Tonight, I created a short, yet concise episode about something that I was contemplating some time ago and published for the first time in The World of Apu online film magazine. As the episode’s title implies, it is regarding the pessimistic or even horrific view of our future.
After her son is jailed for a girl’s brutal murder, a mother does everything in her power to prove his innocence.
The mixed feelings begin from the opening shot and extend all the way through the first act. The music, the acting, the character development, the mother/son relationship, and all utterances and actions make one question why IMDb describes it as crime, drama, mystery. Twenty minutes into it, it starts looking that way but still… Yoon Do-joon’s mental disability and the way his surrounding environment and authorities perceive him, makes unclear of what it really is.
The role of his mother though, somehow, despite the human behaviour oddities, in the second act intensifies the drama and turns it into a whodunit with the stamp of Bong Joon Ho. After Memories of Murder (2003) and The Host (2006) and before Snowpiercer (2013), Okja (2017), and Parasite (2019) Bong Joon Ho feels confident directing Mother, most certainly knowing that unpredictable feelings will be evoked. Definitely not for everyone, but it’s the kind of cinema that allows westerners, through art, to discover a variety of cultural idiosyncrasies so different to their own.
Far too many years ago, someone told me that if you end up in hell, your mother will be the only one to find a way to sneak out of heaven, descent, and trade places with you so it is her that withstands eternal suffering, instead of you. Mother ends up being the soul-crushing drama that emphasises on the mother’s sacrifice, loneliness, and unbearable task of carrying a personal cross all the way to the top of Golgotha.
Many years into the future, on an unknown planet, a male-only settlement is after two youngsters who are in search of truth.
Interesting premise! Like any decent sci-fi, behind the top dollar spent and the fancy visual effects there is a metaphor. Chaos Walking‘s is the actual settlers’ terraforma atrocities. Arguably though, that takes the back seat when the film decides to focus on the projection of the human inability to control their thoughts; men’s anyway.
As the story unfolds more truths come to the surface and more metaphors can be picked up that are also, eventually, overshadowed by men’s uncontrollable projected thoughts. Regardless, pay attention to the mayor’s and the priest’s role. You won’t be surprised about their character development if you’ve read a thing or two about colonisation.
After the script’s many rewritings, extensive $15M re-shoots took place, during which Tom Holland broke his nose, passed out trying to hold his breath underwater, and had his wisdom teeth pulled out. No wonder why the film’s release date was pushed back a year… And after all that, humongous plot holes are still there like a stains that failed to come off after many washings. The most striking one: The shuttle that no one saw falling from the sky. A shuttle that no one heard or felt crashing next to the farm either. The best part? By the time Todd saw it, some pieces were still on fire but Viola had already dag 2 graves and was out and about stealing food. I mean… never mind!
It’s a shame that experienced directors like Doug Liman and studios like Lionsgate Entertainment still struggle that much when money and resources are not an issue. That’s why audience thinking outside the box diminish Hollywood productions. Shame really…
A series of dilemmas and decisions divide a crew on its way to Mars when they discover a passenger who shouldn’t have been there.
Very well-written and shot first act, paying extra attention to the orbital mechanics’ math but also the heroes’ reactions during the launch. The discovery of the stowaway passenger intensifies the thrill and the agony regarding who this person is and why he’s there begins… Well, not immediately!
The second act starts off a bit slow, not interested in providing crucial information straight away. Don’t be put off by that though, pace yourselves. Everything slowly and steadily is falling into place. When the dilemma is presented, questions such as: What would I do… How would I do it… What if I were him… How the hell did it come to that… and maybe more, will get you engaged.
Writer/producer Ryan Morrison and co-writer/producer/director Joe Penna wrote and directed respectively a very claustrophobic drama / thriller / sci-fi full of moral decisions and dilemmas and XYZ Films, as always, made sure to invest in the film’s technological realism for a heartbreaking, yet – kinda – believable outcome. Speaking of believability, Anna Kendrick, Daniel Dae Kim, Shamier Anderson, and Toni Collette give very decent performances and have good chemistry with each other.
The denouement is, arguably, over-dramatised but it still serves the narrative’s purpose. I believe that the lukewarm reviews derive from the desire for more action something that the film somewhat lacks. Don’t be discouraged though, its other qualities compensate and, while in lockdown, having nothing much more creative to do, Stowaway becomes the escapism we potentially need/want.
A man’s family throws a surprise birthday party for him, not knowing that he suffers from a terminal illness.
This is an exception to my style of writing as, arguably, it has no horror elements. Yet, my aim was to explore a dark side of ours that is kept secret even from the closest to us people, even from ourselves. A horrific side that can be our scariest foe.
DISCLAIMER: This story contains strong language, and is intended for an older youth audience. Listener discretion is advised.
Based on my homonymous short script, Don’t You Shed A Tear.
After stealing her husband’s money, a woman and her lover flee to a small town, but greed, passion, and a series of wrong choices turn everything upside down.
Even though I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: Yannis Economides is the best Greek / Greek Cypriot actor’s director alive. No one comes even near in the second place. He allows them to improvise to the highest degree, as he allows maximum profanity. This adds to his films’ realism and makes them unique additions to the modern Greek cinema, a cinema that, unfortunately, suffers from wooden acting and writing – even though I must say that, fortunately, this is constantly improving. No matter what, Economides leads the way.
The Ballad for the Pierced Heart, like every other film of his, is structured the way the narrative dictates to be. The three-act structure provides the formula that will lead you from A to B but the dialogue always prevails and, regardless where the A or B stand, it is everything that is said and done in between that matters.
The Ballad was quite unlucky as the moment it came out the pandemic was announced and cinemas shut down. Very highly recommended! It combines neo-noir elements with a Greek reality that is nowhere to be found in the Industry. When the end credits start scrolling and the enthusiasm starts fading, one realises that… OK… certain dialogue and circumstances were a bit surrealistic. How much that matters? Not a tad!
Other than Economides, all his crew deserves a round of applause as it does the brilliant cast: Vicky Papadopoulou, Vassilis Bisbikis, Stathis Stamoulakatos, Yannis Tsortekis, and the rest of the professional and non-professional actors who shine in front of the lens. Well done, everyone!
Not understanding why her father lies unconscious in a hospital, a little girl’s vivid imagination places him on a journey to the moon.
Daniel Bertram’s writing (but also directing), Serhii Reznik’s and Billy Ray Schlag’s ambient music, Alicia Valencia Pollex’s acting, and Knut Adass’ dark cinematography promise, right off the bat, a tear-jerker; a drama that cannot end up well.
The restricted narrative though adds a mystery to it. The audience knows as much as Flo does, or as much as she understands, if you may. It approaches the tragedy from everyone’s perspective; Flo’s, the mother’s, but also the father’s and the restricted narrative affects them too, as no one knows each other’s thoughts or true feelings. In the case of Flo and her mother, they are even unable to understand each other. Interestingly, only the audience is able to experience the father’s inner world, turning us to omniscient viewers.
It definitely follows an unconventional way to tell the story but don’t cast any stones, yet. How do you experience tragedy? And how would you prepare a little kid for it? At the end of the day, is anyone really ever prepared? From an artistic point of view, scenes such as: the non-boiling milk, the rain during a starry night, the reflections, the mixture of colours turning into clouds, and the animated painting, spark our imagination, significantly reducing the situation’s cynical or orthological approach. For example, I’ve never thought of the moon, the Earth’s satellite, in such a poetic or existential way.
I very much recommend it to whoever is looking for a non-traditional / unconventional storytelling. Until the Edge of the World is quite depressing though and may not suit people who struggle in these difficult times.
What is ‘real’? According to the Cambridge dictionary: ‘existing in fact and not imaginary’i. Therefore, one could argue that what you watch in cinema or on TV is not real, but realistic: ‘seeming to exist or be happening in fact’ii. This article’s aim is not linguistics and most definitely not an in-depth, intricate and eye-bleeding Lacanian psychoanalytic approach on how to perceive what you watch and why. These are never-ending academic debates that don’t mean much outside the Academia, replace the art with science, and, to a certain extent, convolute the moviegoers’ cinematic experience. Yet, I will very briefly – I promise – combine the absolute basics with my experience of watching the HBO/BBC joint project, The Night Of (2016). Minor spoilers are included, but I will deliberately leave certain details and the ending out. My goal is, mostly, to emphasise on the first episode and what it achieves to do and how it does it. If you have watched it, it may offer you a different perspective, and, if you haven’t, to prepare you for a yet another existential HBO achievement. Get comfy…
Logline: After spending a debaucherous night with a woman he had never met, a young man wakes up finding her stabbed to death, and charged with murder.
‘The Beach’ is, arguably, one of the most slow-burn and intense first episodes in a series or miniseries. It is also one of the biggest investments in both character and story development and I would consider it a masterclass in the narrative/editing relationship. What we get to know about Nasir, how people perceive him, the way he wants to be perceived by his peers and, especially, women are all parts of him that need to carefully develop before the inciting incident takes place. And after the alleged establishment of who he is, it happens! The girl he instantly falls for and cares about is stabbed to death, Nasir loses it, everything he can do wrong, he does it, and, ultimately, he gets caught accidentally for something else that he also did wrong. All this wrongdoing creates so many questions in the audience’s mind that, inevitably, places them into Nasir’s shoes and that is the realism I was referring to earlier. ‘What happened?’. ‘What would I have done?’. ‘How is he going to prove he is not guilty?’ All these questions are created while, at the same time, Detective Dennis Box and his future lawyer John Stone are also introduced.
For anyone who is not familiar with, I’d like to introduce a couple of terms from Warren Buckland:
Restricted and Omniscient Narration: In restricted narration, the audience and the character share the same information whereas in omniscient narration the audience has access to more information than the character(s) separately. Regardless, the director is the one that, at any given point, decides how much the spectators need (not want) to knowiii.
Everything you know so far, or you think you know, comes through Nasir’s eyes. As much as you would like to know a lot more about what is going on, you don’t. What you do get to know very well though is what is happening in Nasir’s head and the editor is solely responsible for that. Before I go into it, always keep in mind this: Every sequence you watch on the screen comprises of carefully selected and trimmed shots, picked from numerous reels of that very sequence that has been filmed in numerous ways, numerous times. Even though the following is merely an example, it encapsulates the meaning that editing creates and how that particular meaning builds up the suspense while moving the story patiently, and cautiously forward.
While being caught for something minor and waiting at the police station, Nasir realises that this is his last chance to sneak out (yet another wrong decision). Not a single word is said, yet, through the extremely effective editing, the audience can ‘read’ his thoughts. And that becomes a paradigm of how ‘show, don’t tell’ works.
Nothing needs to be said because everything has been shown. The pace and rhythm that define the suspense build-up, ultimately pays off and, by the end of it, creates the perfect cliffhanger, preparing the ground for the suspense’s prolongation. Before he ultimately gets caught with incriminating evidence, as you can see from the last shot, the Detective who plays a significant role later on shows up at the police station, and after a series casual events and incidents, only then the audience realises that now it is too late for Nasir to do anything. Buckland would say that: any sequence that does not directly contribute to the conflict’s resolution is a ‘Delay of Resolution’iv.
If it wasn’t for these delays, any film or series would have been significantly shorter and the audience would get, potentially, the desired results the moment they wanted them. Fortunately, not getting what we want when we want it is part of this cinematic experience that mirrors life itself – excludes people who always got what they wanted.
The Night Of is not just the brilliant first episode though. Everything that happened, happened to lay the foundation for the next episodes to build on. The legalities, the charges, the transport, the detention… Through the eyes of a young man who has never experienced anything like it, but never even had such a horrible nightmare, you, the audience, get to live this nightmare with him as you go through every step of the process. And it is excruciating. And to make it even more horrible, as if that was possible, you become omniscient and you get to experience his parents’ agonising pain too. The Paradigmatic Narrationv: each segment introduces a new story, location or character(s)… introduces new faces as it unfolds and gets scarier by the minute. The series seems to be changing direction and becomes more and more of a case study on ‘what will happen to you if you end up in jail’. At the same time though, two questions flare up: If he hasn’t done it, who has? And, how will his innocence be proved? What has been achieved so far is the plot to stay in focus and the sublots to amalgamate with the sole purpose of supporting it and, consequently, advancing the story. And one of the many paths the story leads to is what was invested in the first episode; the hero’s metamorphosis. A metamorphosis that will, gradually, raise unexpected questions that will pile on the already unanswered ones and will make, especially, one rise to the top: Is he actually innocent?
As mentioned in the beginning, my goal is to bring this miniseries to your attention as it, instantly, got mine with its diverse techniques but also its realism. And to be perfectly clear with what I mean by saying ‘realism’, and not get caught into respectable theoretical arguments, I have summarised it the best possible way I could:
Susan Hayward, analysing realism and realism in cinema, states:
The term realism comes from a literary and art movement of the nineteenth century which went against the grand tradition of classical idealism and sought to portray ‘life as it really was’. […] Film as cinema makes absence presence, it puts reality up on to the screen. It purports to give a ‘truthful’ view of the ‘real world’ through the presentation it provides of the characters and their environment. […] There are, arguably, two types of realism with regard to film. First, seamless realism, whose ideological function is to disguise the illusion of realism. Second, aesthetically motivated realism, which attempts to use the camera in a non-manipulative fashion and considers the purpose of realism in its ability to convey a reading of reality, or several readings evenvi.
Andre Bazin claims that the arguments surrounding realism derive from a ‘misunderstanding’, a bewilderment between these two types: the aesthetic (aesthetically motivated) and the psychological (seamless). He refers to the former as true realism: ‘the need that is to give significant expression to the world both concretely and its essence’, and the latter as: ‘pseudorealism of a deception aimed at fooling the eye (or for that matter the mind); a pseudorealism content in other words with illusory appearances’vii.
Film theory has no immediate applications to the average viewer who wants to enjoy a film or a series. Personally, regardless how much I have studied or worked in film, I try to ‘live’ the moment when I watch something. And The Night Of felt like a ‘based-on-a-true-story’ to me. Towards the end, see what happens with the suspects. Think about their motives. Think about how they act and if you like them or not. Even though, does it matter? Have you made up your mind already? Are you more confused? Such narrative is meant to deceive you and editing is the best tool to do so. Every ‘whodunit’ is meant to be misleading, and the right combination of narratives needs to get you engaged while, purposefully, misguide you but not insult you by feeding you with lies. I find intriguing the difference between withholding the truth, and lying.
A couple of personal notes… The Night Of is presented like a dramatised documentary on how the American wheels of justice work. The people’s apathy, the system’s autopilot, the lawyers’ rivals… all that become the charade behind the scales that leans between a doomed life eternally ruined and an ambitions life where hope is still alive. What I found very interesting from the very beginning is the police officers’ attitude towards crime but also criminals. At first, it strikes as indifference which is somewhat annoying, but give it some time, the truth is much worse; it is habit. There is nothing they have not seen. They take crimes and criminals as a matter of course. Detective Box is called as a witness in court and the lawyer tries to corner him:
I am not saying that you consciously thought about it.
I am wondering if, maybe, it was subconscious. If you
were having doubts about his guilt from the beginning.
Well, if one could describe what goes on in their
subconscious mind, then it wouldn’t be subconscious,
would it? So, there is no way for us to know. Unless, you
got Freud out there waiting to be called.
HBO productions, among others, have always paid attention to the character development, and dialogue has been a big part of it: Every series they have produced has numerous lines that one can only wonder how they come up with that stuff, in so many different levels. The Sopranos (1999), The Wire (2002), The Leftovers (2014), True Detective (2014) Westworld (2016), Big Little Lies (2017), Sharp Objects (2018), Chernobyl (2019), The Outsider (2020)… all these are prime examples of how to make a series; of how to start, develop, and finish it in a way that will not only meet the audience’s expectations, but will by far exceed them1.
Even though is not part of the article, before I conclude, I would like honorary mention that none of the realism or narrative techniques that I mentioned earlier would be effective if the acting was not solid. Riz Ahmed, John Torturro, Bill Camp, Payman Maadi, Poorna Jagannathan, Amara Karan, Jeannie Berlin, Paul Sparks, and Michael Kenneth Williams give astonishing performances, engaging you, and leaving you with no choice but to empathise with them, love them, loathe them, and/or truly feel for their suffering. It is a shame that the late James Gandolfini passed a month after putting the producer’s hat on and never saw how brilliant his project ended up being.
Maybe, one day, I will write about why Hollywood keeps casting British actors portraying Americans when very rarely the opposite ever happens and what are the criteria behind casting specific actors for specific roles. Again, not really part of this article, but what got me thinking (further) was casting Glen Fleshler, and Adam LeFevre as Judges; juxtapose their current position to previous roles of theirs. But this is yet another story for another time – just saying.
To conclude, I am not here to dictate to you how to interpret films and series, but I would like to give away signs that will help you interpret them yourselves, and see for yourselves that a captivating narrative encompasses numerous techniques to irreversibly appeal to you, stimulate your senses, and make you question what you know or you think you know. As the story develops, chances are that you will pick on details here and there (i.e., the prison environment, Chandra’s choices and unknown future) and you even, maybe, build an argument on why this was not your cup of tea. Be it as it may, this is the way The Night Of articulates the story, evoking certain feelings that you might find confusing. Upon watching it though, honestly, swear that, beyond the shadow of a doubt, you have figured out how the cogs of life work.
An overambitious young man uses social media, but also friends and family to achieve his immoral goals.
Two qualities stand out straight away: Tomasz’s manipulation skills and Aleksandra Gowin’s non-linear editing skills. Both of them unfold brilliantly along with the narrative.
Writer Mateusz Pacewicz collaborates once more with director Jan Komasa after the amazing Corpus Christi (2019) – review to follow – and, once more, shock society to its core. There are plenty of scary scenarios and people here… Tomasz Giemza is a person who shouldn’t be walking on the streets. Why? Men like him bring out the worst in people, and remorselessly manipulate them, individually and collectively. In both cases, since all of us have weaknesses, no one can blame us for that. Who is to be blamed though is the people behind the social media who provide support to that manipulation and enhance it by reaching out to larger masses. The social media are merely tools, platforms of communication, but the way the “puppeteers” operate them can shape, control, manipulate, and even tear apart societies. Sacha Baron Cohen very eloquently described one of them as: “the greatest propaganda machine in history” that would even allow Hitler to run his propaganda.
Besides the social media though, I believe The Hater‘s best achievement is Tomasz’s character development. A psychopath with the phenomenal ability to learn from his mistakes and constantly up his game, ending up manipulating the manipulators. Absolutely amazing! You’ll catch yourself loving the way he does it while hating him at the same time.
Last but not least, Agata Kulesza always deserves a separate mention no matter what she’s in. She shines in Pawel Pawlikowsi’s films as much as she shines in this one. She is an Oscar-worthy actress and I hope she wins it one day. Whether she does or not, she’ll always be a first-class thespian.
Excellent example of modern European cinema with profound filmmaking techniques, intriguing performances, plenty of visuals and food for thought. Definitely, a must-watch!
Tonight, I’m releasing the second part of the interview with Michelle Satchwell. Michelle analyses Martyrs and its contribution to the horror genre but she also uses it as a reference for the role of women in torture horrors. Moreover, she talks about advertisements and gender roles in the 80s, and how females have been portrayed, could have been portrayed and how that has affected the present. Last but not least, she talks about the representation of ethnic minorities and non-binary people in the film industry and what potentially the future holds.
Feminism References Evolutionary Psychologists (no specific names), they focus on reproductive success in mate selection in humans.
Tuchman (1978) Symbolic annihilation (narrow range of roles for females).
Glascock (2001) Leading female characters (e.g. Lara Croft).
Bristol Fawcett Society (2008) Imbalance in media representation.
Ferguson (1983) Forever feminine; focusing on womens’ magazines and the cult of feminity. Women focus on “him, home and looking good (for him)”.
Johnson and Young (2002) Impact of advertising on children.
McRobbie and Garber (1976) Bedroom culture.
Heidensohn (1985) Social Control of women and crime.
Westwood (1999) Transgression and Gender. “Transgressive female roles that go beyond gendered expectations”.
Gauntlett (2008) The representation of gender roles in the media. “Do the traits of the characters challenge conventional masculinity?”
Julia Kristeva (1980) Powers of Horror: An essay on Abjection.
Freud (1905) Psychosexual stages of development (Pre-Oedpial stage).
A series of murders get the attention of a County Deputy Sheriff, a man with a dark past in the police force, and in collaboration with a young detective, they will try to find whoever is behind these crimes.
It is shocking how people even thought about considering comparing it to Seven (1995). The film’s biggest issue is not the cliché opening sequence that makes zero sense. It is not that Denzel Washington and Rami Malek don’t believe in what they signed up for – even though Jared Leto somehow does. It is not even the fact that all three of them are Oscar winners in a film like this. The biggest issue with the film is that the producers put all the effort to get A-list actors but then they decided to green light a boring, formulaic, predictable, flawed Hollywood three-act structure with yawning character and story development that makes you say: “it’s OK for the quarantine”. A film that you stop thinking about the moment the end credits start scrolling down. And once you thought the script is the worst thing that happened to The Little Things, the editing makes it a mission to dumb it down even more by explaining everything to you like it’s the first time you are watching a thriller. What’s more, it fundamentally ruins the film’s pace and rhythm with its discontinuity errors.
I know I sound bitter, but that was not my intention before I started watching it. But focusing (always) on the film’s intentions, I don’t like it when the audience’s intelligence is undermined. Watching the final cut before exporting it, the filmmakers should have seen that, for an over two-hour film, everything is rushed, and said and done before in a better, and a much better way. It is saddening me that, John Lee Hancock, the man behind great films such as The Blind Side (2009) and Saving Mr. Banks (2013) was sitting on the director’s chair.
After pointing out the film’s biggest issue(s), it would be only fair to mention the biggest achievement: Jared Leto’s decent performance, even though ruined by bad directing and even worse editing, it managed to get a Golden Globe nomination and a nomination from the Screen Actors Guild Awards. The only two nominations the film got. How about that…
To cut the long story short, go ahead, watch it, it is a yet another night in with restrictions left, right, and centre. Just don’t have any expectations as you’ll be severely disappointed.
Tonight, I’m interviewing Michelle Satchwell. Michelle is coming back on the show to talk about the role of women in horror films. Class, gender, and race will also be analysed as to how they have been portrayed over the decades and if and how nowadays things have changed. Michelle analyses classic female-led horror films through sociopolitical theories and practices, and sheds light on how psychology examines these filmic portrayals.
One of the most intriguing and atmospheric opening sequences I’ve seen in a while. The first act’s slow pace, music, and cinematography betray a feel-good 80s horror that promises not to disappoint. And it doesn’t (to a certain extent)!
Writer/director Anthony Scott Burns has done his homework on sleep, dreams, and nightmares and carefully and patiently unfolds a narrative that, if you haven’t read anything about the plot, will most definitely surprise you. Positively or not you are about to figure out for yourselves.
The dream sequences are the most vividly and terrifyingly surrealistic images since Silent Hill (2006) and The Cell (2000) – the only Jennifer Lopez film I have got to enjoy. Jungian psychology, Escher’s portrayal of illusion, and Clive Barker’s horrifying vision of the human psyche’s darkness, all blend into one, bringing to life nightmares that make us question the way our mind, consciously or not, interprets reason and the way we understand and explain our fears.
David Cronenberg has been a tremendous influence on the Canadian cinema and Burns, having specialised in horror, adds his own personality and vision to intrigue you, get and maintain your undivided attention. In the end, I must say that I did get confused and found myself remorselessly scratching my head, and even though I love proper WTF endings, Come True runs out of steam before you start rolling your eyes in disbelief. Shame because for the 2/3’s of the movie, I had nothing negative to say. I guess the denouement is the toughest part of the script.
P.S. Certainly, I am not the only one feeling like Riff came out of Hogwarts…
An alien vampire race is found in space and brought to a lab in London but, upon escaping, chaos and doom threaten to destroy our planet.
Ask anyone why they remember Lifeforce… And as much as I understand why, this is the reason why the film bombed! An alien sexbomb wreaking apocalyptic havoc in London sounds peculiar to say the least. The film didn’t even make half of its production cost back because a naked Mathilda May and her astonishing beauty stole the show and left everyone uninterested in its shallow science. BUT…
Lifeforce has become a classic and watching it 25 years later, I must say that it is case study of how to deconstruct a B-movie. I don’t think I’ve ever read more production details on a film such as this. What’s more, the vast majority of these details revolve around May’s backstage nudity or how the film’s failure showed during the early stages of principal photography.
Despite how my review sounds so far, especially in times like these, Lifeforce is the form of escapism that will truly entertain you (I mean, read the logline). Based on Colin Wilson’s novel, “The Space Vampires” and directed by Tobe Hooper, the film offers a lack of seriousness and superficiality that harms no one and, if anything, reminds us the cinematic, low-budget, sci-fi era that, once upon a time, was as believable as today’s advanced CGI. The practical effects, the make-up, the effort given not to be rated pornographic, the budget restrains, to name but a few, constitute it a very hard film to make. No words can describe the satisfaction you will get though while watching it. So, forget reality for a couple of hours…
Reason behind torture, or the lack thereof, offers a perspective on what you are watching. It provides explanation or gives none as to why people are suffering the way they do. In Martyrs, you only get to find out in the end and it’s just unthinkable. In Hellraiser (1987), Pinhead, and the rest of the crew, are sadistic, hellish creatures and live off the victims’ excruciating pain. In The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), Leatherface and his family are a bunch of psychopathic killers. The problem presented here is that two innovative yet despicable scientists are behind everything that’s happening, and a couple of mindless humanoids that the film has the audacity to call “animals” commit further atrocities.
Personally, the reason here leaves me indifferent. What made me feel uncomfortable was its statement, or the way I perceived it anyway: She was looking for pain and that’s what she got. Maybe, I got it wrong but, ultimately, the film’s message is utterly confusing. Women are oppressed mostly by men but some women too? Men are disgusting beings? Shit happens? Together we are stronger than ever against the system that wants us subdued? Women are stronger together against… who?
Anyway, maybe Breeder has no message to deliver and I just missed on the “entertainment”. Maybe, you get a different vibe.
Tonight, I’m interviewing Dr. Neni Panourgia. Dr. Panourgia is Affiliated Faculty at the Program in Hellenic Studies. She is an anthropologist, Associate Professor at the Prison Education Program, Psychology Department, and Academic Adviser at the Justice in Education Initiative at Columbia University. Tonight, she is talking about the prison system in the US and how that has affected their current but also futuristic cinematic depiction. Without further ado, here’s the interview.
A teenage girl, followed by her cousin, leaves her hometown to go to New York to terminate her unexpected pregnancy.
Never underestimate the power of independent cinema. Rarely disappoints. Sometimes it defies the traditional, conventional narrative. Always, though, offers a more realistic perspective.
The difference with the American studio level films shows, in this case, shows even before the narrative unfolds. Take a close look at the actors; they are everyday people, and not like underwear models. It’s (not) funny how studios nowadays indulge diversity and inclusion but don’t cast actors who wouldn’t be a fit for a fragrance poster. But this review is not about the industry’s hypocricy, so…
Eliza Hittman writes and directs a modern painful Odyssey about a girl that suffers in silence, has no room in her life for the baby she is carrying, and decides to make a journey to take the most difficult decision of her life, yet. Admittedly, I haven’t watched her other films, but I most definitely will after this one. Hittman mounts the camera on her shoulder and like an omniscient narrator closely follows Autumn and Skylar exploring The Big Apple for the first time. The close-ups and the extreme close-ups leave you no choice but to feel Autumn’s pain, to embark on that coach, share the experience of discovery, but, mainly, go through the shivering experience of what comes next.
The “never, rarely, sometimes, always” moment is the brutal realisation that facing the pain is a exponentially harder than imagining facing the pain. The editor Scott Cummings is onboard with this idea as he’s very careful where to cut when this conversation takes place. He cuts selectively and only for a few seconds to the counselor but mostly stays with Autumn’s close-up “forcing” you to look when she breaks. Why? Because it’s not pretty. And it’s even uglier when these questions are asked because only then the boys’ initial, hideous comments and gestures make sense. Think about it from the narrative’s point of view, it takes an hour to indirectly indicate why those comments were made and how they are related to the pregnancy. What is also astonishing is the “show, don’t tell” subplot of the bond between Autumn and Skylar which needs no soppy dialogue whatsoever to project the love one has for the other, without overshadowing the film’s delicate and sorrowful subject.
In a very disciplined manner, Hittman manages to not get caught in the ethics behind abortion and to focus on how it burdens an already suffering girl. It might seem like an easy task but rest assured that it is not. In fact, it is one of the main issues pretentious films are facing when they tackle too many issues, in the process address some, and finally delve into none. Never Rarely Sometimes Always brilliantly achieves that focus, and I can’t praise it enough. Speaking of praising, Sidney Flanigan deserves an Oscar for her realistic performance and I take my hat off to Talia Ryder who doesn’t let her natural beauty overshadow her acting and, surprisingly, gives “friendship” the meaning it always should have had.
I am doing this review now as my next one will be Promising Young Woman (2021) and, despite its success, unfortunately, I have opposite feelings compared to this one.
A young woman seeks out revenge against anyone who got involved in a tragic event that happened several years ago.
I’m in two minds here. I believe that’s because I was hyped up for weeks prior to watching it, even though I hadn’t even watched the trailer.
I’ll start with the good news: Carrey Mulligan is amazing, Bo Burnham is funny, and Clancy Brown is heartbreaking. And, for me, this is where the good news stops.
First and foremost, the film lacks structure. It’s pace and rhythm is all over the place. Secondly, it resembles a thriller with music video montages in between. Is that wrong? Not on its own. It becomes wrong, and, if not wrong, confusing for such a delicate issue that, ultimately, ends up taking the back seat. This wrongness/confusion causes indecisiveness and no film should be undecided about situations that have scarred women’s, but also families’ lives. Occasionally, it felt like a dark comedy accompanied by millennial, pop music that was not befitting so, I kept asking myself, how am I supposed to feel? And then, about who? About Nina or about Cassie? Does Cassie’s behaviour justify what happened to Nina? Was it that, that made her sociopath or did that event trigger it? How was she punishing the ones who were crossing her path? How was the level of punishment against the ones who were accessories to what happened to Nina decided? There are so many questions regarding the character’s arc and the hero’s journey, but I’ll raise one last one: How is one meant to feel about Cassie and her actions in the end?
The film is rated ‘suitable only for 15 years and older’, but I can’t shake off the feeling that is for 15 y/o ones alone. That excludes the two and a half minute shocking scene in the cabin (no spoilers). Writer / director Emerald Fennell, Carrey Mulligan, and Margot Robbie are wearing the producer’s hat as well and their effort is rewarded with 4 Golden Globes nominations, another 62 wins and 132 more nominations. I congratulate them and the rest of the cast and crew for their achievement even though it ended up not being my cup of tea.
Nothing that affects someone that much should be that stylised. Even though I found Revenge (2017) was quite ‘stylish’ until the inciting incident, in the second act, its brutality defined the film and established for the viewer that ‘shock’ was what it was aiming for. But cinema, like life itself, is not just black or white. There are numerous shades of grey and, one of my favourite genre mix, horror/comedy, falls under that category. Keeping that in mind, I’m constantly asking myself this: How much comedy does one mix with horror? Or, is it the other way around?
A group of friends gets lost in the Appalachian mountains, but gets found by an off-grid community that hunts them down.
Ahhhh… The clash between the world we are very slowly leaving behind and the brave new one we are entering in warp speed. Bridging those two worlds will be one of the most difficult tasks societies globally will have to deal with. Anyway…
Wrong Turn‘s producers decided, in a six-member “gang”, to represent as many minorities as possible. And as much as I endorse diversity and inclusion, when it’s for ticket sales or any other form of profit, I don’t. It’s called exploitation. Moving on from the casting choices concerns… one realises, right off the bat, when the alleged action and thrill kicks in, that the educated youth comes up with the dumbest questions, ideas, and ideologies ever existed while people of unknown origin and skills are after them in the middle of the unknown… nowhere. Ultimately, what most of them say and do is nothing but contradictory, something that renders them undecided in life or hypocrites at best.
And if you are somewhat confused with the messages about the old and the new world and their people… boy… wait until the film’s revelation! I’m not going to spoil it for you. See for yourselves the mess the script is leaving behind. Honestly, wait until the very end; the script’s direction is more lost than every city boy and girl has ever been on these mountains throughout the whole franchise. And since you’ve made it to the very end, watch at least the last scene, it’s awesome.
To my surprise, that script is by Alan B. McElroy, the writer behind the original Wrong Turn (2003), and it may be a reboot but has nothing to do or has nothing on the original one. Emmanouelle Chriqui and Eliza Dushku are irreplaceable.
A young religious nurse moves to a remote town to treat a housebound terminal patient, making her mission to save her soul.
Feature debut for writer/director Sophie Glass who, so far, directs only what she writes. Using a flashback in the opening sequence is not uncommon but Glass’ shots are, admittedly, impressive. The first half-hour is spent on Maud’s character development and her relationship with Amanda. The confrontation with Carol and Joy’s comment indicate how much we don’t know about Maud but should have suspected in the first place.
The moment she cannot pretend anymore… the moment she unleashes her true self… Glass’ lens pays tributes to Hitchcock and DePalma, while adding her own personal touch. She infiltrates Maud’s mind, dissects her martyrdom / schizophrenia, and restricts the narrative to only to her interpretation of signs. Consequently, this raises the question: How should I interpret those signs? Religion and mental health had been interchangeable terms for centuries, something that Glass manages to sink her teeth in, but mostly provoke, in less than an hour and a half.
Saint Maud is a phenomenal psychological horror that aims to shock you to your core and, Morfydd Clark, fully understanding Glass’ vision, goes the extra mile with a breathtaking performance. Jennifer Ehle plays also her part beautifully, resembling a younger Meryl Streep. Extra credits go to A24 that invested in the film, Ben Fordesman for the haunting cinematography, Mark Towns for perfectly controlling the pace and rhythm, Adam Janota Bzowski for his hair-raising soundtrack, and every member of the cast and crew who strived for perfection.
Saint Maud becomes a proud addition to the British horror genre where you don’t know what’s gonna happen until it happens. Turn off the lights, throw the phones away, and get ready to be blown away.
Alleged evidence of ancient creatures will make a professor travel to a remote village only to discover that the truth is a lot more frightening than he anticipated.
Pseudo-noir and semi-serious, H.P. Lovecraft’s adaptation does not rank very high on my “Favourite Lovecraft Films”. Having said that, this merely means that I didn’t enjoy this ecranisation. Writer/director Sean Branney and writer Andrew Leman collaborate once more on a Lovecraft’s adaptation in reverse roles – Leman directed The Call of Cthulhu (2005) and Branney wrote the script – and, I must say, the way they have envisioned Lovecraft’s writings, his world, and his creatures is captivating. As much as the film itself resembles a student project, the script is tight, engaging, and… Lovecraftian!
There are moments, I believe, taken from In the Mouth of Madness (1994): https://kgpfilmreviews.com/2019/01/04/in-the-mouth-of-madness-1994-drama-horror-mystery/ (by far my favourite Lovecraftian adaptation) but it is definitely not plagiarism, just inspired by it. There are numerous filmmaking issues that I will not go into as I respect the hard effort the filmmakers put into it. It is a very decent film with very honest intentions. If you are passionate about Lovecraft, like I am, you will turn the blind eye to whatever seems not real and you’ll enjoy the visualised version of the homonymous story by Branney and Leman, two truly loyal fans of the man who changed the literature of horror as we know it.
Tonight, I’m interviewing Aris Lanaridis. Aris is a film & media composer, sound designer and music producer. Tonight, he is talking about how music affects and enhances the suspense in horror films and what principles dictate how and what kind of music is used.
Mysterious entities, start taking over a group of friends through an obscure wireless signal that starts spreading rapidly all over the city.
I’ll be quick… Dark and promising opening sequence that once it gets you hooked it unhooks you with its formulaic narrative. The audience it addresses becomes clear straight away and is none other than… American pre-millennials. Just before the social media, androids and iPhones become our lives, this the generation that started carrying everywhere their cell phones with the ostentatious design.
In case you are wondering why I am doing a review now, it is because I’ve had that DVD on my shelf for the last 15 years and I never got to watch it. Now, I know why. Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s original script and Wes Craven’s adaptation were, allegedly, significantly altered by Ray Wright, something that made Craven walk out before production even started and renounced the film. Besides Wright, director Jim Sonzero did not do a good job either. Unfortunately, he treated his audience like they were mentally incapacitated and that alone is a reason to look down on the film. I’ll give you one example to get an idea. Kristen Bell is wearing make-up from beginning till end. No matter what happens, the make-up is intact. Shocking that there were two more (horrendous) instalments after that.
I’m not going to waste your time. To sum it up, the story could have been promising, the script is dull, the filmmaking techniques were outdated way before the film was made, and it is not Kristen Bell’s and Ian Somerhalder’s fault for being in it. They are really good actors. Watch it at your own risk.
In an attempt to heat up their relationship, a couple travels to the north of Sweden only to become a target and fight for their survival.
I have to thank my good friend Shiying for suggesting this one to me, and I’m so glad she did. The film’s strong suit is hands down, the narrative. The script is solid and its two protagonists, Nadja and David totally relatable. Its horror works in two levels: survival against the forces of nature and survival against the forces of unnatural (?) human evil. As the story unfolds, the difference, not that is really needed, is broken down for you so you can reconstruct it yourselves in the end. But, please, let me for argument’s sake humour you. When we distant ourselves from nature, it is not nature to blame if it does what it has been doing way before we stepped foot on this planet that we ended up looking down on as if we owned it. Then, there is the other threat; us. The detached from nature beings who developed, amongst other things, ideology, philosophy, and politics and used them against one another, as well as… nature.
Leaving my ecological concerns out of the equation, Red Dot steps on these characteristics of ours and very manipulatively deceives you. The twist is well designed and the editing, of course, selectively discloses what it requires for you to fall into the trap. The second part of the second act could be easily analysed in terms of how the restricted narrative led to the moment of truth, but that would ruin it for you so I’m not gonna do it. Watch it and decide for yourselves whether you saw it coming and how ‘smart’ or not you thought it was. My major objection, and that’s the only thing I’ll tell you, is that the third act’s harshness would be far more breathtaking if the verbosity levels were dropped, even to zero. But that’s just me.
Have a go at it! It’s well worth it. From beginning to end, Nanna Blondell and Anastasios Soulis lead the way with their incredible performances. What also stands out is Oscar-worthy cinematography. Before everything goes tits up, see how it starts at the petrol station. My initial thought was: ‘As if they don’t have enough on their plate, them two… it’s just what they needed’. And that’s what makes Nadja and David totally relatable, as I said in the beginning. You are going somewhere with your boyfriend/girlfriend and they show up. How would you react? What would you have done differently? How would you cope with the consequences? It is how every good thriller/horror starts…
The life of a serial killer through the major incidents that made him and the examination of his psychosynthesis.
Welcome to the world of a psychopathic murderer! Look at it through his eyes. See how it makes sense to him. Feel how he perceives it, in the scariest possible way, as you and I do. Welcome to the world that Lars von Trier and Matt Dillon built!
Watch back to back Trier’s The House That Jack Built and David Fincher’s Zodiac (2007). The former views the world through the nihilistic eyes of a killer who tries to make sense of our world’s identity, and the latter views it through our ‘existential’ eyes, which try to make sense of the killer’s identity. Regardless of the antithetical points of view and budget, both films’ theme is regarding a serial killer yet, they share no similarities. Not really, anyway. The striking differences in writing, acting, editing, and cinematography – all overseen by the director – are held responsible for creating films worlds apart and confuse film theorists (even more) in regard to ‘What is Cinema?’. Fincher’s meticulous mise-en-scène and precise cuts become an example to avoid for Trier who, in a mockumentary-style of filmmaking shakes his camera as much as he possibly can and cuts wherever it seems not right, ignoring continuity and paying tribute to Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless (1960). Is there ‘right’ or ‘wrong’? No, there is not! The narrative always dictates how the story will unfold and in which way. And Trier’s filmmaking choices of saying the story the way he wants to create one of the most realistic serial killer films you have ever watched. Pay extra attention to the humorous side of the murders. Yes, there is a humorous side to it. Don’t judge it though, remember whose point of view this film is from. Even I smiled at Dillon’s reaction to the body’s melted face that had been dragged on the streets for miles. The film’s scariest parts though are not the murders themselves, but the justification of Jack’s actions and the sick and perverted way they somehow make sense.
My issue is not with the way the story unfolds, but with where it is heading. After an hour and a half of balanced nihilistic philosophy, deranged psychology, and monstrosities, Trier turns the film into a pseudo-sophisticated paradigm that, in my humble opinion, does not any more explain Jack’s actions, takes over the narrative, and expresses how Trier views art, politics, history, war, and anything that comes into his mind. Why do I think of that? Because I’m sure that Jack didn’t commit these murders creating a montage of Trier’s previous films in his head. I know he made a statement about, potentially, not directing another feature, but, in the name of art, he managed to lose the narrative’s focus and turned it into a confusing mess.
In Cannes, some people left the theatre and others gave it a six-minute standing ovation. Some condemned it on social media for its violence and point of view, and others praised it. See for yourselves how parts of ‘The Divine Comedy’ and ‘Faust’ work within the narrative and how the allegories and the history lessons work for you. Love it or loathe it, be it Trier’s last film or not, The House That Jack Built is a must-watch, and whatever I say, nothing will give justice to Matt Dillon’s remarkable performance. If none of the aforementioned sounds appealing or appalling enough, watch it just for Dillon!
A new drug on the streets, causing obscure and mystical effects, will make two paramedics from New Orleans reevaluate life.
The trippy, otherworldly, and oneiric opening sequence pins you down and gets your undivided attention. Steve (Anthony Mackie) and Dennis (Jamie Dornan) become immediately relatable from the get-go while you are trying to establish how is everything connected. As the incidents increase, the plot’s mystery and intricacy are accompanied by an equally dramatic subplot and both of them unfold together on Jimmy LaValle’s amazing soundtrack that expresses the characters’ psychosynthesis.
In my humble opinion though the film reaches its peak with the heartbreaking sequence of Steve’s dog, Hawking – honestly, I couldn’t breathe properly. Steve realises how the drug works and, from then on, it becomes too explanatory too fast for my taste, disillusioning too early an experience that stops raising questions anymore. Having said that, please, don’t let it discourage you. Watch it as it is a great low budget, indie sci-fi, and both Mackie and Dornan do a great job in front of the camera.
Behind the camera, writers/directors/producers/cinematographers/editors Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead prove once more their unquestionable talent. From Resolution (2012) to Spring (2014), to The Endless (2017), to Synchronic, they constantly prove that filmmakers don’t need millions of dollars to bring to life something innovative; something that follows certain rules, breaks others, and, ultimately, still manages to be groundbreaking, didactic, and entertaining. Twenty years ago, Christopher Nolan started on small budgets and then the world became his oyster. As Steven Spielberg did thirty years before him. It seems that the filmmaking partners Benson and Moorhead, gradually, are given more and more funding. If they stick to their unique point of view – and don’t get sucked by Hollywood – they will keep performing cinematic miracles.
A secret agent, who works for a shadowy organisation that has the technology to control people, is sent on a mission to assassinate a high-profile target, but with unexpected consequences.
As a huge fan of the Canadian film school, I will tell you that Possessor does not disappoint. Films like that need to be highly praised, if anything, for their boldness. Writer/director Brandon Cronenberg is not to be compared with his father (David) as he has his his own distinct voice to narrate a story worth telling. The influences from eXistenZ (1999) and Videodrome (1983) might be visible but even these works are not parthenogeneric, and every generation “steals” from the generation before it, anyway. This has always been the case in art and science and that is the root of evolution (maybe of devolution too). My only “like his father” reference is the theme of “sex”. Brandon has taken over the torch of sexual exploration and mental darkness as projected through the lens, and I believe in future films of his we’ll see a lot more. The hallucination scenes are only the beginning…
Possessor‘s practical visual effects most definitely stand out, giving meaning to to the original purpose of visual effects before they became the means to overshadow a mediocre or bad narrative. Cronenberg’s high-concept, hi-tech, cinematic schizophrenia dictates what effects are needed and to what end, allegorically cautions the audience of the brain’s unknown vastness, and offers the thrill of its exploration by presenting the shock of the characters’ experiences through their own decisions.
Andrea Riseborough has proved time and time again that there is nothing she can’t do in front of the lens and mesmerises with her performance. Christopher Abbott, is a rising star and he’s terrific in everything he’s been in. Watch Sweet Virginia (2017), The Sinner (2017), and It Comes at Night (2017), if you don’t want to take my word for it – and that’s just within a year. As for Jennifer Jason Leigh, no introductions are needed as she’s been constantly offering her versatility to the cinema for over forty years now.
To conclude, Possessor is a must-watch that adds value to the Canadian film school and excites with its uniqueness and unpredictability. Regardless of the film schools though, it distinguishes itself from the traditional Hollywood narrative and blends the horror/sci-fi/thriller genres in a way you have not seen before. Pay attention to the opening sequence’s details. Gabrielle Graham, as a theatrical thespian, captivates with her performance and Cronenberg guides her character, Holly, to commit the poetic crime in a way that only Shakespeare would describe. From then on, it’s all uncharted territory.
During WWII, five American soldiers are sent to a French Chateau to make a stand, not expecting to encounter a sinister supernatural force.
The “thriller” and “war” genres are indicative from the get-go. Even though it gets quite brutal but also comedic straight after, their arrival at the French mansion brings a certain mystery with it. Admittedly, the introduction of the interior of the mansion is quite spooky and entertaining, decently maintaining the balance between “horror” and “comedy” and, consequently, the audience’s attention. The “Nazi shootout” sequence becomes the film’s climax with all of us deeply enjoying their vicious deaths. The “facing the ghosts” sequence is also enjoyable and should have given the film the ending it deserved. That could be a happy ending, depressing ending, jaw-dropping-twist ending… An ending nonetheless. But the filmmakers thought otherwise! Before I move to the ending, I’d like to say that the acting is brilliant and all actors deserve to be praised. Excellent job!
Writer/director Eric Bress comes back as a director for his second film after The Butterfly Effect (2004) and, up to the point that I mentioned, does a very decent job. His directing still remains intact after that but his writing, eventually, damages the rest of the film. I cannot tell you why without spoiling it for you so, should you decide to watch it, stop here and see for yourselves. You are more than welcome to come back to my review after you have watched it.
The ending is nonsensical because it tried to copy two films with similar, but successful for their narrative ending: The Thirteenth Floor (1999) and Dark City (1998). These fall under the jaw-dropping twists I mentioned earlier and, back then, gave the films the endings that everyone was talking about after watching them. In Ghosts of War this is most definitely not the case. It’s like Agent Smith (the ghosts) infiltrated the matrix and now Neo (Chris) would collaborate with the machines (the scientists) to restore the balance. It could not make less sense.
Other than nonsensical though, the ending is dangerous. What the filmmakers did here is dangerous. They associated the Nazis with ISIS. They “juxtaposed” their crimes as if that makes them the same. The Nazis and ISIS are not the same. I’m not going to give you a history lesson, but when the era is different, the culture is different, the history behind them is different, the motives are different, and then when one atrocity is related to war and the other (mostly) to terrorism… the comparison is not even wrong, it doesn’t exist. There is nothing to compare.
Filmmakers and studios need to be careful, nowadays. They hold responsibility for what they release and careers can be ruined in a blink of an eye.
Tonight, I’m interviewing Pantelis Tsibiskakis. Pantelis was born in Thessaloniki, Greece. He studied languages and art both in the UK and the US. Tonight, he is talking about one of his favourite poets, and admittedly mine too, Edgar Allan Poe, his writings, the adaptations, his personal tribulations, but also his legacy.