/39fKvNr