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 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 builds 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 a 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 justifies 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 of 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.

Solidarity for Ukraine 🇺🇦 🙏

Stay safe!

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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The Greatest Showman (2017): Biography/Drama/Musical

The son of a poor tailor grows up to be a visionary who risks everything to become the greatest showman on Earth.

The dream to make it in life… The ambition to embrace who you really are and to be finally accepted and rewarded for it. That’s what The Greatest Showman is about. Based on actual events and on real people, the film’s narrative is accompanied by, arguably, the most moving songs you’ve ever listened to in a musical. They lack neither the political statement nor the social message while they make you want to sing and dance to their rhythm. Eleven out of these songs were written by lyricists Benj Pasek and Justin Paul who won the Oscar for La La Land (2016). No matter how much I praise them and the songs, I will not do them justice.

The visuals are as amazing, they are gripping, and they mesmerising. Everyone gives a stellar performance and works amazing with one another as if they were all meant to work together. Hugh Jackman, Michelle Williams, Zac Efron, Zendaya, Rebecca Ferguson, Keala Settle, Yahea Abdul-Mateen II, and the rest of the cast purely shine and dominate the screen, and months of preparation, finally, pays off.

Michael Gracey’s directorial feature debut makes The Greatest Showman the Rocky (1976) of musicals. Call it however you wanna call it, praise it to the best of your abilities, listen to everyone else telling you how great it is… the audiovisual outcome of the thousands of people working on it can be only fully appreciated only by watching it. It spent years in preproduction with all studios fearing that an original musical of that budget [$84,000,000 (estimated)] might not perform well, but against all odds, and against ferocious competition, it made $436,949,634 worldwide.

Watch it while thinking where you are and where you want to be or where you were and where you are now and you’ll find your heart skipping a beat. More than once.

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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Strange But True (2019): Thriller

Years after a teenage boy died, his then-girlfriend shows up pregnant in his family’s broken house, claiming that it’s his.

Gripping thriller that went under the radar. The opening sequence on its own is interesting, but nothing new. Melissa’s announcement that she is pregnant with Charlene’s son, who died five years prior to that, becomes a proper head-scratcher, but combining it to the opening sequence captivates your attention whether you want it or not. As if that’s not enough, the psychic’s information, the role of the estranged father, Bill and Gail’s subplot, and all that in regard to the opening sequence keep the suspense at peak level throughout most of the film.

The plot in and of itself is heavy and unbearable to whoever has suffered such a loss. Strange But True gives you the feeling that in every sequence something is about to happen, unfortunately nothing good, and the plot gets more and more intricate and dark as the story unfolds. The thrill and drama blend with each other, creating a concoction of overwhelming feelings, making one wonder how will this situation be resolved.

Based on John Searles novel, and penned for the screen by Eric Garcia, Rowan Athale’s massively underrated thriller definitely deserves your attention. There is also a great cast leading it and supporting it: Nick Robinson, Amy Ryan, Greg Kinnear, Brian Cox, Margaret Qualley, and Blythe Danner give amazing performances, truly believing in Athale’s vision. Past the end credits, upon realising the truth, you won’t help but wonder. Pontius Pilate raised the question: “Quid est veritas?” (What is truth?) Do we recognise it when we hear it? Is my truth the same as yours? Is your truth same as others’? Or we all live in a different one? Strange But True addresses the “truth” without being absorbed by it, and, eventually, reveals an ambiguous silver lining that comes from a very dark cloud.

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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After Yang (2021): Drama/Sci-fi

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

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

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

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

Now that you know, it’s up to you.

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The Taking of Deborah Logan (2014): Horror/Mystery/Thriller

A film crew makes a medical documentary on an elderly woman who suffers from Alzheimer’s, but as she deteriorates, a series of inexplicable events prove to be something more sinister.

Terrifying, despite its small wrinkles. Alzheimer’s on its own is dramatic as much as it is horrific. The people who have it and the people who love them, to say that they suffer is an understatement. But for lack of a better word, that’s what they do. Writer/editor Gavin Heffernan and writer/editor/director Adam Robitel seem to have done a thorough research on the subject and seem to have understood the calamitous situation the people who face it go through. Of course, they decide to add some extra sinistry to a condition that couldn’t be more painful, both physically and mentally so, in the end, you’ll get to decide if that addition actually adds to it or takes away from it.

While there are certain sequences that are terrifying, most of the times, I felt like crying my eyes out. Jill Larson is EXTRAORDINARY in this role, and I think I speak for all of us when I say that no one would want to see their beloveds suffering this way from that or any other disease. It is not disheartening or demoralising… it is crippling, it is bone-shuttering, and it is soul-wrenching. For everyone involved. Larson deserves every praise under the sun for making this found-footage, pseudo-documentary ‘believable’.

I have an interesting comparison for you! Watch The Taking of Deborah Logan, and compare and contrast it with the one below. Two different cinematic experiences that can make everyone appreciate verisimilitude, and the diverse power of narrative. Also, a cinematic reminder that the avoidance of repetitive patterns is not optional, it is pivotal. Relic (2020): https://kaygazpro.com/2020/07/15/relic-2020-drama-horror/

Solidarity for Ukraine 🇺🇦 🙏

Stay safe!

P.S. Produced by, the disgraced now, Bryan Singer.

The Assistant (2019): Drama

A personal assistant’s long day, working for an executive producer who, he and everyone in between, keep abusing their authority.

Welcome to the business side of the film industry. Where, like any other business, $h!t always rolls downhill. And like any other business, one needs to start from the bottom of that hill… from the abyss of nothingness! Where even the cockroaches give one orders. This is exactly what Jane’s (Julia Garner) story is about. Another day at the office…

From the very beginning, Jane’s paid slavery, other than written on her forehead, is dictated by Kitty Green’s lengthy shots and slow editing (Blair McClendon co-edited it). Green produced, wrote, directed, and edited a drama of an aspiring young woman who sacrifices her personal life to do her best at work, only to get bullied by her superiors who abuse their position and treat their inferiors like children of a lesser God. What Green successfully manages to achieve is to constantly indicate that no matter how high or low one is, they’ll manage to give the same amount of abuse, if not more, to the people below them. And as mentioned in the beginning, the one in the bottom gets it all. Watch when Jane herself speaks to the driver, these are the first signs indicating that she herself has already… (you’ll get it).

Regardless of who gets the biggest portion of that $h!t though, what remains a fact is that no one is really happy in the end. Not at all. Not by a long shot. Ambition is characterised by desire and determination and most of us have it in life. It’s something that grows inside us and something that becomes obvious to the people around us. And for that reason, it goes hand by hand with expectation – both ours and the people around us. Trying to constantly match ambition and expectation, it takes a significant toll on our lives, and the time will inevitably come where we will have to ask ourselves: Where do I draw a line? When does ambition stops being ambition and becomes vanity? When I sell my soul, will I know I have done it?

Kitty Green’s creation and Julia Garner’s performance will give you a sneak peek, on a random “Tuesday” of the people working “behind the cameras” in a film’s pre-production process. I’ve seen it, been through it, and I know how it feels like. You become that “Tuesday’s” worth of dogshit. Or less…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Solidarity for Ukraine 🇺🇦 🙏

Stay safe!

Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2022): Crime/Horror/Thriller

A group of youngsters decides to revive a ghost town in Texas without possibly imagining that it is Leatherface’s home.

If you’ve watched the latest Wrong Turn (2021): https://kaygazpro.com/2021/03/04/wrong-turn-2021-horror-thriller/ there is no need to explain to you why shoving political agendas down one’s throat can ruin a film. Texas Chainsaw Massacre scared me a bit at first, but managed to saved it quick. And then it ruined it again… Leatherface’s brutality shows no remorse nor mercy before he even wears the face. As a matter of fact, he is the film’s best ingredient.

David Blue Garcia Massacre‘s narrative is built on millennial characters, behaviours, and mentalities that I cannot so much relate to. I find it difficult to understand why would one react to such a horror the way most of them do. But, that is just me. Maybe, you’ll be able to. There is an emotional clash here between totally indifferent (to me) notions, such as “sjw” and “cancel society” and an utterly lethal Leatherface who unleashes his full cinematic potential. Even the bus scenes, admittedly a bloody and visceral sequence, could have been constructed with no music and a lot slower editing to let every savagely violent murder be better visually absorbed.

Tobe Hooper (interestingly, wearing the producer’s hat) and Marcus Nispel created a real suffering to more realistic people that didn’t directly involve politics. Leatherface on its own is a political and, consequently, societal outcome of all the wrongs humanity ever had to offer. Leatherface is a real-life human monster so, being preoccupied with including a forcefully diverse cast – which is insulting rather than politically correct – and building the narrative around that is bound to butcher the film – pun intended. The film originally failed the test screenings with flying colours and the production went from studio to studio. In the end, Netflix got it saying “yeah, whatever. Bring it”.

It seems that today’s hate, racism, bigotry, misanthrope, or however else you want to call it is consuming us individually, but also collectively. Whoever wants to spread hate in society is not welcome in it. History teaches us that change takes time. Go off-grid and leave us and cinema alone. Producers are wasting their money and we are wasting our time. Everyone loses in the end.

Again and again, Leatherface is the one worth watching while the narrative will, potentially, leave you indifferent. Watch it and make up your own minds. And always remember: The passion for violence, physical or psychological, should never transgress fiction!

Stay safe!

P.S. The plotholes and gimmicks are endless.

P.P.S. Imagine wanting to change the world, start knocking on doors to deliver your message, and the first person who answers is Leatherface…

Kimi (2022): Crime/Drama/Thriller

An agoraphobic voice stream interpreter detects a heinous crime and gradually realises that she is next.

Mild suspense and good acting get you through it. Behold… the legacy of Alfred Hitchcock and Rear Window (1954), adapted for the young adults of today, and the exhausting times of our pandemic. Writer David Koepp and director Steven Soderbergh create a world similar to ours with COVID, masks, lockdown references, texting as a means of communication, and, of course, Siri and Alexa that have entered our lives, and, if I’m allowed, infiltrated our homes. In Kimi, this might be the subplot, but it is what still scares me the most – so glad I don’t have either.

Back to the plot, the crime itself is an audio recording, visualised by Angela in her mind. Is it how she pictured it? Is it something else? Maybe worse? The suspense builds up through relatively slow editing that allows the viewer to take in the frames’ information (mise en scène) and “enter” Angela’s world. Soderbergh’s close-ups, tracking shots, low angles, and Dutch shots, effectively manipulate the space Angela is in with a voyeuristic and omnipotent lens that provides information on both the prey and the predator, but carefully and discloses it. Too carefully I will add and that information could have easily manipulated the plot as well, creating a twist – but, no. On the other hand, Zoë Kravitz is the real deal. She’s incredibly convincing as the agoraphobic tech-girl who loses her marbles upon realising what the stakes are. She carries the film on her shoulders.

In the end, for me, the believability was lost for reasons you’ll probably discover should you decide to watch it. I found it quite disjointed. But, don’t let that discourage you. It’s enjoyable even though you won’t be thinking much about it past the end credits. Minor details that I found interesting include, but are not limited to: 1. The way Angela visualises the murder in her mind. Watch it and think about the way you compose images in your head. What shape are they in? Are they continuous? How clear are they? 2. In a drugged state, in the mini van, the way that through her eyes, the audience and Angela alike, perceive both her and her surroundings, while listening to the thugs chatting. These are details a meticulous director pays attention to and proves once more that Soderbergh takes control of both his on-screen but also off-screen narrative – everything happening inside and outside the frame.

Stay safe!

Mother/Android (2021): Drama/Sci-fi/Thriller

A pregnant woman and her boyfriend seek a safe place to survive the uprising of the androids that have eliminated most of the human world.

Hollywood’s post-apocalyptic attempt to thrill, doesn’t hit the spot. I’m gonna keep this deliberately short. The good news is Chloë Grace Moretz. Moretz was born to become an actress thus, she is amazing no matter what kind of film she’s in. Even in films such as the Shadow in the Cloud (2020): https://kaygazpro.com/2021/01/20/shadow-in-the-cloud-2020-action-horror-war/ that had a great premise and incredibly poor development (mother against monsters vs mother against androids).

Everything else is a three-act free-fall to solid concrete. Producer/writer/director Mattson Tomlin’s film lacks the understanding of both the apocalyptic and the post-apocalyptic stage. Simple as! There is nothing more to it. It is an underwhelming idea of what would have happened if androids rebelled against the species that created them. James Cameron succeeded in providing that version of our future about thirty-eight years ago and has yet to be surpassed.

Admittedly, some handheld shots work really well, but it is the narrative that doesn’t. Other than androids’ predicament, certain human decisions and actions are far beyond understanding, such as nine-month pregnant Georgia’s decision to save Sam. That defies all wrongs of decision-making ever made in the human history of wrongs. Yeah, that much sense it makes! And I will not even get started on the countless plotholes. Shame, really. But I insist on Moretz’s amazing performance (at everything she’s in).

Stay safe!

P.S. To every aspiring screenwriter out there – including me: Producers who constantly claim they seek perfection, innovation, and uniqueness in your scripts in order to consider it… they are lying!

The Art of Self-Defense (2019): Action/Comedy/Crime

A socially awkward and self-doubting young man decides to join an eccentric dojo after being attacked on the street.

Awkward, sarcastic, dark, misleadingly funny, but disturbingly dramatic under the surface. The Art of Self-Defense is a case study from numerous aspects, and choosing that particular martial art as a means to “prove” it, brings a questionable and head-scratching outcome. Here it goes…

As per IMDb, writer/director Riley Stearns also trains and teaches Brazilian jiu-jitsu. The picture on the dojo’s wall is of Grandmaster Morihei Ueshiba Osensei, the founder of aikido. In the same dojo, Sensei (Alessandro Nivola) while respecting Osensei and preaching his ways, he teaches Karate. Taking for granted that Stearns knows they are three different martial arts and that he doesn’t undermine his audience’s intelligence, I come to the conclusion that the mix-up is deliberately placed there, and more particularly, in Casey’s head.

Other than the martial arts, there are quite a few things that don’t add up. Without any spoilers, that particular punch at the office in regard to the extremely mild consequences, the answering machine’s message, the night class, the characters comprising it, the normally accepted old-fashioned patriarchy and misogyny, the dog(s) and how that relates to the film’s denouement, the Sensei himself… These, and a lot more, don’t connect properly in the end, leading me to believe that Stearns follows a “Lynchian” way of storytelling.

I can’t say a lot more, and I don’t want to, really. Stearns has created a dark psychological comedy/drama that you’ll either love it or loathe it. Expect surrealistic reactions and events that, when thought of in a real-case scenario, they would create emotional contradictions. Jesse Eisenberg, Alessandro Nivola, and Imogen Potts impress with the way they choose to conceal, implode and explode their emotions, delivering the unpredictable performances the obscure narrative demands. I hope you appreciate it.

Stay safe!

P.S. Eisenberg and Potts collaborated again the same year in yet another allegorical/psychological film that deserves your attention. Vivarium (2019): https://kaygazpro.com/2020/03/31/vivarium-2019-horror-mystery-sci-fi/

Every Secret Thing (2014): Crime/Drama/Mystery

A little girl’s disappearance makes a detective focus her investigation on two young women who just came out of prison for killing a baby seven years prior to that.

Thrilling, yet something missing. I believe a story is as good as one tells it. The inciting incident, the death of an infant at the hands of two young girls is powerful and the foundation of a nightmare that terrifies the parents the same way the boogeyman terrifies the kids. The second missing girl, right after the girls’ release from prison, now eighteen years old, makes your heart skip a bit, turning it into a dark “whodunit” that makes the audience constantly wonder which of the two may have done it – if it’s one of them.

Everyone immediately involved with the case carries a cross that leaves an awful stigma in their soul that cannot be removed. The girls, Alice Manning (Danielle Macdonald) and Ronnie Fuller (Dakota Fanning) for doing back then what they did. Mrs. Manning (Diane Lane) for even walking around town when everyone knows what her daughter had done. Detective Nancy Porter (Elizabeth Banks) who found the first baby, got mentally traumatised, and now relives the horror once more, not knowing if she’ll get redemption or deeper scars.

The plot gives the chance to everyone to unfold their point of view that sticks to “facts” that are merely their personal interpretation of a twisted reality looping in their head – with the exception of Detective Porter. She is the one who has to read between the lines of the rest call “truth” and find out what has happened to the little girl before it’s too late.

Based on Laura Lippman’s novel, Every Secret Thing is a gripping “race against time” drama/thriller from writer Nicole Holofcener, director Amy Berg, and producer Frances McDormand that, even though it’s not without faults, it manages to get your attention and sustain it till the very end. Having said that, Berg decided not to invest too much in the drama surrounding this horrifying situation and that works against the suspense’s build-up. I believe that taking the time to shift the focus, every now and then, to the characters’ personal moments it would give the audience an inner view of why everyone acts the way they do. In addition, that would work well with the flashbacks.

Regardless, it deserves a watch as all actresses are very charismatic and each and every one of them contribute to the aforementioned thrill.

Stay safe!

The Wind (2018): Horror/Mystery/Thriller

A tragic event makes a woman not be able to distinguish what is real and what isn’t in a secluded house, in the Western frontier of the late 1800s.

The opening sequence’s protracted shots, the abrupt cuts, the non-linear narrative, and the soundtrack that accompanies them are elements of indie films that, when used appropriately, can tell a story in an unconventional way that has the potential to defy the usual Hollywood standards (clichés). The Wind starts off that way and its plot unfolds in three different timelines. Even though dissimilar in duration, their forceful impact leaves a mark for a variety of reasons.

How that impact will affect us is subjective so, as objectively as humanly possible, I will only comment on the filmmaking techniques and the metaphor it carries. Apart from the techniques mentioned above, the Dutch angles (diagonal shots), certain jump scares, and the when and how the flashbacks are used add to the film’s quality and make you contemplate what is happening and when is happening as the story progresses. The Wind is the feature debut for director Emma Tammi as well for writer Teresa Sutherland, who, both of them, bring to life a western/horror that is not cut and dry. Is it metaphysical? Is it paranormal? Is it psychological? It will inevitably confuse you, but simultaneously, will intrigue you, make you think twice, and question everything you will have seen until the end credits start rolling down. Caitlin Gerard, Ashley Zukerman, Julia Goldani Telles, and Dylan McTee believe in Tammi’s vision and deliver convincing performances, but most credits have to go to Gerard carrying the horror on her shoulders

For no specific reason, I had high hopes about this one, and, in the end, I loved it. The open ending leaves numerous possibilities for interpretation and you may switch your TV off, but your mind will want to reexamine the scattered clues left for you from beginning till end. The Wind is a low-budget film that incredibly utilises every penny invested in it. A must-watch for every mind-bending horror fan out there.

For spoilers, please, have a look at the separate section below. Read only AFTER you watch it!

Stay safe!

P.S. Think carefully which “tragic event” I am referring to in the logline.

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SPOILER ALERT!

The clues that will, potentially, help you make up your mind, or, at least, point you in the right direction are the following:

  • Maybe she lost a child, maybe she didn’t.
  • Her washing line has only women’s clothing – maybe she never had a husband, or if she did it was before her journey there.
  • Similarly, the reverent may have never visited her. She didn’t know him even though he was (probably) the first person she met upon arriving there – he gave her the demon booklet.
  • Respectively, maybe the neighbours never existed and all of them were people who she may had met on her way there and fictitiously constructed stories about them.
  • Incidents that further indicate that she is not mentally well are the following: The goat and the wolves pose equal threat to her, she carries a very specific drug (opioid?) in a box that comes in frequently handy, in the end she is not stabbed, then seen on a bed in the middle of nowhere, and then on the ground.

You can approach it, I believe in two ways:

1. By explaining it in a similar manner to other American, early-settlement mysteries, such as the lost colony of Roanoke Island.

2. As one oneiric (dreamy, even though “nightmarish” might be more appropriate) sequence of a woman who succumbed to her mental traumas, and loneliness and isolation only unbearably added to her unfathomable pain. Having said that, she maybe even never made it to any house, suffering on her own, constantly descending to paranoia, in the middle of nowhere.

Ghostbusters: Afterlife (2021): Adventure/Comedy/Fantasy

Facing financial difficulties, a single mum, daughter of an original Ghostbuster, and her two kids move to a small town and reconnect with their legacy when they have to face a powerful entity.

Nostalgic, respectful, funny, and beautifully unrealistic! With E.T. the Extraterrestrial (1982) leading the way to Stranger Things (2016 – ) – 40 years, come to think about it – the use of children in sci-fi/fantasy adventure is constantly on demand. Of course, that journey started with The Wizard of Oz (1939), followed by Alice in Wonderland (1951) and then later productions, but postmodern cinema follows Spielberg’s example as seen by numerous films and series that followed his critically acclaimed classic that unprecedentedly (then) smashed the box office.

Ghostbusters: Afterlife brings back to the silver screen that nostalgia that Stranger Things brought prior to it to our tellies. If you think that Finn Wolfgard (Trevor) is coincidentally in both of them you are wrong as, in one episode, he was dressed up as a Ghostbuster and writer/director Jason Reitman became aware of it. Reitman is the son of Ivan Reitman who directed both Ghostbusters (1984/1989) and dedicated his film to Harold Ramis (Egon Spengler). His film is officially the third installment and is the worthy successor of the previous two.

On IMDb, the production details scroll down about a mile so, here’s how it is in a nutshell… all kids have an amazing chemistry between them. Finn Wolfgard, the extremely talented McKenna Grace, Logan Kim, and Celeste O’Connor gracefully take up the torch and proudly put the uniforms on. Before getting suited and booted, Reitman’s plot solidly binds them together, and, after they do, they offer the laughter and thrill the Ghostbusters were meant to offer. Carrie Coon and Paul Rudd complete the main cast as reckless adults who are worst than the kids.

On a personal note, Hollywood might be offering now the racial variety it should have offered decades ago, but it still proves to be exploiting rather than doing it for equality and diversity. I’ve delved into it numerous times so, I won’t go through it again. Just ask yourselves this: from the main cast, is there anyone who couldn’t as well be a fragrance or fashion model? Right… We still have a long way to go!

Anyway, all cast and crew deserve a humongous round of applause as the result exceeds the vast majority’s expectations. Excellent punch lines and adventurous sequences fill a couple of hours of your life, taking your mind off pandemics, volcanoes, tsunamis, or other morbid news from around the globe.

Stay safe!

People Like Us (2012): Comedy/Drama

After his dad dies, a man is obliged to give a large amount of money to a sister he never knew he had.

Based on a real drama, it evokes the right emotions despite its Hollywood style. Sales… Right off the bat, you get the pressure of selling and then selling some more in a fast-paced montage that increases the tension. And, in the end, for what? When Sam (Chris Pine) and Richards (Jon Favreau) meet, you get instantly the answer. Sales…

Anyway, when the pace slows down, the drama kicks in and starts speaking volumes of who Sam is, and what kind of a relationship him and his family have, revealing the complications with the people considered to be the closest to him. But the pace picks up again with Frankie’s introduction (Elizabeth Banks), offering an upbeat rhythm that relaxes the drama, adds the right comedic elements with her charm, and gets you comfortable in your couch wanting to see where this is heading and how it is going to end up. The hero’s journey begins with the question, how is he going to tell her?

There are plenty of montage sequences that can be characterised as too “American”, making it somewhat a “popcorn” flick, but, personally, I wasn’t distracted by it. The film’s narrative has two major qualities: As audience you know as much as Sam knows and that is enough to elevate the suspense because we already know that one thing that Frankie doesn’t. Additionally, the delay of resolution only perpetuates the inevitable and adds to the already intensified suspense, giving you enough time to contemplate the depth of the situation everyone is in.

When I first watched it, I found it difficult to believe that the people who wrote it and directed it, Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman respectively, are the same people behind blockbuster franchises, such as Transformers and Star Trek. I didn’t think they could pull off a drama like this, but I was pleasantly surprised I might say.

Based on true events, People Like Us finds a place in out hearts, and, despite its flaws, Chris Pine, Elizabeth Banks, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Olivia Wilde compensate plenty enough and what they are going through, in the end, becomes the relatable sweet and sour story that was promised in the first act. Have a go at it, you won’t regret it. It’ll put a smile on your face as much as it’ll bring you tears.

Lastly, Elizabeth Banks has no reason to get political because she is losing her charm and charisma as an actress. She is very talented and appreciated despite the couple of hits and misses that she has faced. She is a diverse actress and I believe she can take on a variety of roles, actually, on whatever studios land on her plate.

Stay safe!

My Heart Can’t Beat Unless You Tell It To (2020): Drama/Horror

Two older siblings take care of the younger one in a way that consumes them both physically and mentally.

Slow-burn, indie horror that invests in both character and story development. The gritty opening sequence captures the audience’s attention and promises a certain level of brutality. It’s not what it looks like though. From the beginning till (almost) the end, the film does not appeal to our emotions. Acts I and II feel emotionless, as the only one who exhibits some kind of emotions is the younger one, Thomas. But, writer/director Jonathan Cuartas aims exactly for that. What the siblings have been going through for who knows how long for, has exhausted them; it has drained their lives.

Surely, using the word “drain” is somewhat ironic given what it has been revealed they are doing, and even though we think we know why they are doing it, the fact that it is not been disclosed to us, it effectively builds up the suspense and makes us wonder when and how it will be revealed, as well as how this dark journey is going to end.

The film doesn’t try to fool anyone. It is a nano-budget project that tells a very specific story. Despite the budgetary constrains, Cuartas and the leading cast, Patrick Fugit, Ingrid Sophie Schram, and Owen Campbell give heart and soul to the project and lead you to a melancholic third act that matches the (inarguably depressing) previous two. Definitely not an uplifting film and most definitely not for everyone.

Credits should also be given to the director of photography, Michael Cuartas for the meticulous mise-en-scène throughout the film and composer Andrew Rease Shaw for the haunting music on these selected sequences. Last but not least, to the film editor T.J. Nelson for not only controlling incredibly the pace and rhythm but for something else as well. Even though ‘montage’ is often characterised as ‘editing’, it is, arguably, an oversimplification. There are numerous kinds of montage that serve different purposes, the narrative’s purposes. One kind is the ‘sequential analytical montage’ where what is revealed is the beginning of an action and the end of it. When you get to see the end, your mind fills the gaps with what happened in between. For example, if you see in one shot two cars speeding up against one another and in the next shot the two cars crashed onto each other, you can picture in your head how it happened. Orrrrrrr, when you see in one shot someone who his throat is about to be slit and in the next shot an amount of blood been stored and served…

Stay safe!

Dead Man Walking (1995): Crime/Drama

When a nun receives a letter of support from a convicted murderer on Death Row, she needs to find a way to comfort him as well as the victims’ families.

Heavy real drama, supported by incredible acting. Dead Man Walking starts off with the beginning of a tough relationship between Sister Helen Sejean and the convicted murderer on Death Row Matthew Poncelet. Coming from totally different backgrounds and currently being on opposite sides of the fence, this short-term relationship is meant to be tough; like no other relationship before it. And as if the plot is not morbidly unbearable, the subplot, how Sister Sejean deals with the heavy hits she receives, supports the plot and further burdens on her and the audience’s soul.

There are some extremely short straws handed in this story: The two kids who got brutally murdered, their parents who suffer their unspeakable loss, Matthew’s family who suffers the consequences of his unspeakable action, Matthew himself who suffers for reasons you’ll get to know in the end, and, last but not least, Sister Sejean who stands right in the middle of it. It is through her, that we get to experience everyone’s pain, and, ironically, the only person (except for the audience) who gets to experience hers is the person responsible for the inhumane acts and who is about to die. Sister Sejean burdens everyone’s suffering in her soul, in an attempt to help everyone involved find peace in their hearts.

Based on Sister Helen Sejean’s homonymous book “Dead Man Walking”, writer/director Tim Robbins brings to life the shattering and soul-crashing real drama/horror that cost the life of two young people and ruined the lives of so many around them. Watching it in the cinema back then, on a VHS a few years later, or on Blu-ray now, I must admit that it has been equally hard. Dead Man Walking is a heavy drama, paying respect to the audience’s intelligence without trying to proselytise, judge, or point you in any particular political or religious direction. Tim Robbins and Sean Penn were nominated for the Oscar, and Susan Sarandon got it.

Not that I have run out of newer films to watch, but every now and then I enjoy going back to films that made me love cinema as a kid and get a first cinematic view of the world that I got to know – more like, still get to know. I might not be well known for my religious beliefs, but no matter what the reason is, anyone helping or trying to help a fellow human being is a person I want to help achieve it.

Stay safe!

Real Steel (2011): Action/Drama/Sci-fi

In the year 2020, where robot boxing is the main sports event, an ex-boxer and his estranged son discover a robot that has the potential to win fights, but also bring them closer.

Redemption, salvation, and hope in an adventure for the whole family! This is Hollywood adventure at its best! Behind the cameras, wearing the director’s hat, Shawn Levy, and wearing the producers’ hat, Robert Zemeckis and Steven Spielberg create a wonderful and inspiring story, for kids and adults alike. Based on the short story by Richard Matheson, John Gantis’ screenplay focuses on the estranged father/son relationship, and through robot boxing, the journey of reconciliation. Atom becomes the Deus ex machina of hope for them two and, consequently, for all of us who have stopped or forgot looking for it. The “David vs Goliath” fight is as old as the Bible, and, to his day, it still inspires, again, kids and adults alike, to face our fears and keep walking regardless of what life throws at us. The “delay of resolution” narrative technique fits perfectly here as both the story and character development unfold in an old-fashioned way, avoiding gimmicks, easy ways out, and yawnsome obstacles that stagnate the story.

Hugh Jackman and Dakota Goyo make an incredible father-son duo, Anthony Mackie, Hope Davis, the late James Rebhorn, and Kevin Durand complete the fantastic cast but… Evangeline Lilly is the one who lights up the room every time she’s in the shot. Her acting simply evokes all the intended emotions and her appearance is just mesmerising. Another special reference deserves the film’s editor Dean Zimmerman who spots the solid acting, isolates those responses, and places them exactly where they need to be placed to amplify the suspense, but also the drama. When you get a chance to watch it – or re-watch it – pay attention to the final battle between Atom and Zeus and see how these reactions within the action enhance the passion. When and how often he cuts to each character, but also how long he cuts to them makes the whole difference in the world. I’m not gonna bore you with it, and don’t really pay too much attention as you’ll miss the most important part; the story itself.

Probably my favourite Shawn Levy film, as much as I’m fond of all of his films in general. Definitely worth a watch and re-watch. With a plague hovering over our heads for over two years now, any inspiration is welcome.

Stay safe!

P.S. From the simplest boxing moves to the “rope-a-dope” technique, was all supervised by Sugar Ray Leonard himself.

The Matrix Resurrections (2021): Action/Sci-fi

Mr. Anderson lives an unfulfilled life, but glimpses of a different reality make him question what is real, what isn’t, and if he should follow once again the white rabbit.

Sour wine in a new, unmarketable bottle. Films that have impressively elaborated on the human consciousness, so far, involve, but are not limited to: Koyaanisqatsi (1982), Dark City (1998), The Thirteen Floor (1999), Inception (2010), Sucker Punch (2011), and, of course, the original Matrix Trilogy (1999 – 2003). Again, to name but a few. In The Matrix Resurrections it becomes clear that the Matrix, for the people still living in the Matrix, was just a game and the person who designed the game was no other than Thomas Anderson – a game designer working for a major company. In a meeting they have, the company’s CEO establishes that their parent company, the entertainment conglomerate corporation WarnerMedia will go ahead for the “Matrix 4” game with or without them. “Originality” becomes the key point of the meeting. Ironically, this is exactly what The Matrix Resurrections lacks. In a nutshell, and spoiler-free summary here are the major issues that The Matrix Resurrections suffers from:

  • Agent Smith has been upgraded to incomprehensible levels while his personality has been degraded – no disrespect to Jonathan Groff as it is his character development’s fault, and not his. If Hugo Weaving was offered the role, I can see why he gave it a pass.
  • The Analyst goes from God level to b*tch level within a few sequences so he left me utterly bamboozled; a shocking inconsistency. Between him and the Architect, there’s no comparison whatsoever. Again, not the actor’s fault (you’ll see who).
  • Morpheus is a pure downgrade. Remember the original Morpheus’ inspirational speech in Zion. If yes, stick to the memory, nothing like it here. Understandable why Laurence Fishburne had nothing to do with it (even though his answer was cryptic).
  • Io: Again, remember the wild dance (and sex) in Zion after Morpheus’ speech? Io develops no connection with the audience whatsoever.
  • Neo’s and Trinity’s chemistry, albeit existing, it is constricted by the narrative’s shallowness.
  • The choreography and fighting styles not only don’t stand out, but also look fake. Everyone just fights the same way. One style fits all. Especially, given that Keanu Reeves is portraying John Wick, the fight choreographer should have paid a lot more attention to the details.
  • Remember, upon the original trilogy’s release, how many of us ran to the music stores to buy the soundtracks’ CD’s? Well, this is not the case here either.

I feel I need to stop before I annihilate everything about it. The bottom line is that nothing is memorable. It is actually forgettable. Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Ann Moss age like a good wine, but I wish I could say the same thing about the film itself. If anything stood out at all, that is Bugs! Jessica Yu Li Henwick should get all the praise. It feels like she is the only one who goes the extra mile for what she says and does, and her effort is my only takeaway after the end credits start scrolling down.

Films are products of their time. Lana Wachowski’s The Matrix Resurrections does not only lack originality, it also lacks the original trilogy’s mysticism. It provides answers too soon, too fast, to trivial questions compared to what the original Matrix (1999) raised back then. It lacks the original characters’ authenticity and passion, and it lacks the narrative’s existential philosophy.

Warner Bros has been following a very dangerous distribution technique with its affiliated company HBO, distributing to both cinemas and HBO Max simultaneously. I guess as long as their parent company’s (AT&T) stock goes up, they don’t care as much for the films themselves. Welcome to the business of art. Or, is it the art of business…

Stay safe!

Don’t Look Up (2021): Comedy/Drama/Sci-fi

In a good news/bad news situation, two relatively unknown astronomers discover a comet, but they also go the extra mile to let everyone know that is going to hit the Earth.

Hilarious, depressing, and ultimately illuminating! Don’t Look Up cuts straight to the chase. A comet is about to hit the earth and the government and people are in la-la land. For the first half an hour, I was wondering when the comedy will stop overshadowing the drama. But when all characters and events were presented, I realised that this comedy will be camouflaging the drama throughout. Aristophanes “gave birth” to comedy in Athens, in times where his city was suffering under the Spartan siege. “Satire”, “farce” and “parody” are elements of comedy that ridicule and criticise people, society, and governments with the intention to raise awareness, but also educate. And this is the kind of comedy Don’t Look Up is.

The government is a joke and the majority of the people they represent even more so. Writer/director Adam McKay condenses quite a few messages into his film, but shows without telling that politics, social media, and tabloid are more important than life itself. Stupid shows and hosts, indifferent pop role models, and scandalous and moronic politicians all develop as part of the subplot that supports the comedy behind the horrific and dramatic plot, namely the extinction-level event that only surfaces the human buffoonery.

I particularly liked the parts that served as mockery to, additionally, certain Hollywood apocalyptic films, capitalism, and the influence of lobbies on our society and government. The part that I particularly didn’t like was Ariana Grande’s concert sequence that, in my opinion, cherished one of the things it successfully managed to trivialise minutes earlier; the indifferent pop role models. I can understand the antithesis it tried to create with the “rednecks”, but, for me, it ended up contradicting itself. Of course, the best part is actually the end. For obvious reasons, I cannot disclose it but it is surely the appropriate denouement of the two-hour laughter and thrill that preceded it.

McKay always manages somehow to assemble incredible cast – here, five Oscar winners and two Oscar nominees: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep, Cate Blanchett, Jonah Hill, Mark Rylance, and Timothée Chalamet. With them, Rob Morgan and Ron Perlman complete the diverse cast.

There is so much one could say about films like this. Surely, it’s a great Netflix investment that some people will like and some people won’t. Ironically, a film that mocks capitalism/lobbyists, “influencers”, and uses a comet as a metaphor for the global warning is distributed by a colossal company and adored by social media addicts and people who could’t care less about the environment. Go figure! Maybe, “satire”, “farce” and “parody” actually describe the world we live in. I still believe there is hope though.

I very much hope you enjoy it, as well as this festive period. This is my last film review for 2021.

Stay safe!

P.S. I believe it was George Bernard Shaw who said: “If you want to tell people the truth, you’d better make them laugh or they’ll kill you.”

P.P.S. If I had to vote for the most hateable character, that would be Peter Isherwell. The things I could say about this guy… Marginally, in second place, comes Jason Orlean.

A Million Little Pieces (2018): Drama

On the brink of death, a young alcoholic and drug dependent is sent to rehab to confront his addictions, but also the demons inside him.

Realistic enough approach with no easy ways out. The opening sequence tells it all. It is the alpha and the omega of life as an addict. The beginning of life’s end as we know it. But as the addict doesn’t. Not yet. Not until they actually die.

Wrtier/director Sam Taylor-Johnson introduces James’ personal calamity in a quite graphic way, but she clearly makes her point. Upon making it though, she focuses on the calamity’s solution, the rehab, and sinks her teeth in it. The film’s strong suit is that it doesn’t make it easy; neither for the addicts involved nor for the audience. The visuals are visceral and don’t hold back because the narrative doesn’t hold back. It is restricted as it starts from the end. It is the solution’s unbearable, soul-destroying strain that starts unfolding the problem, in glimpses, backwards. Taylor-Johnson uses the days of addiction as a means to delaying the resolution. Every time the audience thinks that James is making a step forward, she brings the past to the foreground as a moment of realisation that it is not going to be as easy as we would expect it to be. Alas, we get to witness James making two steps backwards, instead.

As for writer/actor Aaron Taylor-Johnson, admittedly, he has come a long way. From Kick Ass (2010) to today, he’s proved to be a diverse actor who puts heart and soul into everything he’s been in and A Million Little Pieces is no exception. My only distraction with portraying James Frey is that his physique doesn’t match a drug addicts’ physique so chances are that he didn’t want to give it up for the role – maybe, lose a couple of pounds. His acting is strong and he does go the extra mile on camera. Beside him, you can find David Dastmalchian, Billy Bob Thornton – shocking to see him being the sober one – as his mentor, and Odessa Young as James’ fellow messed up passenger in this horrendous journey. Giovani Ribisi deserves a special mention for he keeps surprising everyone with his diverse performances. Particularly here, the things he says and does are shocking and add to the situation’s decadence. Combining the two sequences, the one in the shower and the other handing over his daughter’s number to James, his journey, with the end remaining unknown, it is still complete.

Overall, I felt for James’ journey despite the controversy that surrounded the book after the real James Frey told the truth about it (I’m not going to go into it). It is one hell of a journey or, more accurately, one journey through hell that definitely raises awareness.

I very much hope you enjoy it, as well as this festive period.

Stay safe!

P.S. Juliette Lewis and Charlie Hunnam are in it as well, but I found their presence indifferent so, I’ll refer to them when I have something nice to say.

Encounter (2021): Sci-fi/Thriller

An ex-Marine runs away with his kids in the middle of the night, in an attempt to save them from an extraterrestrial organism that takes over people.

Captivating premise, convoluted and disoriented elaboration. Very intriguing opening sequence with interesting visuals that leads only to questions. An unknown amount of people seems to have been infected by an extraterrestrial organism that arrived on Earth inside an asteroid. The connection between that and the reason why Malik has taken the kids, although it makes sense, or should makes sense, is a head-scratcher. That is because the information is being given, at first, in a disjointed way.

Answers kept coming as the narrative unfolded, but I couldn’t help but notice the mixed feelings I’ve had during the process. It felt like while things were happening nothing was happening. The soundtrack, the sound levels, Malik’s relationship with his boys, the subplot’s connection to the plot… The latter, especially, confronts, contrasts, even contradicts the initial questions, something that raises yet another question: How bad is he? I say no more about the events, as spoilers are not allowed.

Once all answers are given, the uncertainty and confusion are been instantly replaced by transparency, and while that is meant to happen, that fact that the fog gets dissolved instantly, it disrupts the pace and rhythm. I can’t say with certainty if it’s the script that’s causing it or the editing, but I’ll go with the script. Writer Joe Barton and writer/director Michael Pearce raise ambiguous feelings while developing both the characters and the story and, admittedly, Jed Kurzel’s original music, albeit atmospheric, it interacts with the visuals in a way that… cancels out the intended feelings. Which, in all honesty, I am not sure what they were meant to be. This ambiguity reflects on Riz Ahmed’s and Octavia Spencer’s performances who look as bewildered about their utterances and actions.

If I had to put my finger on, I would say that the major cause of this is the epidermic approach of what is happening to (or with?) Malik. Again, I can’t anymore. Have a look for yourselves. I don’t regret watching it, but I’m glad I didn’t have any expectations. Maybe, you’ll feel differently.

I hope you enjoy it, as well as this festive period.

Stay safe!

Dead End (2003): Adventure/Horror/Mystery

A family’s trip to the in-laws on Christmas Eve becomes a nightmare in the middle of an endless, eerie forest.

Dead End is so bad that is amazing! Dead End is cult! Dead End belongs to the pantheon of Christmas horrors for numerous reasons. Let’s see… In Dead End, you get to experience the worst decisions ever made by anyone in the history of horror films. Forget about going to the basement when one hears a sound. We are talking about a series of THE most horrendous decisions you’ve ever seen. Dead End is a character-driven film so, it is the characters that move the story forward; people that you definitely don’t want to be next to you if you were to experience any horrific situation. From a filmmaking point of view, it often looks like a student project, but given the narrative’s development, I don’t think anyone should pay serious attention to how writers/directors Jean-Baptiste Andrea and Fabrice Canepa have made it. The jump cuts are definitely the highlight though.

Regardless of how I have described it so far, we need to keep in mind that Dead End has turned 18 and, maybe, that’s why it feels outdated. It could have easily been an episode of The Twilight Zone (1959) so, in the end, most of what’s been said and done kind of makes sense. Ray Wise and Lin Shaye (veteran in horror films) are a great on-screen, fighting couple and both of them perform brilliantly. Alexandra Holden and Amber Smith captivate with their presence.

If you are looking for something horrific yet entertaining, maybe, that’s the one for you. I very much hope you enjoy it, as well as this festive period.

Stay safe!

Winter’s Tale (2014): Drama/Fantasy/Mystery

An ostensibly ordinary thief who finds out he is gifted with a miracle falls in love with a woman who dies in his arms, and devotes his life to bringing her back.

A good, old-fashioned love story told in a modern, allegorical way. I remember watching it for the first time years ago and didn’t really get some parts, but I do remember being moved by the storytelling. Watching it now, admittedly, I got more out of it and the trick was to not pay attention to the details of how good, evil, destiny, and miracles work. It is what it is, and that is it. Once that is out of the way, the focus remains on the love story itself. Everything else mythologises our purpose on this Earth and, in a mystical way, sets the cogs of love in motion.

Jessica Brown Findlay stole the show for me as I found her utterly breathtaking. In an effort to be objective though, all performances are exceptional; Colin Farrell as a destiny seeker, Russell Crowe as a psychopathic demon, and Jennifer Connelly as an actress, a woman, and a human being. With them, Eva Marie Saint, Graham Greene, Kevin Durand, William Hurt and Will Smith complete the wonderful cast. Smith is not even on the credits and the only actor who knew about him being in the film was Crowe who shared scenes with him. Awesome stuff! I need to say how amazing I find the casting process. Crowe and Connelly have worked previously in A Beautiful Mind (2001), Crowe and Durand have worked together in Robin Hood (2010) and Noah (2014), and writer/director Akiva Goldsman with all of them in previous projects as a writer.

Goldman’s directorial debut could not be more sentimental. Steven Spielberg acquired the rights in 1983, shortly after Mark Helprin’s novel was released, Martin Scorsese was considered to direct it, and then numerous others, but, in the end, it just stayed on the shelf for years.

Even though I’ve been “accused” for being a cynic in real life (multiple times), that kind of sentimentality seems appropriate and befitting these days. Chances are that neither angels nor demons set the rules on why, how, or how long we should live on this planet, and the same applies for destiny and miracles, but when I remember the phrase “what we know is a drop, what we don’t know is an ocean” I drown my cynicism into that ocean and enjoy possibilities however unreasonable they might seem.

It’s Christmas time, in the middle of the pandemic, so we need as many miracles and help as we can get. From wherever or whoever that may be.

I very much hope you enjoy it, as well as this festive period. Happy Christmas!!!

Stay safe!

Black Christmas (2006): Horror

On Christmas Eve, a group of sorority girls are getting murdered one by one by an escaped psychopath who used to live in their house as a kid.

Blood, gore, incest, cannibalism, and sexualised females all up for the Christmas spirit. What can I say… Black Christmas is the poster child of standard Hollywood horror films that leave nothing to the imagination. All information is dumbed down and fully explained and that speaks volumes regarding the audience it aims to address. Based on Roy Moore’s 1974 original script, writer/director Glen Morgan creates a film that does a colossal disservice to the original film, and unfortunately, drags everything and everyone down with him. IMDb classifies it just as horror, but the comedic elements cannot be hidden, but if they were not meant to be comedic… well, they are anyway.

I could name and number everything that is wrong with the film, but I won’t. It will be like kicking down a film that has already suffered atrocious reviews and Morgan himself paid a very heavy price making this film. The only actress who made a successful career after Black Christmas is Mary Elizabeth Winstead who, to this day, proves to be an absolute gem. Don’t take my word for it though, see Kate (2021): https://kaygazpro.com/2021/11/01/kate-2021-action-adventure-crime/. Personally, I find Yan-Kay Crystal Lowe a gem that needs a lot more spotlight.

Reportedly, Morgan disowned his own film and blamed the Weinstein brothers for it. If anything, that’s the only reason I’m glad it didn’t do well. Out of the four Christmas horrors I reviewed this festive period, this one comes by far fourth, with:

I hope you enjoy this festive period! Stay safe!

Krampus (2015): Comedy/Drama/Fantasy

While the whole extended family has gathered, a boy condemns Christmas and unwillingly summons the demon of the festive period.

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989) goes dark in 20′! Funny opening sequence with everyone desecrating the Christmas spirit leads to the troubled family at hand and the visit of their extended family that immediately amplifies the troubles. The comedy element so far prevails and the kid’s wish becomes the necessary plot point that switches it to horror. Interestingly, IMDb does not classify Krampus as horror, but I’m sure if any of our families were involved in a remotely similar situation, it would be.

The moment the demon is introduced, Krampus turns really dark, eerie, and atmospheric, offering immediately the vibe of hopeless and desolating Christmas. Writer/director Michael Dougherty, the man behind Trick ‘r Treat (2007) https://kaygazpro.com/2019/10/31/trick-r-treat-2007-comedy-horror/ manages once more to get into the spirit of the respective festive period and entertains us with balanced laughter, family gore and the incarnation of the brutal Austrian/German pagan demon and his minions. Evil teddy bear-type toys, angel ornaments, a Jack-in-a box (that swallows kids), a robot, and numerous gingerbread cookie monsters offer pleasurable cinematic deaths and keep you company for over an hour and a half.

Personally, my favourite sequence is Omi’s animated flashback. This is the kind of storytelling Tim Burton would be proud of. It is heartbreaking and annihilates human nature. Its message that the adults pass on the torch of darkness to the kids, and they carry it on only to do the same with theirs, cuts my breath.

What the narrative’s evilness achieves, is both likeable and dislikeable characters to become relatable to the audience. You cannot help but empathise even for the suffering of those who, at first, you wouldn’t mind if they got rid of from the beginning. No one, especially around Christmas, deserves to experience such family-level brutality. And this is where the “success” of films like Krampus are based on: Christmas spirit massacre with a paradoxical message of hope. Pay close attention to the ending as there are two ways to interpret it. Which one do you choose?

So… Does Christmas romance depress you? Do Christmas comedies bore you? Does Christmas drama leave you indifferent? Well, try Christmas horror/comedy. Try Krampus! The answer to what if Santa went rogue (we’ve seen with Superman already).

I very much hope you enjoy it, as well as this festive period.

Stay safe!

P.S. While watching the opening slo-mo sequence with everyone busting in and fighting over Christmas stuff like it’s the end of the world, I couldn’t help but imagine people in 2020 and toilet paper. You know what I mean…

Office Christmas Party (2016): Comedy

In an attempt to save the company’s branch from shutting down, its manager decides to close a deal by throwing a party that is blown out of proportion.

Watched it for the third time and found it as hilarious! Act I: Every sequence is an introduction to the most surrealistic employee and manager you’ve ever met in your life! The plot point? Have a forbidden party that will seal the deal with the man who is going to save their company! This steadily-paced first act lights up the fuse of a satirical bomb that is about to explode.

Act II: The ostensibly boring party gets started and this is where the calm before the storm begins. Admittedly, the fuse seems to be burning and burning for a while, with funny lines, shenanigans and other minor unexpected circumstances, but that is only the delay of the inevitable. The first part’s editing is considerably slower than the second as the premise of the party needs to be fully introduced. The snow machine, the Game of Thrones‘ Iron Throne, the decorations, the booze, the trolleys, the staff, Jesus, the reindeer and horses… So, when the fuse is burnt, everything is blown out of proportion! Eating, drinking, making out, printing off genitalia, throwing offices out of the window, reindeer drinking water from the toilets, orgies all over, burning the place down… That is THE Christmas office party all of us wish we could have been in (and, arguably, keep on working there after). Of course, act III is the expected and unsurprising resolution, but Office Christmas Party promises a lot of laughter and not twists. The finale is befitting and just settles the intended scores.

Directors/producers Josh Gordon and Will Speck, bring to life the script of Justin Malen, Laura Solon, and Dan Mazer in the most Christmas-y dirty way possible. Jason Bateman, Olivia Munn, T.J. Miller, Jennifer Aniston, Kate McKinnon, Courtney B. Vance, Jillian Bell, Rob Corddry, Vanessa Bayer, Randall Park, Karan Soni, Jamie Chung, and all the rest of the cast and crew shine on camera, and show no remorse for, arguably, their funniest appearances. Bateman is one of a kind; it is unbelievable that it is the same guy who is in front and behind the camera in Ozark (2017 – 2022). I take my hat off to him. That was, by the way his fifth collaboration with Jennifer Aniston.

But, I will leave my hat off for the editors Jeff Groth and Evan Henke. Always remember, what you see is the final cut of a film that has numerous takes and numerous angles with numerous parameters to take into consideration when choosing, finally, the ‘right’ one. Christmas Office Party is inundated with funny lines, and performances. By finding the ‘right’ cut at the ‘right’ moment during or after the line, but also thinking of the actor’s/actress’ performance is… hell! When the speaker speaks the line and when the editor cuts to the reaction of the listener, and for how long after the line is art! Small part of my research is on that but, I’m only giving some food for thought.

I very much hope you enjoy it, as well as this festive period.

Stay safe!

P.S. Upon wrapping up, all furniture and props (that remained intact) were donated to the Furniture Bank of Metro Atlanta which donated them to homeless people and people having suffered from domestic violence and move into stable housing (source: IMDb).

The Protege (2021): Action/Crime/Thriller

When her mentor gets murdered, an assassin seeks revenge for the people behind the hit.

Entertaining, yet nothing innovative. I don’t really like to badmouth films, but here we are. Especially, the ones that decent effort has been put into them. I’ll start with some positive feedback: Maggie Q. Maggie Q has proved to be a diverse actress, seen in dramas, action/adventures, even horrors. Her acting skills extend beyond her fighting or modeling skills and when the role demands it she rises to the occasion.

Unfortunately, The Protege is not one of these occasions. Director Martin Campbell, after two James Bond films and numerous other successful (or not) action/thrillers does not meet, in my humble opinion, today’s standards. The story itself is a cliché, with nothing substantial to offer to the genre, and the characters feel under-developed. Personally, I didn’t relate with anyone and everything felt like a déjà vu from Luc Besson’s early films to today.

I’ve said it before numerous times about action films and I’ll say it again: From the moment films like John Wick (2014) and Atomic Blonde (2017) were released, the bar has been raised too high. Long shots is, partially, what cinematic realism stands for. And even though it is an extremely lengthy debate, the argument here is well-established: The action needs to be coherent, it has to be clear, and it has to have duration in order to be believable and be perceived as ‘real’. The director needs to work with the fight coordinator, the actors, and the stunts in preproduction so, during principal photography, everyone knows where they need to stand, where they need to land, and develop the hand-to-hand combat. The editing does not cut it anymore – pun intended. The editing needs to establish the continuity, not in every technique or counter-technique, but when the narrative demands it. Therefore, the info on the poster “From the studio that brought you John Wick…” sounds somewhat ironic. The film features Samuel L. Jackson and Michael Keaton but, as with the rest of the performances, don’t expect much.

Unfortunately again, the narrative here is something almost everyone has seen before, lowering the excitement levels to underground levels. Shame, really.

Stay safe!

Antlers (2021): Drama/Horror/Mystery

In a quiet town in rural Oregon, a troubled middle-school teacher and her sheriff brother investigate a series of brutally murdered people only to be led to the awakening of an ancient creature.

Drama, horror, and mystery in a perfect balance! I’ve been waiting for this film for a long time! Three years to be precise! With Scott Cooper behind the camera – Crazy Heart (2009), Out of the Furnace (2013), Black Mass (2015), Hostiles (2017) – Keri Russell, and Jesse Plemons in front of the camera, and, among others, David S. Goyer and Guillermo Del Toro wearing the producers’ hat, how could I not. And the waiting was well worth it! It’s a case where Hollywood defies its own (uptight) rules, throws the textbook away, and finally gets it right. No fast-paced editing that confuses, no cardboard cut-out characters, and above all, no unnecessary jump-scares to compensate for the lack of narrative.

Antlers is the horror you need to watch to appreciate the slow-burn character and story development that only aims to stimulate your emotions and not to undermine your intelligence. Goyer is a master of thrill (most of his DC work excluded), Del Toro is a master of storytelling, and Russell and Plemons are amazing actors. The result is exactly what you would hope for. Admittedly, I found the ending, even though not anticlimactic… a bit flat! It easily resolved a terrifying build-up. I had high hopes it amounted to something as visceral as the first and second act up to that point – pun intended. But don’t let that stand in your way.

Based upon the short story “The Quiet Boy” by Nick Antosca, Antlers, is the kind of film where the plot relies on the subplot to support it. The personal unspeakable drama supports the horror unleashed onto these people, and, even though one can exist without other as separate entities, together they combine forces, pin you down, and cut your breath with the element of unpredictability and the uncertainty of who is worse: mythical, monstrous forces… or us…

Stay safe!

Copshop (2021): Action/Crime/Thriller

A ‘fixer’ gets deliberately arrested to escape a hired killer, but when the killer does the same and both end up in opposite cells, all hell breaks loose.

Cheery, yet dark action flick with a great on-screen duo. When you see Gerald Butler and Frank Grillo (also producers here) in an action/crime/thriller, it’s meant to be promising. And it is. The first act’s light mood, even though it’s not really a smokescreen, per se, it is misleading. The mood gets darker as Viddick and Murretto unfold the story behind the reason they have both ended up in that sub-floor detention block. Successfully humorous acting precedes Lamb’s pending massacre (you’ll find out who he is) and tricks into thinking that it’s all gonna be funny one-liners. Well, I say no more…

Other than Grillo and Butler, I must emphasise on the amazing performances given by Alexis Louder, Chad L. Coleman, and Toby Huss. Their contribution makes all the difference in the world. Having said that, Copshop is one of those films that no one will talk about in the foreseeable or unforeseeable future, but… it will most definitely gets you through the night. The pace and rhythm are just about right, there is a Desperado (1995) feel, a Dirty Harry (1971) feel, and a Dollars Trilogy feel that create a modern spaghetti standoff. Writer/producer/director Joe Carnahan is an expert on fast-paced action/thrillers – Smokin’ Aces (2006), Boss Level (2020), Wheelman (2017) – and with either or all three hats on his head, manages to perfectly balance the humour, the action, and the thrill for about an hour and forty minutes.

I definitely recommend Copshop as this is the kind of fictional excitement we need from the comfort of our couch. The one outdoors is definitely the one that we neither want nor need.

Stay safe!

P.S. Carnahan is currently directing the remake of The Raid (2011), and I for one look forward to watching the final cut. And by acquiring the rights for the American film, partially, The Raid 2 (2014) was funded. Awesome stuff!

Minamata (2020): Drama

Life magazine sends photographer Eugene Smith to Japan to document the atrocious effect of mercury poisoning on the people of Minamata.

A must-see! Johnny Depp’s performance is the real deal, but this is not why you need to watch this. Let me get it out of the way because many may focus on that, but that shouldn’t be the focus point. Depp’s performance is intriguing as much it is compelling and I will add that Hiroyuki Sanada’s presence is purely explosive! Now…

The opening shot takes your breath away and keeps the hard and cruel promise it makes. Writer/Producer/Director Andrew Levitas fought tooth and nail to get Minamata released after premiering at the 2020 Berlin International Film Festival. Depp’s court case forced pushing the released date back, but the long wait was definitely worth it.

The first half an hour is about the inevitable; Eugene Smith to accept the job and live up to the name he once had. Once that is out of the picture, the struggle of Minamata’s people immediately becomes the relatable focus point, starting with the poisoned boy taking the camera off Smith’s hands. Every person affected and depicted after him becomes the audience’s struggle to breath properly as cinematographer’s Benoit Delhomme’s lens captures their unspeakable drama with respect and understanding. Every shot becomes, indeed, a thousand words of unbearable burden.

There is so much I could say about the film’s pace and rhythm, and every actor’s / actress’ devotion to the project, but I’ll deliberately generalise and claim that films like Minamata is the reason cinema exists. Cinema is entertainment but it is also, like any other form of art, the means to express the way artists perceive the world. ‘Science fiction’ holds truths about mankind with direct or subliminal messages hidden in the narrative. ‘Horror’, in its own respect, and among others, reveals sides of ourselves that we could never admit about our nature. Minamata exists to disclose both sides of mankind that disgust us, but also make us want to cry with what we can accomplish but we have yet the chance (or will) to do so.

I know these on-screen kids didn’t suffer from a disease caused by mercury, but my breath was cut short and felt like bursting into tears, nonetheless. Allowing myself to believe it though, is the kind of immense influence cinema has. Cinematic magic is the one I always allowed myself as a kid to believe in and it is the one that has made me get through life itself.

Stay safe!

V/H/S 94 (2021): Horror/Mystery/Thriller

The broadcast of a mysterious, cultish, pre-recorded VHS tape will force a SWAT team to raid a labyrinthic building that is connected to horrific events happening in numerous places.

The VHS tradition goes on with the mystery, the horror and the perversion maintained at the same levels. The structure is fascinating; a story of a horrific raid becomes the anchor for a number of interweaving stories. A monstrous deity worshiped by vagrants in the sewers of America, an undead coming out of his coffin throughout a perfect storm, a modern Indonesian Dr. Frankenstein who creates anthropoids, and a paramilitary group of white supremacists that have captured a vampire… are all connected to a raid that raises hell, defies reason, and twists the human psyche.

Each and every story has its own merits, its own quirks and foibles, and its own horrific charm. Bear in mind that all the VHS franchise is the poster child of low budget horror that solely aims to scare, always to entertain, and never to deceive. Simon Barrett, Steven Kostanski, Chloe Okuno, Ryan Prows, Jennifer Reeder, and Timo Tjahjanto put their heart and soul into it and do their best to make you forget the real-life horrors and suck you into the sphere of paranormal, paranoia, and obscure darkness.

If I were to pick something that didn’t seem befitting that is the ending. Personally, I felt a bit let down as I didn’t fully get how it came down to that, and, honestly, I was expecting something more ‘twisty’. That’s just me though. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did, can’t wait for the next one to be released.

Stay safe!

Willy’s Wonderland (2021): Action/Comedy/Horror

An eccentric, silent man of unknown origin is lured into cleaning up an abandoned funhouse, inhabited by deadly animatronics.

Great fun for some members of the family – the adults, if you didn’t get it. I mean, check the logline. Is spaghetti horror a thing? Well, writer G.O. Parsons and director Kevin Lewis most definitely treat it that way and they want to make sure that, under no circumstances, you take Willy’s Wonderland seriously. The inciting incident takes place right off the bat and The Janitor’s introduction – the one and only Nicolas Cage – promises one helluva ride. Minutes into the film, once everyone else has been introduced and you realise you don’t really care about who lives and who dies, you sit back, relax, and eagerly wait for actor and co-producer Cage to do what he does best; wreak havoc! Of course, accompanied by his amazing grimaces.

Inspired by Pale Rider (1985) and Killer Klowns from Outer Space (1988), Lewis decides to go berserk on the funhouse, turning it into a slaughterhouse of psychopathic animatronics vs a psychopathic janitor, and a group of millennials caught in the middle. Overall, I didn’t find any particular gruesome murder capable enough to stand out. Also, the comedy genre massively overshadows the horror, making one wonder how the script was green-lit to begin with. The obvious and only answer is none other than… Nicolas Cage. His co-star, Emily Tosta, has a strong presence in the film, and lightens up the shots every time she’s in. Look forward to seeing her in more projects.

Anyway, the contrast between soundtrack and visuals is the most enjoyable part of the film – and Cage, yes – and it only lasts an hour and twenty five minutes. Enough time to forget your life’s problems and go to bed.

Stay safe!

Tone-Deaf (2019): Comedy/Horror/Thriller

A woman down on her luck decides to rent a house in the countryside for the weekend only to find out that it belongs to a psychopath.

Entertaining, scary, and surrealistically crazy! I bet you’ve heard about these two types of films: character-driven and story-driven. Well, this is one helluva crazy character-driven comedy/horror by Richard Bates Jr. who did his absolute best to gather and develop characters you would only think of if you were on dope. Honestly, it’s one of them films that you don’t know how or why to suggest it to anyone, yet you do.

Like quite a few other horrors lately, Tone-Deaf (or Killer Instinct?) focuses on the Grand Canyon-size gap between the Millennials, and the old-fashioned, not politically-correct people, makes fun of both by breaking the 4th wall, and soliloquies that are meant to make you think, but also entertain you. Do they achieve that though? Yes and no. They set the foundation of contemplation but don’t delve into it and, consequently, they end up unnoticeable.

I enjoyed it for the most part, especially some anecdotal parts, such as the sequence in the Tinder guy’s place (no spoilers), but I was disappointed with the ending. I found the second act’s last dialogues childish, rushed, and out of character. Surely, that could have been improved but most definitely wasn’t. Anyway, it’s a film that will take your mind off things, Robert Patrick’s and Amanda Crew’s performances are quite enjoyable, and they make quite the team as the villain and anti-heroine respectively.

Stay Safe!

Awake (2021): Action/Adventure/Drama

When inexplicably the power goes down globally and no one can sleep, a mother is tasked to lead her daughter, the only person who can sleep, to a hub in search of a potential cure.

Suspenseful story, anticlimactic execution. I’ll cut to the chase. Gina Rodriguez does a great job as a struggling mother who does what needs to be done. Undeniable! She’s a brilliant actress and deserves a lot of praise. Actually, Rodriguez and story writer Gregory Poirier deserve all the praise in the film.

Unfortunately, the story’s development to a script and Mark Raso’s directing prove to be quite problematic. All the obstacles the mom and the kids have to face, in reality, would have been next to impossible. But in Raso’s Awake, solutions are easily found to the point of gimmick. And horror fans don’t like easy ways out.

Problems though start way before that as the global catastrophe just happens and its symptoms just spread with nothing building up in the process, keeping the suspense (just) at the lowest possible level. Once again, Rodriguez’s performance saves parts of the film, but, despite her efforts, its anticlimactic narrative damages, an otherwise, good story. Mainly, I blame Netflix! They have all the money in the world and they could have overseen the script and its plot holes before they green-lit it.

If I go on, I’ll probably start talking about the clichéd American reactions and emotional responses to certain stimuli as well as how the numbers don’t add up with the mom’s age and the kids’ and the subplot. So, I’ll stop here and hope that Raso’s next film will avoid all of the aforementioned and Rodriguez will star in an existential drama that will fully unfold her thespian skills.

Stay safe!

P.S. For a proper parent’s struggle throughout a global catastrophe (and obviously main influence of Awake), see The War of the Worlds (2005).

Old (2021): Drama/Horror/Mystery

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay safe!

Dune (2021): Action/Adventure/Drama

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay safe!

Snatchers (2019): Comedy/Horror/Sci-fi

A teenage girl has sex for the first time and wakes up the next day pregnant with an alien that wants to multiply and conquer the world.

Funny and entertaining, that’s it! Starting off with living, breathing high school clichés, I couldn’t see how this was going to be promising. Boy, am I glad to be wrong. Snatchers might not be horror per se but, as aforementioned, it is funny and highly entertaining! Mary Nepi, Gabrielle Elyse, J.J. Nolan, Austin Fryberger, Rich Fulcher, and Ashley Argota are nailing their parts and under the meticulous guidance of the directors Stephen Cedars and Benji Kleiman, who are in full control of every shot they’ve taken, and through ‘snappy’ editing, they control the narrative’s pace and rhythm throughout all acts. I know it’s not a film that has been or will be talked about, but films like Snatchers highly indicate that editing defines principal photography. In other words, postproduction starts in preproduction however convoluted that may sound.

There is so much to say about certain filmmaking details, just like the one mentioned above, but, honestly, I find no reason to implicate film theories when you can just enjoy it without my verbosity. It makes one wonder the reasons behind certain malicious reviews when, even just watching the trailer, you know what you sign up for. The script’s nonsensical trajectory makes actually sense as it adds to the non-believability which is actually intentional and slyly parodies similar actual horror films that most of us have grown up with.

To sum it up, Snatchers is great fun, especially for millennials but not only. Don’t take it seriously as, again, intentionally, it doesn’t take seriously itself. Something that I actually prefer to self-righteous and self-important films that aim to pseudo-philosophise, be wannabe didactic, or end up being pedantic. Based on the 2015, 6-minute homonymous short film by the same directors and main actors, Snatchers earns its stripes in the comedy/horror pantheon and I very much look forward to watching Kleiman’s and Cedars’ next project. Remember, the comedy-horror balance is not written on stone and it takes a whole village to be achieved.

Stay safe!

Kate (2021): Action/Adventure/Crime

A female assassin races against time to find out and kill the person who poisoned her and whoever else stands in her way.

Great fun (not) for the whole family! Bad news first: Not an original script! It’s been done before in numerous variations so, it’s not gonna shock you with the lack of authenticity. Now, for the good news…

Mary Elizabeth Winstead kicks a$$! She’s a very talented actress, an extremely gorgeous woman, and Kate proves that there is no role she cannot take on. Her performance is remarkable and I couldn’t help but notice the astonishing similarity of hers with Ripley – arguably, the greatest bada$$! Combined, later on, with the red eye and the half damaged face… (you’ll see!) Speaking of great performances, Miku Patricia Martineau deserves an extra round of applause for her incredibly brave performance! Woody Harrelson and Jun Kunimura just add quality to the film by appearing in it and no matter what I say will not make them look greater than they already are.

The fight scenes, however choreographed, are a match for the John Wick franchise and Winstead does her absolute best to add (pseudo)realism to what usually doesn’t really look convincing. My hat off to the choreographers and the stunts that make her look even greater and make something so ugly (that kind of fighting, not professional) look so beautiful.

Umair Aleem and Cedric Nicolas-Troyan manage to write and direct, respectively, a great action flick that, surprisingly, evokes the desired feelings. Now, that is authentic! To watch a film like Kate and before, during, and after the action scenes feeling, at times, your heart skip a beat and your breath short. I’ve said it numerous times, no genre can stand on its own without drama. Even comedy. Especially, comedy actually. See King of Comedy (1982) if you have any doubts. Nicolas-Troyan and Winstead will make you feel for Kate, both as a character but also a film. Highly recommended!

Stay safe!

The Night House (2020): Horror/Mystery/Thriller

After her husband dies, a woman starts dreaming of people and places that reveal secrets that should have been left buried with him.

I’ll start with the very obvious. Rebecca Hall is amazing at anything she’s in. She’s a phenomenal actress that deserves every praise. Here, she’s wearing the executive producer’s hat as well so more ‘congratulations’ are in order. On to the story now…

The best part of the film is that it slowly and gradually builds up the suspense. It spreads the “crumbs” so delicately that informs, to a certain extent misleads, while at the same, it time keeps you on your toes. See for example the moment where Beth falls asleep at Claire’s lap. The scene is haunting. And that’s just the top of the iceberg. Wait until the end and see where these “crumbs” lead. Writers Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski prepare a great finale for their already well-developed story and director David Bruckner envisions it in an, honestly, unique and original way. Bruckner seems to always find ways to project human phobias in ways that shock and mesmerise at the same time. But don’t take my word for it. Watch previous films of his, such as: VHS (2012), Southbound (2015), and The Ritual (2017) and see for yourselves. He’s a brilliant director with so much to offer to the horror genre. Can’t wait for his next project.

Definitely, go for it! It’s a refreshing change for the genre, using mainly practical effects and deviates from the standard Hollywood clichés that have damaged the horror films, thankfully, not irreparably. An extra round of applause to the actors Sarah Goldberg and Vondie Curtis-Hall for their amazing support. You will not know what to look for, this is why you will not see it coming… I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. Happy Halloween!

Stay safe!

Malignant (2021): Crime/Horror/Mystery

A woman starts having horrible nightmares that turn out to be visions of actual violent crimes that she is unwillingly involved.

Amazing opening shot followed by an hour and fifty minutes of Hollywood dumbness. I hate writing this way about films, especially horrors. I’ve said it numerous times. Horror fans might be somewhat eccentric and geeks, but we are not dumb! James Wan especially and New Line Cinema should know and respect that. Even though the story is decent, its development is dumb, the character development is beyond understanding and that should stop! Let me rephrase, it should have stopped a long time ago. “Jump scares” is a tool for narrative, not a narrative pattern to build a whole film on. Same applies for the cardboard cut out characters that no one can empathise with.

Why is it that you hear the word ‘dumb’ and its permutations again and again? Because a solid narrative does not rely on constant music to evoke the desired emotions and feelings. That applies for every genre, in this instance though, for both the drama and the horror unfolding in the story. Take Winnie for example: a Hollywood typical. Ingrid Bisu, often cast by Wan, is a wonderful woman (and actress) and she pretends to be a geek who the person who has a crush on won’t even consider looking her that way. Also, she seems like a cat person who can;t find love. PLEASE! Honestly, name one girl who looks like that, is a geek, and cannot find someone (she co-wrote it, by the way).

James Wan is a solid director, I especially love his tracking shots and his use of close-ups. It’s not enough though. Malignant’s script is full of plot holes and that shows so much more on the big screen. And no filmmaking technique or decent acting can make that right. I wish I could be less harsh on the film, but, trust me, I’m already holding my punches.

Stay safe!

P.S. OK, the prison and police station sequences were gruesomely entertaining!

Reminiscence (2021): Mystery/Romance/Sci-fi

A private investigator with access to people’s memories unfolds a conspiracy that also involves the disappearance of his beloved woman.

Interesting yet intricate plot that tells more than it shows. What has happened, but not to the full extent, becomes pretty straightforward from the very beginning. Until the inciting incident, a sci-fi, neo-noir unfolds that emphasises on nostalgia. Once it becomes clear what the story is about, the plot and the subplot become respectively unclear. I struggled to figure out which is which. One is a decent love story and the other is a decent crime one. But which one is the plot? And what are they together if both of them are the plot? Or the subplot? See the confusion?

There is a jigsaw waiting to be put in order and Hugh Jackman, Thandiwe Newton, Rebecca Ferguson and (the massively underrated) Cliff Curtis do a great job putting it together, but the film’s imbalance, and the editing’s rhythm and pace do not help. Director Lisa Joy, the woman behind Westworld (2016-2022) gets Newton and Angela Sarafyan on board and even though she did a very decent job putting it together the result was not probably exactly what she hoped for. That said, the extremely poor box office does not reflect on that result – Budget: $54,000,000 (estimated) / International Box Office: $11,900,000. You will not regret watching it so go for it.

Here’s another one for you. At times, it felt like this was a film about Hugh Jackman, who, in his fifties, he still looks the same awesome, well-trained, good-looking man he was ten and twenty years ago. Not saying this is positive or negative but it becomes yet another factor that takes the focus away from the story and, consequently, distracts. Again, I hope you forget your problems for about two hours and enjoy it.

Stay safe!

P.S. Fun fact: Lisa Joy is the wife of Jonathan Nolan, brother of Christopher Nolan who has directed Hugh Jackman in Prestige (2006)

P.P.S. Fun fact 2: Hugh Jackman and Rebecca Ferguson worked together before in The Greatest Showman (2017)

Unhinged (2020): Action/Thriller

A road-rage incident makes an unstable man go berserk on a young mother and everyone she cares about.

Intense and brutal action/thriller with a bat-sh*t crazy Crowe! The film doesn’t lack anything. Great performances, relatable characters, chase sequences, realistic violence, and great editing pace and rhythm. Yet, it didn’t do that well at the box office, but I guess being one of the first theatrical release entries after the US lockdown is the main reason. Director Derrick Borte envisages this American horrific reality, Russell Crowe and Caren Pistorius go full throttle against each other on screen, and the result is definitely worth your time. It is not a film you’ll be constantly talking about after the end credits start scrolling down, but it’s a great addition to the series of thrillers/horrors where someone… unhinged, with unknown at first motives, goes after the hero/ine while committing atrocities. I can’t hide that my favourite one is Steven Spielberg’s original Duel (1971).

To cut the long story short, I very much enjoyed it, and I highly recommend it to suspense lovers like myself. Rachel’s decisions are somewhat annoying from time to time, but it’s not her fault as the Hollywood-type script dictates such decisions. Unfortunately, we live in a world where road rage has spread like pestilence and it’s everywhere. Hideous crimes happen daily on the streets just because someone happened to hit the break abruptly. It’s shocking, horrible, uncivilised, and inhumane. Watching Unhinged and saying “reality is worse” is not encouraging. We all need to chill the f@€% out.

Stay safe!

P.S. For those who think that Crow has completely let himself go, please know that he had been consulting a dietitian to achieve that result throughout the film.

Other People (2016): Comedy/Drama

An underachieving gay writer returns home after many years to support his terminally I’ll mom… and face the rest of the family.

The type of American cinema that knows what to cut out, when, and how to balance feelings. Succeeding in making a comedy/drama is as hard as making a comedy/horror. And Other People will make you laugh as much as it will make you cry. Jesse Plemons and Molly Shannon make an excellent on-screen duet and writer/director Chris Kelly gives them the opportunity to shine and evoke all the intended emotions.

Tragicomedy describes all three acts with little things such as the milkshake order, which in its simplicity I found genuinely hilarious, or mum farting. The dialogues are authentic and the performances are immense. There is so much I could say to connect film theories on cinematic realism to the independent American cinema but I see no reason to do so. Therefore, I’ll keep this one shorter than usual and hope that you get the chance to watch it and laugh and cry and, respectively, recommend it to as many people as possible to share your experience. Because, as we tend to think, real-life events such as the ones unfolding in the film are situations experienced only by… other people.

Stay safe!

Joe Bell (2021): Biography/Drama

A father from Oregon makes it a mission to walk to New York and preach along the way against bullying after his teenage son gets tortured for being gay.

Mixed feelings throughout all three acts. Right off the bat, from the first flashbacks, the first impression is that a working-class dad who surprisingly supports his son for being gay does not support him enough to have him parade it in his front yard. Therefore, my question was: his problem was showing it off? Then, I thought to myself that it is biographical so if this is how it was, this is how it was. Then, I got a different problem. As the story develops, I thought that it doesn’t let you think for yourself at all; it spoon-feeds you the message all the way through. It forces you to side with Jadin by telling you – not showing you – who the “bad” guy is and who the “good” guy is in a black or white manner. Then, there is another “then”: Jadin accusing Joe for not being supportive enough, and Joe accusing Jadin for not handling it (in present era) creates a vague gray area in the film’s otherwise “black or white” scheme for the supportive people but questions their level of support. Here’s my two cents in general…

People, and more specifically bullies, need to feel what it is like to be bullied without being bullied, hated or criticised for thinking and acting the way they do. They need to understand that to other people they are as different as the people they pick on. I did some research and this is what the real Joe Bell tried to do. He was non-violently preaching against it because his son faced the consequences and he wanted, to his best abilities, to make the world a better place. A friendly for all of us place so no one has to suffer what his son did, and, consequently, any other boy, girl, man, woman, or non-binary person out there.

Somehow though, Mark Wahlberg as Joe Bell, the late Larry McMurty (RIP) and Diana Ossana’s script, and Reinaldo Marcus Green’s directing does not reflect that. Joe Bell does not know where to focus on and massively holds back on the emotions it means to evoke. Take for example when his mother, Lola (Connie Britton), finds out. This should have been the moment where the toughest one breaks. And one wonders, how can this be with so many A-list names wearing the producer’s hat: Mark Wahlberg, Cary Joji Fukunaga, Jake Gyllenhaal, Paris Kassidokostas-Latsis, and 17 more…

To cut the long story short, Joe Bell makes it more about Joe Bell rather than his incredibly noble and courageous mission. Ironically, he says it himself to the sheriff while opening up. And he keeps doing it. Shame really as if it wasn’t for this film I, and potentially hundreds of thousands of others, wouldn’t have known about this mission. But the real shame is that his mission’s message doesn’t really permeate. It does not sink in and therefore there is nothing much to take away from it. And the Bell family’s story is absolutely f@£$!^% tragic!

I really do hope each of us finds an honourable way to make this world feel like… home. For everyone!

Stay safe!

All these names in production

Don’t Breathe 2 (2021): Horror / Thriller

A gang of highly skilled killers invades the blind man’s house to kidnap his daughter, not knowing what he is capable of.

Worthy sequel shot in a standard Hollywood manner. Acting first: Stephen Lang is an incredible actor. That’s it.

Moving on to the plot, it gets trickier. The first act sets a thrilling foundation that promises a horrific brutality that, potentially, matches the first. The first plot point’s protracted tracking shot increases the tension while making obvious what is about happen next. And what is actually happening is quite brutal. As brutal as promised though? Yes! So what are the differences with Don’t Breathe (2016)?

Don’t Breathe 2 is a lot more far-fetched but reasonable enough for a sequel. Not a problem, it’s expected. Then… In the first one, what we have is poor, untalented boys and girls – harmless thieves who have no idea what they are up against – enter the blind man’s house whose intentions are revealed to be shockingly sinister and unfathomably perverse. In Don’t Breathe 2, the competition is way tougher and, against all odds, he is (somehow) the victim – even though the twist and consequently the intentions come a tad early. But the confrontation (act 2) is not restricted to just a house and develops the story and leads it even further than expected, to, actually, extremely unexpected paths. As I can’t say much about the plot’s development, I’ll focus on the one thing that got me asking: What the hell was going on in writer/director Rodo Sayagues’ head while balancing the characters’ morality? What everyone has done, is doing, and what is about to do is just beyond me. And I leave you with that. From a filmmaking point of view, there is nothing much to say. Other than the aforementioned protracted shot, nothing much stands out. From a narrative point of view, the film walks a tight rope risking to lose the audience by tipping the scales as to who to root for – the morality issue.

Watch it and see for yourselves what I mean. It does not necessarily mean that it’s “good” or “bad”, that’s hardly ever the case anyway. Overall, I found it enjoyable and do recommend it. It’s the kind of morbid entertainment that doesn’t come even remotely close the horrific reality we are currently facing.

Stay safe!

The Woman in the Window (2021): Crime/Drama/Mystery

An agoraphobic woman witnesses a crime that, in order to take action, she will have to face her deepest fear.

Interesting premise, great acting, yet fails to deliver on many fronts. Amy Adams, Gary Oldman, Julianne Moore, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Wyatt Russell are great. That’s the elephant in the room. Tracy Letts’ script and Joe Wright’s directing create a significant issue though: they increase, by the minute, the distance between the audience and Anna – admittedly, not intentionally. The close-ups are plenty, and so are the Dutch angles, the tracking shots, and the low and high angles throughout. It would be very interesting to ask the editor, Valerio Bonelli, about his experience editing it. It feels like its pace is all over the place and its rhythm like a song you want to like but you are too confused to dance to it. Bonelli seems like the person who puts together scattered pieces of visuals that the filmmakers had no idea what to do with. That causes the twists to not being able to find their place in the plot and, consequently, they lose their gravitas. The fact that A.J. Finn’s book has been receiving raving reviews and the film nothing but scathing, makes Wright’s film a mediocre adaptation for the big screen. I haven’t read the book though therefore, I cannot really comment on that, just putting it out.

This is a character-driven story that shouldn’t have been Brian DePalma meets Alfred Hitchcock, but Body Double (1984) meets Rear Window (1954). It’s a real shame to have so many talented people involved in front and behind the cameras and get that head-scratching result. Too many techniques and influences that, ultimately, cancel each other out and leave the audience indifferent, at best. In the end, I didn’t know if it was the plot’s drama or the final cut’s that made me want to cry. I’ll go with the latter.

Stay safe!

Upstate Story (2018): Drama

A peek at the week of a man who struggles to go through it.

Well-written story that deserves some budget to take off. Upstate Story is the case where the script is better than the film. Not because writer/director Shaun Rose doesn’t have the skills to pull it off, but strictly due to budgetary restraints that don’t allow him to develop it the way he envisioned it.

Upstate Story surfaces an enormous problem that many people fail to address and, consequently, deal with; the unfulfillment. The notion that we could have done so much more with our lives if were just given the chance. What makes it worse, is asking, to the point of begging, for this chance from people who have been given that chance and didn’t deserve it to begin with. And then time goes by and that chance seems further and further away, sucking, at first, our energy and then our lives like a black hole of despair. And while these nihilistic thoughts consume us like woodworms, during these darkest hours, Upstate Story‘s hidden positivity urges us to always hang onto whatever we consider a lighthouse in our lives, and be guided by it so we don’t crash on the rocks.

Ellis Martin is a real-life, relatable character that can be developed into a person that one day will find the purpose he so eagerly seeks and write a book called “Against All Odds” or “Finding the Strength”, but he can also become the person who grabs a gun and enters a mall. He represents a surprisingly huge portion of people out there who have unexplored skills that could make all the difference in the world. A person’s thoughts represent them and Ellis’ choice of words renders him the poster-child of the endless Freudian battle between id, ego, and superego.

Yes, few minutes from here and there could be shaved off in the cutting room and, yes, a lot more could have been done to make it visually more impressive, but that leads us back to the no-budget-indie-filmmaking issue. Just try to be in the hero’s shoes for an hour and, maybe, imagine that this minimalism expresses and represents countless people who struggle with a dead-end nine to survive job. If it were a small-budget film, it would have swept through the festivals and be an Oscar bait if Billy Bob Thornton was in it. Even so, it was selected as a semi-finalist at the Los Angeles Cinefest, and it’s a proud winner of the Feature Film Silver Award at CINEMAFEST 2018.

Stay safe!

Let Him Go (2020): Crime/Drama/Thriller

After losing their only son and their remarried daughter-in-law moves away against her will with their grandson, a retired sheriff and his wife set out to bring them back.

An amazing on-screen couple in a suspenseful, yet emotionally superficial story. My suspicions about the depth started with the inciting incident which was the death of their son. It would have really made me cry if writer/director Thomas Bezucha let Kevin Costner be the actor he really is and then cut to Diane Lane’s response. A father losing his only son is a scene that would break anyone in half. Let alone followed by the mother’s reaction. And Let Him Go… lets it go quite easily – no pun intended. I get the hard-macho-old-sheriff-ranch man who doesn’t show many feelings but even they develop strong bonds with their sons (but also daughters).

Having said that, what Bezucha does well is build up the suspense. The moment they start asking about Donnie Weboy it gets quite intense. It gets, actually, surprisingly intense. And then they make it to dinner with the Weboys where I could hear heartbeat. I say no more about that because you need to watch it for yourselves. But the emotions keep fluctuating throughout and neither build up nor reach climax. Shame really because the story has all the right ingredients that are lost in the plot’s development.

Diane Lane and Kevin Costner were a great couple as Clark Kent’s parents and are a great couple here as well. They play it really well from the beginning, to the motel’s room, to the revenge. Let Him Go is definitely worth-watching and even though it could dwell on the drama a lot more it most definitely transcends the difference between the way men and women think and how that affects them both. Plus, the final scene in the house pays off.

But forget what I or anyone else thinks about it and, as I said, have a go at it. It is Lane and Costner in the same film. In the meantime…

Stay safe!