Prey for the Devil (2022): Horror/Thriller

A demonic possession will challenge a nun’s faith, but also her promiscuous past.

Decent concept, but too formulaic. Right off the bat, both photography and acting promise a good scare. Then the statistics show up, and I pause for a minute to research if they are accurate. They aren’t. As Hollywood tends to do, it just bends truths and facts, to confuse the audience, so they don’t know what’s real and what isn’t. Great narrative technique, but not when presented as “facts”. Come on…

Regardless, the suspense and the thrill work quite well for the most part, it is the horror that doesn’t and the first exorcism cannot hide that. Certain Hollywood producers cannot escape the formulaic and the clichΓ©. They will use, for instance, jump scares – which is only a tool – over and over only because the scripts they are handling are grasping at straws. Remember, “flashy” editing, rhythmic, and metric montages can only do so much to advance the story. The same applies to visual effects. The story needs to flow convincingly on its own.

Robert Zappia’s script tries hard to become innovative, but it doesn’t do well. On the other hand, Daniel Stamm, the experienced director behind the gritty 13 Sins (2014), and The Last Exorcism (2014) seems to have his hands tight up. Lionsgate used to be ahead of its game, but not for years. They just love, as said above, the formulaic and the clichΓ©. Jacqueline Byers (Ann) is a great actress, but a victim of a narrative that is doomed to fail.

You know what I would like as an audience? Pseudo-realism! No soppy montages, no jump cuts, and no demons who do whatever the poor narrative demands them to do just to make it to the end credits. I would like a suspense build-up that leads to a balanced drama/horror narrative, addressed to people that I can relate to. And all that, accompanied by filmmaking techniques that will not constantly remind me that this is a film, especially a Hollywood one. Both 13 Sins and The Last Exorcism do that. How can I properly relate to these characters? Once again, everyone could have been an underwear model. It’s like, literally, all Calvin Klein models quit and decided to become members of the clergy.

Wait for the sequel of The Exorcist (2023) around Halloween time. Hopefully, that will blow our socks off.

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Nanny (2022): Drama/Horror/Thriller

Wanting to bring her son to America, a Senegalese woman becomes a nanny for a wealthy family while her mind plays horrific tricks on her.

Well-acted, but awfully problematic. It took me a few minutes to figure out what was not sitting well with Nanny. So, keep in mind that it is predominantly a drama and not a horror. Therefore, you may agree that the dramatic plot should be supported by a horrific subplot. Well, it does that much, so the question is, does it in an appealing manner? In a way that hooks you?

Aisha is an overly relatable character, especially for those who know about migration, and Anna Diop absolutely nails her part, adding to the drama that slowly and painfully unfolds. Hence, her story starts from sad only to end up… well, you’ll see. But the snippets of horror don’t add up as they find it difficult to place themselves in the story. The constant use of eerie music when they try to do so is their only way of infiltrating, and writer/director Nikyatu Jusu feels the need to have an “in-your-face” approach. That becomes a direct contradiction because what is happening to Aisha lurks under the surface and the filmmaking techniques that are meant to subliminally deliver her uneasiness couldn’t make it more obvious as if you otherwise wouldn’t get it. You would. And you will probably figure out from the very beginning what the drama is about. In psychological dramas, thrillers, and horrors the action is divided between on and off-screen, carefully chosen by the director what is happening where. Jusu places everything on-screen, projecting confusion rather than mystery, and the plot and subplot become indistinguishable.

Jusu’s strong suit is the use of Diop’s incredible acting skills, and, consequently, she solely becomes the reason to watch it. The film itself, unfortunately, till the very end, fails to decide what it wants to make you feel. Needless to say that the ending is a narratological mess that claims a “fatality” victory over the already visually wounded audience. Shame, really…

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VFW (2019): Action/Crime/Horror

In a not-so-distant dystopian future, a group of veterans barricades themselves in a bar to save a young woman from a drug dealer and his goonies.

Hail the man who paved the path… the great John Carpenter! Director Joe Begos honours Carpenter and Grindhouse films with a modern low-budget, gory, bloody, dystopian horror that will take you back to the 80s’ fun the movies had to offer. Great photography, great editing that defies time, space, and continuity errors, great practical make-up effects, great synthwave music that accompanies the film throughout, and great acting by Stephen Lang, William Saddler, Fred Williamson, and Martin Kove – all acting veterans that Begos gives them a chance to work together.

Just for your information, as per IMDb, the film’s budget was meant to be $20M, but when purchased by Cinestate/Fangoria, the production company that made it, it was cut down to a six-figure number. What I want to say with this is that movies are categorised as entertainment, but they belong to the film industry. It’s a business. A really tough one. So, production, management, marketing, distribution, and numerous other “gatekeepers” that you may have never heard of will influence in innumerable ways the film’s final cut. Back in the 60s, dealing with “auteurism” was illuminating and innovative. Now, nobody wants to hear it.

Back to the film, there is nothing to examine, really. VFW works as it is, I wouldn’t change anything. It’s not Devil’s Rejects (2005), but who cares. Whatever flaw you find, and you will, is highly entertaining and, potentially, meant to be found. Just forget your problems and enjoy for an hour and a half. There is enough bitterness out there for a thousand lifetimes.

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P.S. Not long after the film’s wrap, Cinestate was shut down because one of the producers was ultimately revealed to be the Harvey Weinstein of indie cinema. Fear not though, other pieces of shit like him who knew all about it and covered it up went on to work for other production companies whose films most or some of us have thoroughly enjoyed. Yeah…

The Menu (2022): Comedy/Horror/Thriller

Upon invitation, a group of elitists travels to an isolated island where the chef has prepared a menu beyond anyone’s imagination.

Spicy, sweet & sour, and easy to digest! Right-o… let’s start with the basics! If cooking is your fetish and you are familiar with posh recipes, you will engage quickly. If, on the other hand, you are as irrelevant as I am about fancy foods and restaurants and you quickly make pasta for three days just before you rush to work, then you’ll just find it funny, and meaningless, and you will only empathise with Margot (Anya Taylor-Joy) – and you won’t even know half of it. But brace yourselves, that is until course number… I am not telling you. This is where it gets interesting for both parties; the relevant and the irrelevant ones. The comedy and the mystery start blending in, and shocking revelations will glue you to your seats. The chef’s dark surrealistic psychopathy moves the story forward in an entirely unexpected direction. As further disclosures about the… menu will not be made, all you need to know is that surprises, pleasant or otherwise, do not stop till the very end.

Writers Seth Reiss and Will Tracy and director Mark Mylod’ The Menu, like so many films of Searchlight Pictures, is the fresh breath that Hollywood needs. I’ve used that expression before with production companies such as HBO and A24. It’s like slowly and gradually Hollywood reinvents itself, producing films like this one, Pearl (2022): https://kaygazpro.com/2023/01/06/pearl-2022-horror/ and Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (2015): https://kaygazpro.com/2022/12/27/me-and-earl-and-the-dying-girl-2015-comedy-drama-romance/ while still making, of course, superficial and somewhat insulting films of the likes of Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2022): https://kaygazpro.com/2022/02/23/texas-chainsaw-massacre-2022-crime-horror-thriller/

Anyway, the narrative is deep, intricate, and twisted. See, for example, the “Tantalus” name. Read about the myth and connect the dots appropriately. I’m sure there are connections between the chef’s menu and the haves and have-nots, but the food industry is not my specialty. Also, look out for the themes of idolisation and fanaticism and connect them to the innumerable people who watch shows like Gordon Ramsay’s. That will explain Tyler (Nicholas Hoult), but also the sous chefs’ behaviour and decisions.

Highly recommended to all fans who love the marriage between comedy and horror – and great acting.

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P.S. Will Ferrell is one of the producers.

P.P.S. John Leguizamo’s character is based on… Steven Seagal!

P.P.S. Why do you think producers keep hiring British actors to portray Americans? Interesting…

Why Indiana Jones 5 will be the most intriguing action/adventure of 2023

It seems that after every spectacular and exciting Indiana Jones, a somewhat dull or let-down follows. Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny (2023) will be the former. While the plot is fairly unknown, the prediction does not derive only from the film’s trailer which is nostalgic and thrilling, but also from certain undeniable parameters.

Having left the ‘monster’ films behind him, it is known that Steven Spielberg won’t be sitting in the director’s chair this time and George Lucas will not be getting involved at all with the script. Fear not though as James Mangold is! The director behind films such as Copland (1997), Girl, Interrupted (1999), the incredibly underrated Identity (2003), and one of the best superhero adaptations Logan (2017) takes over, taking with him his Ford v Ferrari (2019) writers, Jez and John-Henry Butterworth. Furthermore, the one and only John Williams will compose for the last time the film’s score.

Though we don’t know yet who’s the foe and who’s the ally, the immensely diverse Mads Mikkelsen, Antonio Banderas, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, John Rhys-Davies (yes, he’s back), Boyd Holbrook, Toby Jones, Thomas Kretschmann, and more, will join Indy in what could be his last adventure against the unknown – at least with Harrison Ford. It’s an incredible cast that, be it Nazis, divine judgment, aliens, or anything else will support him or plot against him throughout this journey.

Indiana Jones 5 expands the franchise once more 42 years after the Raider of the Lost Ark (1981), which would have been a round 40 if the pandemic hadn’t changed the world the way it did. So, what does that mean for the hero’s journey now? As briefly mentioned above, Indy has been against numerous known and unknown forces that always came in twos. After Nazis and the Ark of the Covenant, the Thuggee cult and the mystical stones, Nazis and the Holy Grail, and Soviets and Alien artifacts, it only remains to be seen who Indy is going to go against in 1960s America. What human and non-human forces will be combined to add to Professor Jones’ experiences? How will his nostalgic self react to the new extraordinary stimuli presented? What will this adventure mean for his character arc? What does the future hold for one of the longest-running franchises?

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny promises to give a fresh perspective to one of the most beloved heroes of all time. It promises laughter, nostalgia, and action for the whole family with a new cast and crew, but still under the watchful eye of Steven Spielberg and George Lucas who will act as producers and still with Harrison Ford as the titular hero. Spielberg and Lucas created a universe where the mystical and the realistic co-exist, bringing to life from biblical theories to extraterrestrial conspiracies. On June 30, buy your popcorn and soda, get comfy, and let the Dial of Destiny guide you to the unfamiliar and the unexpected…

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Village of the Damned (1995): Horror/Sci-fi/Thriller

When a whole village mysteriously passes out, many women wake up pregnant with kids that will grow up to be pure evil.

Classic, no matter how you look at it. The intriguing inciting incident, the mysterious human blackout that ultimately causes the pregnancies, is one of the most appealing cinematic concepts ever conceived – pun not intended. What were the whispers? How did they locally cause the massive-scale collapse? Was it natural or supernatural? All these questions, as well as the government’s interest in the event, move the story forward to the actual deliveries and the ostensible happiness that follows. But the signs of sinistry show too early and cut the happiness short. How do those kids do what they do? How is this going to end? Is it going to end?

There is not a lot to say about filmmaking techniques. Some of them may be now outdated while others are standard, but it doesn’t matter, really. John Carpenter approaches the themes of life, death, and the supernatural in a way he only knows how. And that’s enough for you to know. Needless to say that watching it again now, after all those years, it got me saddened right from the start. With the recent loss of the wonderful Kirstie Alley and the tragic years that haunted Christopher Reed after that film, I choose to remember them now at the prime they once were. Linda Kozlowski and Mark Hamill are also exceptional.

Despite its differences and similarities from Wolf Rilla’s homonymous original film and John Wyndham’s novel, this version, despite its flaws, can still be called a “classic” horror for the fans of the genre.

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P.S. I know I’m being childish now, but I’m gonna say it anyway… Towards the end, I imagined Charles Xavier mentally battling them! I know, right?!

White Noise (2022): Comedy/Drama/Horror

A family that constantly disagrees on every aspect of life has to escape a major catastrophe, something that will deepen their existential views even more.

Between Film studies that specialise in car crashes and Hitler studies that specialise in… well… Hitler, there is this family that doesn’t stop talking. Men, women, and children alike sound and act as if they came out of Shakespeare’s play or human testing for a new drug. No one speaks or behaves… naturally. Think of it as three unrelated or totally disjoined parts (at best) of the same theatrical that relies heavily on rhythmic montage sequences to match the film’s frenetic and unstoppable verbal diarrhea.

Without getting into too much detail, the comedic part is not comedic enough – maybe, sporadically humorous or caustic. You won’t find yourselves laughing over anything, really. The part that is meant to be dramatic is not really dramatic because of the head-scratching roots that cause the drama. Finally, the horror part comes late(r) to the party, but, even then, it doesn’t stay long, really. Everyone over-philosophising everything through never-ending verbosity leaves no room for processing all this information, and, consequently, developing the intended emotions. Other than that, it doesn’t really know what kind of film it wants to be and its focus is all over the place. Take, for example, the camp Daffodil exodus. Similar sequences of evacuation have been in the past a living nightmare for everyone experiencing catastrophic events, including the empathising audience. Now, compare that sequence to any of the escaping sequences of the War of the Worlds (2005). Any. Escaping. Sequence. The comparison’s outcome leads to parody, and so do these disconnected points of view on literally everything and nothing. Is this what writer/director Noah Baumbach aimed to do? A parody of the American family? A parody of American society? Is that what that pointless musical, in the end, is (not spoiling it, don’t worry)?

Think about it, what happens after the cloud is gone till the end of the film? Nothing. Nothing for absolutely no reason. While I haven’t read Don DeLillo’s novel, solely focusing on the film, leaving the survival mode of the second part behind, all you get in the third part is lyrical nothingness. Who was meant to be the target audience, in other words, who was meant to like it? Horror fans? Nope! People, who need a good laugh? Nope! Fans of existentialism (is there such an audience)? If I were to characterise it in one sentence, I would say that it is an exceptionally well-shot and well-acted bewilderment. Congrats to Adam Driver, Greta Gerwig, Don Cheadle, and the rest of the cast who act so great for whatever reason.

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Pearl (2022): Horror

Pearl unleashes her dark side when she realises that her dream to become a star is crushed by the reality that she’ll get stuck on a farm.

Pearl starts off with antithetical notions. The extremely colourful scenery, the soundtrack’s joyful orchestra, the dream to become a movie star one day, and everything a classic Hollywood comedy/drama/romance represented in the early 20th century, such as The Wizard of Oz (1939), is offered to you in a slasher horror of today, a prequel of a bloodbath that only takes place in that era. So, what do you think is going to happen?

I have already spoken about X: https://kaygazpro.com/2022/04/29/x-2022-horror/. The film seems to have been ridiculously edited on purpose (to resemble the 70s?) and still made, arguably, last year’s best horror film. While such editing was not spotted in Pearl, what couldn’t be missed was the prolonged build-up; the reason why Pearl became the psychopathic murderer she is in X. While it is considerably less eventful than X, Mia Goth (also producer) steals the show. She absolutely nails her part. Not only with her brilliant 8-minute monologue, but throughout all three acts. She’s absolutely magnificent and producer, writer, and director Ti West sees it and pictures her as the star her character always dreamt of being.

Now, bear in mind that the script of Pearl had already been written before the filming of X started, and both films are produced by A24. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times: The people in charge of A24 know what they are doing. They are ahead of the game and their vision is the new breath Hollywood needed. Think of them as the new HBO. They filmed two related horrors simultaneously, knowing beforehand that both they’ll be successful. Again… vision!

In a twisted and deranged manner, Pearl manipulates the early “Hollywoodland’s” dreamworld, visually sodomises it, and turns it into a nightmare! An absolute joy for every horror fan out there. And none of it would be possible if, other than Goth, David Corenswet, Tandi Wright, Matthew Sunderland, and Emma Jenkins-Purro didn’t give their 100% with their remarkable performances.

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P.S. As per IMDb, Tandi Wright learned how to speak German only for her role – she even fooled two German members of the crew.

P.P.S. To the specific online fan clubs: Before I found out about you, I thought of the same thing myself! You have my vote! To whoever studio mogul explores the idea of making a female version of Joker or a similarly twisted character, look no further! Mia Goth is here!

P.P.P.S. Look out! MaXXXine is coming out soon!

Thoroughbreds (2017): Comedy/Crime/Drama

Two diametrically opposite upper-class teenagers try to devise an intricate and sketchy plan.

Two amazing actresses in a quirky and unpredictable thriller. The slow-burn and verbose Chapter One patiently sets up the scenery and provides insight into who Amanda and Lily are, what they hide inside them, and what they can potentially unleash. This is where Chapter Two comes in and gives you a glimpse of that and provides the visual justification the crime needs to be committed – a little bit more fast-paced, admittedly, but not significantly. And you also get to know Tim, the accomplice. Chapter Three, the actual crime (?), is what carries the most suspense. Or is it? Chapter Four… actually, I am not telling you about Chapter Four.

Cory Finley has written and directed a deliberately “emotionless” or emotionally confusing (at best) film. From a directing point of view, the protracted shots are a visual feast. They thoroughly frame the action, leading the audience to what they think might happen or purposefully misleading them to what actually does. But what really holds the attention is Olivia Cooke and Anya Taylor-Joy. They are remarkable, and they have fruitful careers in and outside of Hollywood. Their diversity is simply astonishing. Unfortunately, though, not long after the film’s wrap, Anton Yelchin tragically passed at the age of 27. The film is dedicated to his memory, and we surely and sorely miss him.

I recommend it to anyone who has patience with art. To anyone who knows how to follow the narrative and accept it for what it is and not what they would like it to be and to anyone who appreciates great acting. If you are going to like it or not, cannot be predicted. Regardless, I say have a go at it. I believe it’ll be worth your while.

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It’s Kind of a Funny Story (2010): Comedy/Drama/Romance

A clinically-depressed teenager checks himself into an adult psychiatric ward and… a kind of funny story unfolds.

Based on Ned Vizzini’s homonymous novel and his actual brief hospitalisation in 2004, It’s Kind of a Funny Story is actually kinda funny the way it is told. While nothing is or should be funny, mind you that what you see is Vizzini’s reality and the way he perceived it at the time. Also, remember that the funniest comedies derive from the deepest dramas. And that’s what writers/directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck brilliantly do, they beautifully bring out both. They feel Vizzini’s inner struggle, they endorse it, they respect it, and they bring out the didactic and sensitive side of it. Keir Gilchrist (Craig), Zach Galifianakis (Bobby), and Emma Roberts (Noelle) enter Vizzini’s world, and under the supervision of Boden and Fleck, bring tears as much as they form smiles. Lauren Graham, Jim Gaffigan, ZoΓ« Kravitz, and Thomas Mann (who a few years later aced it in Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, link below) do a great job in showing the lack of understanding the former people need to cope with the world. As a feel-good film, based on an extreme yet realistic situation, when asked towards the end how Craig feels about his release, he responds with what the takeaway of the film is; that he “can handle it”.

Sorrowfully though, eventually, Vizzini couldn’t. And, sadly, three years after the film’s release, he actually did what for so long had been going through his mind. But his admirable effort, strength, and will are what we need to keep in our minds.

With It’s Kind of a Funny Story, I conclude the list of some of my favourite comedies/dramas/romances that Hollywood has managed to hit the nail on the head. While I am not a huge fan of romances, I cannot not appreciate the efforts of the directors, writers, editors, cinematographers, actors, and all cast and crew that have contributed to making these films as amazing as they are. The rest of the list includes Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (2015): https://kaygazpro.com/2022/12/27/me-and-earl-and-the-dying-girl-2015-comedy-drama-romance/, The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012): https://kaygazpro.com/2020/12/16/the-perks-of-being-a-wallflower-2012-drama-romance/, Ruby Sparks (2012): https://kaygazpro.com/2022/12/27/ruby-sparks-2012-comedy-drama-fantasy/, and The Rules of Attraction (2002): https://kaygazpro.com/2022/12/28/the-rules-of-attraction-2002-comedy-drama-romance/ and 500 Days of Summer (2009): https://kaygazpro.com/2022/12/29/500-days-of-summer-2009-comedy-drama-romance/.

This is the side of Hollywood that not only doesn’t insult human intelligence but actually gives plenty of food for thought and evokes all the intended emotions – which is what cinema is meant to do. Please, feel free to explore more of those films and create a list that made you laugh and cry, and, why not, move on to other genres as well that, potentially, thrill you, horrify you, etc. Regardless, I will always do my best to keep you posted on the latest releases as well as older ones that you potentially missed or forgot about over the years.

This is also my last review for this year. I concluded it with films that when I watched back then and rewatched now have had a positive (even cathartic) impact on me and I hope you feel the same. I wish you and your families a healthy, happy, and incredibly productive 2023. Be always well and stay safe!

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500 Days of Summer (2009): Comedy/Drama/Romance

The joys and tribulations of a couple that sees love, relationship, and life in antithetical ways.

Funny, sad, awkward, introverted, and very non-chronological. Well, as the narrator explains, it may be partially a boy-meets-girl story, but I would argue that also partially, it is the old fear-of-opening-up story. The narrator also talks about “walls,” but narrators are liars (see Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, link below). Filmmaking is a manipulative art, so don’t blame them, narration is meant to be misleading. What you want to happen and what needs to happen might not match what will actually happen. Sounds convoluted? Well, we are! Individually, let alone collectively. There are no fingers to be pointed at though. We are who we are due to numerous personal, professional, academic, or even cosmic reasons. Do we want to change that? Do we need to change that? Then, how much of it and which part(s)? If yes, who for? Are they willing to do the same? It always has been and always will be convoluted.

Very well-edited, acted, and directed, focusing on the dark side of love, but also its silver lining. Writers Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, and Director Marc Webb open up with a film that speaks their truth about human feelings and the things we say to one another, or, actually, don’t. The amazing Zooey Deschanel and Joseph Gordon-Levitt share that vision and fully express the significant differences between expectations vs. reality, “forcing” you to root for one or the other. The way the story is told though I don’t think anyone could root for Summer. I believe that what she does, in the end, is brutally cruel. But, as we ultimately get to find out, whether they actually meet one last time or not (you’ll get to decide), the truth is… even… more… cruel…

500 Days of Summer belongs to the category of films I have been revisiting these days and truly believe they deserve your attention. Other films that do too are Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (2015): https://kaygazpro.com/2022/12/27/me-and-earl-and-the-dying-girl-2015-comedy-drama-romance/, The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012): https://kaygazpro.com/2020/12/16/the-perks-of-being-a-wallflower-2012-drama-romance/, Ruby Sparks (2012): https://kaygazpro.com/2022/12/27/ruby-sparks-2012-comedy-drama-fantasy/, and The Rules of Attraction (2002): https://kaygazpro.com/2022/12/28/the-rules-of-attraction-2002-comedy-drama-romance/. More to follow!

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P.S. Jenny, the girl mentioned in the beginning, was actually one of the screenwriter’s ex. Summer is based on her. So, the disclaimer is… personal.

P.P.S. I still can’t believe sometimes how fast ChloΓ« Grace Moretz grew up and the long way she has come. Incredible actress!

Comet (2014): Comedy/Drama/Romance

A couple’s six-year relationship is experienced through parallel universes.

Justin Long and Emmy Rossum! And if that alone doesn’t sound appealing enough (which it should, by the way), know that Sam Esmail pens the script and sits in the director’s chair. Yes, the talent behind Mr. Robot (2015) who is also Rossum’s husband in real life. Oh, and Rossum and Long are also the producers, but enough of that.

Comet is not an easy film to make or make sense of. While science is referenced numerous times, art is brought up a lot, and philosophy takes over every parallel universe none of it really matters individually as much as it matters collectively. To the point that they matter so much, that become incomprehensible to the human brain, and, alas, love is what matters the most even if we can’t comprehend that either. Does love mean happiness, sadness, personal completion, or fulfillment? Something else? Does it mean some or all of that to us? Or to some of us? If not all, what does it mean to the rest? Furthermore, why is it that we can never fully express ourselves until it is too late? And when that “late” comes, all the should-haves, the could-haves, the would-haves immensely flood our reason and intricately overwhelm our emotions, feeling like no matter how many lives we had, like a Nietzschean theory, we would always doom it, experiencing all universes colliding, crashing on us.

Dell and Kimberly seem to be inundated with such questions and it seems like no matter how many parallel universes they go through, there will never be an “ideal”. The signs that they desperately try to make sense of, are personal interpretations of a world that will never come to be, longing for the little things from other worlds that they think if they combined together they would create the perfect scenario in which their relationship would be what they individually want it to be.

Having said all that, there is no reason to talk about match-cuts between universes, thorough mise-en-scène, amazing acting, and further elaborative filmmaking techniques. Just know that it is a beautiful film, based on a beautiful script with numerous funny and dramatic lines, performed beautifully by a beautiful on-screen couple.

As I’ve said before, the exploration of the human mind through voiceovers, monologues, dialogues, and generally the provocative inner conflict belongs to a series of films I’m currently revisiting and reviewing and I believe that has gone largely under the radar. Comet is definitely part of that series that adds to Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (2015): https://kaygazpro.com/2022/12/27/me-and-earl-and-the-dying-girl-2015-comedy-drama-romance/, The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012): https://kaygazpro.com/2020/12/16/the-perks-of-being-a-wallflower-2012-drama-romance/, Ruby Sparks (2012): https://kaygazpro.com/2022/12/27/ruby-sparks-2012-comedy-drama-fantasy/, and The Rules of Attraction (2002): https://kaygazpro.com/2022/12/28/the-rules-of-attraction-2002-comedy-drama-romance/. More to follow!

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The Rules of Attraction (2002): Comedy/Drama/Romance

The year draws to a close and Camden College is inundated with parties attended by misfits, conformists, and everything in between.

Every writer’s torturing question is, how do I start the story? Writer/director Roger Avary, based on Brett Easton Ellis’ novel, starts from the end, the final party, to introduce the key players of his story. Meticulously made non-linear montages by the amazing Sharon Rutter reveal what will happen to Sean, Paul, Lauren, Lara, Victor, and Kelly only to rewind days before whatever happened and introduce them properly again by showing who they were before that last party.

Every sequence of the film is important to the narrative’s development and extremely well-constructed. There is something cinematically new and refreshing throughout every sequence. The back-and-forth ending, the visit to the drug dealer’s house, the junkie with the trombone, the edge of the world party, the Lauren/Sean encounter, the Sean/Paul encounter, the Sean/Dick and their moms encounter, the dressed to get screwed party, the suicide, Victor in Europe, and, finally, the very ending, are but a few of the sequences that will make you laugh as much as they will intrigue you. It might not mean much now reading their names, but watching them is a cinematic experience you will not forget.

Here are a few interesting details about the film.

  • Brett Easton Ellis is also the author of ‘American Psycho’ and Sean Bateman is the younger brother of psychopath Patrick Bateman – when you see Sean’s look, you’ll get how psychopathy runs in the family.
  • The late George Michael gave Avary his song “Faith” for free when he found out they couldn’t afford it.
  • “The End of the World” sequence was filmed on 11 September 2001. πŸ™
  • In the Sean/Dick sequence, the singing and dancing were completely improvised.

Shocking that so many people still haven’t even heard of it! Avary characterised his film as “the assassination of teen comedies.” To their shame, numerous people walked out of the test screening shouting “fag film”. They missed what the narrative is about, why the characters are who they are, and didn’t stay till the very end to see what they came to be. There are amazing small details in the film that make it unique. There is a sign on Victor’s door for everyone to see, reading: “Victor, tests came back positive. Be careful.”, and still everyone wants to sleep with him, and he still hasn’t put it down. Notice how purposefully disjoined the film is in parts and ask yourself why. Pay attention to the snowflake that lands on Sean’s eye-corner and think of what it may mean. The Rules of Attraction neither provides any answers nor does it become too big for its own boots. It merely emphasises change and transformation by distinguishing reality from dream the only way life teaches us; the hard way. According to Avary, he believes that the critics responded negatively to his film because they saw it as “bad fiction”. He begs to differ he believes that “[…] It isn’t. It’s a reality that nobody talks about.”

Regardless of who really made it as an actor/actress/producer after that, James Van Der Beek, Shannyn Sossamon, Jessica Biel, Kip Pardue, Kate Bosworth, Ian Somerhalder, and Jay Baruchel give their 100% to the roles they were given and I take my hat off them! Clifton Collins Jr., Eric Stoltz, and, of course, the one and only Faye Dunaway were and are incredible to this very day.

The exploration of the human mind through voiceovers, monologues, dialogues, and generally the provocative inner conflict belongs to a series of films I’m currently revisiting and reviewing and I believe that has gone largely under the radar. If that one sounds like your cup of tea, you should definitely visit or revisit: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (2015): https://kaygazpro.com/2022/12/27/me-and-earl-and-the-dying-girl-2015-comedy-drama-romance/, The Perks of Being a WallflowerΒ (2012):Β https://kaygazpro.com/2020/12/16/the-perks-of-being-a-wallflower-2012-drama-romance/, and Ruby Sparks (2012): https://kaygazpro.com/2022/12/27/ruby-sparks-2012-comedy-drama-fantasy/ More to follow!

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.

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Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (2015): Comedy/Drama/Romance

An awkward high school student who makes spoof films is forced to hang out with a girl that has just been diagnosed with cancer.

The side of Hollywood that can genuinely make you laugh as much as it can make you cry. This is what I call a flawless Hollywood film! You may think my view is a tad bold, but hear me out. The narration, the characters, the utterances, and the actions are shown in the surrealistic way they loop in Greg’s mind. And who has never thought: “Oh, if anyone could see how I make sense of this world in my mind…” Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is Greg’s perception of his world as seen through his eyes, but if I were to be more technical, through Jesse Andrews’ novel/script and Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s lense.

There is a lot to pay attention to, but let me summarise my top details for you just to get an idea and, maybe, appreciate somehow what I think deserves appreciation.

  • The hilarious and inventive spoof titles include, but are not limited to: ‘Anatomy of a Burger’ [Anatomy of a MurderΒ (1959)], ‘Death in Tennis’ [Death in VeniceΒ (1971)], ‘Gross Encounters of the Turd Kind’ [Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)], ‘Raging Bullshit’ [Raging Bull (1980)], ‘A Sockwork Orange’ [A Clockwork Orange (1971)], ‘The 400 Bros’ (The 400 BlowsΒ (1959)].
  • The extremely well-written dialogues and monologues are funny, dramatic, and/or both. They will make you laugh, and cry separately and/or at the same time.
  • Thomas Mann (Greg), Olivia Cooke (Rachel), RJ Cyler (Earl), Connie Britton (Greg’s mom), Nick Offerman (Greg’s dad), Molly Shannon (Denise), and Jon Bernthal’s (Mr. McCarthy) performances are just beautiful!
  • From a filmmaking point of view, when Greg’s mom initially tries to convince her son that he must hang out with Rachel, her endless, non-stop verbal diarrhea is seen and heard uncut all the way from downstairs to upstairs till Greg slams shut the door. The continuation of her speech is accompanied by a continuous shot.
  • Respectively, when Rachel makes the discussion about her treatment and discusses it with Greg (01:01:33 – 01:06:53), the five-minute shot remains uncut, not distracting the audience’s attention from the heavy accusations exchanged.
  • But if we were to analyse the cuts and the montages throughout the film, I would draw the conclusion that they are there to visually explicate the good, the bad, the ugly, and the beautiful. For example, the editing controls the rhythm of the film by creating sequences of various paces, such as the introduction of the high school – narrated by Greg, the animation cuts that anecdotally appear out of nowhere and purely visually make the point they want to make, and the mixture of such sequences that constantly and meticulously regulate the comedy/drama balance.

In an attempt to avoid making this review into analysis, I’ll stop here and let you watch it. The aforementioned are merely examples that corroborate my point, but there is so much more that you will fall in love with. I will make reference to this extended review in reviews of similar films that I will not say so much about. I am leaving such films for the end of the year as I have nothing negative to say, and have made an impact on my expectations of films, raising the bar quite high. Look out for similar reviews that I will upload in the following days. A film of the same level and category is none other than The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012): https://kaygazpro.com/2020/12/16/the-perks-of-being-a-wallflower-2012-drama-romance/. Again, what I see as Hollywood’s strongest suit.

It took me years to watch it again and it evoked the exact same feelings as it did back then. I laughed out loud and burst into tears altogether. I hope you experience it the same way.

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Ruby Sparks (2012): Comedy/Drama/Fantasy

A lonely and eccentric young novelist starts writing a book about his dream girl only to wake up one morning and see her right in front of him.

Ruby Sparks misplaces your dreams and crawls under your skin. At first, you get a glimpse of reality. You see how it is, you get to know Calvin, the way he experiences the world, and the way the world experiences him. Then you get a glimpse of fantasy, an insight into what is happening inside Calvin’s head. What follows is beautiful montages of reality and fantasy, and the result is the marriage of the two that creates the predicament. The comedy as well as the suspense of that predicament work perfectly on different levels. Calvin and his brother Harry know that she is a product of the former’s imagination. Then, everyone else doesn’t, including Ruby. You, as the audience, know all that, but no one knows where the story is heading. No one knows how this love story is going to end. Will she find out? How will she find out? If she will, how will she react? What will that mean for them individually? What will it mean for them collectively?

Real-life couple Paul Dano and Zoe Kazan (also producers) have amazing chemistry, chemistry initially created by Zoe Kazan herself (script) and brought to life by directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris [Well-known for Little Miss Sunshine (2006)]. As for the story itself, there are numerous ways to interpret its meaning. My advice is, don’t try to make sense of the “how” just of “why”. The way I see it, our imagination is limitless. The world we create inside our heads can be anything we want to it be. All emotions and feelings can change into what we want them to be, and we can be the people we always wanted to be. A wise man once said that the writer’s job is the loneliest job in the world. Not only do they isolate themselves from the rest of the world to write, but they also become gods of worlds that don’t exist. I believe the problem arises the moment that “God” comes back from that isolation and realises the lack of control they have over reality.

Again, you can make whatever you want of it, there are no right or wrong answers. If there is something certain that is the fact that it is beautifully made and worth your while. Ruby Sparks is part of a series of films that I believe belongs to Hollywood’s most appealing side – and I review them back to back. Similar films I have reviewed and couldn’t recommend more are: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (2015) https://kaygazpro.com/2022/12/27/me-and-earl-and-the-dying-girl-2015-comedy-drama-romance/ and The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012): Β https://kaygazpro.com/2020/12/16/the-perks-of-being-a-wallflower-2012-drama-romance/

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While You Were Sleeping (1995): Comedy/Drama/Romance

After saving a man from a horrible accident, a hopeless romantic woman falls in love with his brother.

Funny and romantic, and that’s all you need to know. You’ll probably know by now that I’m not into romantic films, but even I make exceptions from time to time for films that do not insult human intelligence and offer nothing but smiles and entertainment during this festive time. While You Were Sleeping is one of them and one that watched as a kid back then. In a time when the Internet was not even a known word, films were one of the ways I got to discover the world and foreign cultures. The American way, cinematically at least, was, is, and always will be appealing to the human eye and soul – especially in this genre. This merely means though that American cinema, in and outside Hollywood, cannot be brutal, gritty, and realistic. That is another story for another time though. I feel like digressing…

Sandra Bullock, after Speed (1994), became a romance queen and one of America’s sweethearts with a lot of roles like this (and later on a lot more than that). Daniel G. Sullivan and Fredric Lebrow wrote a tight script and director Jon Turteltaub made a comedy/romance with plenty of delay of resolution that will keep you till the very end waiting for the tables to turn. The film paces beautifully and leads to the outcome that brings that tear of joy to your eyes. It’s a beautiful film about the most beautiful feeling n the world; love. We couldn’t live without it even if we knew that one day someone would take it away from us. Failure to experience it hurts infinitely more than the pain it causes. And like with most Christmas films, its message is to constantly seek it, for it can be found in the most unlikely places. And in the most unlikely people, who, like us, are looking for it to become whole.

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P.S. As for Bill Pullman, to this very day, like Bullock, he hasn’t stopped surprising us with the projection of his internal bittersweet darkness. Amazing actors through and through!

A Very Harold and Kumar Christmas 3D (2011): Adventure/Comedy

Having taken different paths in life, Harold and Kumar meet after a long time only to find themselves, again, in a pickle.

Funny, insulting to everyone, and truthful to the franchise. I’ll be short and to the point. The narrative remains the same: The situation calls for Harold and Kumar to reunite, to go through one hell of an adventure where everyone gets high as a kite, wreaking havoc, and in the end, everyone to live happily ever after. Rough Mexican in-laws, the Russian mob, an animated killer snowman, kids on drugs, Santa Claus, and Neil Patrick Harris are but a few stops in Harold and Kumar’s journey. Kal Penn and John Cho make a great duet and as with the rest of the films, they offer the smiles we need in times like these, and, especially, this season. Neil Patrick Harris always nails it and his comeback is very welcome. Patton Oswalt, Elias Koteas, and Danny Trejo are also great additions as they are both extremely charismatic thespians and, even though they show up just a little, they make all the difference in the world.

If you are sensitive to political correctness don’t watch it. Watch something that does not intend to insult race, sexual orientation, or religion. On the other hand, watch it if you want to moan about how insulting and inappropriate it is. Todd Strauss-Schulson’s A Very Harold and Kumar Christmas 3D comes unapologetically after everyone and everything. Easily digestible and highly enjoyable. And as a wise man once said, if only quality sold we wouldn’t have fast food.

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Violent Night (2022): Action/Comedy/Crime

A group of mercenaries attacks a rich family’s mansion at the same time when Santa Claus is about to deliver the gifts.

Aghhh… A grumpy, drinking, pissing, swearing, stealing, fighting Santa! What’s not to like, yeah? Well, there is nothing much you won’t like. Think of it as a funny Die Hard (1988) and Die Hard 2 (1990) set up in a house instead of a tall building or an airport with a pinch of an even more moronic Home Alone (1990). Actually, there’s a lot you will like. The writers of Sonic the Hedgehog (2020) and the director of Dead Snow (2009), make Violent Night very formulaic, keep in mind, but it’s what the narrative demands, and, probably, what you want from it. If you want to see something different from director Tommy Wirkola, I’d urge you to watch Dead Snow and Dead Snow 2 (2014).

As with previous Christmas films, I won’t get into it that much. I’ll just say ‘nay’ or ‘yay’. So, the elephant in the room is David Harbour, who is as funny as he is badass. Maybe Violent Night lacks depth, but count on him to entertain you. Remember, Stranger Things (2016) wouldn’t be the same without him. Furthermore, the diverse John Leguizamo adds personality to all the roles he’s played and so does here. Alex Hassell, Alexis Louder, Edi Patterson, Cam Gigandet, and the young Leah Brady create great chemistry and, consequently, atmosphere. Last but not least, Beverly D’Angelo always had been lighting up the screen in all 132 films she has appeared in with both her skills and beauty.

Expect plenty of shooting, plenty of fighting, plenty of bloodshed, and plenty of foul language (but not plenty of substance), and you’ll be all right. Again, there is no reinventing the wheel here. Just PG 15 “Christmas magic” and unconventional ’tis the season spirit in an old-wine-new-bottle recipe. It’s a ‘yay’.

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Wind Chill (2007): Adventure/Drama/Horror

One day before Christmas eve, two college students share a ride to their hometown, but they break down on a haunted and deserted forest road.

Haunting, mysterious, and well-written, directed, and acted! Before she became the Hollywood star she is today, Emily Blunt starred in this underrated Christmas horror, produced by Steven Soderbergh and George Clooney (who worked together in the Oceans Eleven franchise). Wind Chill is not entertainment for the whole family. It’s dark, it’s eerie, and it’s spooky. Mystery “breathes” throughout all three acts and suspense intensifies through every minute that passes. Joe Gangemi and Steven Katz write, and Gregory Jacobs directs an intense thriller/horror that will constantly make you wonder where the story is heading. Who is Guy for real? Who are these men walking into the woods? What happened to this place? Where is this place, anyway? The hint to understanding how the supernatural works, in this instance, is understanding Guy’s reference to Nietzsche’s theory of eternal recurrence. Get that and you’ll get, why the damned souls act the way they do.

I won’t spoil it for you one bit, though. You need to watch it! The reactions to what is happening are realistic, and Blunt showed even back then what an amazing actress she was and how even more amazing she was going to be. Whatever unbelievability the narrative carries with it, the tight script and the believable performances by both Blunt and Ashton Holmes make up for it.

Wind Chill is on par with Dead End (2003): https://kaygazpro.com/2021/12/25/dead-end-2003-adventure-horror-mystery/. Similar premise, different story, equal goosebumps! Find the right company, even if that is just your own, turn the lights off, and let it get under your skin.

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P.S. Question for you: Why was Girl able to hear everyone from the toilet’s gas station but no one could hear her?

Ghosts of Girlfriends Past (2009): Comedy/Fantasy/Romance

A huge “player” finds his match the day before his brother gets married when he gets a visit from three ghosts.

A water-downed version of the original source, but still watchable and enjoyable. Huge reason behind it is, of course, Matthew McConaughey. The guy nails it as the irredeemable player that causes physical and mental destruction all around him. He’s handsome as hell, eloquent, and… he is the right man for the job! As aforementioned though, it still is a massively water-downed version of Charles Dickens ‘A Christmas Carol’ (1843). McConaughey might be on top of his game, Jennifer Garner is an exceptional actress who can be dramatic as much as she can be funny, and Emma Stone and Michael Douglas do also a spot-on job… it’s just that director Mark Waters’ version is not on par with other iterations of Dickens’ original work, such as Scrooged (1988): https://kaygazpro.com/2018/12/28/scrooged-1988-comedy-drama-fantasy/ and A Christmas Carol (2019): https://kaygazpro.com/2020/12/25/a-christmas-carol-2019-drama-fantasy/ with the first being funny and emotional and the second dark and depressing. It’s not his fault though because I guess it never meant to make it to that level or reach the same audience they did.

I avoid having a holistic approach to these films nor do I analyse them thoroughly as I find them quite formulaic. I have no high expectations of them other than examining whether they can entertain you and keep you company for as long as they last. Ghosts of Girlfriends Past ticks both boxes, and, while not particularly profound, it still has the impact of making someone reflect on their past decisions and their consequences presented in the present day – especially when it comes to romance!

Well, I hope you enjoy it or enjoy it again if you have watched it in the past with the company of your own choice. As the film explicitly implies, no one should be alone in this world. There is someone out there for everyone, all we have to do is find them. Unless they find us first…

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P.S. This was the time when McConaughey played all those roles that brought out his external beauty. Not long after, he took a turn to roles that brought out his amazing thespian skills and eccentric beautiful darkness.

The Apology (2022): Thriller

On Christmas Eve, twenty years after the day her daughter disappeared, a woman gets an unexpected visit from her ex-brother-in-law who holds crucial information about that day.

Nail-biting at times, but inconsistent overall. From a filmmaking point of view, interesting opening sequence. Like an omniscient narrator, the audience hovers over isolation and “uninvited” enters Darlene’s house, the amazing Anna Gunn, where the drama and thriller will unfold. Interestingly, IMDb characterises the film only as a thriller. Respectfully, I beg to differ. Anyway, the reunion with the ex-brother-in-law (Jack), admittedly, paces itself but proves to be essential to the plot point that will connect Act I and Act II, namely the revelation of that information. So, be patient and wait for it. Just wait…

The editing slows down, and the disclosure of information comes in waves. Writer/director Alison Locke focuses on Darlene, and manages to capture the shock that turns into anger, rage, wrath, and, finally, despair. So far, the film’s strong suit is the balance between Darlene’s reaction to that information (receiver) and Jack’s position (transmitter). Gunn ultimately nails her part as the mother who lost everything that day and had to live day in, and day out parents’ worst fear and Locke mounts the camera and follows that performance. Until the tables turn… and the characters start acting differently. Personally, this is the point where character development faces irreparable and head-scratching inconsistencies that damage the rest of the film. And this is where I’m going to stop in an attempt not to spoil anything crucial.

The Apology is like a book or wine; some will like it, and some won’t. I do recommend it, for sure, but that is mostly due to Gunn’s performance. Another recommendation I have with a similar premise, but a different story is The Lodge (2019): https://kaygazpro.com/2020/05/15/the-lodge-2019-drama-horror-thriller/. That is one helluva cinematic ride!

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P.S. It is always a pleasure to see Janeane Garofalo in a film, be it a primary or secondary role.

The Sixth Sense (1999): Drama/Mystery/Thriller

A troubled child psychologist takes on a kid that is able to make contact with the dead.

Still haunting, still dark, and still gripping. This is more of a reminder than it is a review. By now, everyone knows what happened, how it happened, and when it happened. The reason I am resurfacing it though is to quickly remind you why it still cinematically matters, and, maybe, encourage you to watch it again this festive period.

I’ll leave out the couple of obvious plot holes that could have been paranormally interpreted in more than one way and avoid the use of reason in explaining how we get from one act to the next. But… I’ll focus on a couple of significant details that you either missed back then or possibly forgot over the years, such as the colour red. The award, the made-up house, the clothes, the staircase, the balloon, and, of course, the mysterious doorknob that does not open the door are only but a few examples of the colour’s usage that pushes the narrative forward but also betrays the film’s twist. This pattern is waiting for you to unravel it and grasp its importance in relation to Cole and his bliss or curse, depending on how one perceives that sixth sense of his.

The other mystery that makes the whole difference in the world in understanding the way the story unfolds is distinguishing who tells the story. In other words, whose story is it? What Cole knows that everyone else doesn’t is now known. What Dr. Crowe doesn’t know, but Cole does is also now known (back then none of it was). The answer lies in the camera angles. What the camera shows and the way it shows it gives away the person or entity’s point of view. These angles also establish where the audience stands at any given moment, something that wouldn’t have been possible if the editing wasn’t such. Ultimately, after the film’s twist is revealed, understanding whose story it is will put into perspective who helps whom, and will provide answers to most of the complex questions.

Bruce Willis captures the essence of his role, Toni Collette gets her first (and last) Oscar nomination, and Olivia Williams supports the story to her full extent (she’s an equally brilliant actress). But the ultimate surprise couldn’t be anyone else other than Haley Joel Osment (also, first and last Oscar nomination), the wonder kid that was later seen in films, such as Pay It Forward (2000) and A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001). And if you are wondering how a kid goes from a film like The Sixth Sense to A.I., know that in both films, producers Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshall (husband and wife) are behind both productions. Even though that’s a story for another time, keep this in mind: Kennedy started as a production assistant in the Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), helped develop films such as Gremlins (1984) and The Goonies (1985), and made the Star Wars universe what it is now. George Lucas might be the mastermind behind it, yes, but, without her wouldn’t have expanded to the lengths that it has now. Again, just to keep in mind how behind ostensibly irrelevant films the same people call the shot. Food for thought…

With The Sixth Sense, at the turn of the century, M. Night Shyamalan established himself as the new dominant ‘player’ of the thriller/horror genre, despite the numerous ups and downs that followed. I believe I speak for all of us when I say that we all look forward to the Knock at the Cabin (2023).

Filmmaking is an intriguing and intricate process and The Sixth Sense is an intriguing and intricate film that took years to decode the techniques behind its effect on the film industry. I hope you enjoy it once more.

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8-Bit Christmas (2021): Comedy/Family

In the late 1980s, a boy makes it a mission to get the most innovative video-game console, the Nintendo.

Funny, Christmassy, and a little didactic. While most of it takes place in the 80s, personally, I didn’t get the Goonies (1985) vibe. Maybe it’s the 21st-century camera angles, lack of chroma noise, mise-en-scene, editing, etc, or, simply, the character development that is kinda 80s, but for whoever lived through it actually isn’t. Even though it is considerably funny, in my humble opinion, it betrays the funny moments by emphasising them with the editor to cut right on them, leaving nothing naturally in the background or to the imagination. This way it gives the impression that it tries to be funny a little bit more than it does. BUT… that’s just me and in a film like this, it does not really matter, anyway. I guess I am overthinking it when the expectations of celebratory films should be raised to the levels of entertainment and not to the levels of innovation.

Written by Kevin Jakubowski and directed by Michael Dowse, 8-bit Christmas is a Christmas film for the whole family and it is about family values and friendship. More particularly, about family values and friendship over materialistic pleasures and selfish needs. What’s more, 80s or not, it is a well-narrated story, by a dad to his daughter, about how things once were. And that’s something diachronic, something that will never die out, something that will always have been and always will be passed down from generation to generation. Neil Patrick Harris, Steve Zahn, June Diane Raphael, and every single child actor will put a big smile on your face!

8-bit Christmas is an old-wine-new-bottle “journey vs. destination” with an excessive suspension of disbelief and a sentimental ending for the whole family. A great must-watch for this Christmas period to forget, even for just over an hour and a half, this season’s difficulties.

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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 HallstrΓΆm 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, HallstrΓΆm, 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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Carter (2022): Action/Thriller

A man is tasked with a nearly impossible mission upon waking up with no memory.

Unrealistic and unwatchable! From start to finish the same unrealistic things repetitively happen in an unwatchable manner. Carter is constantly running around, fighting hordes of people (more unscratched than Steven Seagal) in an attempt to achieve something that is befitting for the era just gone, namely the pandemic. Writer/director Jung Byung-gil tried to reproduce his previous film’s success The Villainess (2017): https://kaygazpro.com/2020/07/21/the-villainess-2017-action-thriller/ (unfortunately, I didn’t praise that either), combining it with what writer/director Ilya Naishuller did with Hardcore Henry (2015) and Nobody (2021): https://kaygazpro.com/2021/05/25/nobody-2021-action-crime-drama/. Unfortunately, again, the outcome is neither.

Carter is a film that thousands of people have worked hard to bring to life so I won’t be too harsh on it. This type of action film is not reinventing the wheel: The Raid (2011): https://kaygazpro.com/2019/04/06/the-raid-redemption-2011-action-thriller/, The Raid 2 (2014): https://kaygazpro.com/2019/04/07/the-raid-2-2014-action-crime-thriller/, Headshot (2016): https://kaygazpro.com/2018/11/30/headshot-2016-action-drama-thriller/, The Night Comes For Us (2018): https://kaygazpro.com/2018/11/19/the-night-comes-for-us-2018-action-thriller/, to name but a few, are films with modest budgets and impressive results. The know-how is there. Byung-gil should have stuck with what works and add his own personality to it rather than trying to create something ‘new’ that is unbearable to watch. Arguably, his philosophy was: ‘I shoot it this way and all the mistakes can be fixed in post.’ While mistakes are indeed fixed in postproduction, that is not the role of editing whatsoever! The editing stitches the pieces together in a way that the narrative calls for and the way Carter has been shot, intended to create the illusion of one continuous shot, has irreparably damaged the hard work of those thousands of people in front and behind the camera. They say that the editing either makes or brakes a film. It has most certainly torn it apart, in this case.

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P.S. If you want to see how jump cuts and radical editing are truly effective (in a time when it was innovative), watch Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless (1960).

Amsterdam (2022): Comedy/Drama/History

In the 1930s, a group of outcasts start investigating a murder they were framed for, which leads them to one of the biggest conspiracies in American history.

A-list cast in a bizarre, mysterious, and awkwardly funny whodunit. While from directing, cinematography, editing, (invisible) VFX, and acting point of view Amsterdam is next to immaculate, the script itself is, as said above, bizarre. Based on the political conspiracy against President Roosevelt and the coup that intended to overthrow him, the film consists of surrealistic characters, awkward humour, and a comedic way of seeing the war and social issues. Producer/writer/director David O. Russell selects a particular part of history and makes it too Hollywood by mythologising its existence and arguing and counter-arguing the pre-WWII politics in a manner that makes one wonder how they should feel about what they see.

What O. Russell also always manages to do is gather the best actors alive and get them into his films: Christian Bale, John David Washington, Margot Robbie, Alessandro Nivola, Andrea Riseborough, Anya Taylor-Joy, Chris Rock, Matthias Schoenaerts, Michael Shannon, Mike Myers, Timothy Olyphant, Zoe Zaldana, Rami Malek, and Robert De Niro create excellent chemistry and do their absolute best in what seems to be a fairy-tale-like version of a historical event that could have changed the world as we know it today.

The film was a colossal box office failure! According to Deadline magazine, 20th Century Fox lost an estimated $97 million. Why? Amsterdam is unmarketable! I can’t see for the life of me what kind of audience it targets as I can’t see how they pitched it to the studio. But if I had to guess, O. Russell gathered the names and the studio just said ‘yes’. I think the film is just undecided in regard to what it wants to say. It addresses a serious, dark, and spine-chilling historical event in an awkwardly funny way that, despite the numerous marketable names, obviously didn’t work out.

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We Own This City (2022): Biography/Crime/Drama

A chronicle of the unspeakable corruption of the Baltimore Police Department’s Gun Trace Task Force.

A must-see! We Own This City is not just a miniseries, it’s a case study. The more you go into it the more it divides you and the more it makes you question what you believe in. Political beliefs are based mostly on our readings and/or on our experiences in life. Again, the more we read and the more we experience life, these political beliefs of ours get either more enhanced or debunked. Needless to say that certain people just stick to the beliefs they were taught, learn nothing from life, and, inevitably, mentally stagnate. But that is another story for another time…

Based on the book by Justin Fenton, creators George Pelecanos and David Simon, and director Reinaldo Marcus Green stick to the facts and stun with their accuracy. While dramatised, the events displayed are purely shocking. Not just for the American audience who is, unfortunately, used to experiencing those events on a regular basis, especially African-Americans, but for the rest of the world that only gets quick snippets of those tragic events, and, if not most times, sometimes the distorted version of them. What Pelecanos, Simon, and Green have achieved is introduce right off the bat, in a non-linear manner all the main players and their involvement in this case as well as the set-up of the scenery of that case. Admittedly, even though too complex for my standards, they immediately cut to the chase and still manage to intrigue with that complexity. The intriguing factor though passes the torch on to the devastating corruption that constantly and increasingly keeps blurring the lines of legality and morality. What’s more, the deeper you get into it, the more you start questioning the already doubtful system, the role it plays, who it represents, the reason(s) it’s there as well as the way it has been developed, the people who pull the strings, and the way they are pulling them.

On the other hand, the series will make you question the role of society, the individual within it, and its relationship to that system. As We Own This City colourfully portrays, society comprises totally innocent individuals, minor criminals, and major criminals. Respectfully, the system comprises hard-working and honest people, apathetic ones, and deeply corrupted. The burning and realistic question that instantly rises then is: How is this going to work? How will a corrupted system be able to serve a corrupted society? A less burning and unrealistic question (yet tremendously important) is the oldest one in the book: Does the corrupted system ruin society or does the corrupted society unavoidably generate a ruined system (chicken/egg)? We Own This City addresses those questions, deliberately messes with your head, and provides academic food for thought once the 6th episode’s credits start rolling (and way after that).

Jon Bernthal, Wunmi Mosaku, Jamie Hector, Josh Charles, Dagmara Dominczyk, Delaney Williams, Treat Williams, and the rest of the beautiful cast AMAZE with their shockingly realistic performances, conveying the intended messages to the audience. Bernthal is an extremely diverse actor, a powerhouse, that deserves a lot of praise, and so does Hector. I remember how much I hated Marlo in The Wire (2004 – 2008) and how much I loved and empathised with Sean in this one.

You will love it! You absolutely will! It’s a must-see if you like series like The Wire and The Shield (2002 – 2008).

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Smile (2022): Horror/Mystery/Thriller

A patient’s suicide will lead a therapist down a dark path against a malevolent force.

Raises the stakes, and excites, but doesn’t fully deliver… There are numerous types of narrations that the camera can help convey to the audience. One of them is the “omniscient narration” where the audience gets to experience situations that the characters can’t. For example, be at multiple places at once and have background knowledge of the characters without them knowing it – they haven’t disclosed it, but you have seen it. This is part of the reason why you get to engage more with their suffering and the events surrounding them. But not only. Not wanting to bore you more with jargon, I’ll move on to what I believe matters while watching Smile.

For the horror part, the film successfully relies on the contradiction between the abhorrent anticipation of death and the eerie smiles right before it happens. Smiling is a feeling that should derive from happiness and not from a malevolent presence that totally ruins one’s life before taking it. And Smile effectively builds up the suspense that leads to the pending horrors. While the narrative is not original – a paranormal evil that forces people to harm others or themselves, and the protagonist, racing against time, needs to find a way to break that curse before it’s too late – Smile has certain strengths and weaknesses. Horror, in that respect, is the strong suit.

For the thriller part, the film utilises the fear of doubting oneself and the feeling of helplessness. And that feeling is especially enhanced when the heroine is meant to be an expert in explaining and controlling those emotions and feelings. Writer/director Parker Finn manages to balance those two genres really well and offers a refreshing perspective on something that has been said and done numerous times before.

The script’s weakest point is Rose trying to explain what is happening to her to the people around her. Being a doctor, even deeply and severely traumatised, she should be able to convey her message in a slightly less “crazy” manner; rationalise it in a more effective way, at least, to the people that she should have known how they would react. In that respect, the drama isn’t as powerful as the situation demands it to be.

As I’ve said numerous times before, it’s worth mentioning that none of the efforts behind the camera would matter if the cast in front of the camera didn’t deliver. Sosie Bacon, first and foremost, and all the supporting cast deliver convincing performances that increase the believability of something extraordinarily unrealistic such as the specific supernatural force. And while at it, the fact that Finn chooses not to explain its origin or its true motives is something that you will judge.

On a different note, I guess here there is a discounted underlying message given (or not) in a Hollywood manner. The invisibility and therefore unpredictability of mental illness that constitutes it harder or even sometimes impossible to diagnose, let alone treat, makes the person suffering from it… all alone. And that’s infinitely scarier drama than any CGI.

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Emily the Criminal (2022): Crime/Drama/Thriller

After being constantly rejected due to her past, a young woman is pulled into the criminal underworld where she sinks deeper and deeper.

Bold, manipulative, and real! Shoulder-mounted camera and tracking shots always raise the bar high. The story is straightforward from the very beginning. She has skills, but she has a past, and if she ever wants to make money, she has to go rogue. And writer/director John Patton Ford and actress Aubrey Plaza capture that from the opening shot. That mockery disguised in an interview’s clothes, the first job’s minor suspense, the second job’s increased tension, the painful reality of constantly working paycheck to paycheck and still making less than what you have to pay out, and the harsh realisation that your life keeps endlessly amounting to absolute nothing, gradually and painfully unfold like visual poetry. The question becomes then, what happens when the shit hits the fan after all the choices that one has made but they didn’t seem much of a choice at the time? Other than Plaza, Theo Rossi does a great job as Youcef (massive fan of him since Sons of Anarchy) and Gina Gershon lights up the shot she’s in even if she appears for a split second.

Excellent thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat and will make you doubt the honesty you think you have with yourself. Is Emily turning to crime just because “the system” lets her down or has always been the criminal she revealed herself to be? Again, brilliant performances and brilliantly paced, built up and escalated.

Ultimately, what has always been known becomes once more apparent; the crime world has one rule, there are no rules. And the one thing that is certain, is that nothing is.

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P.S. Thoroughly thought title!

P.P.S. If you’ve been to such interviews, you know. You know…

The Twin (2022): Drama/Horror/Mystery

After losing one of their twins in a tragic accident, a family of three relocates to Finland only to face a devastating reality.

Great ending, but somewhat lost on its way there. Let me start with a major concern because, overall, it’s a worth-watching horror with a great lead. The death of the kid (inciting incident) is discounted. This is by far the worst tragedy a family can face and it happens straight away and you don’t get to see a thing. There are visual manipulations that could manipulate the event and still make you feel lost for words. If you had visually experienced something, Rachel’s (Teresa Palmer) reaction would have shuttered you, and the rest of the family’s reactions would have affected you more. It just happens too fast, too soon. Having said that, let’s move on.

Understandably, Elliot’s behaviour becomes the thriller’s epicentre and the basic suspicion that something is fundamentally wrong. Due to preexisting knowledge, you know what has happened (or not), you just don’t know how it happened and, consequently, how it can be reversed. Revealing the “true” reason behind it is the first twist, something that will add flavour to the narrative and you’ll want to see where this is going. The convolution of the second one though, will make you question what you already know or you think you know, and, when it all comes to full circle, it’ll be up to you to decide whether it all made sense or not and if it was what you thought it was. If you ask me, the drama prevails while the horror fails.

After everything was said and done, I expected more of a European school of filmmaking from director Taneli Mustonen and not Hollywood. Representative examples of my expectations would be The Hole in the Ground (2019): https://kaygazpro.com/2022/05/16/the-hole-in-the-ground-2019-drama-horror-mystery/ and The Innocents (2021): https://kaygazpro.com/2022/03/23/the-innocents-2021-drama-horror-mystery/. Pay attention to Daniel Lindholm’s photography, it’s thrilling! Furthermore, loads of credits go to Teresa Palmer who deserves attention that she has not received. Again, if you would like to see her in something more realistic and European, I’d recommend Berlin Syndrome (2017). She’s brilliant!

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P.S. If you are interested, in my podcast, I have extensively looked into the role of kids in horror films by talking with the exceptional Michelle Satchwell: https://kaygazpro.com/2020/09/09/kids-source-of-evil-vs-source-of-resolution/. I’m sure you’ll find it illuminating.

Don’t Worry Darling (2022): Drama/Thriller

In the 1950s, a housewife starts gradually suspecting that the ostensibly peaceful suburbia she lives in is nothing like it seems to be.

Intriguing concept, but lacks depth. Suburbia, defined gender roles, Mccarthy’s paranoia, and a hint of mystery blend into an overly euphoric society that raises questions from the very beginning. Who are they? Where are they? Why are they there? What are the men doing? Why are they doing it? I’m not asking more so I don’t spoil it.

While all the ingredients are there and the premise of the film is intriguing, the plot lacks depth. Without telling you much, due to preexisting knowledge of certain mystery films, you will quickly get the idea of the town’s conspicuous facade. Once you do, what you can hope for is for something totally extraordinary to happen that will make you say: I didn’t see that coming! Will you be blown out of the water when you least expect it? I’ll leave that up to you to figure out.

Since its birth, art had always been questioning society and the world we live in. The film industry has done it on numerous occasions – I’m not naming films to not betray the narrative – and Don’t Worry Darling is no exception. Shane and Carey Van Dyke’s story and Katie Silberman’s script are exciting and Olivia Wilde’s lens captures that excitement but not necessarily the thrill; the suspense’s buildup and climax. Does it worth a watch? Yes. Even though there is an agenda that reflects today’s troubled and confused society? Yes. To me though, Don’t Worry Darling is a prime example of theory contradicting practice. It is directed by a woman with the intent to empower women, but, in reality, both men and women messed it up in the process and the film paid the price. For more BS on Hollywood trying to be diverse, ask actress KiKi Layne on what she has to say: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt10731256/trivia?item=tr6531755

Florence Pugh, Harry Styles, Olivia Wilde, KiKi Layne, Gemma Chan, Chris Pine, and the rest of the cast perform well, but surely you’ll find their performances a lot better elsewhere.

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P.S. Half of the main cast is British.

Barbarian (2022): Horror/Thriller

A woman arrives at her Airbnb rental only to confront horrors beyond her wildest nightmares.

The epitome of suspense and the confusion after that…

From a filmmaking point of view: What a 44-minute thrill! A slow-burn thriller that cuts your breath short by manipulating you as to who Keith (Bill SkarsgΓ₯rd) is. Can be trusted? Is he who he claims he is? Is Tess (Georgina Campbell) overly suspicious about nothing? What would you do if you were her? Her relatable character and the predicament she has to face become the solid foundation of suspense and the driver to move the story forward. And then an unexpected, horrific, and atrocious nightmare begins and unimaginably escalates – no spoilers… By cutting to AJ (Justin Long), all writer/director Zach Cregger does is leave you hanging, on one hand, but, on the other, he provides a great introduction to him, what has happened to him, and, once more, urges you to decide as to whether he is who he claims he is or someone who is accused of being. Furthermore, he eventually connects the stories perfectly. Without telling you how much later on, Cregger cuts to the “answers” of burning questions that ultimately (unintentionally?) create more. From then on, I’ll leave it up to you. Tone, pace, and rhythm change, and the narrative takes an even more unexpected turn. Last but not least, a lengthy round of applause goes to Campbell, SkarsgΓ₯rd, and Long who give exceptional performances.

From a sociopolitical point of view: A cleverly camouflaged (but not enough) “woke” film… The role of the white, heterosexual male, the role of the female ethnic minority, and the role of the police, to name but a few, are laid out there for you. I was in two minds at first, but the moment I heard about Reagan (no spoilers) it all became clear. Political agendas made films. From The Birth of a Nation (1915) to Oktober (1927), to Casablanca (1942), to John Wayne, to the white, heterosexual, overly muscular American “hero” of the Reagan administration, to today… films always had an agenda. Arguably, back then was a lot more difficult for the average cinemagoer to spot these agendas, but nowadays they become clear as rain. And, for me, it is off-putting. The agenda takes the focus from the narrative and places to politics. Something that you will not spot as often in independent productions as their aim is a lot more focused. Hollywood and forced-down-the-throat agendas go way back, but the good news is that there are still films out there that effortlessly aim to elevate strong female protagonists and minorities that Hollywood has been neglecting for so long and now is trying to “prove” it has been reformed (see comments on previous films I have reviewed on forced diversity).

To sum it up, the best and scariest part is the layering – distinguished and emphasised by the highly skillful editing. Hands down, one hell of a ride to hell on earth: What could possibly be beneath something that creepily lurks underground? Then, the worst and most uncalled-for part is its political agenda.

Regardless, I hope you enjoy it. It’s really worth the shot!

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Halloween Ends (2022): Horror/Thriller

Michael Myers faces Laurie Strode for one last time, massacring whoever stands in his way.

Mixed bag of feelings but highly recommended. I’ll keep this one deliberately short as I’d love you to watch it and make up your mind. I did recommend Halloween Kills (2021): https://kaygazpro.com/2021/10/30/halloween-kills-2021-horror-thriller/ and I definitely recommend this one. Halloween Kills provides a great sequel to Halloween (2018) and also provides an answer to the most significant question of both the canonical and non-canonical films: Why does Michael Myers seem invincible… on Halloween day? Respectively, Halloween Ends provides the ending (?) all Halloween films – especially the canonical ones – deserve (?). Maybe, on the way there you’ll pick on a few “narrative discrepancies”, but, no matter what, an end needs to be put to the saga of Michael Myers who had been leaving behind him piles of bodies and very long blood trails, for a very long time (?).

David Gordon Green helms it one more time, balancing action, drama, comedy, and horror in a way that let many fans down and even though some of the “accusations” have a solid basis, some of them are as brutal as Myers. What needs to be said is that Jamie Lee Curtis is still the iconic Laurie Strode who set the solid foundation of the modern dynamic on-screen heroines.

Despite its flaws, I hope you enjoy it. It’s Halloween and this one seems to be the appropriate film/finale for the “spooktacular pumpkin period” (bad joke, I know).

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The Midnight Club (2022): Drama/Horror/Mystery

Eight terminally ill young men and women find companionship at a place where nothing is what it seems and gather at night to exchange horror stories.

Millennial horror with some pleasant surprises! So… It is presented as if Ilonka gets the short straw in life and she happens to find… Hold on… that’s not right. A seventeen-year-old getting the news that they are going to die soon should not be treated as a “short straw”. It’s heartbreaking, demoralising, earth-shattering… actually, it’s something that cannot be described in words. And, here, it’s been described a lot and utterly watered down. Then, to an even greater extent, apply that to every kid involved.

As if that’s not enough… one of my favourite worst practices in films nowadays, the one that I have spoken about numerous times, can also be found here; the forced diversity. And whoever thinks that Hollywood gives everyone an opportunity in this way and that I shouldn’t be a stuck-up b!@Β£#, I would say that I only accept that theory if everyone couldn’t as well be an underwear or a fragrance model. Where is the opportunity for obese young’uns or unattractive youngsters? All of them are good-looking young men and women and that’s amazing, but destroys the illusion of whatever realism can a series like this offer, distracts from the story, undermines human intelligence, and only becomes a crowd-pleaser. More credits, on this occasion, will have to go to Ruth Codd (Anya) whose character allows her to be more expressive than the others.

Other than that, here’s what you sign up for: Editing that cuts to close-up reactions so you constantly know exactly how everyone feels. Dialogues that are 100% scripted where everyone knows exactly what to say, how to say it, when to say it, and who to say it to. Jokes that are not funny. Childish misunderstandings and childish reactions to them, emphasised by the editing mentioned above. Then, as also mentioned above, clichΓ©d characters portrayed by model-like actors/actresses who challenge nothing, really.

As for the stories themselves, they are original. They are great bedtime stories, and while not horror, they are eerily entertaining. Their narrative will hype you up, but the visuals will somewhat let you down. I believe it would be great if one could listen to these stories in an audio form (podcast?). This way, our own images would have been created and we would have, potentially, enjoyed them more.

It seems like I don’t have a lot of positives to say so, I’m going to stop here. Part of the reason is that Mike Flanagan has raised the bar very high with his previous miniseries and films and this one, cannot possibly reach it. It has nothing to do with the actors and actresses. They shine in front of the camera, and I’m glad they all look so gorgeous. It is Flanagan who seems that he didn’t take their terminal state seriously and therefore their characters are as superficial as they are. As I have mentioned in a previous review, on Dahmer (2022): https://kaygazpro.com/2022/10/18/dahmer-monster-the-jeffrey-dahmer-story-2022-biography-crime-drama/, Netflix is responsible for superficial and mindless entertainment as well as films and series that can shock you to your core. Unfortunately, The Midnight Club belongs to the former category.

I am not sure how much control Flanagan had over this project so, if you’d like to watch a few of his best works, I definitely recommend The Haunting of Hill House (2018), The Haunting of Bly Manor (2020), and The Midnight Mass (2021) – And, hopefully, The Fall of the House of Usher (2023) will be as amazing!

Despite my negative review, I would like to conclude with something that I got from the series’ overall vibe. Life is priceless and the ones who are fortunate enough to get to live it should not take it for granted. Because the less fortunate ones put up a real fight for it.

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Hellraiser (2022): Horror/Mystery/Thriller

The infamous puzzle box is found by a troubled young woman who will, inevitably, have to confront the merciless Cenobites.

Watching the trailer I couldn’t help but ask myself, what’s wrong with it? Well, for starters, it didn’t look “dirty” enough. Then, it didn’t look gory, it revealed too much in too little time, and, consequently, didn’t leave much to look forward to. Anyway, the marketing could have been rubbish so, I couldn’t wait for the film itself.

The inciting incident, at the billionaire’s mansion, will get you hooked but will not excite you. It’s a good start but it could have been a lot more. The characters themselves are decent, more investment has been made in Riley, and Odessa A’zion nails it as a troubled personality. The rest were so and so. Therefore, whatever happens to them as the narrative unfolds, will not bring tears to your eyes and you probably won’t even say ‘oh no!’.

Speaking of narrative, the film follows the same recipe its predecessors did, offering really nothing new or groundbreaking. The only “new” is the digital VFX and make-up that do the film no favours whatsoever. Unfortunately, that is an even greater weakness than the narrative because it makes the Cenobites look… fake. And if they look fake, the illusion of their “reality” crumbles. Hellraiser (2022) is the typical example of the parts being greater than the sum – when it should have been the other way around.

Favourite moments include, and are unfortunately limited to: the beginning of the bathroom sequence, the beginning of the infirmary sequence, and the introduction of the notepad. The bathroom doesn’t come through – nothing happens, the infirmary gets you excited – and leaves you hanging, and the notepad, as informative as it may be, is not enough to make it the film it deserved to be. A film that represents unfathomable gore, twisted darkness, and unbearable infliction of pain.

Here’s my advice, if you want to discover director David Bruckner’s real talent watch these: VHS (2012) – his, but also all segments, Southbound (2015) – a favourite of mine, The Ritual (2017): https://kaygazpro.com/2018/10/26/the-ritual-2017-horror-mystery-thriller/ (one of my earliest reviews, really synoptic), and The Night House (2020) https://kaygazpro.com/2021/10/27/the-night-house-2020-horror-mystery-thriller/

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Fall (2022): Thriller

In an attempt to rekindle their friendship, two young women decide to climb a 2,000-foot radio tower where they get trapped.

The daring opening sequence that will get you excited will be immediately followed by clichΓ©s that could have been easily avoided. By cutting to the bar, closing up to the whisky glass, and, over somber music, explaining the emotions that are simultaneously shown, the filmmakers miscalculate already the audience’s intelligence. Not a good start, admittedly. What’s done right after that is the tower’s build-up. The editing’s pace and rhythm warn you that this is a beyond expression bad idea, but if they wouldn’t go for it, the film wouldn’t have been made and we wouldn’t be talking about it.

So, the main sequence, the tower’s climbing, and reaching the top… is absolutely terrifying! From the comfort of my chair, I was not able to breathe so, I can’t even begin to imagine how it would be if one was actually up there. And when calamity strikes it gets even worse. What you’ll probably start experiencing then is shortness of breath and vertigo, because producer/co-writer/director Scott Mann utilises these scenes beautifully – or should I say fearfully? Even just standing or sitting at this height cuts most people’s breath short, never mind moving around, looking down, and hanging by it. I could barely sit still on my chair. Anyway, how much better does it get after that? Well, while the story remains intense – mostly due to the height they are at and the efforts they put to find a solution – the dialogues don’t get much better. The subplot does not really help the story’s advancement. Be it as it may, shortness of breath and vertigo persist till the very end of the second act.

Overall, Hunter’s idea was stupid and selfishly she dragged with her Becky, someone who hadn’t climbed in a year, due to climbing lost her boyfriend, is currently self-destructive and depressed, and, consequently, is in a horrible physical condition (even though due to Hollywood reasons she still looks fit). And more stupidly, when they get up there, she asks her to do something way even more stupid by telling her: “The old Becky would have done it”. Do I need to mention that they decided to climb an over 2000-foot tower of rusty and unstable metal with so much skin out? What can I say…

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P.S. While the B67 TV tower doesn’t exist, it is based on a radio tower of similar height that people have been using for climbing and then jumping off with a parachute.

Where the Crawdads Sing (2022): Drama/Mystery/Thriller

When a dead body is found in the marshes, a recluse young woman becomes immediately the prime suspect.

Engaging, thought-provoking, and deeply emotional! The brilliant opening sequence that promises a lot starts delivering immediately. The found body (inciting incident) and the accusation of Kya Clark lead to the flashback that reveals the American South’s problems in an emotional yet non-judgmental way. The domestic abuse and the notion of the outcast immediately prevail in the film, something that will get you to know Kya, humanise her before anybody else does, and, consequently, make up your mind about her way before the lawyer, the judge, the jurors, and the crowd does.

Love, innocence, fragility, and the happiness found in everything that society ignores or learned how to turn the blind eye to, set the foundation for the drama to flourish, hook you in, and open the gates to the mystery that has already started permeating it. Based on Delia Owen’s novel and Lucy Alibar’s script, Olivia Newman’s directing provides a good taste of the South of the 60s – leaving out or smoothly bypassing (surprisingly?) THE major problem – but also leaving a lot of food for thought behind, such as the lack of individual morals, the long collapse of societal ideals, and the downright detachment from nature. One of the hats behind this beautiful production is worn by the amazing Reese Witherspoon.

Daisy Edgar-Jones (the British pulling a fantastic South American accent), David Strathairn, the man whose performance has never failed to impress, Taylor John Smith (as Tate), and the brief appearance of the diverse Garret Dillahunt create this ecstatic atmosphere that blends the thrill and the romance and lead this journey to its rightful destination. A destination that will raise questions from as back as the court and the presentation of facts to the man’s reaction upon his discovery – no spoilers.

Highly recommended to everyone who has ever felt, even momentarily, the way Kaya has her whole life.

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P.S. Take it from someone who has never been a fan of Taylor Swift: The end-credits song is Oscar-worthy and a perfect match to the film’s narrative! It left me gobsmacked!

Elvis (2022): Biography/Drama/Music

The blessings and tribulations of the man who left behind him an everlasting legacy.

Mesmerising, vibrant, insightful, and saddening. The beauty of Buz Luhrmann’s films lies, predominantly, in his sense of pace and rhythm; in his sense of editing. Elvis introduces a “superhero” whose powers are music and showmanship, and Luhrmann comes on really strong, really fast. In the first half hour, he manages to build the foundation of an icon that is destined to follow a meteorite’s trajectory. What comes next is the introduction of tribulations of the still rapidly rising star. Segregation laws, massive hysteria, national paranoia, and personally costly decisions shape the image of a man, unknown to the public, who has to face demons as you and I do. And Luhrmann showcases that the world keeps changing while trying to fit Elvis in it – while not sparing the details of how hard that is. Notably, finding and losing (only to find one last time) that place, when everything around moves so fast, is the most crucial part of the hero’s journey.

Luhrmann puts on an electrifying and prestigious show! He builds up the rise and (internal) fall of Elvis as we know him. Now is the time though to praise the people who are also responsible for that show. First and foremost Austin Butler (Elvis) – who we might see at the Oscars. He took the role amongst A-list actors way more known than he is and all I can say is that he fully deserved it. His performance now will always be associated with Elvis Presley; he became Elvis Presley. Tom Hanks shines as his disgusting manager, he is inarguably one of the greatest actors alive. Sam Bromell, Craig Pearce, and Jeremy Doner kept the script non-linear and tight and offered a fresh and unique perspective. Mandy Walker whose lens expresses all the intended feelings. Jonathan Redmond and Matt Villa masterly weave these feelings together and lead to my very first comment on the immaculate pace and rhythm that flows through Luhrmann’s films. Costume designer, Catherine Martin, goes the extra mile and gets hundreds of costumes to dress up Elvis and the rest of the cast and I’m positive we’ll also see her at the Oscars. Last but not least, extra credits go to EVERYONE else in front and behind the camera who worked on the film.

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P.S. To corroborate my point, if you want to get an idea of Luhrmann’s sense of editing, watch Moulin Rouge! (2001), and more specifically, the “El Tango de Roxanne” sequence (01:18:08 – 01:25:31). It lasts 443” and contains 419 cuts – approximately, one cut per second (I had to watch it at half the speed to count all of them)! In editing’s (unofficial) terms… a proper “frame-fucking”!

Dashcam (II) (2021): Horror

An entertaining livestream during the pandemic takes a turn for the worse when the host, unwillingly, gets involved with shadowy people and dark entities.

Dumb, laughable, nonsensical… everything a horror film shouldn’t be! In a nutshell, how this horror sub-genre came to be: found-footage, webcam, dashcam. Needless to say which category Dashcam falls under… Let’s start with the basics: Annie Hardy – the character, not the person – is the biggest douche you’ve ever encountered in a film and you won’t show any sympathy for her. Stretch, on the other hand, is somewhat indifferent. Director Rob Savage did a horrible job with the camera. I presume the editor, Brenna Rangott, spent most of the time piecing together badly shot, shaky, incoherent footage. Last but not least, we, the audience, spent all of our time, the whole 67′, wondering what the hell was going on – or 75′ if you stayed till the very end to watch Hardy freestyling with the end credits’ names.

If you consider Dashcam as a found-footage horror, you’ll get annoyed and disappointed. If you see it as a parody of the sub-genre though, with a funny leading actress, you’ll have a decent laugh. Jason Blum has produced some of the best horrors of the 21st century so, he’s allowed to have a misfire every now and then. My issues are with the particular film and not Blum or his company. But, speaking of laughter, the best part of the film is the side comments, they range from amusing to hilarious. I truly believe that if something similar happened in real life, the comments would literally be that. Now, from a filmmaking point of view, that is horrible because terms such as mise-en-scΓ¨ne (what’s included in the frame) fly out of the window. The audience’s attention is focused on the side of the screen when the action takes place elsewhere. It’s like focusing on reactions while being unaware of what these reactions are for. From a societal point of view, it is worse than horrible because it showcases that a fellow human’s dire need of help becomes the people’s entertainment and amusement. The evident collapse of humanity becomes, then, the real horror.

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Dashcam (2021): Horror/Thriller

A news editor, and aspiring journalist, receives a dashcam video that turns a simple crime into a government-level conspiracy theory.

Suspenseful, realistic, weak at times, but worth your while. The intentionally misleading opening shot will put a smile on your face as it indicates how much the hero goes out of the house. Overall, the film’s premise relies on pseudo-realism. Facebook, FaceTime, the vernacular, the body language, and even the way the news is edited are all indicators that these are real people like you and me (I was about to use “normal”, but that is a term I don’t understand anymore). Upon introducing the main characters, producer/writer/director Christian Nilsson cuts right to the chase with the landing of the footage (inciting incident) that was circulating the rumours of the alleged conspiracy theory.

What the audience encounters next is a perfect example of how the editing creates meaning; how the editing builds up the suspense. As an editor myself, there is so much I could tell you about the details of the film’s editing and the areas it is focusing on, but chances are I’m gonna bore you to tears. Personally, the idea of the conspiracy and the way it is built up in that sequence is the best part of the film. It is the part where you are still mystified and unsure, you want to believe Jake is up to something, and the part where you really want to know how the story will end. From the moment Jake calls Mara and then exits the building though, it somewhat loses that grip, giving an anticlimactic feeling. The reason behind my argument is that it answers questions about specific facts, on one hand, but it doesn’t question broader issues related to the facts provided – in other words how factual the facts are. I guess every investigating mind can approach it differently, but this is the way Nilsson does and I respect it.

Don’t let that discourage you, though. Dashcam lasts only an hour and twenty minutes, it is a low-budget indie that was shot during lockdowns, and the cast does a great job. It is an entertaining film to take your mind off things, wonder what you would have done if you were Jake, think about the ending for a minute, and go to bed. Francis Ford Coppola and Brian de Palma are Nilsson’s apparent influences – The Conversation (1974) and Blow Out (1981), respectively – but comparing Nilsson to them would be unfair as they were far more experienced and studio-level filmmakers.

Fun facts:

The film is about a New York Governor’s scandal that premiered the same day a real-life New York State Governor was accused of a sexual scandal.

Also coincidentally, there were two Dashcams in 2021. I’ll follow up right after this with the second one.

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Everything, Everywhere, All At Once (2022): Action/Adventure/Comedy

A woman who struggles with everyday life engages with every aspect of her multiverse self to save every universe.

Funny, exciting, surrealistic, and absolutely brilliant! The opening sequence at the laundromat sets the film’s pace and rhythm. It introduces the heroes and heroines, establishes their characters, and makes it clear where everyone stands in the world. The dialogues are sharp, the editing is “snappy”, and the inciting incident (Alpha Waymond) moves the story forward to the second act.

From then on, The Matrix (1999) meets The One (2001). The Multiverse and the infinite versions of everyone’s self clashing create a concoction of euphoric and exciting emotions that, combined with the action and the underlying drama, offers a unique cinematic experience. I am certain that full analyses will be written in the near and distant future about this film, but, for now, I’ll just leave you with these few comments in an attempt to urge you to watch it. If I were still a film student or ignorant of how the ropes work, I couldn’t for the life of me figure out how writers/directors Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (aka the Daniels) pitched that script to production companies. Honestly, how does anyone ask for funding, pitching sequences where a butt-naked security guy jumps out of nowhere and lands on an oval tax award, aiming to connect to a different universe and engage with a more equipped to the occasion self? How about a female couple with hotdog fingers, licking each other’s mustard… Yes, hotdog fingers. Licking each other’s mustard – no euphemisms, here!

Being a bit more pragmatic/cynical nowadays though, and by reading the end credits, I can only assume that executive producers Joe and Anthony Russo made the green light turn a lot easier just by showing up. The Russos believed in the Daniels’ script and helped bring it to life. And, personally, I applaud them. Actually, I applaud all cast and crew for giving themselves 100%. And by doing so, Everything Everywhere All At Once became A24’s greatest financial and critical success. Michelle Yeoh matures like the finest wine and for over three decades has offered nothing but excitement, cry, and laughter, and, here, all of the above. Alongside her, Ke Huy Quan, best known for his stellar performances as Short Round in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) and Data in Goonies (1985), Stephanie Hsu, James Hong, and, the one and only, Jamie Lee Curtis who will have you in stitches.

Everything Everywhere All At Once is your must-see for this year and so is Men (2022): https://kaygazpro.com/2022/06/29/men-2022-drama-horror-sci-fi/, another A24 cinematic achievement. I may constantly sound like I’m sponsored by A24, but rest assured I am not. I praise them because they have the guts to produce scripts that other production companies wouldn’t even read ten pages. They are phenomenal in what they do and they immensely add to the worldwide cinema’s evolution.

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P.S. I certainly didn’t speak highly of the Russo’s last film The Gray Man (2022): https://kaygazpro.com/2022/08/02/the-gray-man-2022-action-thriller/ but, here, even as producers, they utterly redeem themselves.

P.P.S. Language, generational differences, and political/existential beliefs are the film’s underlying themes. Look out for clues while watching.

Mudbound (2017): Drama/War

Two men come back to rural Mississippi after WWII, become friends, but only face bigotry and racism.

One of Netflix’s greatest and most underrated films! Directing, cinematography, writing, editing, acting, and the numerous departments that worked behind the cameras is the reason why they say that it takes a village to make a film. Based on Hillary Jordan’s novel, co-writer/director Dee Rees brings to life a film that many neglected, underappreciated, or just turned the blind eye to, but Netflix primarily distributed, after premiering at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival – received a long-standing ovation.

Every sequence has something to tell. Every sequence moves the story forward, holding cinematic techniques that “teach” filmmaking. For example, when Ronsel is on the bus, showing without telling, the shot speaks volumes about the atrocious outcome of Jim Crow’s segregation laws that divided the people. The same laws that Ronsel encountered while trying to exit the shop from the front door. Anger, frustration, and unfathomable sadness are the main emotions that take over, but Rees’s angle is not judgemental. Before and after, sequences such as the congregation at the church, Ronsel and Jamie opening up, and the KKK acting as jury, judge, and executioner can be thoroughly analysed in regard to acting, directing, cinematography, and editing. Rachel Morrison became the first female cinematographer to be nominated for an Oscar, and even though she didn’t win it, she earned everyone’s respect worldwide.

In front of the camera, Jason Mitchell, Carey Mulligan, Jason Clarke, Mary J. Blige, Garrett Hedlund, Rob Morgan, Jonathan Banks, and the rest of the cast create incredible chemistry with utterly fulfilling performances. The fact that Mudbound is current and finds application to this day and age, indicates how much societies have failed. The fact that individuals make a positive difference though is what Rees aims at and, in the end, despair turns into hope. Without it, what are we left with, anyway? In addition, what do you think “Mudbound” means?

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P.S. Hit the link to get a glimpse of the film’s achievements: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt2396589/trivia/?ref_=tt_trv_trv

P.P.S. My previous review was on The Gray Man (2022): https://kaygazpro.com/2022/08/02/the-gray-man-2022-action-thriller/. Inarguably, it wasn’t a positive one. And even though that is an original Netflix film and Mudbound isn’t, arguably, one can claim that what characterises the streaming giant is diversity, and another the utter lack of identity.

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.

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Watcher (2022): Drama/Horror/Thriller

A young woman moves with her husband from America to Romania, and soon she realises that someone is watching every move of hers.

A deceiving, slow-burn thriller with a great leading actress. Why deceiving, huh? What you know and what you think you know is not the same. Ostensibly, the plot revolves around a young woman who is afraid that someone is watching her, and, potentially, following her. The subplot revolves around the same young woman who is lonely, in a foreign country, alone (for the most part), arguably depressed, and who neither speaks nor understands a word of what everyone’s saying. Until you know for sure, the line between the plot and the subplot is vague.

Zack Ford’s script and Chloe Okuno’s lens keep the narrative restricted. Okuno, like a watcher (pun intended), follows Julia wherever she goes and depicts reality as perceived through her eyes, only. Respectively, Michael Block’s editing discloses what you need to know, hiding carefully what you want to. The result of both is the deception mentioned above. Maika Monroe is an amazing and massively underrated actress. Watching It Follows (2014) and The Guest (2014) one can tell how much still she has to offer, especially in the horror/thriller genre. Also, Burn Gorman’s portrayal as a lonely man is brilliant.

It is a horrible feeling to be surrounded by an unfamiliar environment, language, and people, especially when being in an unstable mental state. Nothing and no one is what they seem to be. And Okuno and Monroe nail that feeling!

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Crimes of the Future (2022): Drama/Horror/Sci-fi

In the not-so-distant future, certain humans evolve in unexpected ways, and while some embrace it and see the artistic side of it, others only want to suppress it.

Intricate, interesting, and largely unspecified. It’s been eight years since we last saw a feature film from David Cronenberg – Maps to the Stars (2014) so, brace yourselves. The first act, and the Orchidbed in particular, inevitably leads back to Cronenberg’s early films that gave him his unique identity – The Brood (1979), Scanners (1981), Videodrome (1983), etc. Such elements can also be found throughout the rest of the film (the Sark autopsy, the Breakfaster Chair…) but it’s not just the prosthetics or the visual effects. The surrealistic acting, the Kafqu-esque atmosphere, the blurry distinction between art and science, and the dark consideration of what both are, constitute a dystopian, decadent future (not far from present-day) whose reality seems to belong to another Earth similar to ours, with humans identical to us, but with (un)natural elements and behaviours that are barely recognised or understood. The Fly (1986), Naked Lunch (1991), and eXistenZ (1999) add to the films mentioned above and, in their own respect, they have shaped equally different realities.

From a filmmaking point of view, admittedly, I didn’t find it challenging. Douglas Koch’s photography serves the narrative well, but that is pretty much is. The narrative in and of itself though is. Cronenberg has a long history of examining society through the lens of sexuality and technology and Crimes of the Future isn’t an exception. The new ways of experiencing pleasure, the alien-like technology that fulfills specific needs, and the evolution of people who consume… “plastic”, are all allegories of the world we live in. Did you get them? If yes, what did you think of them? How effective were they? If you thought they weren’t, why?

I find it hard to imagine how Cronenberg pitched this script, especially when it came to defining the audience. Shot entirely in Greece with actors from all over the world, the film has, on one hand, a universal taste, and, on the other hand, a small crowd to follow. Viggo Mortensen, LΓ©a Seydoux, Kristen Stewart, Scott Speedman, Lihi Kornowski, Don McKellar, Nadia Litz, Tanaya Beatty, Welket BunguΓ©, and Yorgos Pirpassopoulos do a great job in front of the camera, but the narrative is such that can leave you undecided in regard to their chemistry.

To every Cronenberg fan: Watch it! Can’t wait to hear your thoughts on it.

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The Northman (2022): Action/Adventure/Drama

A Viking prince devises an elaborative plan to avenge his father’s murderer.

Vicious, challenging, and visually compelling! Whoever follows Robert Eggers’ films, The Witch (2015) and The Lighthouse (2019), knows he’s famous for surrealistic acting, expressionistic photography, protracted shots, and idiosyncratic vernacular. And The Northman is no exception.

The first thing that needs to be mentioned is that Eggers worked closely with historians and archaeologists to meticulously visualise the medieval Scandinavian legend, namely Amleth. And if you are aware of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet”, I’m sure you can put two and two together. The Northman is Eggers’ first studio-level film, and, reading the interviews he gave, one can tell that it is not the film he initially had in mind, but its final cut is not a result he is disappointed with either. That old story in Hollywood’s book where the studios always interfere with the creative processes…

The dialect used, even though not easy to write or speak, will not blow your socks off like it did in his previous films. The reason is that the gore and the violence take the torch and lead your senses to a medieval spectacle where the slaughter of men, women, and children was the way to resolve differences and show superiority. While the film represents a specific historic era and should serve as a reminder that civilisation has evolved, today’s far-right decided to perceive it as a reminder that this is how things should be. Maybe, let them be the reminder that comparing two totally different eras and peoples is a historical fallacy, and their way of thinking is a representative example of unfathomably bottomless buffoonery.

Alexander SkarsgΓ₯rd, Anya Taylor-Joy, Nicole Kidman, Claes Bang, Ethan Hawke, Willem Dafoe, and all the rest of the cast give stupendous performances! Give it a go, it is an amazing cinematic experience you will not regret!

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Ambulance (2022): Action/Crime/Drama

When two robbers hijack an ambulance, they manage to turn a simple heist into a full-scale manhunt.

High-octane action that does not convince, but most certainly entertains. Michael Bay… The man behind the most phantasmagorical cinematic explosions, car crashes, plane crashes, endless verbosity, epidermic dramas and yet, the man who has got the world unfathomably excited like few before him. And that’s exactly what the Ambulance is going to do; excite you.

Narrative-wise, what you sign up for is what I mentioned above – minus the plane crash. From a filmmaking point of view, you get: Dutch angles, areal shots, close-ups, extreme close-ups, tracking shots, slo-mo’s, Steadicam shots, over-the-shoulder, dash-cam shot, and all that in the mix, edited in the most fast-paced sequences you’ve ever seen. So, what did I think of it? I loved it! This is exactly the fictional action-packed films we all need to blow some steam off and forget out real-life issues.

The cast includes Jake Gyllenhaal, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Eiza Gonzalez, Garret Dillahunt, and more. While the situation is extremely unrealistic, they work really well with one another, creating an electric and entertaining atmosphere. Having said that, after an hour and thirty minutes, the ambulance starts running on fumes – pun intended – and becomes repetitive. Interestingly though, the film dares you to draw the line between the good and the bad guys. And it does it well.

Based on the Danish film Ambulancen (2005), which runs almost an hour shorter than this one, Chris Fedak’s script offers nothing but excitement. The excitement of guns and shootings that belongs to the big screen, the small screen, and the books. The excitement that belongs to fiction! The excitement that has no place in the real world and, especially, schools! I hope everyone gets to find peace in their heart except for the gun lobby. I hope they find the justice they deserve.

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P.S. There are two clear homages to great films: To Live and Die in LA (1985) – Driving in the wrong direction, and Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991) – Driving in the LA river.

Monstrous (2022): Horror/Mystery/Thriller

Fleeing her ex-husband, a mother with her young son move to a secluded house where a dark and sinister force resides.

Mysterious and eventually dramatic, yet doesn’t manage to hit the spot. Putting it on knowing nothing about it, I felt quite neutral, at first. Even though the narrative is quite restricted, the audience knows less than Laura and Cody and, therefore, is trying to catch up on cues such as Cody’s recurrent nightmare and the constantly ringing phone. The first plot point (the bridge between the first and the second act), arguably, builds up the suspense and increases the tension… only to calm down again immediately after. Overall, should you decide to watch it, you might find the pace and rhythm fluctuating “irregularly”.

I remember Christina Ricci when she was as young as Cody in The Adams Family (1991) and, in a way, I grew up watching her grow up in her films. She’s a tremendously talented actress, having played diverse and perplexed roles, and she deserves every praise under the sun. For reasons that only she and Hollywood are aware of though, she started choosing films that didn’t have much to offer to the genre they belonged to. Having said that, admittedly, there are a couple of films she’s been in and I would like to watch.

After everything is said and done, looking back to Carol Chrest’s script and Chris Sivertson’s directing, one can say with certainty that the drama overcomes the horror in the end and you can tell because of how heavy your heart feels. I know how mine felt, and that was mostly due to Ricci. As said above, she is a remarkable actress and always lives up to her standards.

Something that might help you watch it in a positive light is the little references to her mental health. Furthermore, the party sequence got me a bit as did her attempts to keep it together. There are some strong moments there, but, as I have repeatedly said, the sum should always be greater than its parts.

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X (2022): Horror

In 1979, a young crew of filmmakers rent out an isolated house to shoot an adult film, but when its elderly hosts find out they reveal their sinister intentions.

A horror like only A24 knows how to do! What the police come across in the opening sequence is the result of a massacre you’ll see all about it. So, 24 hours prior to that, the crew packs it up and sets off for the house that will make everyone famous and rich. The adult film that will change everyone’s life. The shoot that will accomplish everyone’s American dream. With heroes, antiheroes, villains, and old houses straight out of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre (any version), the set-up is ready for the bloody inevitable – pun intended.

From a filmmaking point of you, the editing tells beautifully the parallel stories between the film’s shooting and the old “lady’s” story while breathtakingly building up the suspense. For a while, it might feel like that nothing is happening, but I assure you that it is the calm before the storm. After the verbal reference to Psycho (1960), the visual one confirms the pending bloodbath. Gruesome moments follow that hold no punches and, undoubtedly, cut anyone’s breath short. There is no way to describe them without giving the gore away so, I’m just gonna leave it here.

Writer/producer/co-editor/director Ti West creates a good old-fashioned horror that deserves the cinematic experience with like-minded people or the company of your own self. His narrative abides with the horrors of the era it represents, and Eliot Rocket’s photography, the make-up, and the special effects department deserve separate praise. As for the editing, West and David Kashevaroff, on one hand, naturally, unfold parallel stories, and, on the other hand, break almost all rules of pace and rhythm by connecting sequences… unnaturally. While film theorists would laugh at the way X has been edited, I’d say that the splatter and gory nature of the film justify just about any technique under the sun. Intentionally, the porn shooting within the film does not fall far from the film itself.

There are some really strong moments there, such as the stealthy crocodile, the granny waving, and, more or less, every gruesome murder you see on screen, and these moments are very much worth your time. Furthermore, watch out for the impressive performances from Mia Goth, Jenna Ortega, Kid Kudi, and Britanny Snow. Highly recommended!

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.

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P.S. Bare in mind, that throughout all this I was alone in the cinema.

P.P.S. Shot in New Zealand.

P.P.S. There is an prequel coming up…

The Cellar (2022): Horror

When a family moves into an old house and the daughter disappears, the mother realises that a sinister entity dwells in the cellar.

Interesting, but standard. I remember watching Elisha Cuthbert in films when she was a teenager. Now, she is a mom of one. So, I’ll try, to my best ability, to pass on, objectively, constructive criticism. There are a lot of outdated techniques here, such as: constant background music to enhance the fear / suspense (the picture should always suffice without it), something’s about to happen but isn’t happening, overreacting to nothing, and, of course, jump scares! For example, I understand the need for creating atmosphere, but Ellie holding a candle while talking on the phone that she could have put on speaker phone and use its torch to see much better where she is going is… irrational. And such irrationalities are scattered throughout the film.

Kuthbert was, among others, Kim Bauer in 24 (2001-2010), Danielle in The Girl Next Door, and Carly in House of Wax (2005). As much as it is hard for me to differentiate her from those roles, I must say that she does a great job as a mom of a teenage girl she once used to be and she is a very decent actress. Brendan Muldowney’s The Cellar though will never be celebrated as they don’t stand out at all due to both outdated narrative and filmmaking techniques. It’ll just make you forget whatever is troubling you for about an hour and a half.

Admittedly, the “steps-counting” sequence is unexpectedly suspenseful, the mathematical equation is quite innovative, and the ending is very befitting. But the whole should always be greater than the sum of its parts. And in this case, it just isn’t.

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.

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