Pig (2021): Drama/Thriller

A truffle hunter who lives alone in the woods returns after many years to the city that once gave him a reputation after his pig gets kidnapped.

Pig is the kind of film that when you know nothing about it you get a surprising cinematic experience. Well, you get that with most Nicolas Cage films anyway, but the narrative looks like Pig was written for Cage, and that’s it. Therefore: unexpected narrative + Cage = double the surprise!

I’m just going to give you a one-line summary and keep it short in avoidance of spoiling the crucial parts. The once best and hard as nails chef in Portland, who also had an extraordinary reputation in underground restaurant fights (???) and once disappeared into the woods resurfaces himself, raising hell when his pig gets kidnapped. I mean… WTF?! How does one green-light such a concept? How does one even conceive it to begin with? It sounds to me like writer/director Michael Sarnoski, a David Lynch fan, liked John Wick (2014), smoked a couple, and then put it together. Remember, everything is happening because someone stole his pig. How does Lynch come into play? The two Cage monologues. The first one sounds completely irrelevant – or is it? As if Rob listened to a different story and recited something from a different movie. Check Amir’s reaction that reflects the audience’s. Which brings us to the second one… the second one is all about Chef Derek’s (David Knell) close-up reaction as the story evolves. His reaction is priceless. To me, that is Lynch through and through and Sarnoski brilliantly encapsulates it.

There is so much I could say about this film, but I won’t. I’ve already said enough and it will just ruin the experience. The principal photography lasted 20 days and all cast and crew should work like a Swiss watch as the budget was tiny. And after they actually did, about an hour was taken out in the cutting room for Neon thought it was too long.

Definitely worth the watch! Will you find meaning, eventually? Only if you put your phones down, turn the lights off, and understand why Rob’s journey takes place. A journey explicated though his stories and attitude towards people and circumstances. But also… what the pig means to him and why. I hope you enjoy it!

Stay safe!

Fear Street – Part Three: 1666 (2021): Horror/Mystery

Through the eyes of Sarah Fier, Deena experiences the horrors she had to endure and discovers how the curse of Shadyside really began.

The entertaining horror finale in the trilogy of entertaining horrors! Beware of what you read before watching it though! My beloved Ioanna urged me to watch it so here it goes. Have the same expectations as Part One and Part Two and you will not regret watching it – that is if you liked the other two. Let me start with the most important element. The similarities to 1978 – certain narrative juxtapositions – are meant to be striking to remind us that there are people out there who would still go after you with modern torches and pitchforks just because you are different than the majority. People who would ignore, even stomp on values such as diversity, inclusion, and freedom of choice. Therefore, the intention is there, that’s not what you need to be preoccupied with.

Now, the execution is what caused, from I’ve heard, all the unnecessary negativity. People who didn’t like the other two shouldn’t have watched it, to begin with. People who did like the other two, shouldn’t be moaning. Part Three refers to the same diverse yet enormously narrowed-down-Netflix audience that I’ve spoken before, so I fail to see what the same audience didn’t like. Was it the accents? The accents are not to be taken more seriously than the plot itself. The lesbian drama? Some people (or cultures) still take infidelity and homosexuality as seriously as back then. So, it’s trying. It really is. But I believe that the film’s message is as confused as its audience – consequently, is it the film to blame? And since I’m not really that trilogy’s audience, I just enjoy the confusion, turn it off, and go to bed.

Alas, the execution is that particular crowd-pleasing (?) result that, ultimately, is not Scream (1996), Friday the 13th (1980), or The Witch (2015). But don’t be overly alarmed, because it’s Fear Street! And it has its own character and it is the product of its era. Imagine you open a night club. Are you gonna play whatever song everyone is asking from you to play or are you gonna stick to the kind of music that characterises and defines your night club – and whoever the hell likes it? As a filmmaker, having to put up, unfortunately, with ignorant producers, that’s the dilemma. As audience, try to respect the hard work thousands of people have put into any project. And Leigh Janiak, and all cast and crew, have put a lot of work.

Stay safe!

P.S. Did anyone comment on the fact that maybe there is a connection to “Fear” Street and Sarah “Fier”? Food for thought…

The Tomorrow War (2021): Action / Adventure / Drama

On ordinary day, a group of soldiers arrives from the future to warn and train people and send them to the year 2051 to fight.

Visually stunning naivety for the whole family! Past the inciting incident, one can spot a realistic approach right off the bat. An approach that will soon be replaced by a high dose of Americanism. I’m not saying this is a good or a bad thing, but I’m saying that it focuses on a particular type of audience. Why I focus on that more than other times? Because it’s meant to be addressing international audience. It’s about saving the world and not a particular country.

During recruitment and basic training, I didn’t really feel it. Stanley Kubrick set the example in 1987 and it seems that Hollywood is still struggling to evoke or balance emotions. As the first encounter with the aliens, coincidentally, John McTiernan set another example the very same year. Scrolling credits aside, the film is about two hours and ten minutes and it still feels rushed. Something a tad more comparable to Full Metal Jacket and Predator respectively, would be War of the Worlds (2005). Steven Spielberg first dealt with aliens in the masterpiece Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) and, in 2005, he blew our socks off with realistically dramatic reactions to events deriving from science fiction to our deepest fears.

I’m gonna stop rumbling now though cause I sound bitter and spiteful and that was not my intention. So, I’m gonna end with a huge positive note. Director Chris McKay has brought to life Zach Dean’s script and the result is, generally, fulfilling. The film’s strongest moment is the closure of father/future-daughter relationship which is well shot and written and most definitely pays off. While at it, Yvonne Strahovski gets my round of applause here as she shines. It’s like she’s so proud of taking that role and she acts like it. She’s amazing. The Tomorrow War is a decent sci-fi summer flick with a number of standard Hollywood flaws but a great way to spend just over two hours with your favourite company – that includes your own. We may have not been attacked by aliens or saved the world yet, but we surely need a good-feel action to excite us a bit. Give it a shot. It’s worth the shot.

Stay safe!

P.S. You need to check these trivia about J.K. Simmons and his physique:

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt9777666/trivia?item=tr5821635

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt9777666/trivia?item=tr5821752

The Unholy (2021): Drama/Horror/Mystery

A disgraced journalist accidentally stumbles upon a girl that performs miracles that are of unholy nature.

Too fast, too soon, too much! Screen Gems used to know about how to build up horrors, but, as it’s Sony’s property, ends up producing standard, mainstream Hollywood, spoon-fed popcorn flicks. It’s like they summed up a bunch of clichés and put them together, making absolutely sure they didn’t miss any. What really makes you wanna keep watching is Jeffrey Dean Morgan. And if you have kept watching, it gets a tad better. Actually, you’ll get to find out what the Vatican considers a miracle and how they disprove it. Is that enough to keep watching tough?

My issue with the aforementioned standard Hollywood films is that they treat them as byproducts. Cheap meat coming out of the grinder for masses the studios consider unintellectual. Taking that into consideration, the studios seem to be taking no chances to explore different types of narrative. In The Unholy, the writing, after the inciting incident, gets solid, it’s just there is nothing to watch; nothing visually stunning stands out. Plus, all the information you want, the moment you want it is there. That decimates the suspense and leaves you with cheap jump-scares and nothing more. There are nano-to-low-budget films that break the rules or even invent new ones. It’s a shame to have millions to spend, be a mid-tier player, and take no risks. Why is this happening? As said earlier, they think that their audience is dumb. And that’s not nice. Horror fans are eccentric as they are insightful. Horror fans are resilient and are always up for the challenge. Studios should respect that and should challenge us with everything they have.

Oh, did I mention that CGI ruin horrors? I’m telling you again, the story is solid but the way plot unfolds ruins it and the CGI follow as a wrecking ball and smash it down. My comments are quite bitter not because of writer/director Evan Spiliotopoulos who does a decent job, but because of producer Sam Raimi who used to dominate the genre and now he has given in to Hollywood standards and, as I’m a huge fan of his, I expect so much more because I know he can do so much more. And I hope we get to see that sooner rather than later.

Oh well… At least, devout Catholics will get (even more) confused about faith and Church. That’s something.

Stay safe!

Fear Street Part One – 1994: Horror/Mystery

A group of teenagers finds themselves against an ancient evil that has plagued their town since the witch-hunt.

More entertaining than it is scary, the inciting incident is, hands down, a tribute to the late Wes Craven and Scream (1996). Kudos to director Leigh Janiak for that and the good old (somewhat) 90s feeling. Then… we come to the rest of acts 1, 2, and 3. On a serious note, the film’s initial mystery is pivotal. What is it, the curse of the witches or the conundrum of postmodern American society? Keep that question in mind… but not for the film. More likely, for a painful conversation every time your turn on the news and see young American men, women, and non-binary people having lost their lives to another young person who just happened to get a gun in their hands. But it’s neither the time nor the place for it.

On a less serious note, the answer to the question is rather simple. It’s the witch, and that’s it. Fear Street Part 1 is a concoction of elements, allegedly from the 90s, which it isn’t. It’s supposed to be scary – at times – but it isn’t. Respectively, it’s meant to be funny – at times – and even though it kinda is, it isn’t really. Think of it as… 90s for millennials? It sounds a bit unhinged; a combination of two worlds that cannot really be combined. In addition, as much as I crave for diversity, I am against the forced one. The diversity that doesn’t benefit minorities, but sells more tickets – or increases viewings. Craven, Carpenter, Romero, Raimi, etc… would never see this film as anything that remotely resembles that era. Why? Because they weren’t making movies worrying about what the social media, couch warriors and keyboard fighters might think of it afterwards. They didn’t try to please the masses. Did you like what they did? Awesome! Didn’t you like it? Awesome, again! Until the next one…

Having said that… Fear Street Part 1 is just an enjoyable Netflix-level, comedy/horror flick that will makes you forget (some of) your problems with decent acting, editing, and directing. Admittedly, I haven’t read the books but the script is a tad lazy. Gimmicks, jump scares, questionable last-minute saves, and clichés, unfortunately, reduce the suspense as well as the thrill. Maybe I am not the filmmakers’ target audience and maybe you’ll find it fascinating. If that’s the case, or whatever the case may be, I hope you enjoy it; it seems that cast and crew have gone the extra mile for it. Know what you sign up for, and you’ll be all right.

Stay safe!

A Quiet Place Part II (2021): Drama/Horror/Sci-fi

Right after losing her husband, Evelyn needs to take her kids to a safe place and find a way to use their new “weapon” of defense.

Intense, horrifying, and breathtaking first act (Day 1) that captivates before catching up with the present. From then on, and after the first “hunt”, the pace slows down but the thrill remains.

The parallel stories unfold equally well and their suspense escalates effectively, maintaining the initial thrill. And for that the credits go to the film’s editor, Michael P. Shawver. The good editor controls at all times the film’s pace and rhythm and reveals what only needs to be revealed and not what you or I would like to be revealed. The good editor also knows the footage they have, weaves the story’s plot, and defines the final cut – alongside actor/director John Krasinski, in this instance. The problem with so many match-cuts and identical parallel action is that it makes the plot more sci-fi than the alien beings themselves. That level of synchronisation, potentially for more mature audience, ruins the whatever believability a genre like that can have. Regardless, Krasinski’s greatest achievement here is directing the actors. He proves to be an actors’ director and that shows in the dramatic sequences – that’s what I think anyway. Without drama there is nothing to be thrilled about or anyone to empathise for. Speaking of, the incredible performances from Emily Blunt, Cillian Murphy, Millicent Simmons, Noah Jupe and Djimon Hounsou make you feel for each and every one of them for everything that’s happening to them. Furthermore, pay attention to the excellent use of sound… or the lack thereof!

There will always be the question regarding whether certain decisions were stupid or not, but then, if not every, almost every classic horror deals with ambiguous or moronic decisions for narrative purposes. A Quiet Place Part II respects its audience’s intelligence and offers a post-apocalyptic sci-fi/horror worthy of its predecessor that, in just over an hour and a half, excites and makes you forget pandemics, lockdowns, increased number of cases, vaccinations, and ridiculous politics.

Stay safe!

Crisis (2021): Drama/Thriller

The stories of an undercover cop, a grieving mother, and a professor facing a dangerous dilemma interweave as they find themselves fighting, in their own way, the war against drugs.

Very well-structured and paced thriller from the very beginning. The inciting incident occurs in the opening sequence and from then on, every player is introduced in minutes, making clear of who they are and what they do. The tragedy that hits Claire, every parent’s worst nightmare, is expressed vividly and tearfully by Evangeline Lilly. Respectively, Armie Hammer, Gary Oldman, Michelle Rodriguez, Greg Kinnear and Luke Evans become the characters they represent and shine on screen. Indira Varma, and Mia Kirshner, even though having small roles, add to the film’s great cast.

Crisis unfolds like a bomb waiting to explode. A pharmaceutical corporate thriller, an undercover mission, and a mother hell-bent on finding what happened to her dead son, gradually, through meticulously paced editing, start blending into one story that pins you to your seats. All three stories are equally dramatic and thrilling so when they come together you get the full force the script intended to offer. Nicholas Jarecki, the man behind Arbitrage (2012) pens that script, acts in it, and directs it and manages to attract a plethora of the aforementioned A-list actors.

I’m afraid, I’ll have to address the elephant in the room. Due to Hammer’s bad reputation and accusations the film did not perform well but let me be clear… thousands of people have worked on this film and they deserve recognition. Don’t let one name prevent you from a very decent cinematic experience. Crisis tackles very successfully, if not the most, one of the most severe plagues to have ever hit this planet. And it’s a realistic depiction of the war I mentioned above. A war that, unfortunately, seems to have no end. I hope you enjoy it.

Stay safe!

The Courier (2020): Thriller

An ordinary businessman is approached by MI6 and the CIA to help them prevent the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Shockingly brilliant! The first act’s light mood raises suspicions as to how can a horrific historic event, such as that Crisis, be approached in such a manner. The suspicions fade away in warp speed though as Benedict Cumberbatch is thoroughly enjoyable and no one can moan about his performance. Rachel Brosnahan, on the other hand, plays her part equally amazingly and together they create the illusion that thrill, British phlegmatic humour, and action will entertain you for the rest of the film… Wrong!

The light mood is replaced by a genuine Cold War thriller that, if you weren’t around at the time, it will make you feel its threat to humanity and how close our world was to be devastated (again) by a third World War. Both character and story development move the story forward, intensify the suspense, and keep you on the edge of your seats by brilliantly pacing and unfolding actual events that shocked everyone when they saw the light of day.

As Greville Wynne’s story is not well-known though, and for most people remains to be seen what will become of him, Cumberbatch makes sure not to betray that, and succeeds in doing so. His performance becomes a shock to the system, following the turn the narrative takes towards the worst. Merab Ninidze’s presence is also captivating, putting the viewer in Oleg Penkovsky’s shoes and imminent danger he’s in.

What I also found shocking upon reading about it is the fact that, on IMDb, The Courier has 1 nomination… 1 nomination! That’s it! I have been reading, writing, and researching on this industry for so many years, and I still find myself scratch my head regarding who’s getting rewarded and under what criteria. Weinstein is gone (good riddance) but it seems that the gatekeepers and/or festivals still have ambiguous criteria of selecting their nominees and winners. Don’t let that put you off though. The film opened all over the world on Greville’s birthday and Tom O’Connor’s script gives justice to the relationship between the two men. Ultimately, Dominic Cooke’s The Courier is a masterpiece and it is definitely worth your time. An absolute must-watch spy thriller!

Stay safe!

Time out of Mind (2014): Drama

A homeless man is going from shelter to shelter, trying to find a way to approach his estranged daughter.

In a depressing and honest way, it reveals an America that most people turn their blind eye to. One can easily extrapolate and claim that it reveals a world most people turn the blind eye to. Writer/Director Oren Moverman, the man behind The Messenger (2009), Rampart (2011), and The Dinner (2017) does an extensive research on homelessness in New York and brings to our attention an issue that we walk past daily no matter where we live. Richard Gere, a man who is in real life an advocate for the homeless, fully understands Moverman’s vision and commits 100% to the character, delivering a totally different than usual performance. Cinematographer Bobby Bukowski frames him through reflections, amongst bystanders, and from a distance (also careful when to go close), and shows without telling how George positions himself within society. Respectively, editor Alex Hall leaves those protracted zoom-in and zoom-out shots uncut, making the audience “look” for a significant amount of time what the bystanders don’t – parallelism with ourselves that have probably done the same in real life. Excellent example of mise-en-scène and how it creates meaning.

The off-screen space though also speaks volumes. Very interestingly, most of the times, you are listening to dialogues that come from an unspecified location. With a decent surround one can tell if it’s from behind, left, or right but it is of no importance. What matters is that it is happening, George listens to it as we do, but as he pays no attention to who says what, it stays out of the frame. A personal interpretation is that all this diegetic sound is pointing at how loud and verbose the big city is and how little it matters to someone who doesn’t know if or where is going to find his next meal and bed.

I highly recommend this film, but a warning needs to be issued. The film feels like one act. Something that someone should have probably notice in postproduction and shave off about half an hour. Time out of Mind feels endless as, unfortunately, nothing is happening. Ben Vereen and Jena Malone support him to their best abilities but their role is limited. Once again, unfortunately, what at first seems to be an extensive character development, stagnates the story development, and can lose the audience’s attention with its inactivity.

Stay safe!

Fast & Furious 9 (2021): Action/Adventure/Crime

Dom and his “family”reunite once more as his unknown to everyone else younger brother has teamed up with a terrorist group to initiate a weapon of mass destruction.

Muscles, guns, explosions, supercars, and spies… all in the mix for a global audience of specific age. F9 did what most of its predecessors also did in previous years. It exceeded every unrealistic expectation! From The Fast and the Furious (2001) to Fast and Furious 8 (2017), whoever has followed the saga, has seen the gang first forming with the intent to steal and sell VCR’s and DVD players, and ending up driving against submarines. Each installment has been seen getting more and more crazy and the level of believability has been dropping exponentially. Now, it’s facing a free fall. A free fall of 2 hour and 25 minutes; the longest Fast & Furious in the franchise.

Where do I begin… Dom’s initial refusal to participate has been a cliché for a couple of decades now. One would expect that in the third decade of the 21st century writers would have moved on. Apparently not. Then, as the previous films did, this one also introduces a new weapon and/or technology. Like an uneducated Sesame Street, here, get to know about not even laughable rocket science and not even ridiculous electromagnetism. I’m not even gonna touch on the “hacking” parts. As for this type of slapstick comedy, some might find it funny so I’m not gonna go into it.

To cut the long story short, lets talk fast, without fury, about the driving. The driving and the chemistry between Vin Diesel, the late Paul Walker (RIP), Michelle Rodriguez, and Jordana Brewster is what made most of us fall in love with the first three or four films. Both of them are lost now. The sky-high level of implausibility, and therefore unfathomable CGI scenes, destroyed both. The filmmakers are now milking the cow, are competing with The Expendables (2010), and like most of these films, what massively irritates me is that they are undermining people’s intelligence. No film should ever undermine its audience’s intelligence. And that’s what F9 does. What was the amazing Charlene Theron thinking? A villain that didn’t even sweat. As if the non-existing, so far, Dom’s brother (John Cena) is not a gimmick enough, the rest of the antagonists are just shambles. Helen Mirren and Kurt Russel are there for the easy money, I get it. The rest… I don’t!

To summarise, maybe, and that’s just a speculation, if you are around 12 y/o you might find it exciting. But I hope you don’t so, maybe, Hollywood producers reevaluate, and learn how to respect their audience. By all means, if you are into VFX and the MTV style of filmmaking give it go. It will make you forget the unpleasant times we are currently experiencing, anyway. But know what you sign up for. Justin Lin is a respectful director/producer but goes for the money. I believe, after the franchise is gone, that we’ll see something amazing from him. Something that will beautifully surprise both in terms of character and story development. Finally, I’ve said it before and I’ll keep saying it: Michael Rooker is a great actor and should be getting more screening time in everything he’s in.

Stay safe!

Wrath of Man (2021): Action/Crime/Thriller

A mysterious man gets a job at an armoured vehicle company that transports money just to find the people responsible for a crime that cost him dearly.

Crowd-pleasing and entertaining, Wrath of Man makes a decent remake of the French thriller Cash Track (2004). Fourth collaboration between the actor Jason Statham and director/producer Guy Richie that proves to be time and time again a recipe for success – at least financial. What you need to keep in mind before or while watching it is that the film is not to be taken very seriously by any stretch of the imagination. It probably represents the exact opposite of the cinematic realism that film theorists argue about (for decades). Let’s start with with basics: No one heals and reaches peak condition that fast from multiple gun shots – if they survive. Also, no one achieves so many headshots that easily. Furthermore, no one would come up with that plan as it is likely to fail in more ways than I can count. So, deliberately ignoring the film’s unrealistic scenario, let’s focus on the positives.

Statham is still kicking a$$ which makes him the right man in front of the camera. Richie still finds intriguing, non-linear ways to develop the plot from the story which makes him the right man behind the camera. Holt McCallany, Josh Hartnett, Scott Eastwood, Andy Garcia, and Niamh Algar make great a addition to the cast (comment to follow on that). Finally, what everyone was hoping to be decent is actually more than decent: the action. Wrath of Man is a series of action-packed sequences that satisfy the neurons and neuroglia of the animalistic part of our brain.

I will never mind Statham not changing his accent. I live in Derby and he’s from Derbyshire so, I wouldn’t want him to speak any other way. I actually love it! Generally though, and that’s probably because I am not a kid anymore, I do mind the hero/ine not to have a decent antagonist or people surrounding him. Which is the case here. The film’s great cast (not just the ones mentioned above) is massively overshadowed by his presence, making him look he’s leagues above everyone else. His crew, the enemy’s, and the security company’s have nothing on him, something that exponentially reduces the suspense. Eastwood’s character had a lot of potential to be a great psycho and, consequently, great villain. That is not the case though. Having said that, the guys guarding the safe are tough as nails but their role is limited. Something else that would potentially make us empathise with ‘H’ a bit more is the underdeveloped drama he had to endure. Unfortunately, it took the back seat. As a last and trivial note, it’s interesting to listen to British humour, in American accents.

To sum it up, it’s very enjoyable, don’t get caught up in the details (like I do), and spend a couple of hours watching a funny and thrilling heist with a lot of shooting and punchlines.

Stay safe!

Dredd (2012): Action/Crime/Sci-Fi

In a dystopian future, where the police are judges, juries, and executioners, Judge Dredd and a rookie are sent to take down a violent gang that is dealing an extremely dangerous drug.

Misunderstood yet highly entertaining! Dredd, makes you forget whatever is happening out there but this was not the case when it was released. Back then, it evoked some mixed feelings and, unfortunately, the vast majority didn’t appreciate it. The rest of us signed a petition for a sequel to no avail. Times have changed, we have moved on and so have the actors. Karl Urban is leading The Boys (2019) now and he couldn’t care less about a role that he doesn’t show his face and people doubt it. Having said that, as far as I read recently, he wouldn’t mind taking on the role if offered. It won’t be though. What’s more, it’s interesting watching Olivia Thirlby coming out of her comfort zone shooting everything and everyone up and the transformed but wonderful Lena Headey running the vicious gang.

Dredd remains loyal to the graphic novel with the city blocks’ names, the judge’s helmet and the golden chain in MaMa’s penthouse, the “fatties”, and, of course, the Clint Eastwood voice tribute to stand out. For those who are not aware, the character is partially based on Clint Eastwood’s “Dirty Harry” so, the voice will always be that reminder.

Pete Travis, a director who deserves a lot more spotlight [see also Omagh (2004) and Vantage Point (2008)] as mentioned above, has deeply understood the anti-hero’s nature and the dystopian futuristic”cyberpunk” world, giving us a final cut that, we, the fans deeply enjoyed and, unfortunately, won’t see more of it. The reasons vary: Came out in a bad time? People didn’t really appreciate it? Studios saw only numbers and didn’t care about its quality? Whatever your pick is, it’s a shame really.

I just wanted to remind you of it. After all, that’s what every dystopia is; a reminder. And, if you haven’t watched it, knock yourselves out! It’s quite the experience.

Stay safe!

Nobody (2021): Action/Crime/Drama

An ostensibly ordinary family man is proved to have certain skills when he becomes the target of the Russian mafia and the vicious lobby behind it.

Every time someone was telling me “it’s like John Wick“, I was replying “You know it’s written by the same guy, yeah?”. If you ask me, A History of Violence (2005) is a lot more similar to Nobody‘s plot, so it’s kind of one-meets-the-other kind of thing.

As for the film itself, admittedly, it’s very entertaining. Bob Odenkirk has a certain style of acting that transcends frustration and anger like very few nowadays can. One could argue that he actually acts/expresses certain aspects of his character. Regardless, he is the man for this job and Nobody proves that Hollywood can turn you from a lawyer who can’t slap a mosquito (Saul Goodman) to an ex-black-ops “badass” (Hutch Mansell) in no time. Fair enough! Nobody shows that his acting range is surprisingly wider than we all thought and the fact that he had been training for two years prior to the film’s principal photography to nail the part, speaks volumes about his dedication. Speaking of acting, I can’t leave the legendary Christopher Lloyd out who nails every part that has been given to him in his 46-year (and counting) career. Furthermore, Connie Nielsen adds to the cast with her talent and beauty, and brightens up every shot she’s in.

Ilya Naishuller, well known for Hardcore Henry (2015), shows once more that he knows how to approach hardcore action scenes, and, more importantly, Derek Kolstad’s meticulously written action scenes. Ari Aster’s Director of Photography, Pawel Pogorzelski, and experienced Hollywood editors Evan Schiff and William Yeh complete the main crew and give an extremely satisfying result that will make you want a sequel or, at least, a prequel of the film.

The plot holes are humongous but do yourselves a favour and leave them out. The action-packed sequences and phlegmatic humour definitely compensate. I hope you enjoy it and forget, even for an hour and a half, the dark times we are still going through!

Stay safe!

Dark Waters (2019): Biography/Drama/History

Unsubstantiated evidence against a giant chemical company is thoroughly examined by a corporate defense attorney who sees what everyone else was turning the blind eye to and goes tooth and nail against them.

Dark Waters‘ cast and theme are its two major selling points: Mark Ruffalo, Anne Hathaway, Tim Robbins, Bill Pullman, and Bill Camp need no introduction and no matter what I say can make them better thespians than they already are. Which brings me to the second selling point straight away, the theme. One person trying to take down a colossal chemical company while having everything to lose – special emphasis on “everything”.

Automatically, in my books, whoever dares that against any company of that magnitude, or any magnitude, or their government is a hero, and half an hour into the film, you want him to crash them with everything he’s got! Rob Bilott is one of the most relatable kind of heroes out there, the world needs more of him, and we root for him to do what the rest of us can’t – or haven’t had the chance yet. The narrative is thrilling, dramatic and unfolds beautifully through parallel editing that moves the story forward, provides the necessary information, and increases the tension to pin you to your seats. Ruffalo is the man of the hour and who could direct him better than director Todd Haynes who has mastered biographic films or films “based on true events”.

It makes you sick to your stomach that innumerable companies like these get away with such crimes for so long or forever. Makes you sick that money is worth more than lives – human, animal, and plant. There are two major takeaways here:

  1. However you think you’ve had it bad, there are people who have had it a lot worse than most of us.
  2. YOU can make a difference! No matter how small you think you are, no matter how much “you against the world” you feel, you can make a difference!

Stay safe!

P.S. Are you ready? As per IMDb: “DuPont’s stock price dropped by 7.15 points from 72.18 to 65.03 the week this movie was released on 12th November”. https://www.imdb.com/title/tt9071322/trivia?item=tr5294319

P.P.S. I’ll start doing a lot more reviews like Dark Waters.

Nomadland (2021): Drama

Losing everything in the Great Recession, a middle-aged woman decides to lead a nomadic way of life and meet people and explore places she has never had.

There are two selling points here: Francis McDormand and Chloé Zhao. McDormand is one of the best actresses alive and no matter what I or anyone else says cannot praise enough any of her performances. Nomadland is no exception as her performance is a masterclass. The second selling point is Zhao’s documentary-style filmmaking that expanded in seven states, making it look like a chronicle of a nomad who tries to turn a situation around. It is a great modern example of cinema verité that, if anything, will travel you around the states and show you a way of life that you may have not encountered before. As much as I know poverty very well, this lifestyle/tradition is known to me only through films that have not properly explored it. So, I can’t comment on what I heard regarding its inauthentic depiction. Honestly, it would be wrong if I did.

As for the script though, what I was trying to establish throughout the film was if her choices were actually hers and, if yes, to what extent. Did she partially want this way of life? Was this what she fully wanted? Was it escapism – from herself and the people around her? I believe the answer determines the purpose of this hero’s journey. As a huge fan of David Strathairn, I think he deserved some more screening time.

Extra credits go to Zhao’s frequent director of photography, Joshua James Richards whose work is just captivating. Pay also attention to the little, yet very important elements of the film. The use of diegetic (natural) and non-diegetic (music) sounds, Ludovico Einaudi’s piano, the minimalistic editing and montage in its simplest form, the non-actors’ acting, and a side of America and certain American people that none of us really get to see in either studio or indie level. Oscars for: Best Motion Picture of the Year, Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role, and Best Achievement in Directing were very much deserved. Actually, all 227 wins & 135 nominations were very much deserved. I hope you enjoy it.

Stay safe!

Stowaway (2021): Drama / Sci-Fi / Thriller

A series of dilemmas and decisions divide a crew on its way to Mars when they discover a passenger who shouldn’t have been there.

Very well-written and shot first act, paying extra attention to the orbital mechanics’ math but also the heroes’ reactions during the launch. The discovery of the stowaway passenger intensifies the thrill and the agony regarding who this person is and why he’s there begins… Well, not immediately!

The second act starts off a bit slow, not interested in providing crucial information straight away. Don’t be put off by that though, pace yourselves. Everything slowly and steadily is falling into place. When the dilemma is presented, questions such as: What would I do… How would I do it… What if I were him… How the hell did it come to that… and maybe more, will get you engaged.

Writer/producer Ryan Morrison and co-writer/producer/director Joe Penna wrote and directed respectively a very claustrophobic drama / thriller / sci-fi full of moral decisions and dilemmas and XYZ Films, as always, made sure to invest in the film’s technological realism for a heartbreaking, yet – kinda – believable outcome. Speaking of believability, Anna Kendrick, Daniel Dae Kim, Shamier Anderson, and Toni Collette give very decent performances and have good chemistry with each other.

The denouement is, arguably, over-dramatised but it still serves the narrative’s purpose. I believe that the lukewarm reviews derive from the desire for more action something that the film somewhat lacks. Don’t be discouraged though, its other qualities compensate and, while in lockdown, having nothing much more creative to do, Stowaway becomes the escapism we potentially need/want.

Stay safe!

The Little Things (2021): Crime / Drama / Thriller

A series of murders get the attention of a County Deputy Sheriff, a man with a dark past in the police force, and in collaboration with a young detective, they will try to find whoever is behind these crimes.

It is shocking how people even thought about considering comparing it to Seven (1995). The film’s biggest issue is not the cliché opening sequence that makes zero sense. It is not that Denzel Washington and Rami Malek don’t believe in what they signed up for – even though Jared Leto somehow does. It is not even the fact that all three of them are Oscar winners in a film like this. The biggest issue with the film is that the producers put all the effort to get A-list actors but then they decided to green light a boring, formulaic, predictable, flawed Hollywood three-act structure with yawning character and story development that makes you say: “it’s OK for the quarantine”. A film that you stop thinking about the moment the end credits start scrolling down. And once you thought the script is the worst thing that happened to The Little Things, the editing makes it a mission to dumb it down even more by explaining everything to you like it’s the first time you are watching a thriller. What’s more, it fundamentally ruins the film’s pace and rhythm with its discontinuity errors.

I know I sound bitter, but that was not my intention before I started watching it. But focusing (always) on the film’s intentions, I don’t like it when the audience’s intelligence is undermined. Watching the final cut before exporting it, the filmmakers should have seen that, for an over two-hour film, everything is rushed, and said and done before in a better, and a much better way. It is saddening me that, John Lee Hancock, the man behind great films such as The Blind Side (2009) and Saving Mr. Banks (2013) was sitting on the director’s chair.

After pointing out the film’s biggest issue(s), it would be only fair to mention the biggest achievement: Jared Leto’s decent performance, even though ruined by bad directing and even worse editing, it managed to get a Golden Globe nomination and a nomination from the Screen Actors Guild Awards. The only two nominations the film got. How about that…

To cut the long story short, go ahead, watch it, it is a yet another night in with restrictions left, right, and centre. Just don’t have any expectations as you’ll be severely disappointed.

Stay safe!

P.S. I mean… the editing is bad!

Lifeforce (1985): Action / Horror / Mystery

An alien vampire race is found in space and brought to a lab in London but, upon escaping, chaos and doom threaten to destroy our planet.

Ask anyone why they remember Lifeforce… And as much as I understand why, this is the reason why the film bombed! An alien sexbomb wreaking apocalyptic havoc in London sounds peculiar to say the least. The film didn’t even make half of its production cost back because a naked Mathilda May and her astonishing beauty stole the show and left everyone uninterested in its shallow science. BUT…

Lifeforce has become a classic and watching it 25 years later, I must say that it is case study of how to deconstruct a B-movie. I don’t think I’ve ever read more production details on a film such as this. What’s more, the vast majority of these details revolve around May’s backstage nudity or how the film’s failure showed during the early stages of principal photography.

Despite how my review sounds so far, especially in times like these, Lifeforce is the form of escapism that will truly entertain you (I mean, read the logline). Based on Colin Wilson’s novel, “The Space Vampires” and directed by Tobe Hooper, the film offers a lack of seriousness and superficiality that harms no one and, if anything, reminds us the cinematic, low-budget, sci-fi era that, once upon a time, was as believable as today’s advanced CGI. The practical effects, the make-up, the effort given not to be rated pornographic, the budget restrains, to name but a few, constitute it a very hard film to make. No words can describe the satisfaction you will get though while watching it. So, forget reality for a couple of hours…

Stay safe!

Never Rarely Sometimes Always (2020): Drama

A teenage girl, followed by her cousin, leaves her hometown to go to New York to terminate her unexpected pregnancy.

Never underestimate the power of independent cinema. Rarely disappoints. Sometimes it defies the traditional, conventional narrative. Always, though, offers a more realistic perspective.

The difference with the American studio level films shows, in this case, shows even before the narrative unfolds. Take a close look at the actors; they are everyday people, and not like underwear models. It’s (not) funny how studios nowadays indulge diversity and inclusion but don’t cast actors who wouldn’t be a fit for a fragrance poster. But this review is not about the industry’s hypocricy, so…

Eliza Hittman writes and directs a modern painful Odyssey about a girl that suffers in silence, has no room in her life for the baby she is carrying, and decides to make a journey to take the most difficult decision of her life, yet. Admittedly, I haven’t watched her other films, but I most definitely will after this one. Hittman mounts the camera on her shoulder and like an omniscient narrator closely follows Autumn and Skylar exploring The Big Apple for the first time. The close-ups and the extreme close-ups leave you no choice but to feel Autumn’s pain, to embark on that coach, share the experience of discovery, but, mainly, go through the shivering experience of what comes next.

The “never, rarely, sometimes, always” moment is the brutal realisation that facing the pain is a exponentially harder than imagining facing the pain. The editor Scott Cummings is onboard with this idea as he’s very careful where to cut when this conversation takes place. He cuts selectively and only for a few seconds to the counselor but mostly stays with Autumn’s close-up “forcing” you to look when she breaks. Why? Because it’s not pretty. And it’s even uglier when these questions are asked because only then the boys’ initial, hideous comments and gestures make sense. Think about it from the narrative’s point of view, it takes an hour to indirectly indicate why those comments were made and how they are related to the pregnancy. What is also astonishing is the “show, don’t tell” subplot of the bond between Autumn and Skylar which needs no soppy dialogue whatsoever to project the love one has for the other, without overshadowing the film’s delicate and sorrowful subject.

In a very disciplined manner, Hittman manages to not get caught in the ethics behind abortion and to focus on how it burdens an already suffering girl. It might seem like an easy task but rest assured that it is not. In fact, it is one of the main issues pretentious films are facing when they tackle too many issues, in the process address some, and finally delve into none. Never Rarely Sometimes Always brilliantly achieves that focus, and I can’t praise it enough. Speaking of praising, Sidney Flanigan deserves an Oscar for her realistic performance and I take my hat off to Talia Ryder who doesn’t let her natural beauty overshadow her acting and, surprisingly, gives “friendship” the meaning it always should have had.

I am doing this review now as my next one will be Promising Young Woman (2021) and, despite its success, unfortunately, I have opposite feelings compared to this one.

Stay safe!

Promising Young Woman (2020): Crime / Drama / Thriller

A young woman seeks out revenge against anyone who got involved in a tragic event that happened several years ago.

I’m in two minds here. I believe that’s because I was hyped up for weeks prior to watching it, even though I hadn’t even watched the trailer.

I’ll start with the good news: Carrey Mulligan is amazing, Bo Burnham is funny, and Clancy Brown is heartbreaking. And, for me, this is where the good news stops.

First and foremost, the film lacks structure. It’s pace and rhythm is all over the place. Secondly, it resembles a thriller with music video montages in between. Is that wrong? Not on its own. It becomes wrong, and, if not wrong, confusing for such a delicate issue that, ultimately, ends up taking the back seat. This wrongness/confusion causes indecisiveness and no film should be undecided about situations that have scarred women’s, but also families’ lives. Occasionally, it felt like a dark comedy accompanied by millennial, pop music that was not befitting so, I kept asking myself, how am I supposed to feel? And then, about who? About Nina or about Cassie? Does Cassie’s behaviour justify what happened to Nina? Was it that, that made her sociopath or did that event trigger it? How was she punishing the ones who were crossing her path? How was the level of punishment against the ones who were accessories to what happened to Nina decided? There are so many questions regarding the character’s arc and the hero’s journey, but I’ll raise one last one: How is one meant to feel about Cassie and her actions in the end?

The film is rated ‘suitable only for 15 years and older’, but I can’t shake off the feeling that is for 15 y/o ones alone. That excludes the two and a half minute shocking scene in the cabin (no spoilers). Writer / director Emerald Fennell, Carrey Mulligan, and Margot Robbie are wearing the producer’s hat as well and their effort is rewarded with 4 Golden Globes nominations, another 62 wins and 132 more nominations. I congratulate them and the rest of the cast and crew for their achievement even though it ended up not being my cup of tea.

Nothing that affects someone that much should be that stylised. Even though I found Revenge (2017) was quite ‘stylish’ until the inciting incident, in the second act, its brutality defined the film and established for the viewer that ‘shock’ was what it was aiming for. But cinema, like life itself, is not just black or white. There are numerous shades of grey and, one of my favourite genre mix, horror/comedy, falls under that category. Keeping that in mind, I’m constantly asking myself this: How much comedy does one mix with horror? Or, is it the other way around?

Stay safe!

P.S. Never Rarely Sometimes Always (2020): https://kgpfilmreviews.com/2021/03/06/never-rarely-sometimes-always-2020-drama/ is a counterexample of a (somewhat) relevant film that does not try to please everyone, has an established tone, and impeccably distinguishes the plot from the subplot. I can’t praise it enough.

Wrong Turn (2021): Horror / Thriller

A group of friends gets lost in the Appalachian mountains, but gets found by an off-grid community that hunts them down.

Ahhhh… The clash between the world we are very slowly leaving behind and the brave new one we are entering in warp speed. Bridging those two worlds will be one of the most difficult tasks societies globally will have to deal with. Anyway…

Wrong Turn‘s producers decided, in a six-member “gang”, to represent as many minorities as possible. And as much as I endorse diversity and inclusion, when it’s for ticket sales or any other form of profit, I don’t. It’s called exploitation. Moving on from the casting choices concerns… one realises, right off the bat, when the alleged action and thrill kicks in, that the educated youth comes up with the dumbest questions, ideas, and ideologies ever existed while people of unknown origin and skills are after them in the middle of the unknown… nowhere. Ultimately, what most of them say and do is nothing but contradictory, something that renders them undecided in life or hypocrites at best.

And if you are somewhat confused with the messages about the old and the new world and their people… boy… wait until the film’s revelation! I’m not going to spoil it for you. See for yourselves the mess the script is leaving behind. Honestly, wait until the very end; the script’s direction is more lost than every city boy and girl has ever been on these mountains throughout the whole franchise. And since you’ve made it to the very end, watch at least the last scene, it’s awesome.

To my surprise, that script is by Alan B. McElroy, the writer behind the original Wrong Turn (2003), and it may be a reboot but has nothing to do or has nothing on the original one. Emmanouelle Chriqui and Eliza Dushku are irreplaceable.

Stay safe!

The Whisperer in Darkness (2011): Mystery / Sci-Fi / Thriller

Alleged evidence of ancient creatures will make a professor travel to a remote village only to discover that the truth is a lot more frightening than he anticipated.

Pseudo-noir and semi-serious, H.P. Lovecraft’s adaptation does not rank very high on my “Favourite Lovecraft Films”. Having said that, this merely means that I didn’t enjoy this ecranisation. Writer/director Sean Branney and writer Andrew Leman collaborate once more on a Lovecraft’s adaptation in reverse roles – Leman directed The Call of Cthulhu (2005) and Branney wrote the script – and, I must say, the way they have envisioned Lovecraft’s writings, his world, and his creatures is captivating. As much as the film itself resembles a student project, the script is tight, engaging, and… Lovecraftian!

There are moments, I believe, taken from In the Mouth of Madness (1994): https://kgpfilmreviews.com/2019/01/04/in-the-mouth-of-madness-1994-drama-horror-mystery/ (by far my favourite Lovecraftian adaptation) but it is definitely not plagiarism, just inspired by it. There are numerous filmmaking issues that I will not go into as I respect the hard effort the filmmakers put into it. It is a very decent film with very honest intentions. If you are passionate about Lovecraft, like I am, you will turn the blind eye to whatever seems not real and you’ll enjoy the visualised version of the homonymous story by Branney and Leman, two truly loyal fans of the man who changed the literature of horror as we know it.

Stay safe!

Pulse (2006): Horror / Sci-Fi / Thriller

Mysterious entities, start taking over a group of friends through an obscure wireless signal that starts spreading rapidly all over the city.

I’ll be quick… Dark and promising opening sequence that once it gets you hooked it unhooks you with its formulaic narrative. The audience it addresses becomes clear straight away and is none other than… American pre-millennials. Just before the social media, androids and iPhones become our lives, this the generation that started carrying everywhere their cell phones with the ostentatious design.

In case you are wondering why I am doing a review now, it is because I’ve had that DVD on my shelf for the last 15 years and I never got to watch it. Now, I know why. Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s original script and Wes Craven’s adaptation were, allegedly, significantly altered by Ray Wright, something that made Craven walk out before production even started and renounced the film. Besides Wright, director Jim Sonzero did not do a good job either. Unfortunately, he treated his audience like they were mentally incapacitated and that alone is a reason to look down on the film. I’ll give you one example to get an idea. Kristen Bell is wearing make-up from beginning till end. No matter what happens, the make-up is intact. Shocking that there were two more (horrendous) instalments after that.

I’m not going to waste your time. To sum it up, the story could have been promising, the script is dull, the filmmaking techniques were outdated way before the film was made, and it is not Kristen Bell’s and Ian Somerhalder’s fault for being in it. They are really good actors. Watch it at your own risk.

Stay safe!

The House That Jack Built (2018): Crime / Drama / Horror

The life of a serial killer through the major incidents that made him and the examination of his psychosynthesis.

Welcome to the world of a psychopathic murderer! Look at it through his eyes. See how it makes sense to him. Feel how he perceives it, in the scariest possible way, as you and I do. Welcome to the world that Lars von Trier and Matt Dillon built!

Watch back to back Trier’s The House That Jack Built and David Fincher’s Zodiac (2007). The former views the world through the nihilistic eyes of a killer who tries to make sense of our world’s identity, and the latter views it through our ‘existential’ eyes, which try to make sense of the killer’s identity. Regardless of the antithetical points of view and budget, both films’ theme is regarding a serial killer yet, they share no similarities. Not really, anyway. The striking differences in writing, acting, editing, and cinematography – all overseen by the director – are held responsible for creating films worlds apart and confuse film theorists (even more) in regard to ‘What is Cinema?’. Fincher’s meticulous mise-en-scène and precise cuts become an example to avoid for Trier who, in a mockumentary-style of filmmaking shakes his camera as much as he possibly can and cuts wherever it seems not right, ignoring continuity and paying tribute to Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless (1960). Is there ‘right’ or ‘wrong’? No, there is not! The narrative always dictates how the story will unfold and in which way. And Trier’s filmmaking choices of saying the story the way he wants to create one of the most realistic serial killer films you have ever watched. Pay extra attention to the humorous side of the murders. Yes, there is a humorous side to it. Don’t judge it though, remember whose point of view this film is from. Even I smiled at Dillon’s reaction to the body’s melted face that had been dragged on the streets for miles. The film’s scariest parts though are not the murders themselves, but the justification of Jack’s actions and the sick and perverted way they somehow make sense.

My issue is not with the way the story unfolds, but with where it is heading. After an hour and a half of balanced nihilistic philosophy, deranged psychology, and monstrosities, Trier turns the film into a pseudo-sophisticated paradigm that, in my humble opinion, does not any more explain Jack’s actions, takes over the narrative, and expresses how Trier views art, politics, history, war, and anything that comes into his mind. Why do I think of that? Because I’m sure that Jack didn’t commit these murders creating a montage of Trier’s previous films in his head. I know he made a statement about, potentially, not directing another feature, but, in the name of art, he managed to lose the narrative’s focus and turned it into a confusing mess.

In Cannes, some people left the theatre and others gave it a six-minute standing ovation. Some condemned it on social media for its violence and point of view, and others praised it. See for yourselves how parts of ‘The Divine Comedy’ and ‘Faust’ work within the narrative and how the allegories and the history lessons work for you. Love it or loathe it, be it Trier’s last film or not, The House That Jack Built is a must-watch, and whatever I say, nothing will give justice to Matt Dillon’s remarkable performance. If none of the aforementioned sounds appealing or appalling enough, watch it just for Dillon!

Stay safe!

Synchronic (2019): Drama / Horror / Sci-Fi

A new drug on the streets, causing obscure and mystical effects, will make two paramedics from New Orleans reevaluate life.

The trippy, otherworldly, and oneiric opening sequence pins you down and gets your undivided attention. Steve (Anthony Mackie) and Dennis (Jamie Dornan) become immediately relatable from the get-go while you are trying to establish how is everything connected. As the incidents increase, the plot’s mystery and intricacy are accompanied by an equally dramatic subplot and both of them unfold together on Jimmy LaValle’s amazing soundtrack that expresses the characters’ psychosynthesis.

In my humble opinion though the film reaches its peak with the heartbreaking sequence of Steve’s dog, Hawking – honestly, I couldn’t breathe properly. Steve realises how the drug works and, from then on, it becomes too explanatory too fast for my taste, disillusioning too early an experience that stops raising questions anymore. Having said that, please, don’t let it discourage you. Watch it as it is a great low budget, indie sci-fi, and both Mackie and Dornan do a great job in front of the camera.

Behind the camera, writers/directors/producers/cinematographers/editors Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead prove once more their unquestionable talent. From Resolution (2012) to Spring (2014), to The Endless (2017), to Synchronic, they constantly prove that filmmakers don’t need millions of dollars to bring to life something innovative; something that follows certain rules, breaks others, and, ultimately, still manages to be groundbreaking, didactic, and entertaining. Twenty years ago, Christopher Nolan started on small budgets and then the world became his oyster. As Steven Spielberg did thirty years before him. It seems that the filmmaking partners Benson and Moorhead, gradually, are given more and more funding. If they stick to their unique point of view – and don’t get sucked by Hollywood – they will keep performing cinematic miracles.

Stay safe!

Ghosts of War (2020): Horror / Thriller / War

During WWII, five American soldiers are sent to a French Chateau to make a stand, not expecting to encounter a sinister supernatural force.

The “thriller” and “war” genres are indicative from the get-go. Even though it gets quite brutal but also comedic straight after, their arrival at the French mansion brings a certain mystery with it. Admittedly, the introduction of the interior of the mansion is quite spooky and entertaining, decently maintaining the balance between “horror” and “comedy” and, consequently, the audience’s attention. The “Nazi shootout” sequence becomes the film’s climax with all of us deeply enjoying their vicious deaths. The “facing the ghosts” sequence is also enjoyable and should have given the film the ending it deserved. That could be a happy ending, depressing ending, jaw-dropping-twist ending… An ending nonetheless. But the filmmakers thought otherwise! Before I move to the ending, I’d like to say that the acting is brilliant and all actors deserve to be praised. Excellent job!

Writer/director Eric Bress comes back as a director for his second film after The Butterfly Effect (2004) and, up to the point that I mentioned, does a very decent job. His directing still remains intact after that but his writing, eventually, damages the rest of the film. I cannot tell you why without spoiling it for you so, should you decide to watch it, stop here and see for yourselves. You are more than welcome to come back to my review after you have watched it.

Stay safe!

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Spoilers Alert!

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The ending is nonsensical because it tried to copy two films with similar, but successful for their narrative ending: The Thirteenth Floor (1999) and Dark City (1998). These fall under the jaw-dropping twists I mentioned earlier and, back then, gave the films the endings that everyone was talking about after watching them. In Ghosts of War this is most definitely not the case. It’s like Agent Smith (the ghosts) infiltrated the matrix and now Neo (Chris) would collaborate with the machines (the scientists) to restore the balance. It could not make less sense.

Other than nonsensical though, the ending is dangerous. What the filmmakers did here is dangerous. They associated the Nazis with ISIS. They “juxtaposed” their crimes as if that makes them the same. The Nazis and ISIS are not the same. I’m not going to give you a history lesson, but when the era is different, the culture is different, the history behind them is different, the motives are different, and then when one atrocity is related to war and the other (mostly) to terrorism… the comparison is not even wrong, it doesn’t exist. There is nothing to compare.

Filmmakers and studios need to be careful, nowadays. They hold responsibility for what they release and careers can be ruined in a blink of an eye.

My Friend Dahmer (2017): Biography / Drama / Horror

A high school student finds it really difficult to blend in, isolating himself from friends and family, while doing things that no one should be.

My Friend Dahmer invests in Jeff Dahmer’s character development while stealthily exposing the American society. School and home, the two environments that play a catalytic role in a kid’s physical and emotional growth become a case study for writer/director Marc Meyers who adapts John Backderf’s homonymous book. Shot in the same town where Dahmer was raised, the film leaves its mark for the spine-chilling realism it offers, covering  the raw brutality of loneliness, the harshness of bullying, the fear of coming out – even to one self – and, ultimately, society’s success in… creating monsters.

Furthermore, Jamie Kirkpatrick’s editing patiently builds up the suspenseful narrative and Daniel Katz’s photography very accurately captures the 70s. As for the cast, Ross Lynch gets into character and nails his performance, as does the rest of the cast that very successfully supports his effort. I’d like to seize this opportunity and state something that should have been obvious but, unfortunately, it isn’t. Anne Heche is a wonderful and dynamic actress. Not only that, but she’s also a real-life heroine. I hope we get the chance to see her in more amazing roles like this one, as she still has so much more to offer to both the small and the silver screen.

Every joke made me sadder. Every prank made my heart skip a beat. Every time the parents didn’t care about Jeff’s isolation from everyone, but also himself, I felt like giving up. In the end though, you step back and everything becomes clear. What you have in front of you is all the ingredients you need to… “make a murderer”. I have not read the book, but I’d love to know what the author’s self-criticism would be. How does he describe himself looking back?

Share your feelings. Respect one another. Treat everyone the way you want to be treated.

Stay safe!

P.S. In a way, it reminded me Michael Haneke’s Funny Games (1997/2007). Nothing to do with the content, but in regard to the absence of on-screen violence. I think it’s amazing.

The Dark and the Wicked (2020): Horror

After receiving news that their father was dying, two estranged kids gather at their parents’ remote farm to comfort him, but a sinister entity is lurking in the shadows for all of them.

From the opening sequence, the scent of the independent film forewarns that the absence of “formula” will fill you with dread of unknown origin and unknown for everyone involved consequences. Marin Ireland and Michael Abbott Jr. make an excellent duo in front of the camera and, Ireland especially, gives a breathtaking performance. Speaking of breathtaking, Xander Berkeley is absolutely terrifying! That role was him! He is a massively underrated actor so, I’m very glad he was afforded this opportunity.

As for the narrative, it is very restricted. The editing very meticulously unfolds the plot’s mysterious and horrifying elements, constantly making you wonder what the paranormal threat is and what does it want. Is it the devil? Is it a demon (with some vampire qualities)? Far fetched, I know, but pay attention to how it stands on the front door before asking for permission. Try and think why it has targeted the family and anyone coming in touch with them. If you want some answers you might find them at the phone call Louise is making to the priest – even though that will probably raise more questions.

Bryan Bertino, the man behind The Strangers (2008), and The Monster (2016), produces, writes and directs something between these two films; something between malevolent, external forces that subliminally manipulate our fears and the chaotic, internal abyss of the human mind that can prove more sinister than anything… non-human. I have never been a huge fan of jump scares, but Bertino uses them quite wisely here as there are other sequences that no music or sound effects are needed, just the visuals. Such sequences include (spoilers free), but are not limited to:

  • The carrot chopping.
  • The “hanged-in-the-barn” dolly out.
  • The priest at night.
  • The girl’s visit.
  • The nurse losing it.
  • The home arrival.

After everything is said and done, and the end credits start scrolling, among the rest of questions you will definitely have, ask yourselves this: Who is the dark and who’s the wicked?

Stay safe!

Run Hide Fight (2020): Action / Thriller

When a group of students invades their school with weapons and take hostages, a girl needs to use her skills to save those in need.

Read that logline and let it sink in before you read further…

The film is well shot and edited and the actors do a decent job. The setup prepares you for what is about to happen, it shocks you when it does, but then it gives you all the emotional space you need to relax and “enjoy” something that is not meant to be enjoyable. Immediately, it seems like a corporate-industry-hostage situation involving pompous adult assholes that doesn’t matter if few them die in the process like unimportant stunts.

Then, from the first plot point, quite a few issues are raised:

  • The van driving through the cafeteria’s front window that no one heard smashing.
  • The gunshots at the cafeteria that no one heard firing.
  • The relaxing verbosity after the van and the first shootings that lightens up the mood.
  • The parallel stories that take the focus off and go easy on the monstrosity that plagues the United States.

And these are jut the major ones. The Die Hard missionaries and the 17 y/o female John McClane give this ongoing toxicity a sweet Hollywood flavour when no word can describe the horror of kids turned kamikazes at the place that is meant to be the starting point to change the world. I know that it is trendy nowadays to portray women doing extraordinary things, but there is nothing trendy or extraordinary about exploiting scenarios that have deeply scarred people’s lives. That applies to boys, girls, men, women, and non-binary people. Keep the trends for the social media. People’s wounds are still wide open.

Elephant (2003), The Life Before Her Eyes (2007), My Friend Dahmer (2017), and We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011) are but a few films that have managed to, somewhat, realistically capture that horror. But even, they are well made films. You wanna let horror crawl under your skin? Start with Bowling for Columbine (2002) and then go through the real-life mass shootings before and after. There has never been and never will be heroism in this ongoing heart-wrenching and soul-sucking tragedy.

Just death.

Followed by unspeakable, never-ending, inconsolable mourning.

Stay safe!

P.S. You wanna know who funded this film? This is the first film for the The Daily Wire, an American conservative news website turned TV/Film production company which, according to NewsWhip, is “by far” the top right-wing publisher on Facebook: “The Daily Wire is by far the top publisher among its peers in terms of engagements to its content, with more than 130 million Facebook engagements to its web content for the year”. Just saying…

Pieces of a Woman (2020): Drama

After losing her baby, a woman is trying to put her life back in order, but the intolerable suffering keeps damaging her and the people around her.

A protracted tracking shot in the opening sequence always raises the bar and expectations. The second one comes right after, and its twenty-four-minute realism and intensity stealthily build up to the point that will cut your breath. The preexisting knowledge that the sequence will end in the worst possible way, the attention to detail, and the meticulous preproduction planning will make you feel as ill as Martha does. Director Kornél Mundruczó mounts the camera over the shoulder, magnificently depicting the moment of tragedy, and Vanessa Kirby, Shia LaBeouf, and Molly Parker bring his vision to life by doing an excellent job in front of it.

The film is not just that sequence though. The torn couple’s journey, understandably, goes down the mourning path anyone can expect, but the destination is unknown. And this is where Kata Wéber’s tight and focused script builds up next. The narrative is restricted to what everyone knows at the specific time you are watching. So, your guess is as good as everyone else’s. There are numerous external forces, i.e., the mother, the sister, the lawyer, the media, everyone in the surrounding environment, that can play a significant role in what might happen next. Can you feel Martha’s pain while sensing that the midwife did as best she could? The ending is fulfilling for everyone but Sean and, since I don’t want to spoil it for you, I will just say that he will unfairly pay the unbearable price, till the very end, on his own. And that is really unfair.

Two more people are worth mentioning at this point: Martin Scorsese, who is wearing the producer’s hat on this one and Ellen Burstyn who, despite her age, is still giving her 100% every time she stands in front of the lens. Interestingly, Burstyn won the Oscar for her performance in Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (1974) which was directed by Scorsese.

When such unfathomable pain takes over, it feels like passing it on to everyone, especially the ones we love, as absorbing it all, will completely consume us. It doesn’t have to be this way, though. Whatever the intolerable pain might be, expressing it to and sharing it with our beloved ones, but also professionals, will help the healing process. Oh, and there is another underlying message in the film: Be kind to everyone, everywhere! We can never know what lies underneath the surface.

Stay safe!