Hachi: A Dog’s Tale (2009): Biography/Drama/Family

A college professor finds a puppy on his way back home and an unparallel bond is created.

Funny, emotional, and absolutely heart-breaking! Companionship… what would we be without it? Hachi is a wonderful true story about love. All kinds of love! The love towards our family, our friends, our work, our pets. Well, in this instance, the pet is family, and its love cannot be discounted to anything else. Based on the true Japanese story of Hachiko and his master Dr. Eisaburo Ueno, screenwriter Stephen P. Lindsey and director Lasse Hallström develop an emotional drama for the whole family that will make you smile as much as will bring tears to your eyes.

Richard Gere, Joan Allen, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Sarah Roemer, Jason Alexander, and Erick Avari set up the drama’s foundation, but as the title implies, Hachi (Chico, Layla, and Forrest) is the lead, and so, Hallström, the director of previous tearjerkers and bittersweets, such as What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (1993), Chocolat (2000), and Dear John (2010) makes you experience the narrative’s unfolding through his eyes. From a filmmaking point of view, while the film lasts only an hour and a half, it takes no shortcuts. Kristina Boden’s editing paces all three acts beautifully allowing the audience to experience all the intended emotions and feelings; happiness, sadness, melancholy, anticipation, and hope.

Sometimes, I ramble about this and that, but it won’t be the case here as the film remains true to its goal. Ultimately, when you let it all sink in, Hachi is more than a film about mere friendship. It is about loyalty, camaraderie, and unconditional love. I hope you enjoy it this festive period, where, like any other period, humans and animals need one another.

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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!

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!

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!

Earthquake Bird (2019): Crime / Drama / Mystery

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A translator in Japan becomes a prime suspect after her friend goes missing and her utterances and actions only worsen the situation for her.

Enigmatic, slow-burn, awkward. Mystery surrounds not only what Lucy Fly says and does but what everyone says and does. Interestingly enough, there is no character development as all characters are already developed. The amazing is how we get to wonder throughout the film how everyone got there. As for the story itself, the fabula and the syuzhet create a storyline that balances between the generic – the life as an ex-pat in Japan, and the specific – Lucy Fly’s paranoia in her world of sadness. If, eventually, the ending is to your liking or not this is up for you to decide.

Meticulously written, brilliantly acted, masterfully directed, and very carefully and patiently edited. Last but not least, this is arguably the best photography of the year. Netflix keeps the surprises coming, firstly because its Marketing is non-existent (I’ve said it before and I’ll keep saying it), and secondly because it dares once more to invest in diversity, quality, and the different.

Let the ‘mystery’ bring out the best of the genre. Let the film fill the gaps whenever it’s ready. Let your mind work it out in its own way.

 

For Ben! How could this not remind me of you mate? 🙂

The Raid 2 (2014): Action / Crime / Thriller

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Straight after the raid’s massacre, Rama goes undercover to expose the corruption within the police force, no matter how deep the rabbit hole goes.

There have not been many sequels that were expected to be better than the first installments. Especially, when the ones that spawned the sequels were shockingly good. Well, “The Raid 2” is one of these exceptions with Gareth Evans and Iko Uwais pushing the bar to the limit.

Starting two hours after “The Raid: Redemption” (2011), ending up two years later, “The Raid’s 2” uncut violence almost tripled the body count, got banned by the Film Censorship Board of Malaysia, was censored in the US, got an audience member faint at the Sundance Film Festival world premiere, and mesmerised millions of martial arts fans, and action junkies all over the world.

With the first cut being around three and a half hours long, the final cut is still almost 50 minutes longer than the first “Raid”. 150 minutes of gory deaths, phantasmagoric car chases, extreme martial arts, over 60 types of guns, police corruption, mob hits, Rama going berzerk, and… “Hammer Girl”, “Baseball Bat Man”, and “The Assassin”.

Directing, Editing, DOP, Choreography, Stunt coordination, and all cast and crew deserve a standing ovation. An amazing opening sequence, with a stunning second act, and a grand finale fight scene which took 6 weeks to prepare and 8 days to film. An ABSOLUTE MUST!!!

P.S. If you are interested, this is how Gareth Evans shot the “how-the-f@!#-did-they-do-that” car chase scene: (IMDb, 2019)

You can find it here: https://amzn.to/360gdvX