The Lure (2015): Drama/Fantasy/Horror

Two mermaid sisters get a job at a cabaret and while one of them seeks people’s love, the other one wants to devour them.

Unique approach towards an unexpected genre. The Lure is a gory and brutal musical that mesmerises. When it came out it shocked certain audiences as very few could have envisaged a horror/musical of that sort. Interestingly, the same year, I got the same feeling from Bone Tomahawk (2015), a horror/western that shocked fans of both genres as, again, who would have thought this “marriage” could work? But is The Lure as effective?

I have a feeling that horror fans will not be particularly thrilled. On the other hand, I’m not sure musical fans will give it a go either. Needless to say that Hans Christian Andersen’s fans will sit this one out too. Who is it for, then? My guess is for cinefiles; lovers of the different, the daring, and the unconventional. The Lure is for those who delve into the mise-en-scene as much as they delve into montage, but also combinations of narrative techniques. Having said that, a musical is comprised by only two major elements: dancing and singing. And I found neither compelling enough.

So while the story’s originality and dare win points, both of them fall significantly short. My question is then, why make it a musical in the first place? For the sake of different? Director Agnieszka Smoszynska has used plenty of nudity and gore, but I didn’t find her lens as daring (as intended?). My favourite sequence was after the domestic where everyone falls into a limbo. Overall though, I failed to engage with Silver’s and Golden’s predicament.

To conclude on a semi-positive note though, the acting is solid by everyone even though they could have achieved much more if the singing and dancing had a more pivotal role and more effort was put into the choreography.

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Solidarity for Ukraine πŸ‡ΊπŸ‡¦ πŸ™

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 Hater (2020): Drama / Thriller

An overambitious young man uses social media, but also friends and family to achieve his immoral goals.

Two qualities stand out straight away: Tomasz’s manipulation skills and Aleksandra Gowin’s non-linear editing skills. Both of them unfold brilliantly along with the narrative.

Writer Mateusz Pacewicz collaborates once more with director Jan Komasa after the amazing Corpus Christi (2019) – review to follow – and, once more, shock society to its core. There are plenty of scary scenarios and people here… Tomasz Giemza is a person who shouldn’t be walking on the streets. Why? Men like him bring out the worst in people, and remorselessly manipulate them, individually and collectively. In both cases, since all of us have weaknesses, no one can blame us for that. Who is to be blamed though is the people behind the social media who provide support to that manipulation and enhance it by reaching out to larger masses. The social media are merely tools, platforms of communication, but the way the “puppeteers” operate them can shape, control, manipulate, and even tear apart societies. Sacha Baron Cohen very eloquently described one of them as: “the greatest propaganda machine in historythat would even allow Hitler to run his propaganda.

Besides the social media though, I believe The Hater‘s best achievement is Tomasz’s character development. A psychopath with the phenomenal ability to learn from his mistakes and constantly up his game, ending up manipulating the manipulators. Absolutely amazing! You’ll catch yourself loving the way he does it while hating him at the same time.

Last but not least, Agata Kulesza always deserves a separate mention no matter what she’s in. She shines in Pawel Pawlikowsi’s films as much as she shines in this one. She is an Oscar-worthy actress and I hope she wins it one day. Whether she does or not, she’ll always be a first-class thespian.

Excellent example of modern European cinema with profound filmmaking techniques, intriguing performances, plenty of visuals and food for thought. Definitely, a must-watch!

Stay safe!

Cold War (2018): Drama / History / Music

During the 50s, in Poland, a music director and a leading singer fall in love but after they agree to defect to France they part ways.

What a year for cinematography! First time in Oscar history that three out of five film nominations were foreign films. There are so many production details that could turn my review into an analysis. My contribution here though is not encyclopedic but merely an alert on why you should watch it (if you haven’t) and not miss out.

Shooting in chronological order and changing the filmmaking style over the (screen) years respectively, writer/director Pawel Pawlikowski makes the second film in his native language, after the amazing Ida (2013) – which I admired watching in a beautiful theatre in London – he recasts Joanna Kulig and Agata Kulesza but also numerous members of the crew. Needless to say that Tomasz Kot breaths his role. An amalgamation of Pawlikowski’s parents story and a real-life folk dance group, Cold War explores love, lifestyle, ambition, inflated ego, self-aggrandisement, and, in times like these, the inevitable involvement of goddamn politics in everything we do and say in our lives. Cold War is a chronicle of this perplexity called life, seeking the long-lost happiness within us, bringing to the surface our inability to always miss it when it was in front of us.

Other than photography, the acting too deserves a standing ovation – the film got an 18-minute one in Cannes Film Festival. And before I go… “It’s not a film until it’s edited” – Michael Kahn. Like the aforementioned Ida (review to follow), Cold War is masterfully put together, teaching when not to cut. Even though more obvious in Ida, here as well, Jaroslaw Kaminski meticulously cuts between action and reaction shots and builds both narrative and character, setting the pace and rhythm of the film. Ask yourselves this: how long after does the editor cut when the scene’s action is completed? Respectively, how long does the editor keep the reaction shot, where there is one?

Contrasting Hollywood cinema, Cold War wins the impressions with its simplicity, developing relatable, everyday characters, living in political and social unrest that inevitably become victims of their own desires and passions; their human nature.

Stay safe!