All Posts

A Ghost Story (2017): Drama / Fantasy / Romance

A white-sheeted, nostalgic ghost, permanently resides in its home and everything that, in the passage of time, becomes after that.

A friend of mine called me, laughing at IMDb’s reviews on this one. So, even though I don’t really look at reviews before I watch a film, I only read the titles. I’ve seen cases before where reviews are either 1 or 10 and nothing in between, and since the titles were entertaining, I decided to give it a shot.

Let me be clear from the beginning. A Ghost Story is not for everyone! What we are dealing with here is an interesting yet peculiar storytelling with protracted steady medium and long shots that initially make little sense. The narrative unfolds though and life, linearly or not, moves on with just a few edits. Be patient with these shots and think that your life does’t have cuts either. It would also help if you perceived the narration as omniscient – being everywhere simultaneously. During this journey, I couldn’t help but feel the ghost’s loneliness and entrapment. The ability to manoeuvre in time and the inability to do nothing about it. Imagine yourself seeing the world spinning, confined by your questionable existence. An existence that is unknown to everybody as much as it is to you. But still you wait for someone to finally acknowledge this questionable existence you have become. Admittedly, after the ghost’s free fall, the convolution becomes also questionable. But please remember what I said earlier about the non-linear.

Have you ever wondered what the origins of déjà vu are? Cinema is a form of expression. That’s why it’s art. The aforementioned protracted shots make sense somewhere halfway through the film while understanding the narrative and David Lowery’s subjective perception of time and space. Let the mise-en-scène inaudibly “speak” when the silence is deafening. You may be wondering where is she? Has she become a ghost too? Has she gone to a final destination? Is there a final destination? But then think of something that you can, potentially, answer. Who is waiting for you?

Stay safe!

P.S. A few days after I watched it, it came to light that one of the producers was accused of raping one of the film’s young girls. Hollywood’s depravity spreads like pestilence!

Primer (2004): Drama / Sci-Fi / Thriller

Four friends, in an attempt to be innovative, invent something beyond their wildest dreams.

I remember watching Primer coming out of the army. As much as I was into films, I couldn’t “read” them the way I do now and, of course, the physics behind it meant nothing to me then and, respectively, without asking much, I accept it now. Consequently, I cannot comment on it, but I can speak of the filmmaking itself.

The voice over indicates that what we are watching has already happened and, for some reason, their story is worth telling, even though the first act indicates the opposite. So far, it looks like a mockumentary on a bunch of guys who are working on something that even they don’t know what it is. Much less the viewer.

Half an hour into it, the first plot point comes in strong. Both the main characters but also the viewer are now aware that they have invented a time machine. Narrative-wise, I will not reveal anything else. What has already been established is that composer / actor / sound designer / editor / producer / writer / director Shane Carruth, since the opening sequence, has remained meticulous with his writing on both character and story development. By the way, I have never seen anyone taking on so many different roles. Anyway…

What would you do if you knew you could travel in time? What would your thoughts be? What would you be afraid of? What would your reservations be? How far back would you go? Would you acknowledge causality’s dangers? Carruth does an amazing job perplexing even further his low budget’s sci-fi narrative and, at the same time, he maintains the dialogue more realistic than any of could develop it.

I do not understand certain people’s choices. Why isn’t Carruth a household name? Why show so much talent and then let go? Just do another film ten years later and that’s it? I know he struggled but the guy managed to make Primer with… $7,000. This is the most impressive and tiniest nano-budget mind-bending feature ever existed.

Ultimately, I am convinced that the film itself is greater achievement than its invention.

Martyrs (2008): Horror

After been physically and mentally abused, a little girl grows up, and with her childhood friend, they seek revenge against the people who tortured her as a child, not knowing though how deep that hellish rabbit hole goes.

Martyrs was shocking the first time in watched it in 2008 and it was excruciating last night. I guess the years pass by and our levels of tolerance change according to the lives we have lived and the way we have lived them. As much I despise happy endings, this is the first time I was hoping for one while knowing that it doesn’t have any. There is nothing I can say that will give justice to the film’s level of brutality, a concept that is not unknown to the French school of horror [see Haute Tension (2003)] and Martyrs, not only doesn’t hold any punches but unleashes them full force like only few horrors ever have. And the studios released that film knowing exactly what feelings it will evoke and the reactions it will cause.

Admittedly, writer/director Pascal Laugier was in a dark place during that period and shot, arguably, one of the most intense, violent, psychological, dramatic, and torturous horrors in the history of the genre. There are twists and turns in every corner, most of which, will cut your breath. There are scenes that you will want to look away and you will not be able to. At times, you will find yourselves squeezing your chair, pillow or yourselves while your brain tries to process the pain, especially Anna, endures. I guess, you may even blame yourselves for knowing what’s happening and not being able to help…

I bought the DVD knowing what I was signing up for. If you are not aware, I host the Cinehorrizon podcast where I deeply sink my teeth into the horror genre. I am in the process of trying to find Laugier and bring him on my show. There is so much I want to ask him and discuss with him. Laugier has mastered twists in his own, unique way and The Tall Man (2012) was his next proof. Two years ago, he came back with a yet another provocative horror that can ultimately mess up with your brain – Incident in a Ghostland (2018) – and even though it lacks the level of physical abuse, the psychological, for better or for worse, compensates for it. It was one of my earliest reviews: https://kgpfilmreviews.com/2018/11/29/incident-in-a-ghostland-2018-drama-horror-mystery/ Going back to Martyrs, I would like to take my hat off to Morjana Alaoui and Mylène Jampanoï for taking on roles that their characters are thrown into the deepest ends of human depravity.

Hostel (2005) and The Human Centipede (2009) are purely torture for entertainment and, simply put, disgusting. In Martyrs, you can sense a diabolical reason; a distorted and hair-raising perverted meaning. There is an eerie feeling crawling under your skin that all this agonising torment is coming with a purpose. So, what is more scary? Torture with or without purpose. Without it, is pointless. But if there is one, one can only wonder what kind of purpose would that inhumane, chauvinistic, and hellish journey might serve? A question that will haunt you till the end. A paralysing end that will make you pull your hair out and ask out loud, why didn’t she just leave earlier?

Stay safe!

Under the Silver Lake (2018): Crime / Drama / Mystery

An unemployed, soon-to-be-evicted, for some reason bad-smelling, disheveled young man is looking for a disappeared woman who only met once, only to start getting obsessed with a Los Angeles conspiracy.

David Robert Mitchell… probably most known for It Follows (2014), comes back, still paying tribute to John Carpenter, but also Alfred Hitchcock and Brian De Palma with a neo-noir mystery/crime about a lifestyle, only known to the City of Angels. If Body Double (1984) and They Live (1988) are films you haven’t watched yet, you must do so either before or after this. Under the Silver Lake is one of them films that can be interpreted in multiple ways. “Attacking” pop culture, being pedantic to the millennials, “accusing” the old guard for manipulating the youth, diminishing star system’s mentality, criticizing Hollywood’s lifestyle, touching on mental illness… all these, and more, are possible interpretations that one can give to Mitchell’s work.

Pay attention to the recurring themes, the coincidences, the resemblances with past popular films – especially Hitchcock’s, the REM song Sam dances to, the way the girl drowns (no spoilers)… Mitchell is an asset to the independent American cinema who implements techniques from studio level films to indies that are doomed to make any money whatsoever but add quality to the American cinema and give actors the opportunity to unfold their talents by fully expressing themselves and be seen to the audience in way that, more often than not, Hollywood deprives from them. Of course, critics were divided and, of course, Hollywood’s system rejected it. Leaning on Hitchcock’s tombstone and having drinks on Grace Kelly’s grave is an allusion to an, arguably, inequitable system that really respects no one and nothing.

I’ve never been to L.A. so, I’m not sure if that lifestyle is somewhat representative of how certain people live by. But not having a job, spending money you don’t have, not caring if you’re gonna be evicted, pay for hookers with the above mentioned money you don’t have, and all that in an astronomically expensive city where, somehow, everything and everyone is related to the movie industry, where they can go to parties that happen every night – uninvited, seems like a world within a world that only the people living there, and somehow can afford it (or not), understand it. Did I mention, disregarding at the same time killers been after you? But then, I guess, that very same lifestyle might also be the root of this superfluous paranoia…

Stay safe!

Burning (2018): Drama / Mystery

A young man, leading a dead-end life reunites with a girl he used to know right before her trip to Africa, but when she comes back with a guy who has a dark hobby, everything changes.

The opening sequence’s protracted, tracking shot raised high expectations. Expectations that were met in all three acts. The cinematic realism is evident from beginning to the end in both the character and story development. Jong-su and Hae-mi will spit in the cup to put the cigarette out, their sex scene reflects on their levels of experience respectively, when Hae-mi and Ben arrive at the airport and how Lee is positioned (great subtle “show, don’t tell” example)… everything that Jong-su does and how his posture supports it, really. Try not to miss a thing! Everyone and everything is positioned or move within the frame exactly as it’s supposed to. Body language becomes imperative in understanding everyone’s intentions but also secrets. What I mean to say is that the mise-en-scène is immaculate. Especially, do not disregard Hae-mi’s pantomime in the setup. It is also the key to understanding that particular human element that will be Jong-su’s guiding force. It’s great to see Steven Yeun in a Korean film, by the way.

Burning is an example to follow from every possible aspect. Listen to the power of the diegetic sound and how it should not be undermined by its opposite. Specifically, it is a fine example of when not to cut. Each shot’s information remains fresh till the end, leaving no room for stale (the great Walter Murch’s useful definitions). Everything is catalytic to the narrative. Track how your perception between Lee and Ben perception will constantly be changing. Haruki Murakami’s and William Faulkner’s original short stories with the same name “Barn Burning” are given the justice they deserve by Chang-dong Lee in a, as co-screenwriter Oh Jung Mi put it, “a dance that seeks the meaning of life”.

False memories, deception, hidden agendas, obsession, dishonesty, naivety… are parts of us that we either hate to admit about ourselves or define us, and there is no way us knowing. And with the closing sequence’s protracted tracking shot, our chances to get the answers we want become slim to none. Not only that, but we’ll raise questions we wouldn’t think, at first, we would. Cinematic realism reflects on life’s realism, though. It is part of the exploration. And that we’ll have to accept it.

Stay safe!

P.S. George, that one’s for you mate. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

Mara (2018): Crime / Horror / Thriller

A female psychologist who assists the police in a series of murders comes across an ancient myth of a demon who causes sleep paralysis.

Hollywood… more often than not, it can be seen as a meat grinder. You put the meat into the funnel, and thin stands of that meat come out. There is no chance you put the meat in and something else comes out. Mara is that expected outcome. You know what is going happen, when is going to happen and there are no twists. The, whatever, attempt to surprise the viewer is simply doomed. Because both character and story development are based on clichés, and so is editing and sound – hence, the unfortunate jump scares. Don’t blame these departments though. It’s always the narrative that dictates the techniques.

I know there are reviewers who love annihilating films like Mara. I don’t. So, in a respectful manner, I will share with you my humble opinion, in one sentence: Mara is disjointed from possible every aspect. Olga Kurylenko has come a long way and her acting skills are remarkable so really look forward to seeing her in something like… what Andre Basin considered as cinema. Craig Conway delivers a powerful performance but he does’t have much to work with, really. Extra credits go to James Edward Barker and his impressive original score that finds no place in any of the epidermic attempts to scare or sensitize.

Stay safe!

Silent Era: The Foundation of Cinematic Horror

Tonight, I’m interviewing Rob Byrne. Mr. Byrne is a film restorer of silent films and is the President of the Board of San Francisco Silent Film Festival (SFFS). Tonight, he is talking to me about the silent film era in regard to the horror genre. How were the films we today call ‘horror’ described as back then? How were they perceived? Were filmmakers aiming at psychological or gory horror? Find out how everything started.

Charismata (2017): Crime / Horror / Mystery

A young female detective starts suffering from a dream-reality confusion while investigating a series of ritualistic murders.

Right, I’ll be quick. I couldn’t take it seriously from the opening sequence. It’s meant to be ‘horror’ but the British humour overshadowed every chance there was to scare me – and I’m talking slim to none. Writers/directors Andy Collier and Toor Mian are obviously David Fincher fans, but the budget, story and character development, photography, editing, acting, but also the profound understanding of a serial killer’s psychosynthesis are hardly evident in the film.

But hey… Charismata is a British low budget indie horror that took time, money, and effort to get made and had no intention to fool you or undermine your intelligence. Should you decide to watch it, it’ll take your mind off things for just over an hour and a half, and actually, entertain you a little. Plus, it does have a couple of impressive shots.

Stay safe!

Spell (2020): Horror / Thriller

A family of four land crashes over the Appalachian mountains but when the man wakes up prisoner, injured, and alone in a sinister house, he’ll do everything in his power to rescue his family.

Has there ever been a comedy about the Appalachian mountains? Other than it was a horror, I didn’t really know anything about Spell. I thought was going to be about white inbred people who do… what white inbred people do, but boy was I wrong. Imagine a lovely Southern African-American, Christian community except that they are not lovely and they are not Christians. Kudos though to Loretta Devine for her amazing performance.

I think it started off decently and then it became somewhat pointless. Actually, now that I have watched it, I feel like I need to know more about why both black and white are depicted in such manner in these places. On second thought, how do the locals feel knowing that the rest of the world knows nothing about them but the Hollywood version of them?

Regardless, the film has many weak points. Without spoiling it to you, specifically, if I had just realized what I was eating, the film would have played out differently straight away. Overall, everything is laid out for you; nothing is left unexplained. Something that wipes out the mystery and, even worse, undermines the audience’s intelligence. Shame for the film, but also both the Caucasian and Afro-Appalachian people. One day, maybe they’ll make a film on Hollywood based on what they have heard about it. That’s gonna be a comedy/horror I’ll definitely enjoy. I might even kickstart it for them…

Stay safe!

P.S. Must say that my fellow Midlander Lorraine Burroughs looks, as always, absolutely stunning and look forward to watching her in Muscle (2019).

Logan (2017): Action / Drama / Sci-Fi

In 2029, where the X-Men are gone and mutants are on the verge of extinction, an elderly and slowly dying Logan must lead Charles Xavier and a young mutant to safety when an evil corporation goes after them.

I don’t write about superhero films, really. As much as I’ve watched them all and as much as I’m a graphic novel collector, I prefer to keep a distance. But I intend to write about my top 5 (to date) as I truly think they are powerful films and, in my humble opinion, the best of their kind. And, after watching it for the third time, Logan most certainly still remains in that top 5.

First and foremost, because of Hugh Jackman and Sir Patrick Stewart. Secondly, due to (co)writer/director James Mangold. The trio makes a combo that brings to life an unprecedented, R-rated, existential drama/fiction, no one expected to see. Mangold’s genius lies in synthesizing the narrative; the character and the story development. Such synthesis requires a thorough understanding of who the Wolverine was and what he had accomplished, while never managing to make peace with his nature and never overcoming his loathing for his nurture. And that, respectively, requires a thorough understanding of the difference between thinking of knowing what an antihero is and the unfathomably harsh reality of having to live with yourself and everything you have done, for almost two centuries, to become that wrong perception.

Officially, the film is a standalone and it follows neither the original X-Men’s timeline and its prequels nor the franchise’s prequels. However, Charles Xavier is mentioning the Statue of Liberty incident, and he reminds him that he found him in a time that he was a cage fighter. This, by itself, does not mean that the franchise prequels’ timeline is not followed either. In fact, the Samurai sword from Wolverine (2013) can be briefly seen as well. I think that the only one that has been left out of the canon is X-Men: Dark Phoenix (2019) but Kinberg’s film has already been forgotten and left out of every timeline ever existed right after it hit the big screen.

From Wolverine (2011) to… Old Man Logan, the hero’s journey has had its ups and downs but this is the best denouement a cinematic (anti)hero has ever seen.

Stay safe!

.

.

.

Spoilers!

.

.

.

Deep down I knew The New Mutants (2020) would take the torch after Logan. I knew it! “New Mutants” is brought up as a concept in Logan and the The New Mutants trailer was reeking of Essex Corporation. It is a bloody shame that, after waiting for so long, with a unique trailer for the X-Men franchise, and so talented new actors it was such a disappointment. Not only that but it had a huge plothole too. The film takes place after Logan – so after 2029, but we don’t know exactly when. By then, the X-Men were long gone, yet one of the new mutants speculates that the doctors’ bosses are the X-Men, non-verbally implying, specifically, Charles Xavier. One of them, at least, should have got their facts straight.